Cornfield Classic: 1946 Oldsmobile 76 or 78 Club Sedan – Fastback Flashback

Ah, the Golden Hour, the hour just before sunset (also just after sunrise, if you are an early riser). It is a great time of day for photographing Curbside Classics, like this 1946 Oldsmobile 70-series that I discovered beside a cornfield in rural Indiana on a late summer evening last year.

During the Golden Hour, the Sun is low in the sky, and the resulting light is both redder and more diffuse than midday. The low setting sun acts as a spotlight, creating strong contrasts, shadows, and highlights. Shooting cars during the Golden Hour either requires advance planning and coordination or, as in my case, a degree of luck.

While on a recent trip to southern Indiana, I was enjoying a late evening drive back from New Harmony (a quant, quirky town that could easily fill an entire blog post). As the sun was setting and we were driving home, I spotted out of the corner of my eye this Curbside Classic (a spidey sense-like ability that continually amazes my relatives).

I immediately recognized the fastback shape as a World War II era GM “Sedanette,” a body style that has long fascinated me.

When GM launched their fastbacks in 1941, they must have looked like they came from the future. Consider that only a mere 10 years earlier (1931), Ford was still selling the Model A. GM sold both two and four-door fastback sedans, through every brand from Chevrolet up to Cadillac. Many of the higher-end models, like the featured Oldsmobile, could be ordered with flattering two-tone paint jobs that I feel are particularly effective at highlighting the sloping and tapering fastback roofline.


This model sports the optional De Luxe equipment package, which included such niceties as a plastic steering wheel (plastic was then a new and novel material), De Luxe dashboard, and an electric clock (although the clock hands seem to have gone missing on this one).


That wonder material of plastic was also used in the hood ornament, shown above catching the late July sunset.


But perhaps the most important option on this car is the Hydra-matic drive, Oldsmobile’s industry-leading automatic transmission.  Simply put, it was the only true fully automatic transmission on the market.


Back in 1946, (before everything became either Eighty-Eight, Ninety-Eight, or Cutlass), Oldsmobile model designations packed real meaning. The first digit (then as now) indicated the series, while the second digit indicates the number of cylinders in the engine (either six or eight).

The six-cylinder only 66 series represented the entry-level A-Body model. The 70-series represented the mid-range B-Body “Dynamic Cruiser” model, available in both 76 and 78 forms. At the top of the line was the inline eight-powered C-Body Series 98. Had latter-day FWD Oldsmobiles followed this convention, they would have been more accurately designated the Eighty-Six and Ninety-Six, but Detroit has never been known as sticklers for details with their model names.


From my research, it is impossible to tell the 6-Cylinder 76 model from the 8-cylinder 78 without lifting the hood (hence the ambiguous title of this article). Given that the six outsold the eight by about 3 to 1, it is reasonable to assume that the six is what is likely under the hood of the feature car.

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