By the time the 1953 Oldsmobile model year rolled around, Oldsmobile had been doing its part for the Korean War. The company turned out bazooka rockets, 90mm cannon, and, as a subcontractor to Buick, components for the new Curtiss-Wright J-65 jet aircraft engine, a job that prompted construction of a new Lansing factory simply called the Jet Plant. Interestingly, the engines with Oldsmobile-supplied components outperformed other J-65s by several hundred pounds of thrust.
The 1953 Ninety-Eight ragtop offered
plush open-air motoring.
General Douglas MacArthur, though recently relieved of his command in Korea, visited the Jet Plant and other Oldsmobile facilities on May 15, 1952. He received a hero's welcome from a good many former GIs who'd served under him in World War II.
Production curbs were gradually lifted in 1953, allowing Oldsmobile to build more than 341,000 cars for the model year. Though the entire lineup was being redesigned for 1954, the 1953s sported a fair number of changes. For starters, a half-point compression boost (to 8.0:1) added five horsepower to both Rocket V-8s, and an even tighter squeeze yielded 170 horsepower for a flashy new top-line convertible, the Ninety-Eight Fiesta, which also came with Hydra-Matic, power everything, and modern-as-tomorrow wraparound windshield. The Fiesta would be a one-year wonder with only 458 produced, mainly due to a towering $5,715 price, but it was a great showroom draw.
Options for the rest of the line expanded again, the list now showing power brakes ($33) and factory air conditioning from GM's Frigidaire division (a stiff $550). All 1953s switched from six- to 12-volt electrical systems, got a shiny new symmetrical dashboard with room for the Hydra-Matic shift quadrant (moved from the steering column), and large oval outriggers on the horizontal grille bar, a preview of 1954.
Oldsmobile was still winning in NASCAR, just not as often. The 1953 season brought nine victories (after just three in 1952), highlighted by Buck Baker's triumph in the Southern 500.
A major setback occurred on August 12, 1953, when a fire destroyed the Hydra-Matic plant at Livonia, Michigan. As a result, some 23,000 Oldsmobiles were built with Buick's Dynaflow transmission, the only other automatic in the GM stable that could handle the Rocket engine's torque. Sherrod Skinner, who'd moved over to head GM's accessory divisions, soon got production going again in the former Kaiser Willow Run plant near Ypsilanti, Michigan, in time for the 1954 models, but not before the $30 million blaze cost GM an estimated 100,000 sales company-wide.
A Super 88 Holiday shows off the bumper/grille motif
that was Oldmobile's biggest style change for 1953.
Despite that calamity the early Fifties were a great time for Oldsmobile, and even better times lay ahead. But it's all over now, and that's a shame. After more than 100 years, the automotive world just won't seem the same without Oldsmobile.
On the next page, read about Oldsmobile specifications during this time period.
For more information on different types of cars, see: