Oldsmobile enjoyed a great run during the 1960s. Annual production doubled, the brand became America’s 5th-best selling car make, and models such as the Toronado and Cutlass etched their way into consumers’ consciousness for decades to come. Yet not all Olds models achieved a lasting impression… like the Delmont 88 for instance. Sold only in 1967 and ’68 as the affordable version of Oldsmobile’s mid-range 88 lineup, the Delmont was outsold by its more affluent Delta 88 sibling and eventually became a nearly-forgotten nameplate. The rarest Delmont of all was the convertible, like this car show example.
The Delmont 88 convertible was rare for two main reasons. First, convertibles’ popularity rapidly diminished during the 1960s. Droptops averaged about 8 percent of Oldsmobile production in the early 1960s, but dwindled to under 4% by decade’s end. Second, convertibles commanded a hefty price premium over their fixed-roof counterparts, so the choice of a convertible in an entry-level trim range like the Delmont was somewhat unusual (Delta 88 convertibles outsold Delmont convertibles by a margin of 4-to-1). In other words, this is a great car to be featured here at CC, so let’s have a closer look.
During the 1960s, Oldsmobile earned a reputation as a solidly middle-class vehicle of choice for North American consumers. In this case, “middle class” was not a euphemism for “boring,” because Olds’s styling and marketing efforts crafted an image of cars that could be received acceptably in both mundane suburban settings, and for occasional higher-end social or business commitments.
Given the middle-class respectability that Oldsmobile conveyed, it is little surprise that Olds’s mid-range 88 series generated the bulk of the brand’s sales in the early 1960s. The 1961-64 version of this car (the 88’s fifth generation… they’d been made since 1949) sold over a million examples, or 60 percent total Olds output.
During those heady times, Oldsmobile offered numerous varieties of 88, including a low-priced version and a convertible. Combine those two, and you get the 1964 Jetstar 88 convertible above – an antecedent to our featured car. Olds executive Jack Wolfram pegged the prototypical Jetstar 88 customers as being “up-and-coming young families who need a full-size car.” In the early 1960s, few envisioned much overlap with buyers of the compact F-85 line, which was aimed at less-affluent economy buyers. However, within a few years, the compacts would eclipse the 88s in sales, and likely took many full-size customers as well.
For 1965, the 88 range was redesigned, featuring a refined, contemporary design that bore somewhat of a resemblance to Buick’s lithe 1963 Riviera. Importantly, the 88 range grew in overall dimensions, though it remained on the same wheelbase as the ’64s. Interior enlargements accompanied the increase in exterior size, with more than 4” of additional shoulder room, and larger cargo and gas tank capacities. Long overhangs and slab-sided styling reinforced the perception of size, however the 88 bore its bulk rather well. This was an attractive 18’-long car.
In an uncommonly earnest prediction, Oldsmobile’s General Manager Harold Metzel revealed that he expected static sales for 1965, despite the new 88’s debut. Metzel was probably pleased to be wrong – Olds production increased by 10% that year. However, the 88 didn’t play much of a role; its sales dropped slightly. Instead, the increase came from the luxurious Ninety-Eight, and, more importantly, from the compact F-85/Cutlass.
This reveals an interesting aspect to Oldsmobile’s 1960s history: The previously-dominant 88 range became somewhat directionless throughout the decade, particularly as an increasing proportion of the division’s sales came from Cutlasses, which had grown in size and excelled at offering customers a good value.
The Cutlass’s sales ascendancy over the 88 is clearly illustrated when looking at Olds models and their annual proportion of total production. Here we can see that the Cutlass and 88 gradually reversed roles from the early 1960s to the mid-’70s, with mid-size Cutlasses becoming the division’s sales leaders. If our ’67 featured car seems like it can’t quite figure out whether it wants to be sporty, prestigious, value-oriented or exclusive, it may be because Oldsmobile itself likely struggled with how best to position its 88s during the late 1960s.
