The Oldsmobile Rocket Engine
Though called "Dynamic," the 1948 Oldsmobiles saw only detail changes: round hood medallion, "Oldsmobile" spelled in block letters below, and full-length chrome rocker-panel moldings.
Then, in February, Olds got a jump on most rivals with the "Futuramic" 98, arriving simultaneously with similar styling from Cadillac as GM's first all-new postwar cars. Both were created by Harley Earl's Art & Colour staff with inspiration from the Lockheed P-38 fighter aircraft (well-known for having prompted Cadillac's 1948 tailfins).
The 98s comprised a convertible, four-door sedan, and fastback club sedan that were beautifully shaped to look longer and lower despite a slightly trimmer 125-inch wheelbase. Sedans offered a choice of standard and deluxe trim. Prices ranged from $1920 for the base two-door to $2466 for the Deluxe-only convertible.
The public responded strongly to the '48s, particularly the 98s, which saw better than 65,000 sales. More than half were four-door sedans.
Olds followed up with Futuramic styling for all 1949 models, plus two new innovations. One was the landmark overhead-valve "Rocket" V-8 designed by Gilbert Burrell. Again, Olds shared honors with Cadillac, which also had a new high-compression V-8 that year, though it was developed independently of Lansing's.
Both divisions had been encouraged to outdo each other, and Cadillac actually raised displacement to maintain a "proper distance" from Oldsmobile's V-8. The Rocket arrived at 303.7 cid; Cadillac had started at 309, then went to 331 cid.
A five-main-bearing unit with oversquare cylinder dimensions, the Rocket was initially rated at 135 bhp. Putting it in the lighter 119.5-inch chassis of the six-cylinder 76 created a Futuramic 88 with power-to-weight ratios of about 22.5 pounds/horsepower -- quite good for the time.
Torque was also impressive at 263 pound-feet. Initial compression was a mild 7.25:1, but the Rocket was designed for ratios as high as 12:1. Engineers had anticipated postwar fuels with ultra-high octane, though levels never became quite high enough to make such ratios practical.
Management had originally planned the Rocket only for the 98, but dropping it into the smaller B-body was a natural move, and the 88 soon began rewriting the stock-car racing record book. Meanwhile, the Olds six was enlarged to the old eight's 257.1 cid for 105 bhp. It continued through 1950, after which Olds offered nothing but V-8s.
Oldsmobile's other '49 innovation was the 98 Holiday, a new $2973 pillarless coupe that bowed alongside the Buick Riviera and Cadillac Coupe de Ville as America's first volume-production "hardtop convertibles."
Presaging another industry trend was Lansing's first all-steel station wagon, offered in 76 and 88 guise. As at Chevy and Pontiac, it appeared at midyear to replace an existing part-wood wagon, and looked much like it. Not predictive at all were fastback Town Sedan four-doors added to the 76 and 88 lines. None sold that well, and would be dropped after this one year.
With so much new, Olds had a rollicking 1949, with home-market production soaring from the 172,500 of 1948 to a record 288,000-plus. The 1950 tally was nearly 408,000, helped by new 76 and 88 Holidays.