(first posted 6/3/2016) From the close of the Second World War to the present, the variety of body styles offered by the American auto industry has been remarkably constant. Sedans, station wagons and pickups were in dealer lots in 1947 and they remain there today. There have also been some oddballs that show up for a few seasons from one or two companies, then disappear like, say, the four door convertible. But is there another body type that burst so spectacularly on the scene and remained in the catalogs for so long, only to quite suddenly disappear and never be heard from again? I am thinking of the four door hardtop.
The two door hardtop hit the American automotive market with great fanfare after the War. Although there were some semi-custom jobs like the seven Chrysler Town & Country hardtops built, the Buick Roadmaster Riviera is credited as the first mass-produced hardtop. Cadillac and Oldsmobile would offer their own 1949 hardtops on the C body, with Oldsmobile calling its version the Holiday – a name that it would apply to its hardtops until at least the 1970s, and several of its more sporting coupes even later.
The two door hardtop took the industry by storm, combining the beauty and sex appeal of a convertible with the comfort of a sedan. By 1952, it was hard to find a car line in America that did not offer a hardtop. Even small players like Hudson and Studebaker spent great sums to reconfigure an aging body with that must-have style. As popular as the hardtop had become, it must have taken very little imagination to think of the next big thing.
Although Kaiser-Frazer fans might claim that its 1949 model offered the first four door hardtop, the judges here at CC must deny the claim. After all, how can it be a real hardtop if there is a center pillar and framed glass? No, the first real four door hardtop would come a little later, and would (of course) come from General Motors. But this time, Oldsmobile and Buick would get the honor of bringing out this new style on its 1955 models. Why not Cadillac? Good question.
Oldsmobile occupied an interesting place in the GM heirarchy of the 1950s. It was right in the middle of the middle of the market. Although generally good looking, it was not the most stylish or refined – that was Buick’s territory. It was, however, certainly a car that Chevy and Pontiac buyers looked up to. If anything, Oldsmobile was a maker of practical cars that appealed to middle class folks of good common sense for their many examples of better-than-average engineering, like the Rocket V8 engine and the Hydra-Matic transmission.
GM was clearly not the only company with the idea for a four door hardtop, as they were quite widely available across the Big Three by 1956. That this was a bandwagon not to be missed is evident by the investment by both Ford and Chrysler to offer the style in the final year of bodies already slated for replacement in 1957. But none of the offerings by Ford or Chrysler had the impact as those found in GM dealerships in 1956. Was it because GM was the recognized leader in styling, and that people who valued style tended to gravitate there? Perhaps. After all, Buick always had a substantially higher take rate in four door hardtops than did Chrysler.
Nineteen Fifty-Six would turn out be a great year to buy an Oldsmobile. Not only could you get a Holiday hardtop sedan in both the B body 88 (regular and Super), but in the C body Ninety Eight as well. This would be the final year for the 324 cubic inch (5.3 L) version of the famous Rocket V8, that would be advertised as the New T-350 for its 350 foot pounds of torque. The engine got a compression boost to churn out 230 horsepower in the 2 barrel 88 and 240 in the Super 88 that was equipped with the Rochester 4GC “Quadri-Jet” carb.
Although the engine was mostly a holdover, customers could at least boast of a new version of the famous Hydra Matic transmission. The Jetaway Hydra Matic that debuted in the 1956 Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Pontiac, would be perhaps the finest flowering of GM’s original concept for an automatic transmission, which did its thing with four speeds and without a torque converter. This would be the final version of the old-school H-M, and perhaps the last really good transmission design to come out of GM until the Turbo Hydramatic which began to appear in 1964 Cadillacs.
The Super 88 was the middle of the Olds range that year, and was also in the middle in popularity, with Olds building roughly 179,000 Super 88s (out of total Olds production of over 485,000. The four door Holiday hardtop was the most popular Super 88 body style, with over 61,000 making it out the doors in Lansing.
