The 1954 to 1966 Oldsmobile Starfires embodied the personal-luxury cars for Oldsmobile with convertible and coupe models.
As the top-of-the-line Oldsmobile series, the Ninety-Eight was chosen to wear the production Starfire tag first. Just prior to that, however, the name had been applied in 1953 to a fiberglass-bodied show car that borrowed its space-age moniker from the Lockheed F-94B Starfire fighter airplane.
It debuted as a sporty four-passenger luxury car, fitting right into the personal-luxury market niche that the four-passenger Thunderbird would blow wide open in 1958. The Starfire show car, which was finished in a striking turquoise hue with a turquoise and white leather interior, sported advanced styling that tipped several trends of the future.
The design of the grille can be seen on production 1956 Oldsmobiles, for example. Powerplant for the experimental model was the Rocket V-8, which had been tweaked to over 200 horsepower.
The special one-of-a-kind Starfire appeared at the major automobile shows in 1953 and 1954. Because the public reacted favorably, the Starfire badge found its way to the front fender of a production Olds -- the Ninety-Eight convertible. The product catalog that year proclaimed: "Inspired by Oldsmobile's fabulous STARFIRE, the new Ninety-Eight Starfire for 1954 represents the ultimate in motor car sophistication and glamour."
The Starfire rolled on a wheelbase of 126 in. and measured more than 214 in. from bumper to bumper. Standard Starfire equipment included 8 x 15-in. tires, hydraulic windows, two-way power seat, and power top. The price listed at $3,249, $200 more than the Custom Holiday Ninety-Eight hardtop. The interior on that first production Starfire closely resembled its experimental namesake.
It was done in saddle-stitched, patterned, hand-buffed leather combinations. A total of 6,800 Starfires were built for 1954.
See the Starfire's progression from 1955 through 1957 in the following page.
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1955-1957 Oldsmobile Starfire
In 1955, the Ninety-Eight convertible again carried the Starfire badge on the upper part of its front fenders. Statistically, the 1955 Starfire remained largely the same, but a mild restyling produced a more oval shaped grille opening and flashier side chrome and two-toning. Base price rose slightly to $3,276, and production of the most expensive 1955 Olds expanded to 9,149.
For 1956, the Starfire nameplate continued to be used exclusively on the Ninety-Eight convertible. STARFIRE was spelled out in chrome letters on the lower portion of the front fender. Listing at $3,380, the 1956 Starfire was the rarest Ninety-Eight offered; only 8,581 were built.
A power steering system built by Saginaw Gear became standard equipment on all Ninety-Eight models, and more conservative side trim allowed for attractive two-toning on the 1956 Starfire convertibles.
In 1957, Oldsmobile expanded the Starfire nameplate to all four Ninety-Eight models: convertible, four-door sedan, and two- and four-door hard-tops. The standard equipment list expanded to include Jetaway Hydra-Matic transmission, Pedal-Ease power brakes, and Safety power steering. The popular mid-year J-2 tri-carb engine option could be had on any 1957 Starfire.
Because of the expanded lineup, production soared to 79,693 -- the best model year the Starfire nameplate would ever see. Curiously, after the success of the 1957 Starfire Ninety-Eights, Oldsmobile mothballed the Starfire name for three model years.
Curious how the Starfire name came back? Visit the next page and find out.
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1961 Oldsmobile Starfire
The first full-fledged Starfire series arrived with Oldsmobile's 1961 models, which were advertised as "Distinguished . . . Distinctive . . . Decidedly New." Introduced as a personal-luxury convertible, the Starfire was designed to compete with the four-passenger Thunderbird and used much the same design formula.
Thus, it was offered only with two doors -- coupe (beginning 1962) or convertible -- and featured a fancy interior, a high-powered version of the legendary Rocket V-8, striking exterior chrome/aluminum trim, and a beefed-up 88 chassis. The Starfire series lasted until the revolutionary Toronado picked up the Oldsmobile personal-luxury banner.
Although Oldsmobile officials had already decided to produce the new 1961 Starfire, they deliberately held it back for a mid-year introduction. The delay was used so as not to upstage the debut of Oldsmobile's long-awaited compact, the F-85.
Taking a page from its 1953 Fiesta program, Oldsmobile chose the General Motors 1961 Motorama, which opened on Nov. 3, 1960, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, to show off the new one-model series. Jack F. Wolfram, Oldsmobile general manager, told a New York auto show press conference that the Starfire was scheduled for a limited-production run "at a later date."
The first Starfires began arriving at selected Oldsmobile dealerships in January 1961. Unlike the Starfires of the Fifties, the new Olds convertible shared its 123-in.-wheelbase chassis with the 88 models. The front grille and rear design treatment, however, were more akin to the Ninety-Eight.
