This is not your father’s Oldsmobile, it’s my grandfather’s. And what an Olds it was.
My maternal grandfather was a restless man, he could not be still. All his life he wrote, debated, tinkered, invented, and built, all activities done at full speed and with blazing intellect and passion.
He worked as an Industrial Engineer at the Stelco steel works in Hamilton Ontario, and in the mid 1960’s he patented a lightweight multilayered metal panel combining a folded middle with two thin outer panels. He called it Twin Skin. To showcase his invention he later built his own travel trailer out of Twin Skin using a boat trailer chassis.
Once fitted out and filled with camping supplies the Twin Skin trailer weighed a bit more than he had anticipated. This was taxing for the boat trailer chassis, which initially had axle problems. Once these were resolved he used the trailer to camp for several years. So while the trailer was a partial success, the 1965 Oldsmobile he bought to tow the trailer was a complete success.
The Starfire was the “Sporty Car” of the Oldsmobile full size lineup, and in this advertisement we can see that the Starfire had brightwork along the lower edge of the body, and a unique vertically split grille. At the rear the Starfire also had a unique bumper and single taillights.
Inside all Starfires had bucket seats, a console mounted shifter, and sporty looking round gauges in the blacked out dash.
Significant to our story, 1965 was also the first year for the big block 425 cubic inch motor. That’s a staggering 7 liters for our metric readers. From the factory this engine came with a forged steel crank, dual exhaust and an 800 CFM Quadrajet carburetor.
It was rated at 370HP and a monstrous 470 Lb-Ft of torque. Running gear was either the excellent Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission or a four speed manual driving a 10 bolt rear with either 3.23 or 3.42 gearing. At 4,100 pounds the car was no lightweight, and questionably sporty but it was ideally suited to the job my grandfather had in mind.
He bought the Olds in 1973 for less than $1,000 and outfitted it with a massive load bearing hitch at the rear, and another hitch receiver at the front for maneuvering the trailer in tight spaces. I know that he was pleased with the Oldsmobile, his handwritten note is below this photo of my young aunts:
I don’t remember the Olds being at his home much, he must have stored it elsewhere because it was not his daily driver and in his words just the “locomotive for pulling the trailer”. In 1979 he retired, and being restless he decided to sell his belongings and move his family to Africa for a year. As we can see from this 1979 photo the Olds was getting a bit rough looking.
During the house cleanout our family went over to help, and there was some errand that needed running so my grandfather took the Starfire and brought me along:
I don’t know if he always drove that way, or if he really twisted it for his twelve year old grandson, but I was very impressed with the way the mighty 425 squished me against the seat when accelerating. I was stunned when he told me the size of the engine, I’d never heard of a motor that big. The Olds was a virtual rocket ship compared to what I was used to, and I felt like we’d orbited the earth when the errand was over and we arrived back at the house.
That memorable day of my first ride was also the last time I saw the car. On his return from Ghana my grandfather purchased a new Taylor Coach trailer and another used Oldsmobile to pull it. It was something like a 1973 Delta 88 with a 455, but I never got a ride in that one.
The Rocket Action Car! That’s what the ad copy says. It definitely was rocket action for me on that day in 1979 when my grandfather took me for my only ride in the Starfire.