Home Cars 20 Classic Oldsmobile Models That Deserve Recognition

20 Classic Oldsmobile Models That Deserve Recognition

Vukasin Herbez December 17, 2017

The early 2000s proved to be fatal for several once powerful and respected American car brands. Plymouth discontinued the first one in 2001 with Oldsmobile following in 2004 and finally, Pontiac in 2010. Oldsmobile was one of the most interesting GM brands that were once at the forefront of innovation, power and style. But, eventually, GM ended up as a badge-engineered brand that produced slightly different versions of ordinary General Motors products.

Oldsmobile was the oldest American car brand, which they established in 1897. It is also one of the best-known GM nameplates. During its heyday from 1950s to 1970s, Oldsmobile produced many memorable models, luxury sedans and coupes. They introduced many pioneering technical patents like the first turbocharged engine and the first front wheel drive in a mass-produced American automobile. In the late ’70s, Oldsmobile produced over one million cars per year, making it the most popular GM division after Chevrolet.

Unfortunately, bad management, competition from foreign brands, and a loss of direction caused Oldsmobile to lose customers, so the end was inevitable. Most people know about the popular Oldsmobile models like the Toronados, the Deltas and the Cutlass Supremes. Those models are famous and car fans know a lot about them. But most people don’t know about those rare and interesting models.

Here is a list of long-forgotten gems from the rich Oldsmobile history. Some of those cars were great and some were bad. But some were so strange, nobody paid attention and they moved on to automotive obscurity. Keep reading to learn all about them. You’ll be the life of your next party.

  1. Oldsmobile F-88

The ’50s were fantastic times for the American car industry. The post-war recession was over, the market was healthy, and sales numbers rose every year. In that kind of climate, the car industry was focused on futuristic concepts. Bold shapes and crazy designs filled the car magazines and attracted audiences at car shows. During the ’50s, all car companies introduced futuristic cars that later influenced the production models in some way, shape or form.

But one of the most memorable ’50s concepts was the Oldsmobile F-88. In those days, they created concepts for promotional purposes and after their life on the show circuit, they destroyed them. But, the Olds F-88 managed to survive. Oldsmobile made two cars using a stretched Corvette chassis and its own 324 V8 engine. It also had a specially designed lightweight roadster body.

Back in the day, Corvette had only six-cylinder motors, so a roadster with a V8 was a big deal. Today, only one example exists and it is safe in a special display at the Gateway Colorado Automobile Museum. There may be a second example, but no one knows where it is. There is a rumor it caught fire in the late ’50s, burning beyond repair.

However, some car historians report that Oldsmobile produced several chassis and bodies. So there could be several more F-88s out there, but they haven’t been able to confirm that. So, until there is evidence of a few more, there is just one confirmed example of the great looking F-88.

  1. Oldsmobile Fiesta Wagon

Back in the ’50s, the station wagon body style wasn’t a popular option. The majority of cars they produced back then were formal sedans or two-door coupes. However, Oldsmobile offered a station wagon and an interesting one at that. They called the “long roof” the Fiesta Wagon. It was a trim line they based on the 88 model lineup.

Oldsmobile produced it for two years only, in 1957 and 1958. They made less than 9,000 Fiesta Wagons. The Fiesta was a cool looking offering with a sedan design, but with an added wagon rear end that looked futuristic. In fact, many other manufacturers later adopted it.

Under the hood was a potent 371 CID V8 engine. It produced either 277 or 305 HP depending on the intake option. Customers could choose a two or four-barrel carburetor. The Fiesta Wagon came with a long list of interesting options, including a portable radio that could fit the glove box and drivers could remove it.

  1. Oldsmobile Jetfire

The Oldsmobile Jetfire was the first turbocharged passenger car, along with the Chevrolet Corvair Monza. However, Oldsmobile’s system was far more complex and powerful than Chevrolet’s. Back in the early ‘60s, each GM division was in competition with the others. So, they worked hard to present something better than their competitors.

Oldsmobile chose turbocharging as the new technology they wanted to perfect. Their engineers took the compact F-85 model and retained its small 215 CID V8 engine that produced 185 HP. They also gave it a new forced induction intake system. It included a Garett turbocharger and a special “Turbo Rocket Fuel” tank. It consisted of distilled water, methanol and a corrosion inhibitor mixture that went into the fuel and air mixture to prevent detonation.

In those days, turbochargers were primitive and prone to detonation or pre-ignition, which could ruin the engine. For the standards of the day, the Jetfire V8 was state of the art technology and initially, the market was interested. The new V8 engine delivered 215 HP, which was one HP per cubic inch. This made it one of the best performance cars of the day.

