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.
Thank you! Really enjoyed this one.
The most famous Delmont in history was (almost) driven by Ted Kennedy over the Chappaquiddick bridge on Nantucket Island.
Beat me to it! Perhaps the only famous Delmont in history.
Arguably The Most Culturally Impactful Vehicle Ever
Yes, sadly, impactful in more than one way…
Martha’s Vineyard, not deflecting.
The INSTANT i saw the name”Delmont” in the title i perked up—when i apprehended “1967” i couldn’t believe the luck, & tho I rue his rapidity i :have to thank Blueovaldave for saying concisely what our writing Host might not have wanted clouding a fine article about a fine car. Even as Curbside Classic copy is dependably worthwhile this piece was particularly incisive, & sympathetic, illuminating the Olds Division in its time when it was getting it right; the article clearly points out the tendencies to try being too many things to all people that led to loss of model, then marque, identities & the ultimate disappearance-in-fact of Oldsmobile & other mid-marques after years of indistinguishability.
—–Back to Blueovaldave’s ace catch: Ted Kennedy was justly drenched with a kettle of fish of his own making, & the car couldn’t have been tagged “responsible”. Not to name names, but had some other vehicle gone into the drink (so to speak), blame might have been shiftable. But an OLDS? Even if, indeed, a Delmont? Driver error.
—–Dependable handling by a well-known car allowed no wiggle for the known erratic manner of the unmeritedly-“mentioned” Prexy-prospect; the sure operation of the car Teddy used as a love-“boat” made sure, in the tragedy, he was locked out of the doors of the White House and unable, ironically, to “escape in” through any windows.
—–Good, important sidelight, Blueovaldave!
I realize that this comment is in bad taste however it has historical context. In the years after the Chappaquiddick accident many people were commenting that had Teddy been driving a Volkswagen, he might have been president. The reference being that VW’S would float IF they were right side up. Rose Kennedy’s Olds went into the water roof first so it isn’t likely to have made a difference, except to the WW2 generation who would have been just as aghast that he was driving a German car.
Can’t remember if this was in Mad or Lampoon.
That was NatLamp, back when they were still good/relevant
Much as I like 1960 Oldsmobiles generally, this generation doesn’t quite work for me. It looks like a 69 Oldsmobile that has started to melt. Can it go around a corner and stay in one piece?
BTW: you would have thought Ted Kennedy could have afforded the Delta 88.
It was actually mother Roses car.
Hey mah, I wrecked the cah!
And there’s this other thing………
good one, Rog !
I’m sure that Olds was bought by the Kennedy family and not Ted himself, and it was a (brand new) beater they kept on Nantucket Island. You can find all kind of pictures of JFK driving suicide door Continental’s and T-Bird’s so he at least liked cars. Yes of course he was assassinated in a Continental but I’ve seen pictures of him driving a “normal” convertible.
I’ve seen footage of JFK driving a gorgeous 1963 Mercury Montclair convertible when the Park Lane was Merc’s top of the line.
The Delmont belonged to Teddy’s mom.
It could’ve been a rental.
LBJ was a Continental guy too —
He thought the slab-side 4-dr. converts were the best ones to slam over the dirt roads of his ranch @ 80 mph.
LBJ ordered that the Kennedy Continental be refurbished immediately. It was painted black and had a solid roof attached. It was used for years as a secondary limo, until the 70’s. I have heard that everyone felt uncomfortable in that car. It should have been left alone. And it was refurbished so quickly that it was unavailable for future assassination investigations. It’s now in the Ford museum. They should change it back to the original blue.
It’s easy to see why the insurers and the government felt the need to regulate bumpers and lights. GM’s W-shaped front ends defeated the whole point of a bumper. It was still a heavy chromed piece of steel, but it was BEHIND the sheet metal, not protecting the sheet metal. The W-shape also limited and narrowed the visibility of lights. Chrysler’s loop bumpers in the ’70s were equally bad.
Worst was Ford. The Mustang’s flimsy front bumper did virtually nothing. Many a Mustang would be seen with a twisted front bumper. Then there was the ‘Bunkie Beak’ Thunderbird and W-front Mercury intermediates (like the gunsight Cyclone). As to Chrysler, the Charger Daytona and Plymouth Superbird could not be sold in Maryland because that state did not regard the tiny rubber strip at the leading edge as an actual bumper (which it wasn’t).
By the late sixties/early seventies, do-nothing bumpers had really gotten out of hand.
