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1950-1953 Oldsmobile

1950 Oldsmobile

Demand for the 1950 Oldsmobile, as expected, went up from 1949's solid performance -- way up, rocketing past 416,000, a gain of 42 percent. Leading that year's lineup were restyled 98s with a new one-piece windshield and a more massive lower body that managed to look longer even though wheelbase was trimmed three inches to 122. Some Buicks and Cadillacs shared the 98's new B-body, but looked quite different. This was, after all, the heyday of GM styling czar Harley Earl, who knew all about "brand identity" long before the term was coined. Lansing's two A-body series received a mild update of their 1949 styling and, as planned, Holiday hardtops.

Other offerings remained mostly as before. The 98 listed standard and Deluxe Holidays, fastback two-door club sedans, notchback four-doors, fastback Town Sedan four-doors (new to the 98 line but not destined to last long), and a lone convertible. The 76 and 88 lost their four-door fastbacks, but otherwise offered the same choices as 98, plus new standard and Deluxe notchback two-door sedans and all-steel four-door wagons.

Oddly, all three ragtops came only in standard trim. The differences between standard and Deluxe models centered on higher-grade upholstery and interior fittings and a little more chrome. The price differential was about $60-$75. Speaking of prices, Oldsmobile covered a broad spread for 1950, running from $1,735 for the 76 club coupe to $2,793 for the 98 convertible.

For its second season, NASCAR ran an expanded schedule under the new name "Grand National." Oldsmobile, as in 1949, was again the star, with 88s winning 10 of that year's 19 contests versus four for Plymouth, two each for Lincoln and Mercury and one for Ford. Bill Rexford, who scored one of the Oldsmobile victories, was the season points champion. That same year, an 88 piloted by Joe Littlejohn broke a class record on the sands of Daytona with a two-way average of 100.28 mph. Capping the year's exploits, Hershel McGriff, a 22-year-old Oregon truck driver with little competition experience, teamed with Ray Elliott to win the inaugural Carrera Panamericana across Mexico in a near-stock 88 two-door sedan with Cadillac manual transmission.

Their car, dubbed "The City of Roses" to honor Portland, Oregon, finished the gruelling 2,178 miles ahead of 131 other entries at an average speed of 79 mph. Oldsmobile had done little to help secure this victory, but promptly provided McGriff with a new 88 Holiday and put him and the car on tour.

1950 Olds 98s club sedan
The club sedan, like this 1950 Oldsmobile 98, had a
122-inch wheelbase and the plushest interior fittings.

December 1950 ushered in new leadership at Oldsmobile, as Jack Wolfram took over the general manager position from Sherrod Skinner and Harold Metzel moved to replace Wolfram as chief engineer. Wolfram had already earned the nickname "Black Jack," and not without reason. Skinner was an amiable factory veteran, and as general manager he liked to show up at the plant unannounced -- to the chagrin of some supervisors.

Wolfram, on the other hand, was a dyed-in-the-wool engineer who never visited the plant unless he had to. He was also somewhat of a dictator, so staff meetings during his tenure became stiff, formal affairs, subordinates always addressing him as "Mister Wolfram."

Metzel supervised a staff of about 175 salaried employees and 170 hourly workers. Key figures included assistant chief engineer Lowell Kintigh, experimental engineer Don Perkins, executive engineer James Dykstra, standards engineer John Alfes, and body engineer S. Landall. Also on board were three men bound for even bigger things. John Beltz, a project engineer in the experimental department, would become Oldsmobile general manager in 1969, and Bob Dorshimer, a project engineer in the body group, became division chief engineer in 1972.

Most successful of all was one Elliot M. "Pete" Estes, then a chassis engineer under Dykstra, who went on to become general manager of Pontiac and Chevrolet in the Sixties, then served seven years as GM president starting in 1974.

Wolfram might have been a taskmaster, but he wasn't always a grinch. According to engineer Dick Steele, the new general manager would often test Rocket V-8 refinements by using the streets of Lansing as a "proving ground." Wolfram would pair with Metzel in one prototype, Steele with Kintigh in a second, and the two cars would go roaring off down South Logan Street -- side-by-side. Wolfram always stayed right for safety, leaving Steele and Kintigh to dodge oncoming traffic in the left lane. Wolfram always chuckled about that, but Steele also remembered a few close calls.

On the next page, find out why the 1950 Oldsmobile's successor didn't fare as well.

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