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1954-1956 Oldsmobile

1954 Oldsmobile Design

As the 1954 models were being readied for the assembly line, Art Ross, Olds' chief stylist, was putting the finishing touches on two convertible show cars for the 1953 GM Motorama -- the Fiesta and the Starfire -- that would influence the 1954 Oldsmobile design.

1954 Oldsmobile 98 Starfire
The 1954 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Starfire picked up
a name from a concept car that inspired that year's line.

The Fiesta was a modified Ninety-Eight soft-top that went into limited production for 1953 as the Olds counterpart to the Buick Skylark and Cadillac Eldorado. The Starfire was a sleek, low-slung concept car that borrowed the name of an advanced fighter aircraft of the day, the Lockheed F94B.

Both of these cars previewed features of the 1954-1956 models, including wrap-around windshields and dipped beltlines, along with three-bladed-spinner wheel covers that would become favorites of "kustom kar" buffs.

They also shared a trim detail Ross had first used on the 1951 Super 88, an angular chrome slash that defined the leading edge of the rear fender area. On the Fiesta, the slash dropped from the dip in the beltline to a little more than halfway down the fender panel, then turned rearward as a horizontal strip. There was also a stone guard ahead of the rear wheel well, which served no apparent purpose and gave the assembly a cluttered look. On the Starfire, the stone guard was eliminated and the slash dropped almost to the bottom of the fender panel before turning to the rear, for a much cleaner overall effect.

Another Starfire touch that would grace production Oldsmobiles -- albeit not until 1956 -- was a front bumper incorporating a horizontal oval air intake that historian Richard M. Langworth wittily referred to as "largemouth bass" grillework.

The B-body used by the 1954-1956 Oldsmobiles was easily distinguished from the larger C-body by the pillars of the wraparound windshield. On the B-body, they were sloped; on the C-body they were upright.

Generally, the 1954 Oldsmobiles were three inches lower than the 1953s, giving them much sleeker profiles. Indeed the bodywork had been lowered so much that the beltline and fender line were no longer separate; they had converged. Nonetheless, the new styling retained a clear Oldsmobile identity, reinforced in part with essentially the same grille design as in 1953.

The influences of the Fiesta and, even more so, the Starfire were evident in the windshield, beltline and side trim. However, on the 1954s, the slash came only halfway down the fender panel before bending rearward, leaving room under it for a square-cut rear wheel well. The panel outlined by the slash and its horizontal extension looked a little like stylized saddlebags on the car's rear flanks.

Two-door hardtop and convertible bodies in the Ninety-Eight series had a different side trim, with a chrome strip starting just ahead of the front wheel well and tapering downward slightly as it went to the rear. Just ahead of the rear wheel well, that strip met an angular slash coming down from the dip in the beltline. The two-door Ninety-Eights also had rakish, semi-teardrop-shaped front and rear wheel wells that gave the cars a speedy look even when parked.

For more information on different types of cars, see: