Car Show Classics: 1964 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Convertible – 394 cubic inches and 3-on-the Tree

(first posted 10/21/2017)          Earlier this year, while wandering through a cruise night, I came across this 1964 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88.  At first glance, I didn’t give it much notice, but then on second thought these big Olds’ are becoming less common, so I decided to have a closer look. I looked inside the car, I noticed the shifter wasn’t in its usual park position. As I was processing this information, I observed three pedals on the floor.  A three on the tree in a ’64 Olds convertible!?  This car just got my attention.

Before we look at this Olds in more detail, the ’64 Oldsmobiles have never really been covered in-depth at CC.  So, let’s take a more in-depth look at the ’64 full-size Oldsmobiles.  The ’64 model year was the last year of a body and chassis that dated back to 1961.  Changes to the ’64 models were few, with the most apparent being the ubiquitous facelift front and rear, along with changes to the body trim.  The new for 1964 grille was an improvement in my eyes over the rather generic 1963 grille. The body revisions resulted in a slight increase in length, causing the big Olds to grow 0.9” to 215.3” overall for 88’s and 222.3″ for 98’s.

In 1963, the Dynamics 88’s were the base full-size cars, but for 1964 the low-priced Jetstar 88 was introduced as the new full-size price leader.  Standard equipment between the Jetstar 88 and the Dynamic 88’s were almost identical, but there were significant mechanical differences.

A 330 cid 2nd generation Oldsmobile V8. This engine design proved to be good and was produced until 1990.


Jetstars had two engine choices both 2nd generation Oldsmobile V8s that displaced 330 cubic inches.  It was available with either a 2bbl or 4bbl carburetor.  The Dynamic 88s and the remaining full-size Oldsmobiles, used variations of the 394 Rocket V8, which was a 1st generation engine with roots back to 1949.  Both the 330 and the 394 could be equipped with automatics, but the 330 used the new 2-speed Jet-away (aka ST-300) shared with other Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac intermediates, while the 394 used the Roto-Hydramaic, commonly known as the “Slim-Jim.”

There wasn’t a big price difference between the Dynamic and Jetstar lines, about $70 – $100. So, I am sure the bean counters must have been thinking how is poor Oldsmobile going to make a profit on this one?  Well, they found a solution.  Since the car used an intermediate driveline, why not used intermediate brakes?  The new small lightweight Olds V8 and driveline made the Jetstar 88 lighter, in fact almost 200 lbs on average compared to the equivalent Dynamic 88.  So that justifies ditching the big 11” drums for 9 ½” drums from an F-85, right?

Despite the lighter weight, the 9 ½” drums were significantly weaker than the 11” drums.  They only had 118 square inches of lining vs 163.5 on the 11” setup.  Motor Trend tested a 1964 Jetstar 88 4-door sedan.  They noted the brakes to be significantly weaker, prone to fade and the test results showed it took a lengthy 210 feet to stop from 60 MPH.  This was a substantial 43 feet longer than the heavier Starfire convertible with 11” brakes that Motor Trend also tested. The Jetstar 88 was offered in four body styles.  A 2-door hardtop, a 4-door sedan, a 4-door hardtop and a convertible.   The hardtops used the “Holiday” name while the sedans were dubbed “Celebrity”.

Note the roofline used on most Oldsmobile coupes, different from the Starfire and Jetstar I


The Dynamic 88 was the volume leader for the full-size Oldsmobile.  It was available in six models over five different body styles, the most of any full-size Oldsmobile model.  It was offered in the same four models as the Jetstar 88 but there were also two wagons in the line-up.   The wagons were either a 2-seat or a 3-seat variation. Like the Jetstar 88, the hardtops had the Holiday moniker and the sedans the Celebrity moniker, while the wagons were called Fiestas.

The Dynamic 88 was the only full-size Oldsmobile that was available as a station wagon


The next rung up on the Oldsmobile 88 ladder was the Super 88, which for 1964 was limited to 4-door only models.  It was available as a Celebrity Sedan (4-door sedan) or a Holiday Sedan (4-door hardtop).  The Super 88 would cost a buyer about $300 more than a Dynamic 88.  What did that $300 get you?  The Super 88 included a nicer interior, chrome door window frames, a deluxe steering wheel, parking brake signal lamp and a rear fold-down armrest (Holiday sedan only).

The Super 88 was reduced to two 4-door models


Oldsmobile introduced the Starfire line in 1961 as a top-of-the line Oldsmobile designed to compete in the personal luxury/sporty luxury car market, with cars such as the Ford Thunderbird and Chrysler 300.  Initially it was introduced solely as a convertible, but a 2-door hardtop was added in 1962.  While the Starfire wasn’t called an 88, it did share the 88’s B-body and chassis.  The Starfire came equipped with the best Olds had to offer and included a sky-high price.  Initially sales were small, but with the introduction of the coupe in 1962, the Starfire sales took off to 41,988.

1961 Starfire, the original “sporty” full-size Oldsmobile, was only available as a convertible.


However, the personal car/sporty luxury car market was becoming crowded by 1963.  Not only was Olds facing competition from the Thunderbird and Chrysler, but it was battling against Buick’s Riviera and Wildcat, along with the very handsome and relatively economically priced Pontiac Grand Prix.  The Grand Prix, had fewer standard features than the Starfire and a significantly lower price.  Starfire sales plummeted to 25,890 in 1963, while Grand Prix surged from 30,195 in 1962 to 72,959 in 1963.

