1954-1956 Oldsmobile

The great mid-Fifties boom period for medium-priced cars -- a time that saw phenomenal sales for most manufacturers in the segment, inspired bigger, plusher cars from the "Low-priced Three," and tempted Ford to create the Edsel -- got something of a late start at Oldsmobile, after the 1954 Oldsmobile designs were scrapped.

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1954 Oldsmobile Super 88
The 1954 Oldsmobile Super 88 and other models were
 originally slated to be 1955s. See more pictures of Oldsmobiles.

The 1954 Oldsmobile 88, Super 88, and Ninety-Eight were introduced on January 20, 1954. That was strange, because General Motors usually announced its new cars in the autumn of the previous calendar year, not after the first of January. At a press conference, Oldsmobile General Manager Jack Wolfram offered what may have been a partial explanation for the postponement: "The new 1954 Oldsmobile models were originally planned for release in 1955. But original plans were scrapped early in 1953 when it was found possible to move the 1955 models up to 1954."

Wolfram's statement began a controversy among motoring historians that continues to this day. For example, Dennis Casteele wrote in his book, The Cars of Oldsmobile, "This was probably just an advertising claim as General Motors, with its interdivisional sharing of body design, didn't operate that way."

However, automotive journalists Jan E. Norbye and Jim Dunne were convinced it happened with the 1954s. As they stated in their history Oldsmobile 1946-1980: The Classic Postwar Years, "[T]he cars that were first designed for 1954 were shown to the top management of GM in November 1952. [GM President Harlow] Red Curtice blew his stack. The cars were lumpy, warmed-over, unimaginative -- worse than the '53 models, he is supposed to have said."

As for who suggested junking the original 1954s and putting the 1955s into production a year earlier than intended, Norbye and Dunne speculated about several possibilities and finally picked the most likely.

"One story has it that Louis C. Goad, then executive vice-president with overall responsibility for the Car and Truck Group, simply asked the question in a meeting: 'The designs for the 1955 cars are pretty well finished. Would it be possible to get them into production sooner?' No matter how it came about, it was possible. And it was done."

1953 Oldsmobile
The 1953 Oldsmobile got a slighty longer lease
on life until the belated 1954s arrived.

Actually, Oldsmobile wasn't alone at GM in terms of late starts and new bodies. The 1954 Chevrolet and Pontiac didn't hit showrooms until December 1953, with the Cadillac and Buick arriving the following month.

The latter two makes featured new styling that had been in the works since 1950. A new C-body was fitted to the Caddy and Buick Super and Roadmaster. However, the "junior" Buick Special and Century were dressed in a redone B-body, which was to be shared by all Oldsmobiles. The need to have this body ready for the 1954 Buicks likely could have had a hand in helping the planners in Lansing move up their timetables.

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