On Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, a semi-permanent fixture is this gold 1957 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket 88 Holiday Sedan. Wow; that’s a mouthful!
I can’t really say that I have ever seen it move, but it looks driveable, and I don’t go down this street all that often. There is a little bit of detritus under the car, so it probably doesn’t get driven all the time, but it must get driven often enough to not run afoul of the street sweepers and their allies, the parking enforcement brigade.
Somewhat curiously, the one-year-only Golden Rocket 88 was the base trim level for Oldsmobile in 1957, replacing the just “88” in ’56, and to be replaced by the Dynamic 88 in ’58. Why “Golden Rocket”? Oldsmobile’s golden anniversary of its birth would have been back in 1947. Who knows? It must have sounded good at the time, but it was short lived.
In the brochure this same car is illustrated in a blue color, but our example in the flesh is appropriately golden, if a bit faded.
Higher trim levels like the Fiesta wagon, the Super-88 and 98 got little logos on the front fenders right after the headlights, whereas the plane-Jane Golden Rocket versions made do without. You could get your Golden Rocket as a 2-Door Sedan, 4-door Sedan, Holiday 4-Door Hardtop Sedan, Holiday 2-Door Coupe, Convertible, or Fiesta Wagon. The Super-88, again in Holiday 4-door Hardtop, 2-door Coupe, 2-Door or 4-door sedan or Fiesta Wagon, filled out the 88 line on a 122″ wheelbase, with the 98 Starfire going one notch further on a 126″ wheelbase, though deleting the 2-door sedan and Fiesta versions.
Speaking of the 98 and its longer wheelbase, it’s quite obvious from a close look at this 88 and 98 (top) that the extra length is in the rear, with the rear wheel having been moved back 4 inches. The 98 was 216.7″ long overall, compared to 208″ for the 88s, so the additional 4″ in length appears to be in a longer trunk, behind the 4″ set back rear wheels.
This was a departure from previous years, when the Olds 98 had a longer front end compared to the 88. And this 98 is obviously no genuine C Body, unlike what Wikipedia claims, as it’s just a lengthened B body with the exact same width, rear track, and roof structure; just a longer tail.
The Buick Super/Roadmaster/Limited and Cadillac’s C Bodies had a different roof structure, and their bodies were wider towards the rear, and had a wider rear track.
Let’s take a look at that “Sky-Line” roof. It seems a might affected to me, and it was gone in 1958. The Buick Special and Century had the same thing. Almost like a preview of the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray roof, in double. Bill Mitchell, I assume?
Here’s the new Rocket T-400 engine, painted gold, appropriately enough. It was the first more significant evolution of the original 1949 Rocket V8, now with revised combustion chambers and other changes, as well as an increase in displacement to 371 cubic inches. It packed 277 horses and 400 lb-ft of torque. Interesting that all Olds trim levels, 88 and 98 included, came with the same engine and the “Quadri-Jet” (Carter WCFB) carburetor. In 1958 and future years, there would be a lower output 2 barrel carb version for the low trim 88s, and the four barrel was standard on the 98/Super-88. And by 1959, there was also an optional 394 cubic inch version.
The horsepower wars were under way, and if 277 of them wasn’t enough for you, sometime after the start of the model year, the tri-power J-2 Rocket with 300 hp would hopefully do the trick. It made 312 hp in ’58, then went away.
Manual brakes were standard on the 88, with power brakes optional. This seems to be the somewhat notorious Bendix Treadle Vac, the same system I have on my 1953 Packard Cavalier. Single-circuit, booster and master cylinder combined in one assembly, quite tricky to rebuild – madness in comparison with modern systems. But no one had anything better back then.
All 1957 Oldsmobiles had a new frame, a semi-perimeter affair with a large X-member in the center. Oldsmobile called it “Wide-Stance”. An X-style Frame is also something shared with my 1953 Packard Cavalier. Olds used leaf springs in the back during this period, unlike the rest of the GM divisions.
I think those tires actually look good on this car, they make it look like it’s ready for anything – a fast getaway or a cruise by the beach, or both. In 1957 none of the Oldsmobiles came with fender skirts; I think it looks better without.
If you got dual exhausts (I cannot tell whether that just came with a Super- or a 98, or it was an option on all, or what), they came out in little “vents” crafted into the bottom of the bumpers. This one had to do without.
Here’s what they looked like on a 98.
So that’s how you put gas in it!
Pretty much everything is still there on this one, if not in the best shape. One more survivor blessed thanks to California’s mild climate. That Oldsmobile maw is both handsome and… not. It reminds me of those pictures of the Megamouth Shark. But Oldsmobile was always trying to figure out how to fit “Oldsmobile” into the grille in an elegant way. No matter what one did, it was never going to be something as easy to deal with as, say “Ford” or “Dodge” or “Tatra”.
Standard was a 3-speed column shift, but I am pretty sure this one came with the 4-speed Jetaway Controlled-Coupling Hydramatic, which was a much-smoother version of the original Hydramatic, if fiendishly complex and rather heavy. That’s a pretty beefy horn-ring!
The interior gives evidence, as does the rest of the car, of something that is driven regularly, if not particularly often. Everything looks in reasonable shape, if a bit worn. I would think the side glass isn’t too difficult to replace, the big curved pieces look in good shape. If this car is lucky, some day it may spend a bit of time in an upholstery shop. But the seats don’t look particularly caved in or anything, so they are probably still relatively comfy.
So there you have it – a Silent Golden Warrior, ready to take on all comers from its lonely outpost on Telegraph Avenue. Are you a Rocket-man or a Rocket-woman?
(Paul N. contributed to this article)