V&R Stories: The First Oldsmobile Crossover

The recent commentary about the pandemic-driven RV craze brought out some details about my childhood that I felt compelled to explore. It’s not a proud moment in my life. Yet, you cannot ignore your experiences – good and bad. 

It was my mother who encouraged both my brother and I to pursue the Scouting movement. Eventually, Matt became an Eagle Scout. Me? I was in it because I had to. 

One of the things about living in a single-parent home was having that parent get involved with their children’s livelihood. Scouting it was. And, yes, Mom went "all-in."

Well…"all-in" as she could. 

In 1974, the divorce between my parents were finalized. Mom felt free. Dad still had to pay alimony and child support, so we have a roof over our heads. Things were a bit tight, until mom re-entered the workforce as a bookkeeper – something she did before and during the early years of her marriage. 

Again, mom wanted the best for us. She made sure Matt and I were enjoying Scouting and had our Bar Mitzvahs. Matt was fine in these two realms. Me? I’ll get back to you…

To fulfill our obligation to the Scouting movement, mom knew that we would have to go camping. That meant eventually buying two big backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, and all of the accompanying goodies for roughing it in the Sequoia National Forest year-after-year. 

That also meant getting us hiking boots to do the dusty trails of the Angeles National Forest. There were no Merrills or Timberlands that were affordable on mom’s budget. We got ours from either Sears, JCPenney, or Montgomery Ward. 

In accomplishing our devotion to Scouting, mom had a significant modification to our beloved 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Luxury Sedan. She had a family friend and fellow Scouting parent who owned the Mobil station near house. She asked him to jack up the rear end of the Olds so it could clear the dirt roads leading to the camping sites and trailheads we needed to be at. 

If my brother (the family archivist) had any photos of the Olds, you will notice that the rear wheels sat higher at the rear, exposing more wheel cover from the fender skirts. Normally you would see about two-thirds of the wheel peeking from those skirts (as shown in the cover photo). Try, the entire wheel cover.

In essence, the Olds was a rear-drive crossover sedan.

I cannot recall the exact specifications of what our family friend did to the Olds. Were the shocks and spring rates changed? Possibly. How did he lift the rear axle and using what to do so? No clue. 

The result was something some people would laugh at. A big luxury sedan with a gash on the front nose following a line of pickup trucks with slide-in campers and a Class A motorhome – you get the idea. 

But, never underestimate what a 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight is capable of. It could fit six Boy Scouts and their big backpacks. In our car, the seating capacity was seven. It could sleep two adults. Our car had a front bench seat that was about six-feet wide. The rear seat was about equal width. 

Yet, the Olds never bottomed out. It got stuck a few times, we were able to get it out. No winching needed.

The Ninety-Eight was also a bike carrier. One of the activities my last Boy Scout troop did was to do bike rides. Mom got a temporary bike carrier that held both of our bikes to the trunk lid and bumper. It came in handy on our most epic bike ride in the mid-1970s from downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Diego – a trek of a few days on public roads.

Mom saw the Oldsmobile as a necessary act. She had other ideas in mind. 

I remember she had the idea if buying a van conversion for us. If we wanted to camp, we might as well be well equipped – within reason, of course. 

In 1974, we saw a Ford Econoline conversion camper van at a local Ford dealer in Woodland Hills. Mom thought about trading in the Olds for it. I’m glad she didn’t. Imagine that big old thing as my first vehicle? Imagine my brother learning how to drive in it? Just imagine the embarassment…

Still, that big Olds held its own on Scouting trips. Much to the shock of our fellow Scouts and their parents. 

But, hey, mom was a Den Mother for us. She took that role seriously. Just like the roles she took in the local PTA. 

As I eluded before, you may have guessed that I did not enjoy being a Cub and Boy Scout. Was it because I was gay? Well…that never crossed my mind until I started coming out at the end of the 1980s. Was it because I was born Jewish? I better not open that can of worms in light of the current state of the world. 

As I look back, perhaps the primary reason for any displeasure over my being a Cub/Boy Scout was that I was born a fat kid. Hiking seven miles, sleeping overnight in rugged terrain, and hiking back was not in my nature. Of course, no one listened. As I got into junior high, I found out that participating in the Scouting movement was no longer a cool thing to do in my world. 

I would have loved to have tried out for Pop Warner Football or Little League Baseball instead of the Boy Scouts. I would have loved to try out karting to get a better grip on driving and doing track work. No, wait, would anyone know where to learn how to kart in Reseda? 

My path in life as a child in the 1970s cannot be reversed or revised. However, I still find it funny that we had to jack up the rear of a 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight as our form of commitment to the Scouting movement. Better than getting a conversion van, I suppose. 

Photo by Randy Stern

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