Curbside Classic: 1959 Oldsmobile Super 88

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
curbside classic 1959 oldsmobile super 88

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.

Join the conversation
2 of 74 comments
  • Danisaurus Danisaurus on Oct 25, 2011

    Hello, I am curious as to where these photos were taken. I sold this car years ago to someone and am sad to see it in the condition it is in now. It looks also like it may have been tagged for towing. Is that the case? Please let me know where this car was spotted! Thank you in advance.

  • Dukestory Dukestory on Apr 13, 2012

    Interesting write-up on the Super 88. I happen to have a mint condition version of the 1959 Super 88 Convertible. I love driving and riding in this car....Need help with finding parts...58s seem to have a lot of parts in the market....but not the 59s..any advice on where I could get the parts. I'd love to find the car in the pictures...could be a great source for parts.

  • SCE to AUX Historically, the Land Cruiser sold ~3000 units annually in the US for its last 15 years, so the answer is no.
  • Theflyersfan Oh boy - the sequential manual transmission. Otherwise known as "Your 16 year old driving stick the first time is smoother" transmission. I know automakers were trying new things out around this time and seeing what would stick (hint: the dual clutches won out), but even in testing, the Toyota engineers should have said いいえ、ジャンクです。(No. It's a piece of junk.) Is this seller going to get $8500? Doubt it. Way too much interior work is needed and it just looks worn out in there. St. Petersburg - salt air year round can do some wonders under the cover as well. But the exterior still looks good which makes me thing it was garage kept. So, for $8,500 - no chance. But for maybe $5,500 to $6,000 and the buyer doesn't mind some extra work to clean up the interior, maybe a decent top down sun down fun car. Just hope the transmission holds up.
  • Dukeisduke Only if there's a significant price difference between it and the Lexus GX. Otherwise, no. If they do bring it over, they'll have to ditch that ugly grille.
  • Theflyersfan Chris here just gave me a big old dose of nightmare fuel with this. Let me explain... This past Saturday, driving home after doing some furniture shopping. I-64 Westbound is closed for extensive repairs in my part of Louisville so I had to take surface streets home. No problem as it's basically a straight shot from said furniture store to my domicile. Now, I had that recent spinal fusion surgery in my neck complete with four screws, some plates, artificial bone, and the chance that things might not have healed correctly so things are a bit tender and sore still. Driving home in a part of the area named St. Matthews when I pass a Walgreens. Barreling out of this Walgreens and totally ignoring the stop sign, and situational awareness of ANYTHING around him is a truck, very similar to the one shown above. Same color even. It's a four lane road - main drag through town. I'm in the inside lane and this 7,000 pound monstrosity is suddenly feet from turning an MX-5 into shrapnel. Top is down, had my wits, quickly downshift and manage to do a wild u-turn like move into the oncoming traffic lanes but avoided the hit. The neck, however, didn't like the strain and trauma and sent parts of my body into fits of limited sensations and pain. The truck driver, realizing what he's done suddenly stops. My top is down, windows are down, and we make eye contact as I pull alongside the person I have suddenly wished death on inside a flaming pit. And if I repeat the sentences of what was yelled at that jack***es face, I'll be on insta-ban here in milliseconds. He yells over, "Man, I'm sorry...I didn't see ya!" Well, ***face, learn what a stop sign means and scan the scene first. And get something that you can see over and in front instead of the blind spots that hide everyone under the age of 14 in front of the truck. So, I'm all for forcing these overdone, oversized, overfed, overstyled, guzzling, tiny-genital compensating redneck wannabe road monsters taken out back and put to rest and we return to normalcy. Made it home hurting like hell and tests were done today to check for further injury. And that Mazda can turn and spin on a dime... Try that move in that Sierra AT4XBZQZW8! whatever.
  • Dukeisduke I've read stories about that air suspension system - insanely high pressures, and crazy expensive to repair. I loved the Mark VIII's styling back then, but it definitely hasn't aged well.Also:"Mark VII was the first Mark available with dual front airbags..." Did you mean Mark VIII?