For the 1956 Oldsmobile line, styling changes included an oval front air intake without a horizontal crossbar, nearly identical to the "large-mouth bass" design of the original Starfire.
Oldsmobile's new grille for 1956, seen here
on a Super 88, had no horizontal crossbar.
As for side trim, on the 88 and Super 88 there was a chrome strip down the side from the trailing edge of the front wheel well all the way to the rear of the car. The rear fender slash was back, but this time it was slightly bowed, not straight, as it dropped from the beltline dip to the strip down the side. The trim on the Ninety-Eight formed a torpedo-like outline along the side of the car -- or would it be more appropriate to say a rocket-like outline?
The Holiday hardtops had arrived. The Holiday sedan became the best-selling body type in the Super 88 and Ninety-Eight series, while the Holiday coupe was the favorite 88.
Dash design changed slightly. The round speedometer and clock faces were replaced by large oval units. The auxiliary gauges disappeared, however, giving way to "idiot lights" at either end of the speedometer pod.
In the engine, thinner head gaskets were combined with a further reduction in combustion chamber volume to raise compression ratio to a new high of 9.25:1. That boosted the four-barrel-carb engine's output to 240 gross horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 350 pound-feet of torque at 2,800 rpm, while the two-barrel variant now made 230 gross horsepower at 4,400 and 340 pound-feet at 2,400. The two powerplants were known as the T-350 and T-340, respectively, after their torque ratings. Dual exhausts were an option for the first time and were said to increase horsepower up to 7 percent and torque 6 percent.
Manual transmissions were still standard in the 88 and Super 88 ranges, but for the first time, Ninety-Eights were fitted with the Hydra-Matic as standard equipment. It was a new version of GM's famed autobox, which Motor Trend's Al Kidd described in a "Drivescription" in the December 1955 issue:
"The biggest engineering feature is the entirely new Jetaway Hydra-Matic transmission on 98s and Super 88s. This new unit retains the desirable flexibility of last year's Dual Range H-M but with almost unheard of smoothness. Basically, the new Hydra-Matic differs from the 1955 version in that the front bands and clutches have been replaced with a 2nd small fluid coupling and 2 sprag clutches (one-way "clutches" that permit free-wheeling at speeds from 5 to 14 mph, depending on the range). This new 2nd coupling fills and empties with fluid to literally blend ratio changes ...
"Altho we were unable to make any timed runs, it is safe to say that the new Hydra-Matic is contributing considerably to added Olds punch ...
"Service problems should be reduced since the new transmission eliminates the formerly necessary band adjustments and is designed to be generally more durable."
The 1956s also featured a chrome stripe down the side.
Kidd wrote a more detailed road test of the 1956 Super 88 for the April 1956 Motor Trend, in which he found the performance somewhat disappointing.
"The Rocket still has enough punch, but virtually all phases of acceleration times turned in by the '56 4-door hardtop were either just about the same or a few tenths of a second slower than the figures we got last year," he wrote. "With an increase of 38 horsepower we expected an improvement. Oldsmobile engineers say that they have turned in better times than the ones we recorded. Our '56 test car was some 140 pounds heavier than the '55 4-door we tested last year and of even more importance was the fact that the '55 test was conducted in placid California weather, while the current test took place on an extremely cold Michigan day."
That's less an explanation of the differences -- or lack of them -- in the acceleration of the 1955 and 1956 Olds Super 88s than it is an admission of the inconsistencies of road test conditions in the early days of the auto magazines.
For 1956, Olds production dropped nearly 100,000 units, to 485,458, but because of sales slumps elsewhere, Olds was able to hold on to its fifth place ranking in the industry
The 1954-1956 Oldsmobiles were good cars -- by mid-Fifties standards, in fact, very good cars. They were powerful, readable, comfortable and stylish. Oldsmobile Division had every right to be proud of them then; collectors still can be today.
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