DECEMBER 2017: 1985 OLDS CALAIS 500–‘THE WORST INDY PACE CAR EVER MADE’ IS A WINNER WITH ITS OWNER

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The 1985 Olds Calais was not the stuff of dreams for most car guys.

 

It was a practical compact car with front wheel drive that provided good fuel economy and a smaller size to cope with a crowded urban world.

 

The cars were built from 1985 to 1991 by the Oldsmobile division of General Motors and offered a slightly more upscale choice in the North American compact car market.

 

GM celebrated the arrival of the 1985 Olds Calais by making it the official pace car of the 1985 Indy 500. The General introduced a limited production Olds Calais 500 model to the buying public and a little under 3000 of the Calais 500s were sold that year.

 

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The disconnect between Indy 500 race fans and the Olds Calais was obvious because few of them believed that a mild-mannered compact was the right choice for the biggest car racing event in the world.

 

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Thus the 1985 Olds Calais 500 pace car was labeled the “worst Indy pace car ever made” by its detractors at the time. Bob Dorsey is the proud owner of a 1985 Olds Calais 500 and he is a big fan of his mid-80s replica of the official ’85 Indy pace car.

 

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Bob has owned his Calais for about 15 years after the car was given to him by a friend because it had a blown engine. Bob thought the Olds was a “real good looking car” when he first saw it and added he had “never seen one like it” in his life.

 

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Bob is very handy with wrenches and was able to install another engine from a write-off. The process was pretty simple; “six bolts and the engine drops right out”, according to Bob, when he described the engine’s removal from beneath the car.

 

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The body on the Calais was virtually rust and dent-free so it required a minimal amount of repair before a new paint job. Bob added his own subtle change when he painted the polished aluminum hubcaps the same color as the body on his Olds.

 

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The interior has been redone-even though the original upholstery only had one crack in the seat when Bob began the restoration. He was able to recreate the official Indy pace car decals on the car with some help from a local graphic artist in his community.

 

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The car has been a pleasant experience for Bob because it offers a combination of both performance and economy on the road. In Bob’s words, “it just cruises along” and will get over 20 mpg at 70 mph (about 110 km/h) on the highway.

 

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Bob is grateful he is even around to enjoy his Olds Calais because he was a victim of a fuel tank explosion 26 years ago that nearly took his life. He suffered a severely fractured skull in the accident and said he “nearly died four times” after the explosion.

 

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Bob was expected to have severe brain damage and not expected to walk again after the explosion, but he defied the predictions and was able to recover from the injuries.

 

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Unfortunately, Bob was in two motor vehicle collisions after the explosion and the last collision completely ruined his back. In Bob’s words he has been “too dumb to die” over the years, but he has been smart enough to recognize a unique car from the Eighties is a very good conversation piece at a car show.

 

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Especially one with an Indy pace car legacy.

 

Jim Sutherland

 

 

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