I came across this car one sunny afternoon some time ago, as I drove into the parking lot at the bank. Harrumph, I thought, another old car fouled up by a rat rod treatment. But as I got out, I could see that this car was not what I expected. One look at this interior, and I could tell that this was the real deal. This turned out to be the last car shot with the first JPC DroidCam, before it fried its little silicon innards, and I was able to obtain these from a backup. Good thing, too, because finding an original ’56 Olds is not an everyday occurrence here in the land of iron oxide.
Let’s get back to this interior. If there was ever a car worthy of being featured here for the interior alone, this would be it. General Motors made some mighty fine interiors in the 1950s, and this may be one of the best of that Jet Age era.
The outside is a little harder to work up a lot of enthusiasm over. Oldsmobile probably had more trouble than any of the other GM Divisions in its attempts to come up with a beautiful car on a regular basis. This Super 88 is not unattractive, by any means. But it is also unable to make the impact of a Buick or even a DeSoto from that year.
I briefly met the owner, who told me that this car had all of about 71,000 miles on it. I’m doing this from memory, because my notes were not backed up. He closed the right front door and demonstrated that special thing that nobody did as well as GM back in the day – build a car with a door that closed with a firm, authoritative “click”. Not a bad demonstration from a sixty year old car with no center pillar, and a feat that not many of its competitors could likely match today. GM and it’s five car Divisions really did bring the goods in the ’50s.
The owner had purchased the car fairly recently, and was as mystified as I was as to why the prior owner chose a metallic apple green for the roof of a car with this brillant original red interior. The owner plans to do some body and paint work to make the outside worthy of the inside. How is it mechanically? Let’s just say that it was a complete thrill to listen to that Rocket engine fire with the first turn of the starter, and then to listen to the great exhaust burble. A pull of the gear lever all the way down for reverse (you are definitely over fifty if you remember this) and then up three clicks to Drive, and off it went, doing just what it was supposed to do. And sounding like a proper Oldsmobile should.
In the 1960s and 70s, a lot of Oldsmobiles found there way into the driveways of my extended families, on both sides, several of them being four door hardtops. But by the end of the 1970s, that oh-so popular body style was gone, at least from the U.S. – quite a feat considering that they had been common in the lineup of nearly every brand of the Big Three as late as 1974. They had their problems (not the least of which were leaks in automatic carwashes) but they combined the practicality of four doors with a sporty style that could not be matched by a boring old sedan. If I had been born ten years sooner, it is not hard to imagine that we might have had one of these at our house. And I would have been OK with that. Still would be.
1956 Buick Century Riviera Hardtop – Paul Niedermeyer
1956 Olds 88 vs. 1956 Buick Special – Laurence Jones
1958 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 – J. P. Cavanaugh
My last classic car had that transmission all the way down for reverse then up again for drive but it was a three speed hydramatic GMH deleted first gear for the 1963 Holden models figuring the new ‘red’ 179 engines didnt need it,
Nice car that Olds its a car never really sold in any great numbers here especially post WW2 the GM range topped at Pontiac and those were Cheviacs, CKD packs from Canada
KB, isn’t this the later Hydromatic, with 3 speed and torque converter? Were they around in Holdens before the EH? Despite sounding like a planetary gearset THM, they were old school, I think.
One day I’ll get my head around the history of Detroit automatics, God bless them.
The Holden transmission you’re thinking of was the light-duty version of the third-generation Hydra-Matic, which Pontiac called Roto Hydra-Matic. It was a very peculiar three-speed derivative of the four-speed Controlled Coupling Hydra-Matic with a dump-and-fill torque converter. It’s included in my recently updated GM transmission survey.
It had no relationship at all to Turbo Hydra-Matic beyond having three forward speeds.
A friend owned one of these in the ’70s. I drove it some, didn’t enjoy the experience. Uncomfortable seats, too much glare and flash from the interior chrome in daylight.
In the ’50s and ’60s Olds was especially good for night driving. Map lights, courtesy lights, even an illuminated ashtray.
