1955 Oldsmobile

The 1955 Oldsmobile had a revised grille, joining the oval outline of the Starfire concept car's air intake with a horizontal crossbar and twin bumper "bombs" like those used on the 1953 and 1954 production cars.

1955 Oldsmobile 98 Starfire convertible
With cars like the 98 Starfire convertible,
1955 was one of Oldsmobile's best years.

There was new side trim, too. A strip of chrome similar to that used on the previous year's Ninety-Eight started ahead of the front wheel well and tapered back to meet an elongated S-curve snaking down from the beltline. "Everywhere you look, there's the magic touch of Oldsmobile's unmistakable and exclusive 'flying color' styling!" enthused that year's sales brochure.

The semi-teardrop wheel wells, previously exclusive to the Ninety-Eight, were now also used on the 88 and Super 88, and seemed to blend well with the new trim. However, on the junior cars the effect was achieved with a skirt that fit the rectangular outline of the opening as introduced in 1954.

The most significant innovation in Olds design for 1955 was a brand-new body type -- not an everyday occurrence in the Motor City -- that appeared in March 1955. It was a four-door hardtop sedan, and Olds was the first manufacturer to offer it in all of its lines, reaffirming its reputation as GM's innovator.

The idea was previewed at the 1953 Motorama with the Cadillac Orleans, a forerunner of that division's Sedan de Ville. However, initial production of the four-door hardtop was restricted to the B-body. Olds offered it as the Holiday sedan in its 88, Super 88, and Ninety-Eight series, and Buick included it as the four-door Riviera for the Special and Century. The following year, it became available on all three GM platforms, from the A-bodied Chevrolet and Pontiac to the C-bodied big Buick and Cadillac.

The four-door sedan remained the favorite style in the Super 88 and Ninety-Eight ranges, while the Holiday coupe was the best-seller among base 88s. But the new Holiday sedan would soon make its mark. Despite its mid-season introduction, almost 120,000 of the sporty Olds four-doors were produced for 1955.

Under the hood, combustion chamber volume was reduced, raising the Rocket's compression ratio another quarter of a point to 8.5:1.

Output of the four-barrel carb version was boosted to 202 gross horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 332 pound-feet of torque at 2,400 rpm, while the two-barrel version in the 88 went up to 185 gross horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 320 pound-feet at 2,000 rpm. The four-barrel engine also became available as an option for the 88, a tempting combination for those who might like the hotter Super 88/Ninety-Eight engine in a lighter 88 body.

Some terse observations on how the 1955 Super 88 compared with the 1954 were offered by Al Kidd in the April 1955 issue of Motor Trend: "Acceleration: Olds accelerates with the best; '55 Super 88 nicks a little off '54 times in every department. Exceptional in 50-80 runs: 11.3 average is almost 4 full seconds less than last year. Covers 1/4-mile in only about 1/2 second less than in '54, but it's going 5 1/2 mph faster when it gets there. Has the feel that it wants to go at all speeds right up to its top of 109.7 mph."

Kidd might wonder today, "Who needs ABS?" As he reported on the Super 88 four decades ago, "Braking: Stops just as well as it accelerates. Power brakes operate from low-hung pendular pedal; locked all wheels of test car evenly and pulled car to straight stops."

1955 Oldsmobile 98 Holiday
The 1955 Oldsmbile 98 still had semi-teardrop wheel wells,
but now it was not alone.

And, considering the wallowing road behavior of many full-size cars of the Fifties, Kidd had kind things to say about the 1955 Super 88's suspension:

"Readability: Good compromise between road-ability and soft riding quality. Directional stability generally good, but you'll have to correct in a crosswind. On tight, fast turns, car will drift a little and rear end will break loose if you really push it. Here again, excellent road feel thru power steering makes correction easy and power available at speeds over 50 mph makes you master of just about any situation. Moderate amount of lean on turns, and tubeless tires (new this year) protest even conservative cornering with a squeal. ... Ride: Ride end of compromise is better than average. Olds front end now has direct-acting shock absorbers mounted vertically within springs -- result is smoother ride. ... At top speeds comfort is exceptional: absolutely no vibration or front-end oscillation. With as good a ride as all but softest-sprung cars, Olds is a safe bet for comfort."

Despite its locking brakes and squealing tires, the 1955 Oldsmobile was a stunning success, with production for the model year of 583,179 units. That was the highest in the division's history and a record that would stand for 10 years.

To put that achievement in perspective, in July 1955, Olds produced its 5 millionth car since Ransom E. opened up shop in 1896. More than 11 percent of that 59-year total were 1955 models.

Yet, despite the record output. Olds slipped a notch in the industry standings, dropping to fifth place behind a resurgent Plymouth.

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