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Monday, July 27, 2015

Oldsmobile's Rocket of the Past

Oldsmobile Rocket 88 Advertisement: Life Magazine, January 19, 1953

Although NASA was still five years away from the public's collective conscience, rockets were already streaking across the cultural stratosphere in 1953.  Buck Rogers and his 25th Century exploits had been around for twenty-five years.  More than fifty years had already come and gone since Georges Méliès had taken that first Trip to the Moon.  And the grim, technological warfare that engulfed the world ten years before had been filled with the shriek of the German Army's nebelwerfer, the flash of the American Bazooka rocket launcher, and the terror inducing scream of the V-1 rocket and its supersonic cousin the V-2.  So it is not surprising that rockets, which have been around far longer than you might imagine, carried a great portion of Oldsmobile's advertising payload in the 1950's.

How long have rockets been around?
Just ask Alexander the Great,
as depicted by Conrad Kyser in
his "Bellifortis".  (circa 1405 AD)
Oldsmobile introduced the Rocket V8, the first mass-produced overhead valve V8 engine, in 1949.  (Plans were made to call it "Kettering Power", in honor of the project's chief engineer Charles Kettering, but the plans never made it off the launchpad, so to speak.)  The Rocket V8 would continue to be produced in some form until 1990.

But we're rocketing too far into the future.  Let's get back to to 1953.

If you were thinking of buying a new car that year, Oldsmobile wanted to get your attention.  And what better way to do it than a three-page spread in a January printing of Life Magazine?  Christmas has come and gone.  The kids are back in school.  It's cold outside and you're stuck indoors with the latest magazine, one of the few windows on the world at large available to you.  You turn the page, and there it is, streaking across the page: a golden rocket on a black and white background.  How could it fail to grab you by your imagination?

Can you believe it?  The Rocket you've been hearing your pals talk about, that wonder of the driving world, the Rocket V8, now has higher-power, higher compression and higher-voltage?  A full-on 165 horsepower?  (And that jerk co-worker was bragging about his '49 Rocket with a measly 135 HP!)  Maybe driving dad's '42 Ford Rattletrap for the last few years was worth it.  After all, the war's been over for eight years now, and money's not as tight as it was...and that is a really cool, sleek rocket...

You want a rocket.  Guys want rockets.  We all want a rocket!

And why wouldn't you?  Look what it says: the new "Ruling Power of the Road"...latest and greatest version of the most famous engine in automobile history.  Hey, it also says "see next page".

So turn the page already!

Oh yeah, you gotta buy this car.  And look what it says: it's the car you've been waiting for...most beautiful, most powerful ever built!  And it has the new Pedal-Ease Power Brakes (for quicker, surer stopping power!).  New Power-Ride Chassis?  New Power Styling?  That is crazy, as the kids are saying nowadays.

And boy does that hood look better than dad's Ford?  No contest.

Now, if only the wife won't complain too much when you use all your savings to get this baby.  But I'm sure she'd be happy if you bought one.  Just look at how happy that couple is:

The only real question is which model to buy?  The featured model in the ad is a "88 Holiday Coupe".  If its $2,673 price is a little high, you could grab the base model, which was re-christened for '53 as the "DeLuxe 88" for only $2,262.  But why settle for the base model when you could spend just a bit more, $2,395 for the "Super 88"?    Doesn't that sound...super?  Hey, just a wee bit more, $2,853, gets you in that convertible coupe.  Of course, there's always the step-up to the classic 98 series...but that's gonna cost you closer to three thousand dollars.

What the ad doesn't tell you is what Oldsmobile couldn't know at this time.  Due to a fire at GM's Livonia, Michigan Hydra-Matic transmission plant later in the year, thousands of the '53 Oldsmobile 88s would be built with the Buick two-speed Dyna-Flow transmissions.  Which one was a better transmission?  I'll let you readers debate that below.

All I know is I want a rocket.  A Rocket 88.  Don't you?

(Sales prices and production numbers found at HowStuffWorks.)