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If you think this car was just a mockup, here is the second car, the "mule", that supposedly racked up over 20 thousand miles in testing, parked in front of the chief engineer's house, with his two kids in the front seats!


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"OK bro, let's take her for a spin". The F-88 parked in front of the test engineer's house in Lansing

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*The 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 Sports Car: Part Two - Why NOT the F88?
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The Olds F-88:
Almost - is Only Good in Horseshoes and Hand-Grenades

by Society Staff - reprint with permission  only

Even while the 1954 car was touring, plans had begun for the 1956 version, using the improvements seen in the 1956 Vette. Everyone at Olds (and Harley Earl at GM styling) was excited to consider that Olds would have the flagship performance car, with Chevy's Corvette considered the "entry-level" and with owners moving up to the Olds when they wanted more performance and luxury.

But deep in the bowels of GM, and over at Chevrolet, another movement was beginning. Instead of the Will Durant concept of Chevy capturing new buyers with its pricing and no-frills approach and then passing the customers up the chain to Pontiac, then to Olds and Buick and Cadillac, some smooth talkers were deciding that the way to capture buyers for GM was to lure them to a "cheaper" luxury car so that they would get a taste of the good things, and then if they wanted to move up, it would be because there was a lure for more power and luxury. The Chevy Impala was already on the drawing boards and the V8 was months away from production. Chevy was changing and GM brass were going to take a hard look at whether this was a good idea.

Because of this, Chevrolet was being treated like a spoiled child, with just about any request being honored. The bowtie people were smart not to challenge any of the turf that Caddy occupied, but all else was free to exploit. Pontiac had proposed Rochester Fuel Injection for their 56 Bonneville, only to be told to wait; Buick helped develop the Turbo-glide upgrade for the 58-60 Chevys to give them a more upscale auto trans; and Olds . . . Olds was told "no go" on the F-88; that the upgrades found in their car would find their way into the new 1956 Corvette.

Olds argued that the car were mutually exclusive and that there was surely room for two cars in this market, but the dismal sales of the first Vette coupled with the announced Thunderbird killed any chance of the F-88 bowing - and not because the F-88 would fail, but just the opposite. Chevy knew that the F-88 could go head to head and even better the 'Bird. They were smart enough to recognize that the Olds would be a sales success while their '55 would languish and probably be killed as a model.

In the old GM, that would have been moot - Durant's concept did not favor any brand in the marketplace. If the car could not survive on it's own merits, well then, sayonara - like Oakland and LaSalle. But in the new "spoiled child" GM, Chevy caught all the breaks and could go to Corporate mama and have a tantrum and all was made right.

Harley Earl was stunned, and commissioned a red F-88 for himself as a sign of dissatisfaction with the decision - and began driving it as his personal car. He would drive it into the GM Corporate lot and park it in his slot next to the President - as a middle finger salute. Later, he even had a '57 F-88 and a '59 built, both cloned from his red original. These cars not only went on the show circuit, but he took it as his personal car when he retired, and he drove the '59 F-88 until he died.

The Impact of the F-88 - had it survived

So how does the F-88 going into production save Olds? Well, there are a number of things producing the F-88 would have done: one was to have established Olds as a sports car manufacturer, and two and most important, would have been to break the back of Chevy as the "golden girl" of GM. Third, it would have stalled Chevy's desire to have a car for each market occupied by BOP. We all know that this led to the mishmash of models across all lines that followed in the 60's. Had the F-88 succeeded to go to production, it may have precluded GM going to the "corporate car" in the late 70's.

Let's say Olds had produced the F-88 and was the performer it would have been; what might have happened? Well, looking back, we know the car would have sold and re-established Olds as the Performance Division. And if the Corvette had failed, as it almost did, sitting under the more performance-minded F-88, perhaps the GM sports car would have been an Olds. Then consider that had the car endured through the 70s and into 2000 as the Corvette did, perhaps Olds wouldn't have lost it's image and not been considered a lame duck of the GM Divisions.

Was the F-88 a Performance Car?

Okay, let's talk about the car. It was designed at the same time as the 53 Vette and saw the light of day about the time the Corvette debuted. As we said before, Olds took one look at the Vette when it was spec'd out and realized that it was a loser. It was built on the same 102" chassis as the Vette, and used a Chevy 3.55:1 rear, but that's where the similarity ended. Oldsmobile specific running-gear filled up the mechanicals from the hopped up 324 in the front, with a 4-speed Hydramatic in the middle and Olds 88 drum brakes at all 4 corners.