You’re so right. Our 60 and 61 Falcons’ bumpers were very weak, as were the bumpers on our 1964 Fairlane Sports Coupe. My Dad had the rear bumper on the Fairlane repaired twice in the three years we owned the car and finally gave up when it got bumped and twisted the last time. And I remember seeing damaged bumpers on Mustangs all over the place.
The 67 Oldmobile’s front and rear lights were not visible from the side. The federally mandated side marker lights that came the next year surely were needed.
Starting with the Mustang, Ford also put its measly bumpers right up against the sheet metal, which drove the insurance companies nuts – even a minor bump could cause serious damage.
I guess their massive mid-70’s bumpers were a kind of atonement.
These big Oldsmobiles of the second half of the 60s were everywhere when I was a kid, and now I cannot recall the last time I saw one.
These Oldsmobiles seemed to be a styling leader in popularizing full rear wheel cutouts and fender flairs in big cars – trends that have never gone away.
I also scratched my head at the Delmont name. The first one I saw belonged to neighbors who bought one used to replace a 59 Olds. It was an odd color combo, a black car with a metallic turquoise painted roof and turquoise interior.
I saw a ’68 Ninety Eight for sale in Calais, Maine just a couple of years ago.
“a black car with a metallic turquoise painted roof and turquoise interior.”
Amazing. If you saw one like that at a show nowadays, you’d think the restorer was colour-blind or something. Yet they really built one that way. But probably not two!
Our regular baby sitter’s husband traded in a ’62 Impala sedan on a used one of these, in turquoise IIRC. It looked pretty mean compared to the Imp.
Personally, I always found Old’s multiple lines of 88’s confusing.
I got stuck with one of these 425 CI MON$TER$ (leftover hardtop) as my first demo when I started selling Oldsmobiles in L.A. in 1969. It could barely get out of its own way, had handling like a whale, but $UCKED gas like I owned Chevron!
To me, a less than desirable automobile. When I got a Cutlass Supreme demo within two weeks my wallet and I were pleased!! 🙂 DFO
Interesting since the 425 was discontinued and replaced with the 455 emissions designed motor in 68. The California emissions standards probably choked it off more. For the rest of the country 425’s were strong and though not as hot there were strong 455’s too.
From what I heard from members of the Olds Club the 425 liked to rev to make power. The 455 had a longer stroke and produced more torque at a lower rpm.
So it handled like it looks like it would handle? I’ll take a Newport instead.
But I do like the dash.
These blade front fenders carried over to full size Buick for 67 and 68 with much better effect. Olds went a little too far. I agree with Delmont name appraisal. Calls to mind Demonte brand canned fruit to me.
An excellent find and biography Eric. The thoroughness of your articles is always appreciated. I wasn’t a fan of Oldsmobile styling in general during this era. While the Toronado’s design was fresh and original, I didn’t think applying the bulbuous wheel arches to their full line worked so well. It made the big cars look over styled. As with the Toronado, I found theses sporty styling cues looked more natural on smaller, mid-sized cars. Not on hulking big cars. As you pointed out, making their appearance seem too wide (and bloated?) for their track. I found the coke bottle styling and exaggerated wheel arches looked better on mid-sized cars. Though I didn’t like where Olds design was heading in general. The flared or bloated wheel arches were overdone by a number of Ford and GM products during this flamboyant era. One of the worst examples for me, was the 1969 Olds Delta 88.
A few years ago, with an article Paul prepared on the Toronado, I prepped a Photoshop attempting to show the Toronado’s styling may have worked just as well on the mId-sized A body platform. I thought the design’s proportions look more taut and sporty. Less like a ‘hulking’ boulevard cruiser with sporty touches tacked on. Which I found with the Olds full-sized cars.
Thanks! That’s a great illustration with the Toronado. I like the Toronado’s styling, and (for the most part) the 88’s, but that’s likely because I have a fondness for big cars. For folks who don’t have such a fondness, I can definitely see how the design’s bulbous touches overwhelm the good qualities.
Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I admittedly see many of these late 60s and early 70s full-sized cars (when domestics were their most gargantuan) through a post-downsizing filter. 🙂 I found some cars wore their hulk reasonably well for the era. Given there were less styling constraints. While others looked like whales, with unnecessary baroque/gaudy extras added on. Flamboyance, and more freedom of expression in design and styling was still very alive in car styling back then, so I totally appreciate people seeing these designs in that perspective.
