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How Oldsmobile Cars Work


Oldsmobile F-85 and Oldsmobile Cutlass
The 1960s Oldsmobile 4-4-2, shown here in a 1965-model, was Oldsmobile's new high-performance car.

The market began fragmenting soon after the new decade's dawn, and Lansing responded with other makes by issuing a variety of new Oldsmobile models. Most sold very well. The division never fell below seventh in industry output during these years and ran as high as fourth, rising from about 347,000 cars produced for 1960 to 635,000 by decade's end.

Olds jumped on the 1961 bandwagon for upscale compacts by fielding the F-85, which together with its later Cutlass variations saw steadily higher annual production through 1968.

This reflected an astute matching of product with customer tastes: small V-8s for 1961-62, larger compacts with an optional V-6 for 1964-65, the high-performance 4-4-2 series from 1964. Each year's junior Olds line was invariably right on the money. The division's standard-size cars also sold consistently well.

F-85 was one of GM's "second-wave" compacts, evolved along with the Buick Special and Pontiac Tempest from Chevrolet's rear-engine 1960 Corvair. All thus shared the first-generation Corvair's basic Y-body platform, albeit reworked for an orthodox front-engine/rear-drive format.

Tempest, with its curved driveshaft and rear transaxle, was the most radical of the B-O-P trio. Special and F-85 were resolutely conventional. Both carried an all-new, all-aluminum Buick-built V-8 of 215 cid and 155 bhp, which gave reasonable go (typical 0-60 mph: 13 seconds) and fuel economy (18 mpg). In appearance, the Olds was a bit ­cleaner than the Buick, with a simpler front end (a small-scale rendition of that year's big-Olds face) but the same ­sculpted bodysides and crisp roofline.

Naming the F-85 had been a small problem. Starfire was the first choice, but seemed to denote a big sporty car, as it had in the past (and ultimately would again for '61.) "Rockette" was rejected for projecting an unwanted image of the Radio City Music Hall dancers. The final choice looked to the Corvette-like F-88 show car of 1954, with "85" selected to avoid confusion with the big 88s.

F-85 initially offered a four-door sedan and hatchback four-door wagon in standard and Deluxe trim with a $2300-$2900 price spread. All rode a trim 112-inch wheelbase. At midyear came a pair of coupes, including a $2621 job with bucket seats and luxury interior called Cutlass, a name that would ­eventually supplant F-85. Base and Cutlass convertibles bowed for 1962.

All '62 Cutlasses offered a 185-bhp "Power-Pack" V-8, but greater interest surrounded another new derivation. This was the turbocharged Jetfire hardtop coupe, which shared honors with Chevy's 1962 Corvair Monza Spyder as America's first high-volume turbocar. With blower, the Jetfire V-8 churned out a healthy 215 bhp -- the long-hallowed "1 hp per cu. in." ideal -- but carbon buildup with certain grades of fuel necessitated an unusual water-injection system (actually, a water/alcohol mix).

While the Jetfire was remarkably fast (0-60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, top speed around 107 mph), the water-injection proved unreliable. As a result, Olds abandoned turbos for 1964 in favor of a conventional 330-cid V-8 of 230-290 bhp; at the same time, Buick's new 155-bhp 225-cid V-6 became base power for the F-85 line.

The compact Oldsmobiles grew to intermediate size after 1963, GM taking note of the huge sales generated by Ford's 1962-63 Fairlane. Wheelbase went to 115 inches, when Cutlass Holiday hardtop coupes were added.

For '68, the line was split into 112-inch-wheelbase two-door models and 116-inch-wheelbase four-doors. Styling improved over time. The original look became squarer and more "important" for '63. The '64s were bulkier but still very clean, with an even closer resemblance to big Oldsmobiles. Straight beltlines yielded to more-flowing "Coke-bottle "contours for '66, when models again expanded via hardtop sedans in Cutlass and F-85 Deluxe trim. Appear­ance began getting cluttered again after '68, with busier grilles and sometimes clumsy vinyl tops.

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