Knowing how the long-term trends turned out, it’s little surprise to hear that the 6th generation 88’s first two years were anything but satisfying for Oldsmobile. Overall, 88 sales slid 4 percent in 1965 and then a whopping 21 percent for ’66. While the 1961-64 generation accounted for 60 percent of Oldsmobile’s total sales during those four years, by 1966 that proportion eroded by 35 percent (part of this can be attributable to the discontinuation of the 88 wagons, though the 17,000 Dynamic 88 wagons produced in 1965 would only make up for a fraction of the sales slide).
For 1967, this generation’s third year, Oldsmobile refreshed both the 88 and Ninety-Eight model lines, with a goal of mimicking the then-one-year-old Toronado’s long-hood-short-rear appearance. In retrospect, this seems like an unusual choice. For one, the 88s/98s were not front-wheel drive like Toronado, so the visual effect of drawing attention to the cars’ front was somewhat hollow. More importantly, though, the Toronado, while debuting to enthusiastic reviews, underperformed in its introductory 1966 model year. Olds had hoped to sell 65,000 of the personal luxury coupes, but instead only 41,000 left the production lines.
Euphoric reviews and slow sales assigned Toronado the role of a halo car, and Olds executives hoped that it could generate enthusiasm for its brand siblings. The official explanation, from General Manager Metzel, was that the new Toronado-inspired models…
“…strongly reflect in styling and in many areas of their engineering, the knowledge gained from our experience in developing the highly successful Toronado.”
In other words: The Toronado looks neat, so this car should too.
Accordingly, Oldsmobile treated the 88 to a rump chop and a face lift. Five inches of length were cut from the rear deck and an equivalent amount added to the front. Not only did this long-hood treatment impersonate the Toronado’s sleek lines, but it also sought to further differentiate the full-sizers from Olds’s compact F-85/Cutlass range, which did not receive such styling upgrades. One could look at this restyle in two ways – either that it was space-inefficient showmanship, or that it resulted in an energetic-looking design. The former was certainly true, but whether the latter is true as well depends on one’s opinions. Regardless, Olds designers were undoubtedly disappointed when these changes failed to stem the 88’s sales slide – production continued to fall for 1967 and ’68 before perking up a bit for 1969.
For 1967, the 88 range’s nomenclature was overhauled as well. While in previous years, the 88’s entry-level models were called Jetstar or Dynamic, for 1967 those spirited-sounding names were ditched in favor of… Delmont. Huh?
Just where “Delmont” came from is anyone’s guess. At best, Delmont sounds like it would be a municipal golf course, or a clothing brand from a mid-priced department store. At worst, it sounds like a socially maladjusted man’s name… maybe Dilbert’s brother. Let’s just say that this was one of GM’s frumpiest naming choices.
Befitting its role as full-size price leader, the Delmont became a choice vehicle for fleet sales…
…and even for police use.
It was also a reasonable choice for frugal-yet-fashionable consumers who desired a full-size car. Delmont 88s came in four body styles – two different sedans, a coupe and a convertible. Prices started at $3,008 for a sedan with the standard 330 cu. in. “Super Rocket” V-8. For an extra $63, Delmont coupe and sedan buyers could upgrade to Oldsmobile’s 425 cu. in. V-8. Delmont convertibles, however, came standard with the 425, as they should for the starting price of $3,462.
And there was part of the oddity of a Delmont 88 convertible… it was a premium product at a premium price, but with an entry-level badge.
Equipment differences between the Delmont 88 and the slightly more upscale Delta 88 were rather modest. Cushier seats, more elegant door panels, posher trim pieces and a different headlight/turn signal configuration came with a price bump of $184. It wouldn’t have been a stretch for someone buying a $3,500 convertible to spring for an extra 5% of the base price and buy a Delta. In fact, that’s what the vast majority of buyers did – in 1967, Olds produced 14,471 Delta 88 convertibles, but only 3,525 Delmont convertibles – one of which is our featured car.