The engine was a hot rod piece; with high compression, it sported an advance set of 55 heads with larger valves, a stiffer cam, and a larger carburetor. Instead of the 185 HP of the Olds S-88 , which was no slouch for its day, the F-88 sported between 250 and 270 ponies. Considering the almost 1000 pounds difference in weight between the F-88 and a S-88, you had a recipe for big-time performance in 1954 and beyond.

And it wasn't a crude roller skate like the original Vette. Where Chevy took the minimalist approach, Olds added power steering, power windows, bucket seats and a console. The gauges, borrowed from a '53 S-88, had a tach added to the speedometer cluster. If you check out the pictures, you can see that no expense was spared. When you compare the interior to both the 55 Vette and the Thunderbird, the Olds is clearly in first, with the Chevy in a distant third.

Frankly, the 54 F-88 was easily an equal to the 58 Vette in accoutrements, and in performance, the F-88 had the ability to match the '61 Chevy's 327, given the hot rod tweaks that were known in the industry by the early 60s.

And then there was the 1957-58 400 HP 371cid  J-2R. For those that don't know, the J-2 was Oldsmobile's first Tri-Carb, delivering 300-312 HP in in street trim in '57 -  '58 in 98s and S-88s. What many do not know, that before the AMA's famous racing ban (the Big Three agreed not to promote racing or build cars specifically for racing - apparently unheard over at Chevrolet), Olds was the hot GM ticket in NASCAR and USAC stock car racing. While supposedly designed for Interstate high-speed cruising, the J-2R was Oldsmobile's secret weapon in the stock car circuit. (Richard Petty's dad Lee raced one in those years).

As fast as the car was, Olds had some over the counter parts that upped the ante: a high lift long duration mechanical cam, oversized valves, and a more efficient oil pump. The 371 J-2R is identified by the "bumps" on the valve covers for rocker arm clearance (see picture). The J-2R never had an official HP rating, but those in the know said that 400 flywheel HP was a certainty in race trim and 350 real street HP was a no-brainer - not to mention the 425 ft. lbs. of torque.

In 1957 the Fuelie Vette made 283 HP and 300 ft. lbs. of torque. Assuming the J-2 and the J-2R would have been optional engines in the 1957 F-88, do you think it would have blown the doors off anything out there? For a comparison, the J-2R S-88s at Daytona Speed Weeks were so quick that Bill France told then to go home (no lie)! He would not accept their speeds which outdistanced everything that was being shown as stock, including the supercharged Thunderbirds, Chrysler 300s, Fuelie Vettes and Pontiac Bonnevilles.

Assuming that the F-88 would have received the chassis upgrades, and probably even the 4-speed that Corvette and Pontiac had - the F-88 would have been the killer car of the late 50s and early 60s.

So What Does It All Mean?

What it means is that Olds had to reestablish itself all over again in the 60s as a true performance car. Though they had the mantle at GM until 1959, had the F-88 been out there, it a good bet that they would never had lost it, and you would be seeing F-88s on the street, there would be a F-88 Club, and maybe, just maybe an Olds would still be available from your local dealer.

Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy the pictures and dream what it would have been like to cruise the boulevard in daddy's 1962 F-88 394 J-2R, snicking through the gears of your Borg Warner 4-speed and listening to the melody of solid lifters and performance mufflers. Oh, and you just pulled along side a Poncho 389 Super Duty, but you know you've got him covered. It almost happened - it's less of a dream than most.

Click HERE for Part One

Version two (1954-55) had more cut out wheel wells, something Harley Earl was experimenting with. The rear was cleaned up as too.

The second version had a removable fiberglass top, ala the '56 Corvette. Note that the rear had not been changed in this shot.

Here is a comparison of concepts one and two. They were looking for the right blend.

In a response to the 1955 Corvette's adoption of the 225HP 265 V8, Earl commissioned this engine for the 2nd prototype Paxton (then McCullough) 2 4-barrel supercharged - 370 HP!

In 1957, Harley Earl unveiled the "new" F-88, still trying to convince GM to offer the car as an upscale Corvette. Note that many of the styling cues that would find their way on the '58 Vette.

The front was very aggressive. Note "OLDSMOBILE" in very LARGE letters. (taken at Harley's home in Florida).

Rear View - not the fins, not intended for production - Harley loved fins and you would see such on '58-'59 Cadillacs.

The interior was reupholstered in corresponding light metallic blue, the steering wheel was modernized, and the shifter became close to a stock piece, but otherwise it was pretty much 1954 - showing how timeless the original design had been.

The '59 version. The car is a radical departure from earlier versions. Interesting is that it looks low and lean, but the rear doesn't seem to fit the front. Perhaps trying two different looks? (It would have looke better with the '57 rear - sans fins).

The '59 at Daytona in 1960. Harley was a good friend of Bill France. (The Daytona 500 trophy has Earl's "Firebird" show car as it's car on the top).