With the 0 to 60 mph time of around eight seconds, it was almost as fast as the Corvette. However, the Jetfire had problems from the beginning, but most of the issues were owner-related. People praised the power delivery of the new Jetfire model, but they weren’t used to the operating procedures a turbo engine required.

But most owners forgot to fill up the “Turbo Rocket Fuel” tank with distilled water, methanol and a corrosion inhibitor mixture. This caused a loss of power and failure of the engine in the long run. After just two years and around 10,000 Jetfires, Oldsmobile decided to kill the car and ditch turbocharging technology.

  1. Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser 442

Everybody knows about the Oldsmobile 442, a powerful and great looking muscle car from Detroit’s glory years. However, the 442 wasn’t the only car with a strong punch in Oldsmobile’s lineup. Did you know you could order basically the same 442 powertrain in a family-oriented Vista Cruiser wagon?

You are probably wondering how a family station wagon could be a muscle car. It depends on what they put under the hood. Customers could order the 1970 Vista Cruiser with a 455 V8 monster of an engine. It was basically the same powerplant from the famed Oldsmobile 442 muscle car.

This transformed an ordinary ‘70s American suburban wagon into a fire-breathing muscle car disguised as practical family transportation. Of course, the performance of the Vista Cruiser 455 was worse than the regular Oldsmobile 442. The reason was the heavy weight of the wagon.

But the Vista was still quick with 0 to 60 mph times of around six seconds. Unfortunately, not many people knew this in 1970 so Oldsmobile installed 455 in just a handful of Vista Cruisers. That is why those cars are forgotten and rare today.

  1. Oldsmobile 98 Convertible

The Oldsmobile bestselling series in the ‘60s and the ‘70s was the 88 model. This was a full-size sedan available in several body styles with a long list of options. However, Oldsmobile’s most luxurious offering was the big Oldsmobile 98. It was available as a two or four-door hardtop or convertible.

The closed versions of 98 were solid sellers with the style and equipment to rival the Buick, Mercury or Chrysler. But the rarest model was the convertible because Oldsmobile never made more than a few thousand per year. This version was so rare, people forgot Olds made them.

  1. Hurst Olds

One of the most successful collaborations between a major car company and a small aftermarket outfit was the deal between Hurst and Oldsmobile. Back in the late’ 60s, Hurst transformed the Oldsmobile 442 into one of the fastest cars available on the North American market. They equipped them with the famous shifter, and its signature gold and white or black and silver paint job. At the time, Oldsmobile was under the GM ban, which forbade the company from putting engines larger than 400 CID in intermediate cars

This meant the popular 442 model couldn’t receive the biggest available engines. Due to that, it was inferior to those Mopar muscle cars that had engines of up to 440 CID under their hoods. However, since Hurst was an independent company, the GM rules didn’t apply. So, Oldsmobile shipped partially disassembled 442s to Hurst where they installed the biggest engine Oldsmobile had. It was the mighty 455 V8 that put out 390 HP.

The Hurst Olds package also got numerous other performance upgrades and a ram air induction system. It also had a heavy-duty suspension and updated brakes. Since the Hurst Olds was a limited production factory hot rod, it was expensive and the convertible wasn’t available. Hurst produced its own versions of Oldsmobile performance cars from 1968 to 1979 and again from 1983 to 1984.

However, only the first few years when the power output was unrestricted were the most interesting and well-known by collectors. Afterward, in the late ‘70s and the early ‘80s, Hurst Olds were lukewarm versions of standard Cutlass two-door models. Hurst produced Oldsmobiles in limited numbers and people soon forgot about them.

  1. Oldsmobile Rally 350

To fight the tightening regulations that were destroying the muscle car class, Oldsmobile introduced a bright yellow Rally 350 model. It was a clever way to avoid high insurance premiums with those smaller yet still powerful 350 V8 engines producing 310 HP. This model was basically a 442 muscle car with a smaller engine and a lower price.

The most interesting feature was the bright yellow paint. It had bright yellow bumpers, spoilers and wheel inserts. It looked like somebody dropped the Oldsmobile Cutlass in a tank of bright yellow paint. Other manufacturers introduced similar models, but this Oldsmobile is best known due to its unmistakable appearance.

However, the Rally 350 wasn’t a big success on the market despite the clever engineering. So, they built only 3,547 examples in 1970. Although most Oldsmobile performance cars are well-known among car enthusiasts, most have forgotten the Rally 350, so it is rare today.

  1. Oldsmobile Delmont 88

During the latter half of the 20th century, Oldsmobile’s bestselling line was a model they called the 88. It was a full-size sedan, coupe, convertible or wagon that featured several luxury items. It also had powerful engines, lots of equipment and was a good value for the money. However, since Oldsmobile was a brand above Chevrolet and below Cadillac in the GM hierarchy, this meant the Oldsmobiles were pricey compared to their competitors.