You are right, the interior does surpass the exterior. The covers over the headlights do facilitate a vibe of drowsiness on its face, and the grille is unusually far inset, but overall I still like it. Except that awful green – it’s good to hear the paint is getting some attention.
While I’ve ridden in very few four-door hardtops (a ’76 LeSabre comes to mind) it’s easy to see why they were so popular. They may have gone away after 20 years as people got wise to the leaks and rattles.
Hardtops were still easily outselling sedans into the mid-’70’s, as they were seen as upscale versions of their more dowdy sedan brethren, leaks and rattles non-withstanding. However it was rumors of future rollover federal safety standards that was the kiss of death. GM took the rumors seriously enough to eliminate hardtops from the down-sized 1977 B bodies and Ford and Chrysler soon followed.
Hardtops got to be so popular by the late 1950’s that even station wagons got in on the craze. The ’57-’58 Olds Fiesta and Buick Caballero are outstanding examples, but Rambler, Dodge and Mercury also had them.
Rambler even had a four door hardtop station wagon.
Beat me to it.
My best friend’s family had one of these. It had to be the most expensive Buick offered in 1957 and the most expensive wagon from any manufacturer. Note the term “Riviera”, Buick equivalent to Oldsmobile “Holiday”.
His parents were pretty adventuresome, so this symbol of upper middle class suburbia actually ventured the length of Mexico on the then mostly unpaved Pan American Highway. It did survive the trip, but some years later a cross member broke going over a speed bump in a parking lot and dumped the engine right onto the pavement.
And they remained popular in Japan until the early ’90s..!
Great find, JPC!
I always thought the Quadra-Jet was introduced in the mid ’60s.
The ad copy spells it Quadri-Jet, so would that have been a trade name for one of the earlier Rochester 4-bbls?
Good catch on that carb, PRNDL. I didn’t read the brochure page carefully enough and am not enough of a GM guy to have caught that the QJet that everyone knows came out a decade later. I will make a correction.
This was a Rochester 4GC. “Quadri-Jet” must have been applied by the copywriters to jazz up the name. The Rochester carb people must have liked the name.
No worries, JPC!
In my formative years as a car but, the old trade names always piqued my interest, especially if they were spelled out in chrome on a fender badge or prominently displayed in an ad.
Powerglide (naturally 😉 ) Dynaflow, Fluid Drive, Fordomatic, Turbo Fire, Rocket V8 and now Quadri-Jet!
Even the callouts for Disc Brakes on a pedal trim or Power Steering on a steering hub were cool.
Right there with you. I think it was my 59 Plymouth Fury that featured the Jiffy Jet windshield washer. 🙂
Jiffy Jet! Did the brochure have a cartoon mascot? That sounds like something the kid on The Jetsons would watch on 3-D video.
So many things to love about this post. I have a book on mid-century culture that made mention of how the somewhat bulbous styling of mid-50s Olds models was at odds with the brand’s “rocket” imagery. That said, and like you pointed out, it ain’t Buick-pretty, but I think it’s attractive!
I (and Zackman?) have waxed poetic about wishing the hardtop body style (coupe or sedan) would return, but your mention of water leaks and road noise make me wonder how livable one would be on a regular basis for a weekday commuter. And that interior makes me giddy – awesome find and post, JP.
JD, I’d be very interested in the title and author of that book, if you could share it. I’m a bit of a mid-century design geek, and am always looking for a good read on the subject. (Believe me, I’m not idealistic enough to be one of those who’s convinced he was born too late, but from a design and architecture standpoint I love that era, if for no other reason than the pure unadulterated blind optimism it represented.)
MTN, the book was “Populuxe” by Thomas Hine. It didn’t get too in-depth with any one topic, but went far enough and covered a breadth of things, so it’s a fun read no matter what aspects of 50’s / 60’s culture you’re into. You could probably pick up a decent used copy for $5. There’s a whole section dedicated to cars.
I have that book, and it is an excellent read and must-have for all us classic car buffs. I was /am just a half-generation past the 4 door pillarless hardtop. I lijed tge compact ones, such as the last Chevrolet Malibu hardtop sedan, ir the second generation 1965 Chevy Corvair.
