How Oldsmobile Cars Work

Oldsmobile's Futuramic models had a futuristic style and set the standard for all 1949 Olds. The 1948 Futuramic 98 convertible is shown here.

The Oldsmobile Rocket Engine

Though called "Dynamic," the 1948 Oldsmobiles saw only detail changes: round hood medallion, "Oldsmobile" spelled in block letters below, and full-length chrome rocker-panel moldings.

Then, in February, Olds got a jump on most rivals with the "Futuramic" 98, arriving simultaneously with similar styling from Cadillac as GM's first all-new postwar cars. Both were created by Harley Earl's Art & Colour staff with inspiration from the Lockheed P-38 fighter aircraft (well-known for having prompted Cadillac's 1948 tailfins).

The 98s comprised a convertible, four-door sedan, and fastback club sedan that were beautifully shaped to look longer and lower despite a slightly trimmer 125-inch wheelbase. Sedans offered a choice of standard and deluxe trim. Prices ranged from $1920 for the base two-door to $2466 for the Deluxe-only convertible.

The public responded strongly to the '48s, particularly the 98s, which saw better than 65,000 sales. More than half were four-door sedans.

Olds followed up with Futuramic styling for all 1949 models, plus two new innovations. One was the landmark overhead-valve "Rocket" V-8 designed by Gilbert Burrell. Again, Olds shared honors with Cadillac, which also had a new high-compression V-8 that year, though it was developed independently of Lansing's.

Both divisions had been encouraged to outdo each other, and Cadillac actually raised displacement to maintain a "proper distance" from Oldsmobile's V-8. The Rocket arrived at 303.7 cid; Cadillac had started at 309, then went to 331 cid.

A five-main-bearing unit with oversquare cylinder dimensions, the Rocket was initially rated at 135 bhp. Putting it in the lighter 119.5-inch chassis of the six-cylinder 76 created a Futuramic 88 with power-to-weight ratios of about 22.5 pounds/horsepower -- quite good for the time.

Torque was also impressive at 263 pound-feet. Initial compression was a mild 7.25:1, but the Rocket was designed for ratios as high as 12:1. Engineers had anticipated postwar fuels with ultra-high octane, though levels never became quite high enough to make such ratios practical.

Management had originally planned the Rocket only for the 98, but dropping it into the smaller B-body was a natural move, and the 88 soon began rewriting the stock-car racing record book. Meanwhile, the Olds six was enlarged to the old eight's 257.1 cid for 105 bhp. It continued through 1950, after which Olds offered nothing but V-8s.

Oldsmobile's other '49 innovation was the 98 Holiday, a new $2973 pillarless coupe that bowed alongside the Buick Riviera and Cadillac Coupe de Ville as America's first volume-production "hardtop convertibles."

Presaging another industry trend was Lansing's first all-steel station wagon, offered in 76 and 88 guise. As at Chevy and Pontiac, it appeared at midyear to replace an existing part-wood wagon, and looked much like it. Not predictive at all were fastback Town Sedan four-doors added to the 76 and 88 lines. None sold that well, and would be dropped after this one year.

With so much new, Olds had a rollicking 1949, with home-market production soaring from the 172,500 of 1948 to a record 288,000-plus. The 1950 tally was nearly 408,000, helped by new 76 and 88 Holidays.

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