While we’re on the subject of the blossoming of the Oldsmobile Ninety Eight, why not a brief look at its in-house competition.
Although the Starfire badge originally denoted Ninety Eight Convertibles during 1954-56, and the full line for 1957, the name reappeared on a specially trimmed B-body convertible in 1961. In 1962 it got a hardtop coupe companion. Like all 1962 B bodies, the wonderfully detailed “Convertible” hardtop roof was fitted to the Starfire. All models gained a broad sweep of aluminum trim stretching nose to tail that would be the dazzling hallmark of the Starfire exterior.
On the inside you received the same luxurious leather, chrome and carpet paradise that should have included a pair of Ray Bans for glare as standard equipment too. Each footwell for 1962 had chrome ribs on the carpet, just in case the dashboard or tachometer embedded in Chrome didn’t blind you. For sitcom trivia buffs, Denise Huxtable’s first car on The Cosby Show was a 1962 Starfire. For 1963, the coupe gained a unique roof, shared with the 1963 Grand Prix.
And here’s where you can really start to wonder what sense the Starfire really made. After a peak of nearly 42,000 cars in 1962 it slowly tapered off in demand until it exited the Oldsmobile line up in 1966.
Although crisply tailored, they didn’t make the same visual impact (or influence) as the Grand Prix it was so closely related to. It didn’t help that the visual impact of the Grand Prix came at about $600 less than the Starfire Coupe.
At least for the largest base sticker price in the Oldsmobile line up ($4,742) you got all of the finery Oldsmobile offered at the time, along with a plethora of sporty details like a console, bucket seats and a rather ill placed tachometer. In addition you received all the power goodies, standard leather and a 345 horsepower 394 Rocket that was able to blitz to 60 in 8.5 seconds, despite the hamstrung Roto Hydra Matic “4 Stage” automatic. Enough for Oldsmobile to claim the Starfire was a “Sports Car” in advertising.
How the defintion of “Sporting” has changed. In 1963, it would be feasible to claim an 18 foot long full size car capable of running at illegal speeds on the interstate highway system were sports cars. But by 1963, it faced even more competition from the dazzlingly unique Riviera, the cheaper Grand Prix, the Thunderbird, and a host of other big box bucket seat cruisers from the Chrysler non letter 300s to the Ford Galaxie 500 XL and Mercury Marauder.
You could even outfit a Ninety Eight Coupe with bucket seats and a console in 1963. All of those items were Starfire exclusives in 1962. And you get a sense that General Motors product planning went awry a lot earlier than most people assume. The redundant cars that would eat each other alive started with the specialty models, and soon made their way to the mainstream offerings. Once you stripped away every actual difference (engines, transmissions and interior design), there really wasn’t a reason to choose one over the other.
At least the Starfire was a good looking dead end.