I had spotted this ’75 Olds Starfire SX from my southbound, morning Red Line train on the way to work in the Chicago Loop. I actually considered deboarding at the next stop to catch a northbound train in the hope of photographing this really rare GM H-body that morning before it disappeared. I didn’t, as doing so probably would have made me late for work. However, on my evening northbound train, I was ecstatic, as this car was still there.
Let’s look at this car. First of all, it is as banana-shaped as a regular production car ever got, especially in profile. Then there’s the color scheme: a yellow peel over soft, white, vinyl insides. Tropical!
I’m usually on a mental crusade against the use of stereotypes, but let’s just be honest – this specific car looks as dainty as a “chick car” ever got. Before you label me a hypocrite, let’s look at the historical context in which this car was manufactured and sold – the mid-1970s. Leaving it bone-stock, and short of adding a set of raised, white-letter tires or aftermarket louvers to the rear hatch, I don’t see any possible way to butch up this car. You wouldn’t have to be as manly as Burt Reynolds spitting tobacco juice into an empty Coke bottle to make a few people do a double-take if you were a guy behind the wheel of this car. That said, I like this Starfire. A lot.
Imagine a scenario in, say, spring of ’75 when this car was sitting in the new car lot. How particular (brand-loyal?) would one have to have been to say, “Oh, no. A Chevy Monza just won’t do. I’ve got to have an Oldsmobile.” Apparently, just over 28,000 people said something like that, at prices starting at $4,144 (about $18,700 in 2015). This is versus around 136,000 Monzas (including notchback Town Coupe variants) which base-stickered at $3,570 ($16,200 / adjusted). The only really notable differences in the two base cars was that the Monza came standard with the Vega’s 2.3L 4-cylinder, and the Starfire had only the corporate, Buick-built 3.8L V6. Actually, the more I think about it, the Starfire’s extra premium was probably worth it if you didn’t want to spring for the Monza’s optional 4.3L V8, given the Vega 2.3’s dismal durability record by that point.
I think the overall design holds up well, forty years on. Having been born in the mid-’70s and growing up with rectangular sealed-beam headlights, I have little personal frame of reference to understand just how revolutionary they looked on this car when new. Those ice cubes remind me a little bit of Ray Ban Aviators on the “face” of this car. They work well with the dual grille slots set into that body-colored, rubber-ducky front nose section. I also like the look of the “Olds rocket”-logo hubcaps on steelies.
The Ferrari 365 GTC/4 is commonly cited as the H-Body hatchback’s greenhouse design inspiration, and I do see it. But the greenhouse is just one (albeit important) styling element and for me, the visual similarities end there. I seriously doubt that many American consumers made that connection any more than they connected the rooflines of the Porsche 928 and the AMC Pacer. (Google that last comparison.) I see an Opel Manta B notchback with a slightly faster roofline when looking at this Starfire. A very pleasing if not breathtaking shape.
“UNLEADED FUEL ONLY.” Well, doyyy. Honestly, I am old enough to remember seeing gas pumps that dispensed leaded fuel. The most fascinating thing about this particular car is that it appeared to be a daily driver. It has been, as they say, gently used. I literally couldn’t remember the last time I had seen an original ’75 Starfire in the wild, even going back to my high school years some twenty years prior. I would have loved to have waited for the driver to come back so I could get some backstory on this car, but after a long, mentally draining workday, I just didn’t feel like waiting around. Plus, it was cold, and PM rush hour trains can get packed, both of which can only improve your mood.
I’ve never seen this car again. Maybe, like the ’79 Triumph TR7 convertible I had spotted and recently written about, this Starfire was in for a quick jaunt from the suburbs. I hope this “banana” hasn’t since spoiled and been tossed out, as it brought a ray of sunshine to an otherwise subpar workday.
All photos as taken by the author in Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois.
Near Sheffield & Fletcher.
Thursday, November 1, 2012.