CC Capsule: 1968 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Convertible – Fading Sky

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It’s hard for someone of my generation to imagine a time when full-size convertibles graced the lineup of nearly every domestic brand. With the advent of air conditioning as common equipment, the omnipresent threat of increased federal safety standards, and the general decline of both 2-door and full-size vehicles, by my time, this type of car was about as foreign to me as the 8-track. 

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But twenty-five years prior to my birth this wasn’t the case. Although still somewhat of the niche vehicle they are today, convertibles were to be found far and wide, from compact Valiants to full-size Continentals. And at least in my eyes, the most special type of all American cars produced during this era were these behemoth rag tops from upscale and luxury brands.

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Granted, Oldsmobile always fell at the lower end of the “luxury” spectrum. Yet in the Sixties, the Olds brand had decidedly more aspirational appeal and general purpose than it would by the 1990s. This was no more evident than in its largest and most prestigious full-line of cars, the Ninety-Eight.

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Although Olds wouldn’t brazenly extend its reach up into Cadillac territory until the 1972 Ninety-Eight Regency, the Ninety-Eight was always sort of a budget Cadillac DeVille in many ways. Naturally, there were features reserved exclusively for GM’s pinnacle division, but in most years, the Ninety-Eight offered many of the same luxuries, for lesser price and prestige.

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Despite a length of 223.7 inches (for 1968), width of 80 inches, and a weight of over 4,200 pounds, the 1965-1970 Ninety-Eights were not the largest Oldsmobiles in history. While this honor would be reserved for the 1971-1976 Ninety-Eights, the ’65-’70 full-size Oldsmobiles would be that last in history to see such generous proportions met with positive reception.

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For a number of reasons, the succeeding 1971-1976 generation jumped the shark, with no reason more glaring than its size. The energy crisis that hit in 1973 would only highlight the inefficiency of these elephantine cars, which could weigh as much as 4,900 pounds in some trims. Along with its noticeably downgraded interiors, the generation that followed our featured car symbolized a turning point in General Motors’ history when the king was no longer invincible.

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By contrast, GM’s 1965-1970 full-size cars are generally looked upon with less outrage, as big cars from an era of conspicuous oil consumption. While in reality only marginally smaller than their successors, the ’65-’70s were dressed in slimmer-fitting sheet metal, giving them an still-big, but more athletic look.

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Interior quality already had begun to slip a tad compared to the early-1960s, but these Olds still made use of a lot chrome, stainless steel, and reasonably attractive simulated walnut trim. Ninety-Eights could be equipped with a number of seating arrangements, with upholstery choices including leather, cloth, a morocceen-and-cloth combination, and the vinyl that this convertible displays. A lighter color would probably do it more justice.

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How one views these cars is a matter of opinion, but if there is one indisputable fact, it’s that these were the last Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight convertibles. Never a large percentage of overall sales, the sun was rapidly setting on the full-size convertible. Oldsmobile’s Starfire convertible (1961 model pictured above) would last see the sun in 1965, with the Ninety-Eight following in 1970. The remaining Delta 88 convertible would cease production in 1975, making it the last full-size Oldsmobile convertible. Other luxury brands would follow suit, forever closing the top on this grand era of open-aired American boulevard cruisers.