By on September 1, 2009

Tear the highly practical metal roof off of one the most boring big American sedans like a 1963 Olds Dynamic 88, and suddenly it becomes the key ingredient of an intensely romantic scenario: a hot summer day, a full-size ragtop, a beautiful woman to share it with, and the open road. What could be better? It’s got to be one of the top “relive the youthful automotive memories/dreams” recipes for guys my age or so. Except in my case, it’s a nightmare.

It’s 1972, I’m nineteen and couch-surfing in Iowa City. A tall and statuesque high-school “classmate” has flown out from Baltimore to visit me – on a one-way ticket (it’s all she could afford). We had a fun week or so, but it wasn’t a viable situation, for a number of reasons; one of the more pressing ones being another girl in the picture. How to get her back home? (I was perpetually broke too, then). Solution: I would hitch-hike the thousand miles back to Towson with her, and then turn around and thumb it back home. Perfectly logical too; yes, times have changed.

I was a highly seasoned hitchhiker back then, but with a strong aversion to “doubles”, because the success rate usually plummeted. So the strategy was for me to keep a low profile sitting in the weeds, and let Tracy’s profile do the thumbing. Well, she stopped the cars on I-80 mighty quickly, but not the kind that would typically stop for me.

Almost instantaneously, two guys driving an open 1965 Plymouth Fury rag-top pulled over. Undoubtedly, their intention was to share the big front bench seat with Tracy. When I jumped out of the ditch, the two disappointed-looking guys at least showed us the back seat instead of their taillights. They were going all the way to Gary Indiana, some 250 miles, no less. I’d never really ridden much in a big convertible before. How cool was this!

My hair back then was almost as long as Tracy’s, and by the time the Fury was up to the then posted limit of 75, I started having serious doubts. Sitting in the back seat was like the point of convergence of four Level 5 Hurricanes: the wind ripped at me from all quarters. My locks were whipping into my face; I could hardly keep my eyes open. Our dream ride quickly turned into a four-hour long CIA-approved torture session. I suddenly understood why the elegant double-cowl touring car had been invented.

Tracy and I crouched and huddled on the seat of the Fury pretty much the whole way, but out of desperation rather than affection. In fact, that brutal ride pretty effectively beat any lingering warmth right out of me; for convertibles as well as Tracy. And it took me weeks to get the tangles out of my locks.

Makes you wonder what motivated the six percent of Oldsmobile buyers in 1963 that picked the six-seater convertible. It sure as hell wasn’t for them to take the family on vacation to Disneyland in. Or for a long freeway commute on the smog-choked freeways. More likely, especially given the conservative image and styling of the Olds, they were already reliving their youthful memories spent in an open-top Model A or the like. And there was enough money for wifey to drive a matching Olds wagon to haul the kids in.

In the sixties, Olds was consistently in last place among GM’s B-O-P (Buick, Olds, Pontiac) mid-range trio. Buicks had more prestige factor, and were generally better looking (than Olds) during those years. And Pontiac was on a tear, ripping Plymouth out of the coveted number three spot behind Chevy and Ford. For a good reason too: Pontiac was the styling leader of the whole industry. The 1963 full-sized Pontiacs shocked and scared the competition; it was light years better than anything out there. The 1965 Fury that Tracy and I huddled in was Chrysler’s desperate attempt to imitate the ’63 Pontiac. And the ’65 Fords aped it just as badly.

In Chapter Four of my Auto-Biography I wrote about the brothers across the street gripped in endless (and mostly futile) exertions getting their old beater Ford hot rods to run. They had a buddy who would came by driving a pristine new black ’63 Pontiac rag top (Dad’s, I assume). It had the same basic body as the Olds, but what a difference a bold new face, a little curve in the hips, and a few other tasteful details made. It makes the Olds look mighty plain and uninspired. Anyway, he would watch the hapless mechanics, but from a distance, and kept his hands clean. He was also the only one of the bunch with a girl friend, and she did justice to the beautiful Poncho. She sat there waiting on the shimmering Morrokide upholstery and did her nails. I sat in the grass, between the Pontiac and the greasy old Ford, watched quietly, and took notes. But I must have lost them somewhere along the way.

The Dynamic 88 was Old’s bread-and-butter car, the Biscayne of their full size range; just the basics in terms of chrome and ornamentation. That was sometimes a good thing back then. It cost $3,379 new ($23k, adjusted), which was a 10% premium over a Chevy Impala convertible. But the Dynamic had that big 394 cubic inch “Sky Rocket” V8 standard. As well as a much nicer dashboard.

I’d seen this nice original but-not-overly-pristine 88 parked repeatedly with the top down at our non-profit recycled building supply store. I hung around at closing time, and caught the owner as he was leaving. He’s about my age, and is a volunteer there. He and his attractive wife/SO got in, and she slid over the seat and sidled up next to him. And as I watched them burble slowly down Franklin Boulevard, my convertible post-traumatic stress syndrome finally melted away in the golden glow of the late-afternoon sunshine.