Actually Oldsmobile intended the Toronado to be based on a midsized chassis. But Ed Cole (by then the Chairman of GM) insisted it would be built on the full size E body to 1: amortize the upcoming Eldorado and Riviera, and 2: because by making it a more expensive fullsize luxury car they could charge more and amortize the front wheel drive tooling faster.
Bill Mitchell also wanted to build the Toronado on a smaller platform.
The same thing happened with the 1971 Buick Riviera. Mitchell originally envisioned it as a smaller vehicle. He wanted to “downsize” it in the same way that the Pontiac Grand Prix had been downsized for 1969. Both the Buick general manager and GM brass vetoed that idea.
Great essay, Eric! Thanks.
Love this site for the information and history thanks! From the first time I spotted a Delmont badge as a child, I haven’t been able to disassociate it with Del Monte canned vegetables. Just like Buick and the Lucerne; Safeway’s Dairy brand in western Canada.
I would still trade my sister for a mint ’67 or ’68 Olds 98 4 door hard top or the same years of a Buick Electra 225. Besides the ’71 thru ’73 Caprice coupes, those were the cars I drooled about as a little dude on Lenacrave Avenue in cleve. Detroit should be ashamed of what they’re rolling out these days that WHEEL never really be classics.
Loved styling, but kept my ’63 Electra convert
Wow, what a goofy name! I had no idea this model was even a thing.
But the Chappaquiddick connection was interesting!
Rather than a cheap Delta, I imagine some folks saw the Delmont as a “few dollars more” upgrade to a Catalina or even a loaded-up Impala. In ’68, the “Rocket V-8” still carried a certain cachet over similarly-sized engines from Chevrolet or Pontiac.
My dad brought home a Delta 88 in 1968. It too had the vulnerable front nose which I had the misfortune of denting when someone turned in front of me in an intersection – on his birthday! Sorry dad. That aside, I pretty much learned to drive in that bad boy with the 455 Rocket under the hood. Today I own a 1979 Holiday 88, though not as big, still cruises down the highway like it owns it. By 1979 the front was protected by big bumpers and bumper guards.
As is so often the case, a CC on a car of this generation revives some old memories in me. As a 10-11 year old, the Delmont name stuck in my mind when the California Highway Patrol started using these. It was unusual enough to see a GM police car here, let alone and Olds, let alone a new nameplate that to this day I associate only with this CHP cars. As I recall, they didn’t last long, and the CHP went back to Plymouth/Dodge in short order, though there was a brief detour to Mercury around that time also.
The other memory was of Chappaquidick, my first realization that politicians weren’t perfect. But I also remember being surprised that a Kennedy would drive an Olds, thinking that a Cadillac or Lincoln would be more appropriate for his social and economic standing. Only when I was older did I figure out that he probably didn’t want to look to ostentatious.
Was best friends with son of local CHP Commander, the Olds would load up waiting for speeders on ramps also go out of tune easily. Have seen pic’s of Ted Kennedy in ’57 OLDS 88 AND ’64 jETstar, both convert’s. Kennedy’s also had Imperial’s and Ghia limo’s
I much prefer the dual taillamps on the slightly more expensive 88 models.
Fine article on the short-lived and oddly-named Delmont, thank you for the thorough research to give its place in the Oldsmobile line-up context. I recall when those were introduced and can assure you we were just as befuddled what a ‘Delmont’ was and why the Jetstar and Dynamic names were replaced.
Since the full-sized Oldsmobiles shared the B-Body shells with Pontiac and Buick, I’ve wondered how they pulled off a visual slight-of-hand versus its sibling nameplates: the dash-to-front axle looks longer than either Pontiac or Buick. Perhaps its the shortened rear overhang, or the clean linear styling. But I think it may be because the wheel-wells are drawing in close to the tire and ‘shade’ the upper portion of the tire. It certainly was effective to give the full-sized Olds the Toronado look.
BTW, the wide-spaced Delta 88 & 98 headlights with parking light between recalled the 1959 Oldsmobiles.
Wow, I had not noticed until this very moment that the Delmont used different headlight spacing than the others. Something was nagging at me when I looked at the front shots of this car, but I couldn’t place it, just figured it had been so long since I had seen one. A definite head-smack moment.
You’re not alone — I hadn’t realized the headlight difference until I started researching this article.
