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Trail’s End: Swanky Swedish 4x4 Oldsmobile 88

Posted in Features on May 4, 2018
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Photographers: Bo Grinsvall

Sometimes wheelers demand comfort and quirkiness on top of capability in a 4x4. That is, however, only part of what Thomas Johansson was thinking when he built his off-road sedan back in 1968.

It all started in Sweden. Johansson set out to build an off-road machine using a platform as disconnected from the off-road community as possible. We asked him how he found his ’53 Oldsmobile 88 Super Rocket four-door sedan—and we still have no answer to this day. What we do know is that he was able to craft his dream machine using only parts he had available at his 4x4 garage in Sweden, the Terräng Axel Off Road Center.

One of the more notable deviations from the stock platform was Thomas’ removal of the rear half of the Oldsmobile, transforming the back seat of the sedan into a pickup bed. The 88 Super Rocket came with a 324ci V-8 that sent 202 horses to the Jetaway Hydra-Matic transmission. Thomas’ creation was in fact four-wheel drive thanks to a transfer case donated by a “Volvo all-terrain truck.” We did some sleuthing and think it could have been the ZF VG 50 case from a Volvo Laplander L3314, but we can only speculate.

The Oldsmobile received a custom leaf-spring suspension, which gave it 35 centimeters of clearance under the axles and 60 centimeters under the body. The axles, which appear to be 1-tons, had locking hubs and spun 16x15 agricultural-style tires or “weenies,” as they were referred to at the time of publishing. Dual-servo brakes and a servo-assist steering system both helped stop and steer those “weenies.”

The rest of this machine is art history. Thomas Johansson painted the rig in metalflake royal blue and trimmed it with various chrome accents, including a series of trumpet air horns on the roof. The horns aren’t normal by any means, because in addition to the traditional blaring signal tone, they are synchronized to play the “Colonel Bogie March” and what Americans know as a police siren. Johansson’s headlights feature an automatic dimming function controlled by a photocell he integrated into the windshield, designed to detect lights of oncoming traffic. To top off the exterior, Thomas added custom heated mirrors to maintain visibility during the Swedish winters, and fastened a spare tire and two gas cans to the rear.

The inside of the Oldsmobile has many tech treasures, some not normally found inside vehicles. In addition to the stereo, CB radio, and tape recorder, Johansson installed a functioning television set. The vehicle’s doors are opened by a radio-controlled solenoid system, and both the windows and seats are moved by hydraulics. All Johansson’s electronic gadgets receive power from the dual (12V and 24V) electrical systems.

Thomas spent $6,000 and hundreds of hours piecing together this 2.5-ton off-road dream machine, and told us the most challenging part was memorizing the functions of the endless buttons and switches. We’ve since done some digging and as of 2009, the rig was still sitting in a garage somewhere, possibly in Sweden. The rear-mounted gas cans were missing, there was a different spare tire, and the metal flake royal blue paintjob was collecting dust.

For anyone in the Gothenburg, Sweden area, Terräng Axel Off Road Center appears to still be open. If you’ve ever seen this machine in person, or have some of your own unique and techy 4x4 upgrades, send ’em to editor@fourwheeler.com with a note and some high-resolution pictures!

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