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This kids, is a hot rod. It is also a rolling mechanical orphanage. The motor in the car isn’t made any more. The rear end in the car isn’t made anymore. The components in the rear suspension are from a company that is out of business. The transmission hasn’t been manufactured in years and the exhaust is made from multiple systems yanked off vans in a wrecking yard. How effing awesome is that? Did we mention that it is a 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser wagon? Oh, and the owner of the car Jesse has about $3,000 tied up in the whole deal.

Olds burnoutOlds burnoutOlds burnout


We first saw this car on the New England Motorsports message board. At that point, the build was stalled and Jesse was ready to throw a bucket of gasoline and a thermite grenade into the wagon and call it quits. There was a seemingly insolvable issue with the right bank of the motor that neither he or any of his buddies could figure out. It was bad enough that after assembling the car in a month, he parked it in a trailer for almost a year before pulling it out to make a last ditch effort to solve the issue and determine whether the car would live or die…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

Jesse is a big block, stick shift guy. He’s drag raced a wicked Chevelle with a Rat motor and Doug Nash for years and when it came time to built another car for the street, “something to load the boys into and beat around in,” he wanted to do a Malibu wagon. He searched high and low for one, but living here in the land of salt and steel worms, everything he located was such junk, it was not worth the time. Then one day he got a call from his buddies at Brooks Brothers Auto Wrecking in Worcester, Mass. to let him know that they took in the perfect car for his project, this 1980 Olds wagon.

It is dinged, dented, has a rear bumper that looks like Paul Bunyan stepped on it and is so freaking perfectly non-descript you’d walk by it every day for a year on a used car lot. Other than a little bit of a tell poking through the front of the hood, you’d never know a damned thing was out of place. Hell, the morning Jesse liquified tires for the photos to go with this story he had his daughter with him and the kiddo’s seat was still strapped in when he went hari kari on the Hankooks.

Hey it's a wagon, right?


The owner of the car, Jesse Treveloni has worked in the automotive recycling business for 15 years and that shows all over this car. It starts right up front with the choice of motor, an 8.1L Vortech big block. These largely unloved engines were the last true gas big block motor GM will likely ever produce. In stock form, which this motor is, you are looking at 340hp and about 500 ft/lbs of torque. They were used in trucks and marine applications. Why go with this seemingly lost sister in the big block family? “The plan is to put a turbo on the engine, not go crazy, but I wanted to make 550 to 600hp at the wheels and I wanted an engine with EFI on it to use so I didn’t have to mess with carbs and stuff,” Jesse said. “These Vortec engines are just like regular big blocks from the deck down. The differences are in the cylinder heads and intake. They do use a different pan rail so I kept the stock oil pan, which actually fits but it is close. The engines are also pretty cheap from the junkyard and that was another selling point. I bought the one in the car totally complete with the wiring for about $800.” Jesse, like us is kind of allergic to spending money. We dig that.

We wish we could tell you about some totally bad ass fab work that had to be done to fit the motor and how Jesse and his buddies had to engineer all kinds of cool solutions to make it all work, but that would be bullshit. The big fat rat sits in the engine bay like it was supposed to be installed there when the heap was first rolled out of an Oldsmobile factory. “We used some V8 G-body mounts and the engine bolted right in,” Jesse said. “One thing that we did do was to use the accessory drive off of a blown up marine 8.1 I bought from a friend. The marine accessory stuff is tighter to the motor so it gave us more room. Also, the marine engine was not drive by wire so I swapped the throttle bodies to be able to use a throttle cable. The wiring has not been 100% cleaned up and loomed to look pretty yet, but that doesn’t bug us one bit. That type of stuff is what the winter is for around these parts and that’s Jesse’s plan.