But in comparing them, I prefer the Delmont’s less-fussy headlight treatment, though I realize that the term “less fussy” is somewhat absurd when dealing with such an overstyled front end:
At first glance it’s hard to see which one is the more premium model. I figured it out, but I had to read the caption and go back to the photos. Even a ‘stripper’ Oldsmobile was a nicely-trimmed car back then. Unless the neighbours knew their Oldses, they’d never guess you bought the entry-level model.
In the heyday of Mopar police cars, seldom did a Ford or GM product get the nod from the California Highway Patrol. The 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 was one, and the 1970 Mercury Monterey, another. Most rank-and-file officers did not like either of them.
During the course of researching this article, I came across part of the reason for the large CHP order of Delmont 88s for 1967.
A Southern California VW/Porsche dealer named Manning “Manny” Post was an influential businessman (both as a car dealer and in the film industry), and was appointed to California’s “Little Hoover Commission,” which was a budgetary oversight body. Since he was a car dealer, he took a special interest in state fleet vehicle purchases. In examining characteristics of California’s state fleet, Mr. Post questioned why Highway Patrol cars had been Mopars for an entire decade, apparently without any competitive bidding. In digging a little further, he found what he thought was favoritism towards a well-connected Dodge dealer, and brought this situation to light.
I didn’t follow up to see the substance of this accusation, but I presume there was something to it, because during the next purchasing season (1967), CHP patrol vehicles wound up being Delmont 88s.
Incidentally, if Mr. Post’s name sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because he owned the Porsche Speedster that was written about in the Sports Car Illustrated article that Paul posted a few weeks ago.
The “favored” Dodge dealer was Chuck Swift, whose dealership, Swift Dodge, was located in South Sacramento, a short distance from the CHP’s Motor Transport Division, the service facility where all CHP cars were prepared for duty for many years (since moved to West Sacramento where the Patrol’s academy relocated). Swift wound up with by far the most CHP orders after the 1970 Mercury Monterey, even after the infamously slow 1980 Dodge St. Regis caused administrators to consider barring Dodge from bidding, until Chrysler discontinued the M-body Dodge Diplomat, which in its last years was built by American Motors (some officers called them “Ramblers.”
Thanks for the background on that. Since the CHP switched back to Dodges (as far as I know) in the 1970s, does that mean that Mr. Swift was able to rebound from whatever allegations were flung at him by the Little Hoover Commission?
This whole affair sounds like an interesting story – I just didn’t have the time to research the whole story and find out how it ended.
The rank-and-file officers did not like the Oldsmobiles. Oldsmobile didn’t have the same level of experience in building police cars that Dodge and Plymouth did. The cars were criticized for everything from sloppy handling to engines that were hard to keep in tune under constant, hard use.
An episode of Jay Leno’s Garage focused on some old CHP cars. The Mercuries were ordered without power steering, but still had small steering wheels. Wrestling around a big car without power steering made them pretty unpopular. My theory is some crusty old captain did not think women should be cops and wanted to make their lives miserable.
I always wondered why Ted Kennedy drove the lowly Delmont. I heard that it didn’t stay on Chapaquidick Island. They brought over the Delmont and a Valiant. They probably wanted to be discrete and not have the Lincoln’s. It was a secret party with Kennedy men and women staffers. No Kennedy spouses or partners allowed. No staffers spouses Or partners allowed.
I knew someone who claimed to be a Republican Woman of the Year in the 80’s. She claimed that she was staying on the island that night and they had a similar Delmont. She said that some men showed up at her door in the middle of the night with a suitcase full of cash. They wanted to switch license plates with them. I never found out if this story had any truth behind it. Or if it was an attempt by rich republicans to tarnish the Kennedy name. .
“Delmont” does sound like a name conjured up by a committee of “marketing analysts” on a Friday afternoon. I did a Google search on the name and nearly all the first-page entries refer in one way or another to Delmont, PA, which is about 22 miles east of Pittsburgh and had, in the most recent census, less than 3,000 population.
If that committee wanted to choose a name to which few would relate, they chose well!
The entry that did not directly relate to Delmont, PA was a disambiguation listing.
Obviously by 1967 the Sloan model was pushing up daisies; the Delmont was obviously being aimed at potential Chevrolet and Pontiac buyers. This thing is ugly-the wheel arches are ugly and the front end is simply no better. oldsmobile seemed to be trying the long hood short trunk styling on the line and it didn’t work.