That is why Oldsmobile managers thought of an entry-level model that featured most of the 88’s appeal, but with fewer options and a lower price. And that is how the Delmont 88 was born. Emerging in 1967, the Delmont was the base version of the 88 lineup. It featured almost the same engines, but less chrome trim on the outside and not so many options. It was available in four body styles with the two-door hardtop being the standard offering.

The car proved to be popular and stayed in production until 1974. However, only a few people remember the Delmont nowadays. Most enthusiasts know about the long-running 88 or even the more luxurious and prestige 98 model, but not the Delmont.

  1. Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Diesel

In the late ‘70s, American manufacturers were all about fuel efficiency and downsizing. The era of big cruisers and powerful gasoline engines of the ‘60s was gone. Everybody was trying to find a way to introduce new, innovative technologies. Oldsmobile was on the forefront of this new trend with the introduction of the diesel engine in passenger cars.

In those days, American buyers were unaware they could use diesel fuel for their cars. European customers already had a couple of diesel cars on the market, but for the U.S., this was new. Oldsmobile introduced the 4.3-liter V8 diesel engine as an option for the Cutlass line. But soon this model was a subject to an enormous amount of recalls and engine swaps.

Simply, the 4.3-liter had the tendency to explode and shatter during normal driving. Even though the passengers weren’t hurt, the car was unusable and only good for scrap. Oldsmobile later introduced the 5.7-liter diesel that was somewhat better and more durable. But the 4.3-liter is the worst diesel engine in history.

  1. Oldsmobile Toronado XS

Most people probably know about the fantastic 1966 to 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado. It was a big, powerful personal luxury coupe with a twist since it was front wheel drive. In those days, only a few imports were front wheel drive, while all domestic cars, regardless of the class or engine, were rear wheel drive. However, Oldsmobile wanted to introduce something else and constructed an ingenious FWD system.

The designers drew a fantastic looking shape with a low roof and hidden headlights. The power came from a big block 455 V8 with 385 HP. The Toronado was a success because it introduced superb driving characteristics that left competitors in the dust. In those days, Oldsmobile was on the cutting edge of GM design, and the Toronado was their best example.

The first two generations featured dramatic styling and great driving dynamics, but in later installments, the Toronado lost its edge. It just became a copy of the Cadillac Eldorado. However, for 1977, Oldsmobile decided to freshen up the Toronado, introducing something completely different to the conservative styling of the car.

The result was the limited edition Toronado XS that featured a completely different roof than the regular model. It also had a wrapped-around rear glass and a sunroof option. The design looked strange, so Oldsmobile customers weren’t all that interested, despite its superb visibility. The XS option was $2,500 more on top of the standard price of the vehicle. This made the Toronado more expensive than the Cadillac.

Also, the sunroof option proved problematic since it had problems with water drainage and caused rust. At the end, Oldsmobile discontinued the XS version after only 5,166 cars, which are now rare, obscure pieces of Oldsmobile history.

  1. Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais 442 W41

Ever since the muscle car era ended in the early ‘70s, Oldsmobile has tried to recapture the magic of the original 442 muscle car. But numerous special editions in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, trim packages and even 442 badges on economy hatchbacks didn’t help revive the glorious spirit of the original performance Oldsmobiles. However, Olds produced some interesting models that were cool and performed well in their own right.

And one of those cars is the 1991 Cutlass Calais 442 W41. Behind that long name lies the compact, front-wheel-drive Calais two-door. It came with a highly tuned four-cylinder engine that developed 190 HP from 2.3 liters. Today, this doesn’t sound powerful, but they presented this car almost 30 years ago when 200 HP meant big power.

Thanks to its low weight, race-tuned suspension and gearbox, the little Cutlass Calais 442 W41 could accelerate rapidly. It could even beat those much bigger and more expensive cars. Unfortunately, they limited production to only 204 of them, which they used to homologate the car for the SCCA racing championship.

Despite the great performance, people quickly forgot the W41. However, they encouraged other manufacturers to present similar compact, but highly powerful cars. Without this little forgotten Oldsmobile, they wouldn’t have made the Chevrolet Cobalt SS or Dodge Neon SRT-4.

  1. Oldsmobile Achieva SCX W41

Despite the limited sales of the original W41 Cutlass in 1991, Oldsmobile knew the 2.3-liter four-cylinder had potential to be more than a footnote in car history. They discontinued the Cutlass Calais for 1992 and replaced it with the new Achieva model. So, their engineers decided to introduce another W41 model and develop the concept of a compact front-wheel-drive sports car further.