Exterior styling touches exclusive to the Starfire included two slim parallel hood moldings and a 4-in.-wide band of brushed aluminum on the sides. But it was the Starfire's interior that stood out as its most striking feature; leather-covered bucket seats separated a multi-faceted console that had a chrome-plated automatic transmission shifter, tachometer, and much more.
The Starfire's sparkling performance came from the Rocket V-8, a 395-cubic-in. V-8 that cranked out 330 HP and 440 lbs/ft of torque at 2800 rpm. It looked as well as it ran, sporting a chrome-plated air cleaner perched atop the four-barrel carburetor and shiny valve covers and oil filler cap. Of course, the 10.25:1 compression ratio meant that it burned only premium fuel.
The special Waldorf-Astoria Starfire was painted in a deep luster Autumn Mist and complemented by a red leather interior and white convertible top. Production Starfires came in 15 exterior colors and interiors of gray, fawn, blue, and red. Convertible tops could be had in white, black, green, blue, fawn, and red.
A price tag of $4,647 made the Starfire the most expensive Olds since the special Fiesta convertible that listed at $5,717 in 1953, and $8 more expensive than the 1961 T-Bird ragtop. The production run was far more ambitious than the limited-production Fiesta and 7,600 of the 1961 Starfires were built -- making it the second most popular 1961 Olds convertible.
The introduction of the Starfire came too late to include the first-year model in most 1961 Oldsmobile literature, but a special tri-fold, six-panel brochure outlined Starfire virtues. Even rarer was a direct-to-dealer piece urging dealerships to stage special open houses to showcase the new model, giving interested dealerships with up to 500 invitations and envelopes.
Oldsmobile product planners expanded the Starfire lineup in 1962 with the addition of a coupe. Despite direct competition from the new Pontiac Grand Prix, this model year would mark the all-time high production record for the Starfire as a separate series. A complete sheetmetal revamp gave the Starfire a clean, new look. As expected, the coupe outsold the convertible by about five to one; total Starfire production reached 41,988.Want to grow your knowledge about the expanded Starfire lineup? Read more in the following page. For more information on cars, see:
1962-1964 Oldsmobile Starfire
Along with the exterior restyling, the 1962 Oldsmobile Starfire's exclusive V-8 turned out an additional 15 HP -- 345 from the same 394 cubic in. as the previous year. For 1962 it featured a new combustion chamber shape and a slightly higher 10.5:1 compression ratio.
The exterior styling treatment centered on an expanded brushed-aluminum side trim package. The standard equipment list was as impressive as previous model years. Sticker price on the new coupe started at $4,131, actually $50 less expensive than the Ninety-Eight Sports Coupe. The Starfire convertible remained the most expensive car in the Olds lineup at $4,744.
The sales slide for the Starfire began in 1963. For the second consecutive year both a coupe and convertible were offered, but production dropped to 25,549, and only 4,401 of those were convertibles. Competition for sales came from within and outside the division.
The $600-cheaper Pontiac Grand Prix outsold the Starfire by an almost three to one margin, even without the extra sales appeal of a convertible. The first-year Buick Riviera almost doubled Starfire production totals, and the Thunderbird outdid it by two-and-a-half to one.
Olds product planners added a bit to the sales plight as well with the new Ninety-Eight Custom Sports Coupe. It featured some previous Starfire exclusives -- leather bucket seats, power console, and top-of-the-line Starfire Rocket V-8.
For 1963, the Starfire continued to roll on the 123-in. wheelbase it shared with the Dynamic 88 and Super 88 models. Power came from the 345-HP Rocket V-8. In addition to standard equipment in previous models, the 1963 convertible's standard equipment list included a power driver's seat and electric window lifts.
Styling, of course, received the mandatory annual revision. Although the Starfire continued to feature brushed-aluminum side trim, the sheetmetal was new, and so were the grille and taillights. The main attraction on the Starfire coupe was the addition of a concave rear window that blended well with the hardtop roofline and looked quite similar to the backlight on the Grand Prix.
The Starfire coupe listed at $4,129, while the convertible remained at $4,742.
Its slide continued into 1964, Thunderbird, Riviera, and Grand Prix represented the outside enemy, while other enticing Oldsmobile models sang a "Siren's Song" from across the showroom floor. For the first time since the J-2 package of 1957 to 1958, Olds offered a basically solid performance option.
Additional competition for the Oldsmobile sales dollar came from the new Jetstar 88 and Jetstar I models, the former bowing as the least expensive full-size Oldsmobile series. The latter served as the sportiest model in the Dynamic 88 series. Like the Starfire, it featured a concave rear window and the big V-8. It undercut the Starfire hardtop coupe by over $500.