What was Ted Kennedy doing driving a lowly Delmont 88. Not that I dislike the car, but weren’t Kennedy’s supposed to drive ultra fancy vehicles befitting their “lofty” status? Plus, did he think this 4 door sedan would impress a girl? I thought all the playboys back then drove convertibles?
Joe Kennedy had all kinds of cars, from a Rolls Royce to Cadillacs and Imperials. But he discouraged his sons – who understood why – from driving ultra flashy cars when they were developing their political careers. Everyone knew they were rich, there was no need to flaunt it in front of voters. Jackie bought JFK a new Jaguar after she inherited some money when her father died in 1957 (the inspiration may have been her mother, Janet Auchincloss, who drove a Jaguar sedan). He returned it, noting it was not the kind of car he should be driving at the time. JFK drove Oldsmobiles and Buicks in the 1950s (they usually were convertibles – you have a point there). The Kennedys rode in family and government limousines but for occasional personal use they often drove ordinary cars. Bobby loved his 1965 Ford convertible – it was getting a little ragged by the time he was assassinated in 1968.
Thanks for the Kennedy info, CA Guy.
A fascinating look at a car I’d only seen in spotter’s guides, and never read anything about. Fancy them having enough buyers for a base trim convertible, that they were able to keep making them for so long.
Going off at a tangent here, I found your sales graphs of Oldsmobile models over the years particularly interesting. This is the kind of insightful analysis that’s so hard to find – many thanks for it. Now if I remember right, before the ’59 models, the 88 was always on a smaller body, the A or B rather than the C. So back then the 88 was quite literally a physically-smaller Oldsmobile. First compact like a Chevy, and then intermediate, you might say. Relatively speaking, of course; it was still a big car.
But then the 88 became as big as a 98 inside. Your figures from ’61 on show that the 88 accounted for the lion’s share of sales (hardly surprising), certainly until the F85/Cutlass grew into a larger BOF design, at which point it began seriously eroding 88 sales, certainly after the Colonnades came along.
Were there really enough buyers by say 1975 for a less-opulent big-bodied Olds compared to, say, a better-trimmed intermediate? Smaller luxury versus big but plain? With the benefit of hindsight we can see this is the way the market was headed. I’m wondering whether Oldsmobile would have been better off canning the C-body 88 with the downsized models and transferring the name to the new ’78 intermediates, thus returning to the pre-59 market position. Seems they had two vehicles competing for roughly the one lot of buyers, especially since the relative size difference between full-size and intermediate was less than before.
Thanks Peter! I think it’s interesting that, like you said, the 99 became as big as a 98, and the Cutlass became as big as an 88… and then it seems as of the 88 occupied some sort of consumers’ no-mans land. Like you said, two vehicles competing for roughly the same buyers. I’d love to do more research on this throughout the GM line someday.
Great article, well-researched and not afraid to examine all the fine details.
I found the graph depicting Oldsmobile sales by model as a percent to total to be very interesting, with the rise of the Cutlass/F-85 either coming at the expense of the full size B bodies or the B bodies simply weren’t keeping up with a rapidly changing market. I tend to think it’s more the former than the latter, as early Boomers preferred a well-equipped Cutlass Supreme to a base-model B body such as this unfortunately named Delmont. It may also reflect Olds’ tenuous position in the middle of the GM brand hierarchy, though it’s interesting to note that the C bodies seemed to hold their own as a percent to total as Olds’ overall sales volume grew rapidly in the late 60s through the 70s. In part, that may reflect Olds’ success in better differentiating the 98 from the 88 starting in the mid-sixties.
I would be interested in seeing the same chart for Buick model sales during these years as well, as anecdotal evidence would seem to indicate that the Buick B body sales held up better over time, but then the Special/Skylark/Century/Regal were never as successful as their Olds counterparts. Perhaps Buick’s more affluent, conservative and somewhat older customer base was more apt to buy their cars by the pound and opt for a base LeSabre over a well-equipped Skylark.
Yes, I would love to do a corresponding analysis of Buick sales. When I started this analysis, I didn’t think the switch from the 88s to Cutlasses would be quite so easily shown in a chart, so I’m glad I was able to use it here. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to do the same for Buicks.
The Olds versus Buick buyer mindset was definitely reflected in the success of tthe F-85/Cutlass/88 compared to the Special-Skylark/LeSabre. Oldsmobile buyers were more open to a well-equipped Cutlass Supreme rather than a stripped Delmont 88. Considering the ’67 Cutlass Supreme 4dr Holiday priced at $2,900 versus $3,008 for a Delmont 88 330 model 4dr Town Sedan, its easy to see why buyers preferred the Cutlass.
