Olds Starfire Restored to Mid-‘60s Glory
By Jeff Barnes
(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, December 2010)
Unless you were an Oldsmobile dealer, you probably haven’t seen a car like Dennis Heath’s.
The Omahan says his 1964 Olds Starfire convertible was and is a rarity. Popularity for the model had declined since its introduction in 1961, and by 1964 only 2,410 Starfire convertibles were built. He said it was the most expensive Oldsmobile you could buy in 1964, and at $5,800, “it even cost more than a Corvette at the time.”
What made the car so expensive was some tooling unique to the Starfire and a galaxy of options. Heath’s car is loaded, with a tachometer in the dash (not available in any other Olds), a 394 cid V-8 high-compression engine, turning lights, an automatic headlight dimmer, power vent windows, vacuum-powered transmission release, seat belts and about a dozen others. Among the more curious are the radio’s “wonder bar”; push the bar (or a button on the floor) and the radio changes to a random station. The speedometer has something called a “safety sentinel” which lets you set a speed limit then audibly warns you when you reach it.
“There are probably no more than a hundred cars like this one,” said Heath, 52. “It’s a rare car, but for those not familiar with it, it’s just a big car.”
This was the fourth restoration for Heath, who had also done a couple mid-‘60s T-Birds and an SS Chevelle. Those were all sold, but the Starfire he kept. “I’d always wanted a convertible,” he said. “There’s just something about them. Plus I couldn’t afford another one.”
Unbelievably enough, his Olds was first used as a chase car for an assistant police chief in West Des Moines. After a few years of public service, it wound up with a Council Bluffs friend of his who wanted to restore it. “It sat in his barn for years, but that’s the way it is when you’ve got a lot of projects,” he said. Heath asked the friend about the car and ended up buying it from him for $800; he technically became only the second owner on the car since the friend never titled it.
That was in 1989. Every week, for the next three years, Heath – a service writer for Superior Honda – worked on the frame-up restoration, taking out every nut and bolt he could. The project was all done in his driveway, except for the painting which was done by his brother-in-law.
The result is an all-original beauty. On the inside, the carpeting and side panels are original and only the front of the front seats needed replacement. Heath has the original owner’s manual and service manuals; he even has the original pouch to hold the convertible top’s cover.
After he had finished the restoration, he took the car to the Mid-America Olds Nationals in 1992, that year held in Omaha. He won a first-place trophy.
Heath and his wife Carol don’t drive it a lot – it has 88,741 miles on it now and that’s very close to what it was when he bought it. “I take it out on nice days and for the occasional car show, just to keep the battery up,” he said.
Carol said the car wasn’t particularly loved by their daughters Megan and Kara when they were young (daughter Allison has come along since then). “They always complained about freezing in the back seat,” she said. “We almost always had to pull over to Target to buy them more clothes to keep warm.”
Of course, when the girls grew up and got married, the Starfire became the “just married” car for photographs – it just didn’t get too far out of Heath’s eyesight, however.