This car has some significant options, such as air conditioning ($421) power windows ($104), and an AM/FM Wonder Bar radio. But regardless of the equipment level, one can see that the 88’s interior was fashionable for its day, with its high-quality materials, padded dash and subtle sprinkling of brushed aluminum trim. I can just imagine the satisfaction of sliding into the well-padded seat, slipping the Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission into drive, planting my foot on that enormous gas pedal and bringing the 425’s 300 horses to life.
The instrument panel pleasingly combines both round and rectangular themes, with three large recessed gauges set in a dash design that emphasizes the car’s width. The big steering wheel looks a bit downmarket for this convertible, and is a reminder that this is, in fact, an entry-level Delmont. But an original buyer could have specified a “Deluxe Steering Wheel” (just as big, but slightly fancier) for an extra $14. In fact, one could pile on the options to where a Delmont would virtually become a Delta 88.
Big GM convertibles were genuine six-passenger vehicles; three adults could comfortably sit in the back seat. All of those passengers would also be treated to an incredibly smooth ride, though the tradeoff came with squishy handling one would expect from a large 1960s American car.
The styling updates for the 1967 88 created an unusual combination of themes – marrying a fluid, coke-bottle shape with seemingly conflicting knife’s-edge details. In my opinion, the end result wound up being positive and distinctive, with the 4,000-lb. car being big enough to feature a wide variety of styling ideas.
Though the coke-bottle theme is more apparent on the coupe (which featured a sleek fastback), the convertible’s rear-quarter angle shows this aspect of the car’s design, with its voluptuous rear wheel arch and a noticeable beltline upkick.
Around front, though, we see a much different theme. The sharp lines, pointy center grille and protruding extremities give the 88’s front the appearance of not just a beak, but of something more ominous… perhaps a giant squid attacking?
But somehow the aggressive and the flowing were merged together mostly harmoniously. The design’s biggest flaw to my eye is that the bulging sides and flared wheel arches make the track seem too narrow, and give these cars an uncertain-looking stance.
Around back, the inward-slanted tail lights create a distinctive rear profile. This would win my award for the best tail light design of 1967. These tail lights add some flair even to the lowliest Delmont Town Sedan, let alone the convertible. Yes, the convertible…
For the extra $336 over the equivalent coupe, Olds 88 buyers could get the soft top model (with these big Oldsmobiles, the top was power-actuated, via a dashboard rocker switch). Obviously, this was not a common type of vehicle for Olds buyers to choose – and the Delmont convertible became the rarest of all 88 varieties of its era.
This car held a lot of attributes for people looking for a reasonably-priced, well-built and quick full-size convertible. But attributes or not, the era of the full-size convertible was drawing to a close. Sales of this type of vehicle steadily dwindled throughout the 1960s. Curiously enough, the 1967 Olds 88 range proved somewhat of an outlier to that trend, as that year’s 18,000 88 convertibles (Delmonts and Deltas combined) constituted over 10 percent of total 88 production – a proportion not seen since the 1950s. It was short-lived bump in sales, however, and the 88 convertibles resumed their sales slide in subsequent years.
While the Delmont nameplate departed after 1968, the Olds 88 convertible hung on for another eight years, with the final versions rolling off the assembly line in 1975.
Somehow, I find this Delmont a particularly intriguing example of a full-size convertible. Despite its status as a lowly, entry-level 88, this car seems as dynamic as any Oldsmobile ever built. Being a Delmont, it’s certainly not a luxobarge – after all Olds sold Delta 88s and Ninety-Eights to satisfy that market niche. Yet it’s swankier than a Chevrolet, with that characteristic Oldsmobile presence and even some high-end options to lift it out of the penalty box. There’s nothing better than an older car whose mere presence is somewhat of a curiosity, and for me, this Delmont checks that box. I’d go so far as to proclaim this car my favorite 1960s convertible.
Photographed at the Labor Day Car Show in Fairfax, Virginia in September 2019.