Decline of the 1962-1963 Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire
Only 3765 Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire coupes were sold in 1962, followed by 5842 more in 1963 before Oldsmobile dropped its turbo car.
The following year saw the debut of a larger F-85 -- a true intermediate -- with body-on-frame construction and a conventional cast-iron 330-cid V-8. It begat a high-performance model, the 4-4-2, that kept Oldsmobile a member in good standing in the Sixties muscle-car fraternity.
The final chapter in the Jetfire saga was written in 1965, when General Motors offered to convert turbocharged engines into four-barrel carbureted versions (with conventional intake and exhaust systems) at no cost.
Did its troublesome fluid-injection system kill the Jetfire? Not entirely, but it was the foremost culprit. "People would let them run out of fluid, then complain about the performance," Jetfire expert Bruce Sweeter told Special Interest Autos magazine in its March/April 1996 issue.
Harold Metzel, divisional chief engineer at the time of the Jetfire, recalled in the Olds centennial history Setting the Pace that "we had to have so many things that modified the engine -- so many controls -- it became a monstrosity. It was good for squealing the tires, but it was too expensive with all the controls."
Engineer Tom Leonard suggested that "the Jetfire had too many belts and suspenders on it . . . . The water-injection system ended up with too many safety features . . . to be very practical. It was overkill." In his view, too, "the wrong people were buying -- little old ladies. . . . A lot of people would never kick in the turbocharger," causing it to "freeze up."
Gaskets and diaphragms leaked. Like other 215-cid engines, the Jetfire had cooling woes. Automatic transmissions sometimes shifted harshly, and driveshafts were vulnerable. Then, too, the aluminum V-8 was said to be expensive to manufacture (though that didn't stop England's Rover from buying the 215's tooling to use in its sedans and Land Rover off-road vehicles).
As it turned out, the turbocharging bandwagon passed by quickly. Chevrolet offered a turbo Corvair until 1966, but then the system disappeared from U.S. passenger cars. However, more than a decade later, when automakers again needed a way to increase power without turning to bigger engines, the turbocharger made a significant comeback.
Starting with several Buicks in 1978, turbo-boosted engines turned up in numerous American car lines into the 1990s. Ironically, none of them were Oldsmobiles.