Saturday, February 25, 2012

1949 Oldsmobile 88 4-Door Town Sedan

"The city fades behind you - the straightway stretches before you - you're off on a glorious adventure! You're driving a 'Rocket' Engine Oldsmobile - discovering power and pace such as you've never known before in a motor car! Better yet - you know as you go that each thrilling mile costs you less - thanks to the 'Rocket's' remarkable gas mileage! Coupled with Oldsmobile's Hydra-Matic Drive*, the 'Rocket' gives you Futuramic economy to match its Futuramic smoothness and eagerness! Owners across the country tell us they are getting over 20 miles to the gallon ... at cruising speed! And this unbeatable Hydra-Matic-'Rocket' combination comes to you at its lowest cost in the nimble, spirited '88' Oldsmobile. See your Oldsmobile dealer - and make a lifelong date with the '88'!"

What you see here, parked behind the Iglesia del Santo Angel Custodio in La Habana Vieja, could rightfully be called the first american muscle car: for 1949, Oldsmobile  introduced the "88" Series, a combination of the rather light chassis of the 6-cylinder "76" Series and the brand-new "Rocket" V-8 engine. This combination proved to be an immediate success, especially appealing to younger and performance-hungry drivers. The customer's demand for the new "88" was so huge, that Oldsmobile dropped the "76" line already in 1950 and from now on only offered V-8 engines.

With it's groundbreaking overhead-valve "Rocket" V-8 engine, Oldsmobile outclassed every other car around, including Cadillac, which had also introduced an own OHV V-8 engine in 1949. The new layout placed the valves directly above the combustion chamber. This allowed for a much higher compression ratio than the side-valve engines which were common at the time, and thus for more efficiency and (in theory) a higher fuel economy. Yet, Oldsmobile exploited the extra potential for more power rather than better mileage.

The historic significance of Oldsmobile's "Rocket" engine lies in the fact that this innovative engine design literally opened the flood gates, and by 1955, every major car manufacturer in the U.S. offered an own overhead-valve V-8. The race for horsepower was in full swing, and the basic layout of the OHV V-8 should become a standard for american cars well into the 80s.

Furthermore, the unconventional choice of mating this mighty engine with the light GM "A-body" made the "88" one of the fastest cars in America at the time, save for some imported exotics. The "88" literally would drive circles around a similar looking Chevrolet or Pontiac. With the "Rocket" engine, Oldsmobile's brand image rapidly shifted from "conservative" towards "performance", and before Fidel Castro's revolution, even the cuban police trusted in Oldsmobile as being the ideal chase-car. Throughout the 50s, other GM divisions should successfully repeat Oldsmobile's "recipe" of mounting massive engines into smaller cars and so boost their sporty image.

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