nifticus has found a car that has not had its 15 minutes of CC fame yet (how many more are there?). We did have a CC on a ’63 Starfire convertible back in 2011, but this is a 1964, and it’s now 2022, and there were some curious developments at Olds in 1964 we need to sort out, if possible.
Let’s start with the basics, for those of you weren’t hanging around your local Oldsmobile dealer in 1964. I was, and that’s what led to my confusion about these. I’m not sure we’ll ever sort it out, but here’s the gist of it.
The Starfire arrived in 1961, as the first of GM’s B-Body bucket-seat brigade, the herald of a new era of big sporty cars with standard bucket seats, console and floor shifter, the template for so many others to come: Chevrolet SS, Pontiac GP, Buick Wildcat. Presumably Olds got the nod to go first, befitting its rep as the “Experimental Division”.
Strictly speaking, the 1960.5 Corvair Monza kicked off this sporty wave at GM, although there were some earlier partial antecedents, as buckets first showed up in the 1958 Pontiac Bonneville, but without the console and floor shifter.
Somewhat curiously, the Starfire was only available as a convertible in 1961, which was one of my areas of confusion back then. But that rather makes sense, as the only B-Body hardtop coupe roof was the bubbletop, and it might not have looked distinctive enough wearing that common hat.
In 1962, the new “convertible look” hardtop joined the rag top, and of course the same formula appeared at Pontiac in the Grand Prix, at Buick as the Wildcat and of course the Impala Super Sport.
1962 would turn out to be the high water mark for Starfire sales, with 42k units.
1963 marked a significant restyle for all the B-Bodies, and the Starfire picked up a new and unique hardtop roof. Well, it wasn’t totally unique to the Starfire; as essentially the same structure also appeared on the new 1963 Grand Prix. But the impact was very different.
The new GP blew the Starfire away; out into space. Its dramatic front end and very clean sides made it one of the sensations of 1963. It followed the formula that Cadillac had finally figured out too: no chrome or trim on the sides, but a healthy bright rocker panel trim make a car look decidedly more upscale, elegant and appealing. Meanwhile, the Starfire side trim with contrasting panel was so…1958. No wonder sale dropped. It looked totally outclassed, and not just by the GP.
Olds got the message, and ditched all the fussy side trim for 1964. It was an improvement, and the Starfire is a handsome car, but it just didn’t ignite very many afterburners. It just didn’t look special enough, like the GP.
And then there was its near clone, the 1964 Jetstar I. Is that the first use of the “I” in a car name? Were they pondering a future Jetstar II?y
It’s essentially the same car, with the trim rearranged a bit and lower standard content, for a lower price. But it still came standard with buckets, console, floor shift, and the same 345 hp 392 CID Rocket V8. Yes, that’s what confused eleven year-old me. I didn’t quite catch on that the Hydramatic, power brakes and steering and a few other goodies were optional. But who in their right mind would order a Jetstar 1 without these? I don’t have the info at hand, but I suspect that a similarly-equipped Starfire and Jetstar 1 probably cost pretty much the same?
Whatever…It had the effect of tanking Starfire sales even further. I’m in Port Orford, so I don’t have my Encyclopedia at hand, but I suspect Jetsart 1 sales weren’t all that hot either, and combined sales undoubtedly lagged the GP’s by a big margin. Speaking of, it’s pretty obvious that the Jetstar 1 was intended to offer a low starting price similar to the GP, which also came standard without the stuff that should long have been standard.
Olds just couldn’t get any traction in the big sporty car niche, and the Starfire would blast off for the last time in 1966. The Jetstar 1 was already space detritus by then. Olds found more success with its mid-sized 442 and the Toronado undoubtedly made the Starfire redundant.