Curbside Classic: 1963 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Convertible

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer

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.

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Paul Niedermeyer
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  • Nick Nick on Sep 03, 2009

    That 394 with 3x2 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.

  • Jim7 Jim7 on Aug 08, 2010

    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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