Contact Paul at: curbsideclassics@gmail.com

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31 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1963 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Convertible...”


  • avatar

    A hot summer’s eve, a full-size Oldsmobile, a beautiful woman to share it with, a narrow bridge and a narcissistic alcoholic trustafarian at the wheel. What could go wrong?

    Sorry, low hanging fruit and I couldn’t resist.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Woo-hoo! I nailed it.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Bring back the clue photo.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Your best clue ever Paul. My favorite convert will always be a 57 Chev. But the 63 Pontiac was so impressive,and you painted a great picture. I can see that rag top complete with the girl.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    61 thru 64 B and C body Oldses and 61-64 B body Pontiacs were nice cars. I had a pristine loaded 64 Grand Prix that I never should have sold. The one caveat for all of these cars is the notorious 3 speed Roto-Hydramatic (aka Slim Jim) tranny. A Rube Goldberg device if there ever was one. The senior Ponchos (Star Chief and Bonneville) used the older (and much better) 4 speed Hydramatic.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    @Ronnie Schreiber.

    Strange, because when I read this piece, I got the same connotations. Perhaps there’s something in the water? Or perhaps it’s because I read up on the Chappaquiddick incident just last week. Two questions springs to my mind:

    1. Was Ted two-timing?

    2. Did he actually flee the scene of the incident and didn’t think he was gonna get caught?

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Ronnie, Ingvar
    And that’s why I like cars.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Thankyou, Paul. Another trip down memory lane. The neatest thing about the Olds 88 was that it was the platform for the Starfire. Sure, Pontiac’s star was ascending, but the Olds Rocket 88 built quite a rep in the 50s.

  • avatar
    grog

    The car was designed for slow, languid drives down arterial roads and side streets (no more than 40mph) to hit the local drive in. See and be seen.

    Or, if you happened to live in East Anklescratch, cruise up and down Main St for hours on end, again, slow and easy.

  • avatar

    very clever clue photo.

  • avatar

    Juniper,

    My comment mentioned Oldsmobiles, so it was still on topic. My folks had a ’66 Dynamic 88. It had a 425/4bbl that could put rubber down as long as you kept your foot in it. Never drove it off a bridge, though, but then my zayde was a junkman, not a bootlegger.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Juniper: it’s still there (or here):
    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/curbside-classic-clue-9/

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    Paul: Edit needed He’s about my age, is a volunteer there.

    I assume an “and” is appropriate here to make this a MORE perfect post.

    Thanks for the story, it was great!

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Really fun reading!

  • avatar
    twotone

    Nice! I’m looking for a Lincoln Continental convertible of the same year.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    geeber

    Nice car. Olds lost its way in the early 1960s…but did get back on track, first with the Toronado and then with the Cutlass series in the late 1960s.

    Any chance we’ll see a story on a late 1960s or early 1970s Cutlass/442/Hurst Olds? Those were very good – and, in many ways, under-rated – cars.

  • avatar

    Oldsmobile’s decade was really the seventies. The Toronado was an interesting exercise, but never sold very well, and the 4-4-2 was more of a cult object than the GTO. In the seventies, though, Pontiac lost its way, and the Cutlass became the best-selling model in America for a while.

    As @willbodine points out, a major weakness of the early-sixties Oldsmobiles (and Pontiacs, for that matter) was the wretched Roto Hydramatic. This was a development of the later (post-’56) dual-coupling four-speed Hydra-Matic, still used on some models through ’64 or ’65. The dual-coupling transmission was bulky and very complicated — three planetary gearsets, two fluid couplings, the second of which was empty in some gears, full in the others. The Roto Hydramatic, originally created for the F-85, basically eliminated the Hydra-Matic’s first fluid coupling and first planetary gearset, added a stator to the second coupling to make it a torque converter, and turned it into a three-speed transmission. Curiously, it still had the dump-and-fill system, so in second, the torque converter was actually empty, and you had a mechanical hookup to the engine.

    It was a lot smaller and lighter than the four-speed transmission, and cheaper to build, but it was a terrible slushbox, and I think they pretty much always leaked like an overenthusiastic puppy.

  • avatar
    dmrdano

    Nice car. Now let’s see a pic of Tracy.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    @Ronnie

    If he’d been driving a (buoyant) VW he’d have been president!

  • avatar

    @Detroit-Iron,

    –national lampoon

    My fave of the olds were the ’64s and ’65s. All of them. But then, those are my favorite years for most of GM, except Corvettes (I like the previous iteration) and I prefer the second gen Corvair (65-on) over the first. But I agree with PN that the ’63 Pontiac (full size) was the best of the ’63 GMs, and actually better IMO than the ’65 Pontiac.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Good name for a car.