Pontiac’s beautiful ’63 Grand Prix. Note the same concave rear window also used on the Starfire/Jetstar I


The 1964 Starfire coupe was priced at $4128, which placed it higher than a Grand Prix, Chrysler 300, and Buick Wildcat, but still lower than the Thunderbird and Riviera.  So what did Olds do to try to fix this hole in their line-up?  Why bring out another model, of course.  The new Jetstar I, not to be confused with the stripper Jetstar 88, was essentially a de-contented Starfire designed to compete more directly with the Grand Prix.   To reduce the price Oldsmobile removed some trim, which in my eyes improved the styling, while the leather upholstery was downgraded to Morocceen vinyl.  The Starfire included standard power steering, brakes, windows, and automatic transmission, but these were all relegated to the option list for the Jetstar I.   The de-contenting did reduce the price significantly to $3592, but once all the above options were added back to the list, the price difference was minimal.

The Jetstar I shared the unique roofline of the Starfire that used a concave rear window, also used on the Grand Prix.  Unlike the Starfire which was available as 2-door hardtop or a 2-door convertible, the Jetstar was only available as a 2-door hardtop.  Both cars came equipped with Oldsmobile’s most powerful engine, the 10.5:1 compression 394 cid engine pumping out 345 hp, dual exhaust, bucket seats, console and tach.

So did the new model help Oldsmobile sales in the personal car market?   Yes it improved slightly overall, but at the expense of Starfire sales which dropped nearly 10,000 units.  The combined sales of the Jetstar I and Starfire for 1964 were up to 32,247.  That said, the Starfire and JetStar I never really caught on and they are probably one of the least memorable cars from that category.  They were eventually replaced by the far more memorable Toronado.

While the Oldsmobile B-bodies had a number of model changes for 1964, the Oldsmobile 98 riding on its 126” wheelbase C-body soldiered on with the same line-up and only minor styling changes from 1963.  Olds offered the 98 in six models over three body styles.  These were the Holiday Hardtop and Custom Sport Coupe 2-door hardtops and a 98 convertible.  The 4-door models included two 4-door hardtops, the Luxury Sedan and the Sports Sedan and a 4-door sedan called the Town sedan. Prices ranged from $4177 to $4457.  Included with the Oldsmobile 98 was a 330 hp 394 (345hp 394 for the Custom Sport Coupe), power steering, brakes, windows, and seat, Roto-Hydramatic transmission, special wheel covers, padded dash, clock, courtesy and map lights, and a windshield washer.  Upholstery was available in coloured cloth, vinyl or leather, while the “sporty” Custom Sport Coupe included leather and fabric buckets seats, with a console and floor shift.

That covers the 1964 Oldsmobile full-size model line-up, are you confused yet?  Oldsmobile was chasing sales in the early 1960’s and this resulted in this extensive line-up that went from stripper cars all the way to luxury cars.  And while Oldsmobile was successful in reaching down below its traditional price range with cars like the Jetstar 88, what did it cost in the long run?  Was producing an Oldsmobile with inadequate mechanical parts worth the gain in sales?  To me, this was just a clear example of Alfred Sloan’s ladder coming apart.  GM’s divisions had a lot of autonomy at this time and it resulted in them fighting each other for sales, instead of working as a unified entity.

Although Oldsmobile shared its bodies with its corporate cousins, the autonomy offered by divisions in this era resulted in a lot of independent engineering. This of course included engines and chassis design. So even though body shells were shared, each of the GM divisions used their own chassis.  Oldsmobile never adopted the cruciform frame that each of the other GM divisions used at some time between 1957 and 1964.  In 1961, Oldsmobile designed a new chassis, which they dubbed the Guard-Beam frame. This was really just a perimeter chassis, and it would eventually become the frame of choice for all American body-on-frame cars.   Pontiac introduced a very similar chassis design in 1961.

The chassis was composed of four torque boxes at each corner, used tall narrow frame rails (boxed side rails on convertibles and HD frame option) and had four cross members.  Rear suspension was updated from the previously used leaf springs to a coil spring setup using four control arms.  While other multilink coil spring setups had been used in the past, Oldsmobile seemed to be the first to adopt what would become the ubiquitous rear suspension for RWD body-on-frame cars.  This consisted of two lower control arms for locating the axle, along with two upper control arms mounted at an outward angle to control the axle’s lateral movement.  Interestingly, when Ford abandoned its cow belly frame in 1965, it went to a perimeter frame that was very similar in design to the Oldsmobile frame, although its suspension design was different.

Notice the similarities in the frame rails and torque boxes used on the 1965+ Ford Frame.


Despite Oldsmobile using the most modern style chassis, Oldsmobiles were tuned for smooth comfortable rides, rather than sporty driving. Motor Trend lauded the smooth ride of both the Jetstar 88 and the Starfire due to the car’s soft springs.  However, they went on to state that “No suspension options are available for this car so the owner who wants more precise road manners will have to find sources other than his Oldsmobile dealer.”

The Dynamic 88 convertible that I spotted was one of the 10,042 Dynamic 88 convertibles produced, making it the most popular full-size Oldsmobile convertible.  How many were equipped with a 3-speed manual?  I don’t have those numbers, but I’d be willing to bet that it would be a single-digit percentage.  This particular Oldsmobile was owned by the current owner for over 20 years and was originally a US market that he brought to Canada.  He told me that he had put over 60,000 miles on the car in that time.

The 394 has turned its odometer over once and has been rebuilt.  The owner says it runs very well.  Of note is because of the manual transmission linkage, there was no room to have power brake booster.  So this 2 ton-plus car has to stop with four manual drum brakes.  At least the Dynamics got the more appropriately sized 11” drums.  The owner regularly drives the car and has taken it on long trips down to the States.

If you look closely at the master cylinder you can see the linkage and the lack of space for a brake booster.


Even though this generation of Oldsmobile has never been one that I have taken a keen interest in, I have to say finding a unique combination like this car makes it a whole lot more interesting to me.   And the fact that this car is being well cared for and enjoyed by its owner puts a smile on my face.