By 1951, America was embroiled in the Korean "police action," prompting government restrictions on civilian production that blunted car sales industry-wide. As a result, 1951-1952 Oldsmobile production was artificially low; 1951 model-year volume dropped 30 percent to 291,553.
The Super 88 remained Oldsmobile's top seller
in 1952, a down year.
The cars themselves, though, were better than ever. All were V-8 powered, as the old six was dropped along with Futuramic nameplates, fastbacks, and -- a bit surprisingly -- wagons. The 88 was now the low-end series, replacing the 76 with just a two- and four-door sedan, still with basic 1949 styling. One step up were new Super 88s comprising two sedans, club coupe, Holiday hardtop, and convertible. All used a new "OB" body with one-piece windshield, fractionally longer 120-inch wheelbase (88s stayed at 119.5), and styling much like that of 98s. Sheetmetal on top-line Oldsmobiles changed little, but trim was redone, especially on the bodysides and around the grille.
Overall length shrank an inch to 208 (Supers measured 204) and offerings were pared to Deluxe convertible, Holiday, and four-door sedan, plus a standard-trim Holiday. Reflecting Lansing's optimism and GM planning, the price spread was narrowed and pushed slightly higher, running from $1,922 for a two-door 88 to $2,795 for a 98 ragtop.
Back on the then mostly dirt tracks of NASCAR, Oldsmobile claimed 20 of 41 events in 1951. But tellingly, all the victories came with low-line 88s, not the heavier new Supers. Oldsmobiles were slowly but surely bulking up into posh luxury cars that might be quick, but were closer to Buicks than Pontiacs in market appeal.
With that and the rise of Hudson's amazing six-cylinder Hornets, 1951 was the last year that Olds dominated NASCAR. Even so, 88s continued to show their mettle for several years. Paul Frere, for example, drove one to victory in a 1952 stock-car race at Spa in Belgium, and a 1950 model named "Roarin' Relic" was still winning the occasional modified race as late as 1959.
The bright rear-fender stone shields give away
this 1951 Oldsmobile 88 as a deluxe model.
Production was again artificially limited for 1952, and lower at 219,532 units. But the Korean War hadn't stopped Detroit's horsepower war, and Oldsmobile was on the front line with a more potent Rocket-two. Super 88s and Ninety-Eights (as the premium series was now being described in print) got a new 160-horsepower version with high-lift camshaft and a new four-barrel "Quadri-Jet" carburetor.
A two-barrel engine with 145 horsepower was reserved for a pair of Deluxe 88 sedans with the same 120-inch-wheel-base B-body as Supers, thus ousting the 1949 shells at last. These price-leaders weren't that much more "deluxe" than the previous year's 88s, though they cost some $300 more. Supers and Ninety-Eights received detail styling changes, and the top-liners added two inches to their wheelbase, which now measured 124. Prices spanned a $2,246-$3,207 range; an Oldsmobile hadn't cost more than $3,000 since the make's earliest days.
Oldsmobile had pioneered the fully automatic transmission in 1940, but it wasn't until the postwar period that its Hydra-Matic Drive became really popular. For 1952, Oldsmobile gave it a "Super" range that was geared for better hillclimbing power and stronger downhill engine braking than the conventional Drive and Low ranges provided.
Also new for 1952 was GM Saginaw power steering, a $185 option that would soon be as popular as Hydra-Matic. Two other new extras didn't go over nearly as well: a 15-jewel, self-winding Marr watch mounted on the steering wheel, yours for $35; and GM's gimmicky "Autronic Eye" automatic headlamp dimmer. Still available at extra cost were oil filter (you read right), heavy-duty air cleaner, turn signals, full wheel covers, radio, and a compass.
On the next page, find out how the 1953 Oldsmobile bounced back after production curbs were lifted due to the Korean War.
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