For the 1992 and 1993 model years, Oldsmobile offered the SCX W41 model. It was the last W-named performance version they ever built. They based the SCX W41 heavily on the previous model. It featured the same 190 HP, 2.3-liter engine that revved to 7,200 rpm. However, they improved the design, as well as the interior equipment.

They also made some changes to the suspension and brakes. The biggest improvement was the five-speed manual gearbox they developed especially for this model. The SCX W41 was the quickest car in its segment. But, despite its qualities, it still flew under the radar of most enthusiasts, selling just 1,600 of them.

  1. Olds Economy Truck

Not a lot of people know that Oldsmobile produced trucks and even had considerable success in that field. In fact, they introduced the Olds Economy Truck in 1919 and produced it through 1923 with a rating as a one-ton model.

The power came from the 227 cid four-cylinder engine which delivered 40 HP. Although it doesn’t sound as much power, it was more than enough by 1919 standards. Prices for this fine delivery vehicle were around $1,200 in 1919.

  1. Oldsmobile W-31

Since the muscle car segment exploded in 1970 with big block power, some manufacturers offered smaller and nimbler alternatives to those 427, 455 or 454 engines. And one of those forgotten and obscure models is the Oldsmobile W31. You probably know about the Olds Rally 350 they made for 1970 only.

But this W31 was its twin with less “in your face” styling and similar power from the high revving 350 V8. The car featured lots of “go fast” options, too. However, it flew under the radar since most customers didn’t know it even existed. In the end, Oldsmobile produced just 116 of those interesting machines for the 1970 model year.

  1. Oldsmobile Series 60

Introduced in 1938 and sold until 1948, the Series 60 was Oldsmobile’s entry-level model with all the important brand features. The Series 60 models were affordable, comfortable and quality machines with dependable six-cylinder engines and decent power.

In those days, Oldsmobile battled Chevrolet and other brands in the economy car field. But after World War II, the company moved to a more upscale market, abandoning their inexpensive models.

  1. Oldsmobile 88 Station Wagon 1949

Station wagons as car class slowly started emerging in the late ’40s. So, Oldsmobile had its 88 series models converted to a long roof configuration. And they equipped them with their signature wooden panels.

In 1949, the 88 Station Wagon was the least popular Olds model, so they produced just 1,355 models that year. This car was also the last “Woodie” wagon Olds produced. But people soon forgot it because the company started producing more modern models.

  1. Oldsmobile Starfire

Although Oldsmobile started the muscle car segment, it wasn’t active until 1961. That was when the rest of Detroit’s manufacturers introduced more powerful models that gained respect on the streets and the strips. But Oldsmobile saw the potential, so they introduced the Starfire. It was their top of the line model featuring an engine from their bigger models.

All big Oldsmobiles used the 394 V8 with 325 HP ratings. But in the Starfire, the engine delivered 330 HP, giving the 1961 model some performance credentials. These models weren’t true muscle cars since they were more luxury machines. However, they still had the power, performance and looks of most muscle cars.

  1. Oldsmobile Starfire GT

The mid-70s weren’t an especially good period for Olds performance. But when they introduced their new compact Starfire model, the Olds engineers decided to present the performance version of this car. They called it the Starfire GT and this model was an appearance package on the regular Starfire hatchback.

With special body stripes, color, details, wheels and a stabilizer bar, the Starfire GT was a bit more dynamic than their regular models. And it was the closest thing Oldsmobile had to a sports car in 1976.

  1. Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon Brougham

In the late ’70s, Oldsmobile was doing great with their annual production of over one million cars. But one of the reasons for their popularity was that Olds had lots of models on offer. Also, they were constantly introducing new models. One of the cars that Oldsmobile introduced was the Cutlass Salon Brougham.

It was an interesting hatchback version of the regular Cutlass model but with more luxury and a new name. The five-door hatchback was common in foreign cars but nonexistent on American models. So, Olds wanted to capitalize on that fact, so they presented the strange Salon Brougham. However, they dropped and forgot about it a few years later.

  1. Oldsmobile Hearse and Ambulance Models

During the better part of the 20th century, Oldsmobile and Cadillac were the most popular cars for commercial use as hearses and ambulance conversions. Many coachbuilders all over America used those big Oldsmobile chassis. So, the company always included naked chassis in its catalog, especially for those kinds of buyers.

Companies like Divco-Wayne Corp or Cotner-Bevington bought the biggest Olds 98 chassis, along with 455 engines. They used them as platforms for their hearse and ambulance conversions. Buyers could buy stretched limousines, as well, but those models were less popular.

These are the 20 forgotten classic Oldsmobile models that probably deserved better respect. These discontinued Oldmobiles are rare, so most people have forgotten about them. However, there are still many car enthusiasts who would love to see them return in modern form.

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