@ JD: You are right to wonder Joseph. My memories of fifties hardtops are mostly negative. If you lived in the area formerly known as the dust bowl (and it was still pretty dusty) hardtops quickly lost their allure.
@JPC: You found a good one and it is a very good article. I owned a 50 Olds and think that 49 thru 56 was a really good era with 55-56 being the sweet spot. 57’s engine grew and the car was too big to get out of it’s own way. It did pretty good 1/4 mile at a time but really (like everything else BOP in the late 50s) wasn’t something I wanted to drive. I sold my 50 because of a transfer and even though it was a four door sedan I really liked it. My lust inventory for this one is pretty high also. Unlike everyone else, however, I would prefer it with a post.
I loved those Olds wheel covers, that’s a classic design which seemed to contribute to their very common theft back in the day. Rodders loved them too, there may be a connection there.
One shortcoming of the 4 door hardtop was painfully obvious on our 59 Buick Invicta flat top. The thing rattled like there was no tomorrow. When it had been replaced by another second car, a 65 Tempest Custom 2 door with posts, my first observation about the Tempest was that it didn’t rattle!
I liked the Olds from the early 50s to 56, less so the 57, 58 and 59’s.
I recall sitting in the back of the family 1957 Chrysler Windsor 4 door hardtop and looking at the lower bracing of the frames that held the rear doors in place. It was a revelation of what the designers had to do to keep the rear door supports somewhat stable.
This photo is from a 1957 Imperial, but it looks familiar to me. The view is looking down onto the support for the right rear door.
Here’s another view of the bracing with a wider perspective.
I didn’t realize that the bracing was so large and intrusive. I don’t think it was anywhere near so much on the GM cars, IIRC.
I agree. Parents also had a 1961 Pontiac Ventura 4 door and I do not recall anything on the floor like the Chrysler.
This photo is of a 66 Catalina. A bit later I admit, but it looks clean compared to the 57 Imperial.
Some of it may be improvements in technology, but as DweezilAZ noted, the Imperial was top of the line and the Catalina was the base level model.
By ’65 GM cars had a perimeter frame that made support of the center pillar much easier. That Imperial looks like it had real heavy doors and the frame rails were inboard, hence the brace. Lincoln solved it with unit body and suicide doors.
From the second picture, it almost appears that there is no B pillar per se, and that the door is supported almost solely at the bottom third. Reminds me of the latch mechanisms I’ve seen in the ’57-’58 Cadillac Brougham – which was quite different as it had suicide doors, and did not need the bracing seen in this car.
This was not the practice in later Chrysler products, and definitely not the GM and Ford four door hardtops I was familiar with. The rear floor on those cars was identical to the four door sedans.
One more picture (a rough, “barn-find” example for sale elsewhere); I, too, had no idea of all the anchoring structure (I see that, by the time the unibody cars come out for ’60, it’s gone):
Interesting. I’ll bet those Chryslers had a rock solid feel to them. Mid 60’s Ford and Mercury full sized 4-door hardtops, by comparison, had a box section B pillar only from the rocker panel to a little above the bottom door hinge and no bracing beyond the rocker structure. Above the lower hinge to the beltline it was only T-section heavy gauge sheet metal with a reinforced section at the upper hinge mount. With the windows open the doors would actually quiver a little when pushed closed.
“I’ll bet those Chryslers had a rock solid feel to them”
Dave C., One would think so, and I cannot speak to the Imperial in the photo as I’ve never had the pleasure of driving one.
However, as for the 1957 Chrysler Windsor, I can speculate that the term “rock solid” and “1957 Chrysler Windsor” have rarely been used in the same sentence.
1957, and to a lesser degree 1958, have proven to be low points in the build quality of all Chrysler passenger cars.
They had their pluses, mostly due to powerful V8s, the quick shifting three speed torque-flight transmission, their sleek low “sitting on the floor” profiles, and of course their tail fins.
But solid, let alone rock solid, never came to mind when driving it.
