Jack Wolfram was chief engineer during the Oldsmobile Rocket's development, but the actual design was largely the work of Gilbert Burrell, based on principles devised by legendary GM research chief Charles Kettering.
Arriving with 135 horsepower, the Rocket was first intended only for the big 98s, but Oldsmobile general manager Sherrod Skinner had the bright idea of slotting it into the lighter bodies of the six-cylinder Series 76. The resulting Futuramic 88s boasted a weight-to-power ratio of about 22.5 pounds horsepower -- excellent for the time. Torque was also impressive at 263 pound-feet.
With that, an 88 could run 0-60 mph in 12-13.5 seconds, depending on model and whether the transmission was manual or Hydra-Matic automatic. Initial compression was a mild 7.25:1, but the Rocket was designed to go as high as 12:1; engineers had anticipated postwar fuels with ultra-high octane, but gas never became so rich that such lofty ratios were practical.
The Oldsmobile 98 got the Rocket for 1949 and new
styling for 1950; this model is close to final form.
Oldsmobile played another trump card for 1949: the 98 Holiday that bowed alongside the Buick Roadmaster Riviera and Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville as America's first volume-produced "hardtop convertibles." Presaging yet another trend was Lansing's first all-steel station wagon, offered in 76 and 88 guise. As at Chevrolet and Pontiac, this looked much like the part-wood wagon it replaced at midyear. Not predictive at all were the fastback Town Sedan four-doors in the 76 and 88 lines. They didn't sell well and would be dropped after this one year.
Overall, though, Oldsmobile had a terrific 1949, model-year volume jumping from near 179,000 to almost 294,000, a new record. Not surprisingly, most were Rockets. The premium Series 98 alone scored a healthy 93,500, while the new 88 posted more than 99,000 to slightly best the Series 76 despite model-for-model prices some $300-$400 higher. Interestingly, Oldsmobile enlarged its veteran straight six for 1949 to the same 257.1 cubic inches as its discontinued straight eight. But with just 105 horsepower, a 76 paled beside an 88. The public agreed, and Oldsmobile would offer nothing but V-8s after 1950.
To Skinner's undoubted delight, the potent 88 quickly proved itself in competition. Oldsmobile won NASCAR's inaugural 1949 season by taking six of nine "Strictly Stock" races and giving Robert "Red" Byron the driver's championship. That same year, an 88 convertible paced the field at the 33rd Indianapolis 500. Suddenly, Oldsmobile was hot on the track and in showrooms alike, and there seemed nowhere to go but up.
On the next page, learn more about how the 1950 Oldsmobile benefited from its predecessor's success.
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