Meanwhile, Starfire pricing remained at the same basic level for 1964: $4,100 for the coupe and $4,700 for the convertible. Production of the coupe slipped to 13,753 and 2,410 for the ragtop. Meanwhile, the new Jetstar I found a home with just over 16,000 buyers.
Once again, the 394-cubic-in. Starfire Rocket V-8 was rated as Oldsmobile's highest output engine at 345 HP. The convertible added power windows and seat as before. A couple of popular options fitted to many Starfires this year were T-87, a new cornering light package for $34, and N-33, the Tilt-away steering column for $43.
Was Oldsmobile able to stop the sliding sales figures? Turn to the next page and find out.
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1965-1966 Oldsmobile Starfire
By model year 1965, the end of the line for the Starfire series was evident, although still a bit off. This would be the final year for the convertible, the model that started it all off in 1961. Traditional outside rivals continued to outsell the Olds personal-luxury model by large margins.
A redesigned 4-4-2 package, this year benefiting from a larger displacement engine, doubtless took customers from the Starfire line as well.
Although they continued on a 123-in. wheelbase, the all-new full-size Oldsmobiles received curvier sheetmetal for 1965. A new Turbo Hydra-Matic was standard equipment and for the first time in the history of the big cars a four-speed manual transmission could be ordered at extra cost.
The big news came under the hood, however, with the introduction of a larger 425-cubic-in. Super Rocket V-8. In addition to increased displacement, the new engine also featured better cooling, a higher capacity fuel pump, redesigned combustion chambers, and enlarged intake and exhaust valves.
The Starfire version of the Super Rocket continued to be the most powerful Olds motor offered. Its output was boosted substantially over the 1964 level to 370 HP; it also maintained a 20-HP edge over its smaller displacement cousin, the 1965 4-4-2 engine.
Unfortunately, the hefty price tag continued as a Starfire sales barrier. The coupe listed for $4,148; the convertible bowed out as the most expensive Olds at $4,778. A total of 15,260 Starfires were built for 1965, including only 2,226 convertibles.
In 1961, the Starfire had debuted with a flourish complete with auto show centerstaging. Considerably less fanfare awaited the 1966 Starfire, however, which was destined to be the last in a half dozen year run at the personal-luxury market.
It was completely overshadowed by the revolutionary front-drive Toronado, which became Oldsmobile's first "true" personal-luxury car by virtue of its long hood/short deck proportions and its unique-to-Oldsmobile body shell. As might be expected, Starfire production skidded -- all the way to 13,019 -- while 40,963 units of the newcomer were built.
The Starfire also suffered a dramatic drop in status for its final year. The base price fell significantly as well, which was accomplished by stripping much of the previously standard equipment. For 1966, the sticker price started at $3,564. The rather sparse equipment list included console, dual exhausts, Strato bucket seats, and deluxe steering wheel.
To properly equip a Starfire meant paying extra for many items: J-50 power brakes, $42; N-40 power steering, $105; M-40 Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission, $236. Few Starfires were ordered with either the standard three-speed manual or the optional M-20 fully synchronized four-speed floor shifter ($226).
Although the Starfire was in many ways diminished in its final year, the Super Rocket V-8 remained a powerful force by picking up five additional horses. Nonetheless, it fell 10 bhp short of the 385 listed for the front-wheel-drive Toronado.
Did the Starfire turn into a black hole for Olds? Seek out the answer in the next page.
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Oldsmobile Starfire Removed from Roster
The Starfire slipped quietly from the Oldsmobile roster after 1966, replaced by the dramatic all-new Toronado. The name didn't die, however, for it was revived in 1975 for an unabashed Chevy Monza clone, which itself was basically a recycled Vega. The little Starfire hatchback was retired without fanfare after the 1980 model run.
The year 1987 marks the 90th anniversary of Oldsmobile in the automobile business. During six of those years a production run of nearly 120,000 Starfires was made. For most of its tenure, the Starfire rightfully reigned as the top-of-the-line Oldsmobile.
Certainly there were flashier cars in the Sixties, but when compared to its lowlier brethren -- the 88s, Ninety-Eights, and Jetstars -- the Starfire stood out proudly as Oldsmobile's flagship. It should also be accorded its historical slot as Oldsmobile's first venture into the personal-luxury field.
While it certainly wasn't the "sports car" that Olds PR types and marketers of the day labeled it, it was a solid automotive value -- all traditional Oldsmobile from bumper to bumper.
The Oldsmobile Starfire managed to hold an important door open through the mid-Sixties until the revolutionary Toronado was ready to roar through to genuinely stun the American automotive market.