I’m not sure Chrysler ever completely recovered from the 1957 (suddenly it’s 1960) fiasco.
I agree – the 57-58 Mopars have always had a willowy quality about them. Perhaps that kind of gusseting for the stubby B pillar was what the engineers needed to do to get any kind of rigidity out of that body – at least get it to a level required of its price class.
My 1959 Fury sedan was a little creaky in its structure, and a friend’s father remarked that it was massively tighter than the 57 Plymouth he had bought new (and dumped shortly thereafter). I had read that the 59 models were substantially improved all up and down the line.
Like many others, I have never seen the inside of one of the Forward Look 4 door hardtops up close. Perhaps this was an Imperial-Only thing.
The Imperial was rather different from all the other Chryslers of the time which were really variations on the same body and frame. The Imperial had curved side windows and foot wells in the back seat. The frame did not bow around the foot wells like in Fords or other later body on frame cars but flattened out under them.
Pretty crude for an expensive luxury car of the period. That’s surprising, Rlplaut. I have never seen that before.
I like the mid-50s Oldsmobiles, but would like them more if the side trim made any sense. With the exception of the ’57s, the trim never seems to flow with the lines of the body. Its like somebody remembered at the last minute that they needed to offer a two time and scribbled a dividing line somewhere on the side.
That should be a two-tone.
Maybe the trim was designed by an early version of auto-correct. 😉
We had a ’57 88 Super 2 door hardtop around 1970. Interior was almost the same as this car. Much better body style on the ’57 in my opinion. It was a deep blue color and was quite a good looking beast. And the dual exhaust rumble sounded great!
That interior is beautiful. The exterior, as mentioned is far surpassed by the Buick’s prettier face and side trim that actually followed the lines of the body as opposed to contending with it like the Olds trim did (IMO). Predictably I have a strong affinity for the Chryslers of ’55 and ’56, but those old GM ads sure do a lot to explain why they were the style leaders and “the ones to beat” at the time: “flair-away”, “jetaway”, etc., etc. It’s all SO “Of The Moment”, it’s fantastic!
As for hardtops, whether 2 or 4 doors, I too would love to see them come back, and with today’s greater structural rigidity and overall frame strength I’m guessing they probably could, and with better weather resistance and fewer rattles and squeaks than ever. The only sticking point might be side airbag placement, but I suspect it could be worked out if the demand existed. Having been old enough to remember riding in hardtops of the late ’60’s through the mid ’70’s, I can recall the rattles, squeaks, clunks and groans, as well as my father’s attempts to get frameless door windows to line up correctly with the corresponding weather strips in order to keep highway wind noise down, or worse, rain water from dribbling in at speed.
My 02 Subaru has frameless glass though of course it’s not a hardtop. I often have to slightly lower and then raise the windows to reduce highway wind noise. I assume the air pressure in the car as you close the door keeps the windows fron sealing quite right. (No water leaks though.)
In my wife’s ’15 Mini (also frameless) the windows automatically drop about half an inch when you open the doors, then close up the gap after the door is shut. Now that’s thorough engineering!
Yeah; that’s what 60s Lincoln convertibles did on the REAR doors!
That brings back memories of a neighbor in Iowa City who had one like this; his wife had a ’59 Lark. I always admired its four door hardtop even though it was something of an older car by then (1960-1962). Rode in it once or twice; he drove somewhat faster than average and I remember that husky Rocket V8 sound as it went through the gears.
A bit odd that the four barrel carb only added 10 hp.
What a find. Hardtops looked better in most every instance in comparison to sedans. AMC’s 4 door hardtop station wagon was another good looking beast.
My 63 Valiant Signet’s body is willowy and rattly. Scarcely better than a convertible version I would imagine. Water and air leaks.
But roll all the windows down and there’s nothing like it short of a drop top. What an amazing difference the lack of door posts makes.
. . . to say nothing of doors with full frames around the windows, above “the beltline”. A few cars had such frame-less ‘around-the-windows’ doors… but did have a full post between the doors…… such as my wife’s ’78 big Ford wagon.
