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Home/Technical Info/Oldsmobile/ 11. Car Models Described/
Oldsmobile 1954-1958 - The Rocket Grows in Size and Power!


By 1957 Oldsmobile had won the hearts of buyers for clean lines, more than ample power and reasonably-priced luxury. This 1957 Super 88 Convertible could be had with a 300 HP triple-carbureted J-2 Rocket V-8.
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1954 Oldsmobile Production 1954_Olds_Production.pdf
1955 Oldsmobile Production 1955_Olds_Production.pdf
1956 Oldsmobile Production 1956_Olds_Production.pdf
1957 Oldsmobile Production 1957_Olds_Production_1.pdf
1958 Oldsmobile Production 1958_Oldsmobile_Production_1.pdf
 
 
 
 
 

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By Society Staff – reprint with permission only

Maintaining a Performance Reputation While Expanding the Customer Base

In retrospect, it is easy to fault Oldsmobile for slowly moving away from hard-edged performance in the years 1954-58. But, in fact, that's not what happened. During that period you could still get a pretty hot ship from your Oldsmobile dealer, it's just that the Division ceded the raw performance of the early 50s to Chevrolet and Pontiac, while moving upstream to capture more affluent buyers who wanted some luxo-show with their go.

Did raw performance suffer? To some degree, yes, but on a 30 MPH roll . . . maybe not. Let's follow the progression here.

1954 Oldsmobiles - adding Hardtops Across the Board
A rather complete styling change was made across the board for Oldsmobile in 1954 with the car losing some of its blockiness and showing a more rounded appearance. One of the most noticeable 1954 features was the "panoramic" wrap-around windshield previewed on the limited-production 1953 Fiesta. Some new two-toning options were added to the Oldsmobile line as well. Wheelbase was up two inches on both models, and a new chassis was featured.

The big news was the upgraded Rocket V-8, now with new cylinder heads and displacing 324 cubic inches. A 4-barrel carbureted, 185 HP horsepower V-8 was shared between the 98 and Super Eighty-Eight models. Gone was the rather misleading "DeLuxe Eighty-Eight" base model descriptor with merely "88," "Super 88," and "98" to describe the model lines.

Production for the model year was 351,634, up slightly from 1953's 332,086. A significant portion of the gain was in the base 88 series where a 2-door Holiday Hardtop Coupe was now offered

1955 Oldsmobiles - More Models More Power
In 1955 the '54 look was further softened and the grille took on a more oval shape with, as before, the more massive bumper completing the circle. The front fenders were peaked above the headlights, the wheel openings were more oval-like, and their trailing edges swept back toward the rear adding a feeling of motion when standing still. The roof lines were similar to 1954, but the car appeared slimmer and more streamlined, though, in actuality, it was not. Two-tone paint schemes were more widely used.

The Rocket V-8 sported higher compression and the Super 88 and 98 engine moved over the magical 200 HP mark.

Production jumped dramatically in 1955 across all of GM's lines, but no more so than Oldsmobile, which showed an increase to 583,179. This was 230,000-plus over 1954's 351,634.

It is said that the new 4-door Holiday Hardtop drove a majority of these new sales, but only 119,962 of this body style were sold across all series lines. The remaining 120,000 in increased sales was attributable to the increase in all the lines and most of all to the popularity of the 2-door Hardtop.

1956 Oldsmobiles - Production Drops but the Car Gets Better
For 1956, 21 factory colors were available with 26 sanctioned two-tone layouts. For the first time since the introduction of the Rocket V-8, the 88 Series outsold the Super 88. A second automatic transmission was added - the "Jetaway" Hydra-Matic.

The '56 bodies were more rounded, the hood rocket less intrusive, and the front bumper and grille were one complete oval unit. Instead of the two, small "jet intakes" of 1955, the entire opening now looked like one with a vertical center divider set back from the bulging oval.

The rear was more familiar, however, with the rocket taillights even more pronounced. Roof lines were more lithe, and the sedans were closer in appearance to the hardtops. The trim did a better job of accentuating the length of the car. In other enhancements, the 324 V-8 now featured 9.25:1 compression and 230/240 HP.