The ’67 Buick LeSabre sedan, conversely, at $52 more base price than a Skylark V8 4dr hardtop outsold the latter by around 2.5: 1 Buick buyers bought by the pound…
Maybe not in the Midwest, but here on the coast, Buick buyers tended to be older. Grandpa wanted a traditional big car. Cutlass buyers were not entry level young Chevy/Pontiac guys, but more likely to be 40 instead of 60. In my family the Skylark appealed to older females that wanted something easier to handle, but with premium status.
One of the owners of the company where I worked throughout high school got a new Oldsmobile every two or three years. She traded in a 65 Delta 88 coupe for a new 67 Delta 88 coupe. I washed it for her every week or two. It was bright red with a black vinyl top and black vinyl interior much like the one on this Delmont convertible. I believe it had the 425. Very smooth and quiet, but not a rocket ship. IIRC it was not the easiest car to park, with that big snout and limited rear vision due to the rakish roofline and sloping rear deck. One thing I do remember is the quality of assembly. It was very well built, quiet, no squeaks or rattles, rode beautifully.
One of the other employees parked her mother’s new 67 Impala SS coupe right next to the Olds from time to time. It had the same black vinyl on bright red color scheme and a similar look. I rode it in it quite a bit. It was a Chevy, not an Olds. Flashy but creaky, rattly, and the 327 pinged badly despite the use of good quality fuel – right off the showroom floor. The car went back to the dealer quite a few times in the first couple of months before it got sorted out. The Impala was a looker, though, and I much preferred the SS bucket seats and floor shift (hey, I was 17). Good times, fun cars.
Charlie “Oldsmobile” Powers, in my small town, drove nothing but full-size Oldsmobile his whole life until one Buick Electra as his last car because it was a deal. He went from a ’54 88 two door sedan, to a ’62 Dynamic 88 four door sedan, succeeded by a ’68 Delmont 88 four door town sedan, then a ’75 Delta 88 town sedan. He would spring for white-walls and full wheel-covers but that’s about all. Choice of colors would suggest either color-blindness or just lousy taste…
My family had a 1967 Delmont 88 Holiday sedan. Our elderly neighbor had bought it brand-new, and then used it sparingly. When he traded it in 1972 for a brand-new Chevrolet Impala, it had only 19,000 miles on it, and had never been driven in the rain or snow! When my father saw that he had bought a new car, he went to the local Cadillac-Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealer and bought the Delmont the next day.
My parents kept that car for five years (until the spring of 1977), and traded it with 113,000 miles on the odometer. It was a good, tough car. It was also a far superior car to our 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air wagon in terms of build quality, reliability and overall refinement. The Bel Air was basically worn out by 90,000 miles.
One thing about 88 sales over the years – while the 88 captured a smaller percentage of total Oldsmobile sales over the years, thanks to the success of the Cutlass, its overall sales held up well compared to the sales of other full-size cars.
The full-size Chevrolet, for example, sold well over 1 million units in 1965. The downsized 1977 model was hailed as a huge success, with sales of roughly 600,000 units. The full-size Ford went from around 900,000-1 million units to less than half a million units during the same time frame. Sales of the full-size Dodge and Plymouth collapse to less than 100,000 units each. But sales of the various 88 models held steady, which was an achievement, considering what was happening to the sales of many other full-size cars.
Thanks for the confirmation of my memory of the two cars I discuss above. It was striking at the time that a well-equipped brand new up-level Impala SS was inferior in so many ways to a brand new mid-level Olds 88 in 67 as I’m guessing the price difference was not that great.
You’re welcome. The Chevrolet was a station wagon, and wagons tended to rattle more as they aged. But mechanically (the Chevy had the smallest V-8 and Powerglide) it wasn’t nearly as robust as the Oldsmobile.
The Chevrolet interior used cheaper materials – thin carpeting that wore completely through after six years, “plastichrome” interior door trim that was peeling after four years, and less durable upholstery materials. The Oldsmobile’s interior wore like iron in comparison!
I have generally not been a fan of Oldsmobile styling, verses Buick and Pontiac. It was like the Buick was styled first and Olds had to make the same Fisher body look different.
I’ve often said that Buick and Pontiac “did more” with the same shared with other GM divisions bodies during this time period.