I am thinking that GM screwed the pooch with their 65s which featured plain unframed glass meeting with a weatherstrip on the rear window that was supposed to provide all the air and water leak protection deemed necessary.
There were many complaints about those windows due to the sensitivity of their alignment with the secondary glass. It might have been enough to make the next purchase a standard sedan.
Not sure if this ever was an issue for buyers, but it seems it might be one of many reasons for the decline in popularity of this body style, aside from the proposed 70s federal roll over standards that never appeared.
My 1965 Pontiac Catalina was a four door hardtop and it was a beautiful car, especially with all of the windows cranked down. I don’t remember issues with the weather sealing being a problem (I owned the car ca 1971-73 so it was used but hardly decrepit). What I do remember was how easy it was to push a coat hanger past the weather stripping, and then unlock the doors. This was back in the day when after-market 8-track players were all the rage; I purchased one for $110, big money in 1971, and it lasted about six weeks. Then I bought a cheaper player ($55-60) and it stayed in the car for several months before some low life decided he needed it more than I did. Finally I gave up and got one of the $20 truck stop specials; naturally it was still in the car when I traded it off.
Nice retrospective on the American four door hardtop.
My early formative years in the late 1960’s and early ’70s were dominated by GM within my family, and certainly the street we lived on – nearly all GM all the time.
Being unusually attracted to barges, I though the perfect car was a GM four door hardtop with fender skirts and tailfins.
Fins were definitely old school by the time I noticed cars, so my perspective on the perfect car looked like just about ’65-’78 four door hardtop with skirts – and also very important, power windows. You just can’t show off a hardtop unless you can pull two window switches at the same time, and make an entire side of the car open up when you want to talk to someone. That move always attracted attention!
When I was on my classic car jag during college, I decided it was time to get my first four door hardtop. By 1987, these were getting pretty scarce, and I was on a cash budget. A ’72 Pontiac popped up in the classifieds, and I knew that Pontiac took a break from skirts for a few years in the early ’70s. I was hoping they were back for ’72, and took a look.
Alas, skirts were back for ’73. But, the car was fairly loaded with 455 V-8 (hey, gas was back down to $0.79 a gallon!), AM/FM, tilt, AC, and most importantly, power windows. The car was very clean with about 60,000 miles on the clock. So, about $1,900 exchanged hands, and my four door hardtop came home with me.
Contrary to many complaints about the ’71-’76 big GM cars, especially hardtops, I found the car adequately built, the doors and windows fit quite well, water and wind leaks were little trouble, and the doors sounded decent when being closed. Okay, maybe the GM window rattle was there when the windows were rolled down.
It was like a big convertible with all those windows open.
I had this 1972 Pontiac GrandVille from 1987 – 1993. And, on a perfect day like today, where, unusual for me, I drove to work with the windows down, I rather miss it thanks to JPC.
Parked in front of my first house…………..
I think I’ve only had two – the 1963 Cadillac Fleetwood that I had early in college and the 77 New Yorker that I had at the very end of and just out of law school. I remember both of them as a mite drippy through an automatic carwash (especially the Cadillac, but then its weather seals were all fifteen years old by then) but other than that, they were weathertight.
A friend in high school had a 63 Newport 4 door hardtop, which made me realize how seldom Mopar buyers opted for that style. GM really was the proper home of the 4 door hardtop. The others offered them, but never got their more practical customers to choose them as frequently.
You know what four-door hardtop I’ve really been liking lately? The ’64 Ford and Mercury hardtops. For some reason, a four-door hardtop really worked with that roofline.
While I have never had a 4 door hardtop, I did have a 2 door hardtop, my ’70 Toyota Corona Mark II. And yes, the lack of the B pillar is just amazing. I miss that car…sigh…
We moved from Portsmouth, NH to Albrook, AFB, Panama Canal Zone in 1966 and our next door neighbors had the same make and body style Olds as their daily driver. I remember checking it out thoroughly and truly loved it.
