Contrasts and extremes; it’s what keeps things (and this gig) from getting dull. Today I give you the ultimate contrast to yesterday’s Porsche 356A. Both were built at the same time, and were the pride and joy of their respective countries. A reasonably affluent buyer could afford either of these, although even the 60 hp “Normal” 356 cost somewhat more than the 315 hp Super 88 in 1959. Either way, their respective owners would have enjoyed the prestige and envy of their neighbors when they drove them home new. But look at these two cars forty years later, and what do we see? Contrasts; and lots of them. They’re about as different as two cars can get. But thanks to a bi-continental childhood and a little help from my friends, I can still find love for both of them.
I’m not going to launch into the hackneyed “fall from glory yank tank” rag here. Yes, America’s self-confidence and exuberance of the late fifties and early sixties was soon proven to be a bit misplaced. And this ’59 Oldsmobile is a mighty painful reminder of that. In my book, it’s the weakest of the wild GM sisters of that peak year of irrational auto-exuberance. If there’s an ounce of true inspiration in this design, it long went up in a puff of smoke.
It’s as if the blank, unadorned corporate 1959 body shell, which for the first time ever was shared by all the divisions, was passed around one at a time, and Oldsmobile got it last. You can just image the Olds studio frantically sketching various wild fin/tail light combos deep into the night that somehow would look different from the other four: Chevy’s batwing, Caddy’s ultra-fin, Buick’s fairly clean in-between Caddy and Chevy fin, and Pontiac’s...oops, maybe Pontiac and Olds both got the dregs in that corporate design bottom-fishing exercise. Oh well.
The Oldsmobile rear end still looks somewhat less cohesive than the Pontiac’s, although that’s not saying a lot. It just looks so damned contrived, whereas the Caddy, Chevy and Buick tails are expressive; whatever was being passed around to stimulate the creative juices, those three got the good stuff. But then there’s that front end. Never mind; I’m not even going to bother trying to compare them all. Any way you look at this car, it just isn’t going to come up as a winner.
Under the hood was another story; this Super 88 had the new 394 cubic inch (6.5 liter) Rocket V8 that belted out a hefty 315 (gross) horsepower. I bet the kids of the original owner had some fun with this sled back in the day. And those wide seats were good for more than just feeling the push of the Rocket against your back.
Another study in contrasts is to the 1951 Olds Super 88 we reviewed here a while back. As fun as these late fifties cars are to look at and stimulate our memories of the good old days, the reality is that they were anything but an improvement of the cars being made ten years earlier, except in certain technical aspects. But the basic package of the ’49 – ’55 era cars was substantially better; more compact yet much more comfortable to sit in with their tall seats and superb leg room. As I’ve pointed out before, the tallish boxy car makes a much more practical one, as today’s better CUVs/MPVs make all-too clear if you’re looking for maximum personal space. If Detroit had invested in the continual refinement of its 1949 models, by 1959 they would have had the…big sedan version of a Porsche. Oh well…
The highlight of this Olds in my book is that steering wheel. My brother’s friend drove a 1960 Olds two-door hardtop, and it had that same cool wheel. We’d go wallowing off in that spacey ride and drop acid; what a perfect combination. I just couldn’t get enough of that steering wheel and…’nuff already. Let’s just say that in 1969, a hand-me-down Olds like this and hallucinogens turned this Olds into a Righteous Rocket Ride , but probably safer and certainly more visually stimulating than the Porsche. I knew if I kept at it long enough, I would find something good to say about this Jetsons-mobile. Better leave it at that, before my blood-sugar drops any further and colors my mood.