In a sense, Oldsmobile didn't really need to introduce dramatic new styling for the 1948-1949 Oldsmobile Futuramic 98. Nobody did, for World War II had left in its wake a severe shortage of new automobiles, and the industry was still struggling to catch up with demand.
The $2,973 convertible was to many eyes the most
glamorous of the 1949 Oldsmobile Futuramic 98s.
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True, most of the independent automakers -- Nash being the sole exception -- had already introduced new models in an effort to strengthen their competitive positions. But both Buick and Chrysler, Oldsmobile's major competitors in the medium-price bracket, continued to serve up warmed-over 1942 models, selling them as fast as they could be produced.
On the other hand, with an assist from General Motors' Fisher Body division, Cadillac was about to introduce a dramatic new "C-body" model, featuring an aircraft-inspired styling theme. Surely, Oldsmobile must have its own version of this new body, because for many years Oldsmobile had been widely regarded as General Motors' "experimental" division, positioned more often than not in the vanguard of change.
In 1924, for instance, Oldsmobile (along with Oakland) had been the first to use Duco lacquer in place of the slow-drying paint finishes of the time. A year later, Oldsmobile pioneered the use of chrome-plated radiator shells. In 1934, it became the first General Motors division to adopt hydraulic brakes.
The following year, it beat sister division Buick by a full year in offering the seamless all-steel "Turret" top. Then, in 1940, Oldsmobile was the first American automobile to offer a fully automatic transmission, Hydra-Matic Drive.
Before World War II was over, Oldsmobile engineers had begun work behind the scenes on an all-new V-8 engine. To be sure, an Oldsmobile V-8 was nothing new -- the company had built thousands of them between 1916 and 1923, not to mention the short-lived, Oldsmobile-built Viking V-8 of 1929-1930.
But this new one was to be a super-efficient powerplant, a short-stroke, high-compression, overhead-valve job based on principles established by Charles F. Kettering, the legendary "Boss Ket" who had developed, among other advancements, the electric self-starter for the 1912 Cadillac.
The target date for the new engine's introduction was to be 1949. Accordingly, construction got under way on a new $10 million factory in Lansing, Oldsmobile's home base, where it would be produced.
Ironically, for all of its progressive reputation, one could think of Oldsmobile as General Motors' hard-luck division. Its cars had consistently been stylish, sometimes -- as in 1928-1929 and again in 1935 -- much more so than comparable Buicks. They had been well engineered and solidly constructed machines. Their performance had always been competent, if less than flashy.
And with prices generally well below Buick's, they offered excellent value for money. And yet, with the exception of a three-year period during the Depression, 1934 through 1936, Oldsmobile had consistently lagged behind Buick in sales, and more often than not, behind Pontiac as well.
Take 1940, for instance, the year Olds introduced the revolutionary Hydra-Matic fully automatic transmission. The division -- still known as Olds Motor Works in those days -- offered three lines of cars. There was the A-bodied Series 60 and the B-bodied Series 70, both with six-cylinder power. There was also the upmarket Series 90 Custom Cruiser, a big, luxurious straight-eight-powered four-model line.
Oldsmobile had been building inline eights ever since 1932, but the bulk of its production had always been made up of six-cylinder models. In 1939, for example, the eight-cylinder cars, then known as the Series 80, accounted for only 13.5 percent of the division's total output.
So the introduction the following year of the 90 -- a larger, more expensive car -- was rather a bold move on Oldsmobile's part. The gamble paid off, however, for nearly a quarter of the division's 1940 production was made up of the big, new straight-eight models.
For more on the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser 90, continue on to the next page.
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