You’re right – that is a spectacular interior. Quite wonderful!
From a structural point of view, the Kaiser Virginian didn’t have a B-pillar, although it did have fixed window frames that spoiled the pillarless effect, so from an aesthetic standpoint, it’s about the same thing.
The final scion of the original fluid coupling Hydra-Matic, for what it’s worth, was really the third-generation, 1961–1964 three-speed unit, which though clearly derived from the Controlled Coupling Hydra-Matic is quite a bit different in layout and operation. (It also bears no resemblance at all to Turbo Hydra-Matic, which doesn’t work the same way and has a very different layout.)
Friends of my parents had a black and white ’56 Olds (it might have been a ’55). I don’t remember if I ever rode in it or not, nor whether it was a 4-door hardtop or not.
I DO recall to this day the black and white two-tone paint, like the feature car!
The only 4-door hardtop I ever owned was a ’65 Ford LTD. I also drove a ’65 Corvair 4 door HT once.
Does anyone remember the All Lines GM television commercial from the mid-sixties: “GM makes the look that looks and the style that sets the styles…GM, Mark of Excellence – Body by Fischer: Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick Cadillac: see your GM Dealer today!” The video background to the narration included single design/style elements from the Caprice, Grand Prix, Toronado, Riviera, Eldorado and Fleetwood. A beautiful piece of advertising ephemera!
On another note, we had four Mopar four-dour hardtops: ’60 C300, ’63 Newport, ’66 Newport, and ’72 Fury III. Except fo the Fury, all the Chryslers were tight and quiet….and breathtaking performers!
We got locally assembled Impala Sport Sedans here in Aus. More desireable than the 4 door sedan. Mine had been hacked into a contvertible at some stage.
The bases of the B pillars were flared out, but nothing like the Chrysler.
The local four door sedan was only a Bel Air. My uncle bought a Bel Air sedan in ’66. I remember him saying he really wanted an Impala but it only came as a hardtop and he didn’t trust the body in a side impact without that pillar.
I’ve always thought these were extra cool. Mercurys shared the Ford basic body, but these had something different, the dropped belt line. A sedan version was made also. The four door hardtop was only in the second year of the two-year body cycle, 1956.
The worst part is that I didn’t buy a low mileage one exactly like this really cheap in about 1980.
I remember riding in a 1959 GM four door hardtop – some example of the glassy greenhouse that came out that year when GM cars, unlike the Olds here, went low and wide. The driveways had a rounded drop to the street, and typically people were backing out at an angle as the car entered the street. The door seals creaked all over the place demonstrating a whole lot of body flex at that point.
Not sure which brand it was, but if it was an Olds it looked like this. The same roofline was seen as a Buick, Olds, Pontiac, and Chevy.
The hardtop sedan with the windows down would be like driving in an old touring car/phaeton with the top up and side screens removed. From what I recall, most people with tourers used to drive them that way.
That lime green top is pretty awful, so I had to figure out what the original color scheme would’ve been. Thanks to oldcarbrochures.com, it looks like the roof, tops of the doors and front fenders, and the engine compartment cover were one color, with the deck lid, rear fenders and lower parts of the doors and front fenders painted in contrast. Looks pretty sharp!
Forget this car and head to G.T. South’s!
CC effect, sorta: recently at shorpy.com, from 1959/Scottsdale, an Olds 4-door hardtop in stylish Kodachrome company:
OK, Cavanaugh; I’ll give you the “becoming uncommon” part about the four-door hardtop (my favorite body style) by the MID-1970s.
Yet, you mention “the big three”. You are so pro-GM.. that you neglected that Chrysler built four-door hardtops [with (optional) vent windows!!] through the 1978 model year in their New Yorker line.. and I think the Newport line, too. I grant you that Ford gave up all too early on this desirable body-style. Admittedly, this fine body-style only lasted about twenty years, from the mid-50s through the mid-70s. I’ll even grant that GM extended this concept into their intermediate lines, such as Chevelles; while FoMoCo did not.