Rather than mess around with a zooty crossmember to fit the Doug Nash, Jesse blew a hole in the floor for a shifter and modified the stock crossmember by welding on a mounting pad that allowed the Doug Nash 5-speed to bolt right up. The rear end is a Ford 9-inch from Quick Performance that packs 3.00 gears Why the Bonneville gearing? The rev limiter on the 8.1 is set at 4900 RPM. A shorter gear would have Jesse shifting the thing like a big rig in low range. These rear end gears allow him to hold gears in the transmission for more than a millisecond. The Nash is under driven in first through fourth gears and fifth is one to one. We should mention that the rear end has a spool in it. It was chirping its way around corners all morning, when it wasn’t sliding tail-out around them. “The spool is good for traction in the winter,” Jesse joked.

8.1L Votech8.1L Vortec

As we mentioned before, this car was physically assembled in a month. It literally fell together. The ship hit an iceberg when it came to an electrical issue with the engine, though. “My buddy Mike is the one who helped me a ton with the fuel injection stuff,” Jesse said. “He literally took a massive, complete truck wiring harness and pinned the whole thing out, eliminating anything we didn’t need. We are using HP Tuners software to tune the car and he is familiar with it.”

The problem that vexed the guys nearly sunk the project. Jesse said, “The left bank of the motor was fine, it ran great, but the right bank was running like crap, almost like it was out of time by 180 degrees. We ohmed all the wires, pulled everything apart six ways to Sunday and we could not figure it out. I was so pissed I stuck it in my trailer for about a year and didn’t even want to see it. Finally we pulled it out and had some guys come over to mess with the car. My other buddy Mike, the guy who had the John Deere turbo Mustang in Hot Rod, looked at it then asked me to pop the hood on my truck so he could look at that motor. In about five minutes he figured out that we had crossed two wires between the front and rear coil packs on the right side of the engine, causing them to fire at the wrong time. Once we swapped the wires the thing ran like a top.”


As you’ve learned thus far, there is a lot of BangShifty stuff happening with this car. Good old brains versus wallet type stuff. Well, the exhaust system is another of those pieces. Like we said before, Jesse plans on a rear mounted turbo for this car and he wanted a single exhaust with decent diameter to prepare for the addition of the turbo. He was thinking in the three to three and a half inch range but there was a problem. No one in the area has the capability to mandrel bend an exhaust that size. What to do? Jesse took his lunch breaks and went gawking under trucks and vans at exhaust systems. He got some advice from his buddy Jeff and hit pay dirt when he found GM 3/4 ton vans with the 6.0L engine came from the factory with a mandrel bent three and a half inch exhaust. “I bought three van exhaust systems to cut up and make the exhaust that is one the wagon right now,” Jesse told us. We think that rules.

The rear suspension has South Side Machine boxed upper and lower control arms. We’re pretty sure that company is out of business. There’s also a big assed 1″ diameter sway bar back there. When we asked Jesse what type it was, he had no clue, so we’ll settle on the brand being…red.

Olds tailpipe


Dave Nutting, who shot most of the photos both in this feature and in the gallery we will link you to in a minute had one of the funniest comments of the frigid Sunday morning that we hung out with Jesse and the car. When we had him cruise down the road and back, he mentioned that when you looked at the wagon, you immediately looked behind it to see the big truck or muscle car that was making all the noise. The sound does not match a car your grandmother drove.

The only outward sign that things are amiss with this Olds is an interesting hole in the hood and a few pieces of motor coming on up through it. “It totally sucks that we could not get it to fit under a flat hood. That was definitely the plan,” Jesse said. Rather than dink around with a solution that would have delayed the fun of beating the shit out of tires further, he pulled out the angle grinder and liberated the top of the throttle body, the oil fill, and the alternator from the oppression of being stuck under a hood. Who the hell knew that the tallest point on an 8.1 was the damned oil fill? We all do now. This is not the permanent solution, as a mild, and we mean MILD cowl will be added to the hood so all this stuff is covered up. Jesse reports that it is fun adding oil to the car without opening the hood though.