From the front one could be forgiven for thinking this was an early ‘70s Mercury.
There was a stink over the car having power windows which are inoperable when submerged. Some suggested future cars with power windows have some sort of secondary manual operation for emergencies. As we know it never happened.
Not an issue if the driver keeps the car on the road, which Teddy didn’t…”When I returned, Mary Jo and the cah were gone…”
My Aunt had a ’69 98 (which I think was this same generation) that she bought new from the same dealer in Kingston PA that she had bought her previous ’62 Cutlass, which my Uncle assumed ownership of . I remember my Uncle comparing the ’62 to a rocket ship, guess it might have had the 330 (were they putting them in ’62’s?) as he said it had tons of power and he had a time keeping it on the road…couldn’t believe the dealer would sell such a potent car to a spinster (the ’62 was bought new as well). My Uncle wasn’t really into cars, and I never got to drive the ’62 unfortunately
After my Aunt had a stroke, my Grandfather and Uncle took over the ’98 and much later on a trip to see them (we flew there and didn’t rent a car) I got to drive the ’69, in fact I think it is the oldest car I’ve driven (oldest Oldsmobile?). My Dad had bought a ’65 F85 but by ’69 had traded it for a ’69 Ford Country Squire bought at Luzurne Motors in PA.
The 98 was a 4 door hardtop, gold with a black vinyl roof. My grandmother didn’t drive (never did) and though my Dad was with us, I recall a nice June day where I was driving the 98 on an excursion to visit some relatives (her brother, I think, she came from a family of 12 and except for one who moved to Michigan, they were all in Northeast PA…but we must have missed him, he wasn’t home when we got there (unannounced). Even though the 98 is a boat, and the roads in NEPA are narrow, I managed to navigate it rountrip (I drive subcompact cars usually and never lived in the area (though I’ve of course visited hundred times or more).
Don’t know what happened to the ’98, but probably rusted away eventually…my Uncle was never a car person, but I also remember driving my Grandfather’s ’72 Biscayne, which was even more of a boat than the 98, on a similar excursion. For some reason the back seat seemed inordinately low (didn’t recall that on the 98) as my Mother and Grandmother are both short and were sitting back there, seemed they could barely see over the front seat of the Biscayne. The Biscayne had black steering wheel and dash (when fake wood was starting to show up on most cars), of course the 98 had lots of fake wood on the dash.
The tie to the Delmont? Besides powertrain, (probably would prefer a 350/turbomatic to the engine in the 98), well, Mary Jo Kopechne was from NEPA, I think she’s buried in Larksville, which is the next town over from where my Mother spent her youth. Ted’s political career was never the same, but she lost her life (but few remember her otherwise). Plus, I don’t mind the name Delmont, reminds me of one of my Uncles (same Grandmother’s brother-in-law) whose name was Delmer (like those old non-trendy names….to me they denote their character (and he certainly was a character…postmaster of Falls, PA).
I have driven and rode in several Oldsmobile hardtops and convertibles of this generation. New Orleans was long considered “An Oldsmobile town” in the 1960’s thru 1980’s.
The best adjective that I can think of to describe this model of Olds is: “smooth”.
Not the fastest, not the best brakes, not the most nimble handling cars…….just “smooth”.
Old’s “Rocket V8” engine always had more than enough lineal, gradual thrust for most traffic situations, it’s pleasing to the ears exhaust burble was refined and almost macho, the 3 speed Turbohydramatic automatic transmission shifted fine, GM’s HVAC was always excellent, the power steering accurate (for the time period) and easy effort, the car’s ride quality was on point for it’s intended buyers.
Not “sporty”, but just……”smooth”.
Very true. In particular, Metairie (where most of my family moved in the ‘50s and ‘60s) was virtually a sea of Oldsmobiles.
When they started hatching kids; my parents moved to Metry (from Gentilly-in-the-city) in 1958.
Mom still lives in the Airline Park/Bridgedale house she and Dad bought in 1974; flatly refuses to leave it.
A high school buddy of mine sold cars for Royal Oldsmobile in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He said he was merely an order taker for most of the suburban buyers; that their mind was made up before he even talked with them.
At best, Delmont sounds like it would be a municipal golf course, or a clothing brand from a mid-priced department store.
“Delmont Village” was the name of a second-tier shopping center in a blue collar area of my hometown of Baton Rouge, so I always thought the name sounded frumpy, as well.
Olds must’ve agreed, because they only used the name for two years.