The Oldsmobile: The Country’s First Muscle Car

There was a car with a combination of a light body and a big, powerful engine: The 1949 General Motors Oldsmobile. Due to the Oldsmobile’s features, it became a best friend to NASCAR drivers. This popularity translated into serious buyer demand.  In retrospect, the Model 88 changed Oldsmobile and started new horsepower wars in Michigan (Detroit!). Learn more by continuing to read:


The Car’s Beginning


Before 1949, Oldsmobiles had in-line, flat-head engines.  In 1949, however, Oldsmobile put the new 303 cu. in. Rocket V8 engine in their Model 88 vehicles. In a year, the model 88 changed Oldsmobile from a conservative vehicle brand to a serious performer that raced against others in the NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) circuits. People felt super alive when driving these cars!


How It Did Racing


Here are some race stats: In 1949, the Model 88 won 6 out of 9 NASCAR late-model division races, 10 of 19 division races in 1950 and 20 of 41 two years later. The vehicle was later eclipsed by the Hudson Hornet, but it was still NASCAR’s first “King.” The vehicle’s top speed was 97 mph, and it took the car 13 seconds to speed up from zero to 60 mph.


In addition to its speed, the Rocket 88 offered many user advances. Here’s an example: it had a dual ignition. How it worked is that a driver needed a key to the ignition and the start push-button to get the ignition sequence going. No more having to push a solenoid switch on the floor. Although most always released with a 4-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, the Oldsmobile brand also released the Model 88 with a three-speed manual transmission option. That was one of the reasons it was popular among NASCAR racers. The Rocket 88 vehicle also had an oil bath air cleaner. 


If you wanted to add chrome and a clock to the interior, then you could purchase the car with an attainable deluxe trim package. A radio was available as an additional option as well.


The status the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 had in the NASCAR circuit led to a popularity increase. This created a demand for the car and waiting lists for the model were common for several years. The vehicle’s popularity even led to the creation of one of the first “rock and roll” songs, ‘Rocket 88′ by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats. The vehicle also inspired one of the 1950′s popular slogans, ‘Make a date with a Rocket 88′.  


It Didn’t Last Forever


The high status enjoyed by the Rocket 88 kept the vehicle within the Oldsmobile lineup until it closed in the late 1990s. An unprecedented run for what’s considered America’s premier muscle car. Car historians typically agree that when General Motor’s Oldsmobile division brought about the Rocket 88 model in the late 1940s, they created what many people see as America’s first muscle car.  


We hope you enjoyed reading about the Oldsmobile Model 88! Thank you to this Dodge dealer out of Pittsburgh, PA for sitting down with us to discuss this subject!

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