Hood hole in the OldsHood Hole in the OldsHood Hole in the Olds


This is, in our opinion, the best kind of car. There is minimum cash outlay, use of all kinds of parts no one else thinks to use, it combines elements of modern tech (last gen big block with EFI) and old school cave man tech (Doug Nash transmission) into a package that some Corvette owning wanker wouldn’t look twice at…before it swallowed him whole on the street or the strip. The goal, once the car is turbocharged is to run a 10 second pass for less than $3800. Yeah, the turbo will be a junkyard diesel truck piece.

Cars reflect their builders and Jesse is obviously a smart, crafty guy who has artfully applied his 15 years in the junkyard business into a killer hot rod that keeps us up at night because of its sheer brutality and awesomeness. Jesse wanted to give special thanks to Brooks Brothers Auto Wrecking in Worcester, Mass. for all of their help with odd and ends, small stuff, and general help on the project. Jesse gave big props to his dad and to Jeff’s Garage in Charlton, Mass. Jeff was instrumental in sorting out the exhaust on the car. He also wanted to thank, and we quote, “The Wrecking Crew”. Those guys sound like a party.

This car is 100% BangShift approved. It was built on a budget, is as sleepy as any 500ci big block powered 3500lb car will ever be, has a neanderthal man stick box in it, was built with friends, can shred tires like 14 mo-fos, and does not take itself too seriously in any way, shape or form. To give it our highest compliment, the car effing rules.

Scroll down for a link to a full gallery of photos and a video of the 1980 Olds Big Block Wagon destroying tires in Worcester, Mass.!



Jesse's big block powered, stick shift 1980 Olds Wagon!




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22 thoughts on “BangShift Sleeper Saturday: THE SECRET WEAPON – A 1980 OLDS WAGON WITH 496CI OF VORTEC BIG BLOCK AND A DOUG NASH 5-SPEED!

  1. andy3Anonymousthz

    That is beyond awesome!!

    How can you not want to build a sleeper after looking/watching that?!?!?!??!

  2. chryco63

    This is gloriously epic. Props to you, Jesse, for building such a badass ride. Bucks-down and sleeper vibes ARE MY FAVES!

    And thanks for the tip on the exhaust systems!

  3. Turbo Regal

    Those 78-84 midsize GM wagons make great sleepers. I might try a 78-80 Turbo Buick hood. It just might clear.

  4. BackwoodsBrilliant

    Jesse!!….Seriously, If I had an award it would go to you dude, this epitomizes what it means to be :”BackwoodsBrilliant”! Jesse knows, you use the head and hands that the Good Lord gave you, cause if your like most of us, you can’t rely on a fat wallet! (what fun would that be, anyway?) Check back with us when you get the hair-dryer on her Jess, she outta be REALLY hard to keep tires on then!

  5. badwagin

    thanks guys… Im glad you guys like it. Hopefully i can get some time out of the snowmobile season to start working on the turbo set up. It’s just a wagon…

  6. 5Anonymoustbrd88

    Not sure why the 8.1 is so unloved…the are pretty stout even in a 3/4 ton truck. This car is so cool, I drove my parents ’81 olds 98 when I was in high school and I always thought it would have made a killer sleeper to throw a big block at.

  7. richard

    i love wagons. and sleeper wagons are cool. I am gonna start looking in the papers for a car like this.. i love the sound. you could lay waste to many a vette and mustang with this beast and leave them scratching their heads. bet it even gets good gas milage with those highway gears. It probably even passes emissions tests with the fuel injection. dont paint it, or make it pretty, it even has white wall tires….ohhhh yeahhh. i am excited haha

  8. b3m

    that is kickass. Avoiding the coupe after realizing it is not strong is a new england tale. awesome story..and budget. I feel I am right up the road in maine with the same mentality…my kinda car.

  9. Auto Warranty

    I love those old station wagons. Everyone in highschool had 1 handed down to them. Mine did not shred like that one but I did a few mods on it. I had huge living room speakers in the trunk….before good systems.

  10. john

    Seen a lot of things come through the hood but never an oil filler! My 8.1 pulls my Sierra rather well.

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