It was a 350-cubic-inch, four-speed, student-engineered racecar from an unlikely source — Oldsmobile.
In 1969, a group of Michigan State University (MSU) engineering students were gifted a 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass
W-31, with the intention of shaking a stodgy image and appeal to the youth of the times in a semi-secret project.
The MSU student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers used the car. They outfitted it with aftermarket performance parts to make it into a super stock drag racer. They raced it until graduating in 1974, following many races that included a blown transmission and engine and other mishaps.
The team of young racers went on to become successful engineers in the adult world, but they never forgot about the race car they worked on for four years.
One such engineer is Dennis Kline of Troy. “We had fun doing this and the experience proved to be very valuable in securing employment within the automotive industry,” he said. “Virtually all of us became life-long ‘car nuts’ and fondly recall this unique opportunity.”
Kline is a former Chrysler designer, who drives a Dodge Challenger hot rod. Other team members went on to drag race professionally.
He attended a reunion meeting of the engineers in January 2018, where he learned that somehow, the vehicle had survived the decades, and had been seen on public streets in Michigan as recently as 2013. “This has triggered a year-long search to figure out what happened to the car and how could it possibly still exist after almost a half of a century later,” said Kline, while reaching out to the Times.
Their story was picked up by the Lansing State Journal and Muscle Car Review magazine. An in-depth television story is in the works by WZZM 13 (ABC Grand Rapids) for their show “Our Michigan Life” to be broadcast in February.
In late December, Kline placed a local Craigslist ad seeking information about the car — a long shot. To his surprise, someone reported that they’d seen it in Fenton at the former Fenton Auto Salvage (now Scrap Dogs.) “The sighting was about six years ago…and as you might imagine, we were extremely excited,” Kline said.
He came to Fenton seeking information, but came up empty-handed. “The management at Scrap Dogs explained that they simply recycle cars and crush anything that comes in. Since our racecar had no title, they had no idea if it was there when the yard was purchased. And because the car did not have a title or VIN, they would have no way of looking up its history,” he said.
While the lead was exciting, former scrap yard owner John Abee said he would have remembered such a car, and therefore it’s unlikely it ever made it to his former business.
“Special cars like Project W-31 bring fond memories to people, and it’s a way to relieve their youth,” Kline said. “The broad interest in this story has been nothing short of amazing.”
Tips have come out of the woodwork for their unique story, and he’s still no closer to finding the car. He said it was last seen with MSU decals still intact. He said he doesn’t want to get the car back, he simply wants to know what happened to it.