For 1956, production dropped by almost 100,000 to 485,458, but it was still well over 1954's 351,634 and the second-best production year ever

1957 Oldsmobiles - Perhaps the best looking '50s Olds Debuts
A restyle greeted Olds buyers for 1957. At the front, the oval grille and bumper was even more massive, but cleaned up. It was narrower in height and had the parking lamps inside the oval. "Oldsmobile" in large block letters spanned across the opening.

The "world" logo that had appeared on the front of the hood since 1949 was even more stylized and stretched horizontally to cover 1/3 of the hood face. The rocket hood ornament was reduced to a spear-like chrome strip, and a small replica of the former hood ornament was placed on each fender at the top over the headlights.

The sides of the body were a bit more rounded, and the "rocket tube" bulges trailing back from the beginning of the rear quarter were made more prominent. At the rear, the tail lights were no longer real teardrops but now were inset oval lenses still bringing to mind a jet exhaust.

Olds buyers could order a station wagon for the first time since 1950. The biggest news, however, was an engine size increase of 47 cubic inches to a massive 371 CID. Horsepower was way up, too, at 277, and there was no two-barrel carbureted engine, all lines received the 4-barrel Rocket V-8. A new option was the "J-2 Rocket" with three two-barrel carburetors, making a magical 300 HP.

Model year production peaked at 355,476 units, a significant drop from the previous year, and back to the range of 1953-1954 production. Management didn't realize it, but a recession was eating into sales.

1958 Oldsmobiles - What Happened to My Oldsmobile?
While the 1957 chassis and running gear were unchanged from the previous year, the body had a major restyle in 1958. For whatever reason, Harley Earl, the head of GM design, became obsessed with chrome and massive front/rear fascias. From smooth, curvaceous cars, Oldsmobile went to a blocky, chrome-laden jukebox.

At the front, dual headlights dominated, outlined in bright metal, making them appear even larger, The oval grille of previous years was replaced with a squarish piece set off by a massive front bumper protruding at the corners with very large parking lights. The hood was not rounded and flowing, but rather a squarish waterfall with "Oldsmobile" was spelled out on the face in 2.5" high block letters.

The side of the car was festooned with acres of bright metal, and the "rocket tube" culminated in a round taillight designed to look like an active jet exhaust. The entire top of the rear fender was capped with a chrome fin from the C pillar to the taillight. The rear was even more garish, with two "gun sights" attached to the squared-off trunk and were seemingly to fill up the large surface. Four backup lights - two to a side - were inset into the massive rear bumper.

While the car was not much heavier than its predecessor, the effect was a ponderous, ungainly road hog. This was especially noticeable to the buyer when placed next to a '57 Olds, which, while huge, looked lithe by comparison.

The ungainly (some say "ugly") styling and the deepening recession did not have a good effect on sales. Model year production peaked at 299,657 units - a significant  drop from the previous year and back to the range of 1953. The last gasp of Harley Earl was a devastating mistake . . . .

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The new kid on the block for Olds in 1954 was the 88 line's 2-door Holiday Hardtop Coupe. This model contributed heavily to the increase in sales for that year.

The new 1955 Super 88 4-door hardtop sold 47,385 units in its introductory year. It had the style and performanceof the 2-door hardtop and the convenience of a traditional 4-door sedan.

The 1956 Oldsmobile 98 convertible was called the "Starfire 98". It sold well, given it was the highest priced car in the Olds line, with 8,581 delivered.

The 1957 Super 88 2-door hardtop is a collector's favorite, butit lost out in sales to the lower-priced 88 2-door, likely because for 1957 the 4-barrel Rocket V-8 was standard.

The 1958 Dynamic 88 2-door hardtop was a popular seller, and 35,036 were delivered. While a 2-barrel Rocket was the standard V-8, powerplants all the way to the J-2R 325 HP engine could be had.

The 1957-1958 Rocket was a very potent V-8. In 1958, with the J-2 option producing 312 HP, but with the lightest Olds weighing 4,100 lbs., top end speed was a driver's goal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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