HOWEVER, please note that Chrysler continued four-door hardtops through MY1978, and also continued to offer another very desirable thing: front-door VENT windows through the same model year of 1978, much longer than the “others” in the “big 3”.
Relax, Jerry. Given that Jim owned a ’78 Chrysler four door hardtop and an acknowledged Mopar lover, he does know about them being the last of the breed. But this particular article was mainly about GM hardtops. He did say the last of them “was built in the late 70s”. He just didn’t mention them by name, this time.
OK; point well made.. and received. Thank you, Paul… and J.P., too.
Were I to see such an automotive antique in the parking lot of a bank, I would be sure to stop and take photos, and particularly of the interior with the windows down. Such a great opportunity.
We collectively hope that you encounter this car again 6 years on from these shots, and find it painted and in such good condition.
From a styling perspective, I think the rear of this car is well proportioned and handsome. I would not use those adjectives to describe the frontage which looks like it’s dragging itself down the road. The grille is just too low. Perhaps people could say something like that about many of us 1956 models nowadays.
The funny thing is that I have never seen this car since – not on the road, and not at any kind of show (not that I have attended a ton of them).
If it attaches, here’s a photo of me with the only 4-door hardtop I know of that our family ever owned. We had a tradition of posing with the car of the moment on graduation day. It’s a ’67 Plymouth Fury, with Dad’s junk yard purchased ’59 wheel covers. Plymouth didn’t get cute with color names that year. The color was simply called, “Yellow”.
Detroit’s four-door hardtops were never the biggest sellers but, aesthetically, many were the most pleasing of their lines and dealers liked to have one in the showroom to catch passing eyes. These days, the rarity of the style means the terms hardtop vs hard top (or hard-top) sometimes puzzle and Ford’s Fairlane Skyliner can be used to illustrate the difference: with the hard top in place the convertible Skyliner becomes also a hardtop because there’s no B pillar so it’s a “hardtop” with a “hard top”. Although didactically helpful, that won’t please all because true hardtops all have a fixed roof.
My favorite Aunt bought a ’56 Olds four door hardtop and drove it until she traded it in for a new ’69 Pontiac Grand Prix. It did seem odd to me to drive a car for 13 years. She had it repainted and reupholstered in TJ, in the mid 60’s. It seemed to be reliable until the end and it was still running after an overhaul right around the time it was repainted. Kind of a neat, old car, driven by a lady with a lot of personality.
I had two mid 50’s four door hardtops, a ’56 Sedan de VIlle and a ’57 SdV. Loved driving them with all the windows down. The B pillar was pretty unobtrusive ending before the top surface of the door. They only had that single weatherstrip between the windows and since they were pretty old when I got them, leaked some water. Never took them to a car wash.
I’ve had many two door hardtops and I still love putting the windows down. Opening the windows in a sedan just doesn’t compare. A sunroof helps a little. My Dad’s ’63 Lincoln had frameless windows and was almost as good as a hardtop.
My great uncle bought a ’56 Holiday 88, light blue/dark blue, with a 4 bbl. My grandfather bought a ’56 Roadmaster sedan that looked huge and stodgy in comparison. We inherited the Olds in ’70 with 14k miles, original wide WW tires, and clear plastic seat covers that quickly disintegrated. The white leather/medium blue cloth with silver thread looked nicer than this black/red one, and the top of the dash was padded with blue leather, the rest painted white.
My dad spent a fortune keeping it drivable through the 80s (a daily driver until ’85) and finally sold it to a teenager for $50 in ’92, after the sun and my sister’s dents had made it look decrepit. It’s amazing we never had a major accident, but perhaps its boatiness made us more cautious teenagers than we otherwise would have been.
I skimmed all the comments and didn’t see anyone comment on the hubcaps. Olds came out with the 3 spinner hubcap in ’53 and had variations of it thru at least 1960. They were popular with the hot rod and custom car culture and I’m sure many were stolen off of the mom and pop Oldsmobiles. Olds offered performance and style from 1949 thru 1957, my personal favorite.