    I like the styling, even if it’s a bit plain compared to the Ponchos.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Brings back lots of memories. My extended family was Oldsmobile through and through during the 60s and 70s. One of my grandmothers had a silver-blue 63 88 Holiday hardtop. I wasn’t very old at the time, but I did like that car a lot better than the 67 that she replaced it with. And it sure seemed a lot more modern than than my Uncle Bob’s white 61.

    I always thought the 63 Olds was a good looking car, but I will admit that it had a lot of competition within GM as 63 may have been one of their best years ever from top to bottom.

    The two things I recall about those early 60s Oldssss were the incredibly deep dish of the steering wheel spokes and that GM automatic shift quadrant. It just seemed to go against the natural order of things when you didn’t have to haul that shift lever all the way to the bottom to go into reverse. Both of these features were absent from our 64 Cutlass.

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    What nightmare? Not likely NAM. 43K miles and sold:
    http://www.cars-on-line.com/42292.html

  • avatar
    210delray

    Thanks for the memories, Paul! 1963 was a great year for the General and Bill Mitchell, with the Sting Ray, Riviera, and Grand Prix.

    It’s amazing how the styling changed so rapidly back then, even just considering Oldsmobile: bulbous in ’54, bombastic in ’59, and boxy in ’63. Still, the ’63 has some nice touches like the fender ridge/fin running from front to back and bisecting the taillights and the little recesses on the front end above and beside the headlights.

    My aunt had a ’61 Olds Dynamic 88 2-door hardtop. In the back seat, if you looked straight up, you saw the sky through the huge backlite. I liked the trick strip speedometer too, where the ribbon changed from green to orange above 35 mph and then to red above 70.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    I was right, it was an Olds.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    This is why I love this site. The only GM car I ever owned from this era was a 63 Cadillac. I had always assumed that Olds and Pontiac were still using the old 4 speed Hydramatic during this era, which was in my Cad. I now know that the Roto Hydramatic was a different animal entirely. This may explain why these early 60s Oldsmobiles seemed to disappear from the roads as they aged, and that the transmission failure in Uncle Bob’s 61 (when it was 6 years old) was not an anomaly.

  • avatar
    BostonDuce

    Geeze; Another time machine article for me. Did you guys grow up next door?

    I can remember a ’61 Dynamic 88 convertible, 62 Dynamic 88 sedan,63 Dynamic 88 convertible (in blue over white no less), 66 Delta 88 convertible, 65 Starfire HT, and a 67 Delta 88 sedan all parked at various times in our driveway throughout the 60′s.

    Thanks,
    BD

  • avatar
    fincar1

    +1 Twotone

    I had a desert sand 62 Lincoln convertible sedan. This was the Lincoln that proved that an American car didn’t have to be huge to be a luxury vehicle. The convertible top on the car was actually shorter than that on my 58 Plymouth ragtop. It was a very nicely designed and finished car inside and out, one of those I wish I still had.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Hey!

    You guys who claimed to answer the clue correctly didn’t give just an answer – you gave multiple answers. You two covered your bases by giving two answers or more.

    I didn’t do that.

    It was a difficult visual clue and I had to really work it out. But I gave only one answer and stuck with it.

    1963 Oldsmobile 88.

    Considering how hard I worked and by giving only one answer, which was the correct answer – I won.

    I normally wouldn’t care, but dang, that was a tough clue.

    Keep doing that!

  • avatar
    NickR

    That 394 with 3×2 sure looks great in a hot rod.

    And I do sometimes hanker for a bench seat and a big, wide dash as opposed to the curved cocoons most late model cars offer.

  • avatar
    Jim7

    Okay, first of all, you wouldn’t take the top off of a SEDAN to make a convertible, you’d take the top off of a HARDTOP (without the post.)

    The ’63 Olds might’ve seemed boring in 1n 1972, when every boy’s dream was a bright orange or “Plum Crazy” muscle car with stick-on stripes and goofy cartoonish logos everywhere, but it sure wasn’t boring in 1963. Pontiacs were nice, but all full sized GM cars played second fiddle to the styling of the smaller Riviera.

    In fact, with the exception of the ugly Chevrolet passenger cars, 1963 was a milestone styling year for most of GM’s divisions. In all of their full sized models (except Chevy) you could see the transition from awkward early 60′s styling with strange body contours to a very clean, angular mid 60′s styling. Chevy was bottom of the line, so it maintained the more frumpy motifs of early 60′s. (The Corvette, however, was legendary, of course.)

    I like the mid ’63 Ford Galaxie, but even with it’s fastback, it looked like an early 60′s car. Mopar was awful in ’63. The Olds, even with it’s suggestion of tail fins, looked decidedly mid 60′s, as did Pontiac and Buick. The others were playing catch-up for the next several years.


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