Curbside Classic: 1966 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 – The Best $3,000 Big Sedan In 1966?

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(first posted 3/19/2015)    If you were a typical white-skin, white-collar middle-class Pop with a wife and 2.3 kids, and were looking to spend three grand on a nice-ish white sedan in 1966, you could do worse than to have picked this Olds Dynamic 88. It was reasonably stylish for being a plain sedan, had plenty of room in its 123″ wheelbase, had that famous GM ride, and Oldsmobiles had rep for being screwed together pretty decently. But best of all, it was the only car in its class to come standard with a 425 cubic inch (7 liter) V8; not bad, for an inflation-adjusted $21,600. That is, as long as you were good with manual steering, manual brakes, crank windows, no air conditioning and a three-speed manual on the column. Maybe that part wouldn’t exactly make wifey any too happy; better get ready to cough up some more white-bread dough.

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I didn’t actually look to confirm that this one has an automatic, but then finding a three-on-the-tree ’66 Olds Dynamic 88 so equipped would be quite the coup. And with that small-diameter aftermarket steering wheel, we can probably rule out manual steering. But don’t think that there weren’t some folks out there in 1966 who still wanted big cars without all those new-fangled power-dood-dads. The same kind of guys that today bitch and moan endlessly about computers in their cars, FWD, ABS, air bags, and every other modern safety and convenience feature, never mind the full on high-tech interfaces.

Ford 1969 ltd green

When I was a car jockey at Towson Ford, I worked at the service department for a while. It was an old garage, with the parking lot on the roof and a steep ramp with very tight corners at the top and bottom, designed for Model As, probably. One day, I was handed the keys to take a ’69 LTD four door hardtop up to the roof. I noticed the “390” call out on the front fender. But when I slid in on the slippery panty-cloth seats, I was shocked to find that it had a three-on-the-tree! A special order, I assumed, having never seen any big Ford with a three-speed manual during my time at Towson Ford, never mind on an optional 390.

I started up the big 390, slid it into gear, and as I started to make the first tight turn from the service entrance through the shop, I was confronted with massive resistance on the steering wheel. What the?? I assumed it was here because the power steering had gone out. I really leaned into it, but getting it around the ramp corners was no joke, especially with a clutch too. When I parked it I opened the hood to verify my suspicion about the defunct power steering, but there was no pump to be seen. Never mind an A/C compressor. When the owner came to pick up his all-manual LTD, I got the picture: he looked like a casting-call pick to play the part of a tough and grizzled retired Marine drill sergeant.

A quick look through the big Ford brochure enlightened me: all those missing power accouterments were optional, even on the LTD. Who would have thought?

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We’re here to talk about the Olds Dynamic 88, and not Fords, but let’s move on from the realm of rarities and back to typical reality: Pop undoubtedly sprung for the Turbo-Hydramatic, the power steering and the power brakes, even if not the power windows and air conditioning. Although the latter was getting decidedly more common during about this time.

Incomes were growing strongly during the sixties, and air conditioning, in the car and at home, was one of the beneficiaries. Whereas it was still a relative rarity at the beginning of the decade, by the end of it a/c was becoming pretty common, especially on the nicer cars.

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Sure enough, our featured car, which appears to originate from California, is so equipped. Nothing like a long freeway commute in the smog to make one appreciate the value of that option. And its not like the big 425 Rocket V8 would feel the load.

Olds 1966 engines

The Olds engine line-up was a bit odd in some respects. For instance, the standard engine in the Dynamic 88 and Delta 88 had a two-barrel carb but 10.25:1 compression, requiring premium fuel, and rated at 310 (gross) hp. A no-cost option was a regular-fuel version with lower compression and rated at 300 hp.

These two-barrel big-cube engines were typically teamed with very high-geared (low numerically) rear axle ratios, and resulted in surprisingly decent fuel economy on the highway. In 1967, Olds took that approach to its ultimate step, the 20 mpg Turnpike Cruiser.

But if more performance was on Pop’s mind, the 365 hp four-barrel 425 was also available, which would have teamed up nicely with the optional four-speed manual, with floor shift. Yes, Pop; please do!! Never mind what Mom will say!

I had a school friend whose Pop drove either a Dynamic or Delta 88 of this year, but with Mom-approved automatic. I remember a ride or two in it, and it was a very quiet and smooth ride indeed. Which was of course the whole point, for the most part. In fact, there were a fair number of these big Olds sedans to be seen every Sunday morning at Immaculate Conception; in fact, I’d say that these were highly representative of the demographics that predominated at this church: conservative, white-collar, white-flight Baltimore suburbia. That and a lot of green 1972 LTDs, which of course explains my love-hate relationship to them. Give me the Dynamic 88 any day.

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This slightly worse-for-wear veteran is sporting CA tags, no rear bumper, and what appears to be an improved license plate support. The fuel filler is now fully exposed; how I hated that GM particular design. Why?

About this time in high school, before my Towson Ford job, I worked at a little gas station. One hot summer day, I leaned down and inserted the fuel nozzle in one of these almost horizontal filler tubes, turned the nozzle on high, and let go. In a scene that I can still see (and smell) vividly today, the nozzle slid right out again, turned and shot a blast of premium right into my face, including my aghast open mouth, my nose and my eyes. The nozzle clicked off when it hit the pavement, but I was almost overcome. I spit the gas out of my mouth, and ran into the shop to the big sink, and put my face under the water tap, to wash out my eyes, as well as my mouth.

It was a hot summer day, and a busy one, so a few minutes later I was back at it, pumping gas, washing windshields, checking oil, water and tire pressure. But the smell of gas has never been quite as palatable to me as it was before. But I always checked to make sure the nozzle was really going to stay before I let go of it in any of these low-filler GM cars.

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I look at these now and chuckle: did American cars really have to use up some three-quarters of their length for the front clip and the trunk? That passenger compartment looks like it’s almost lost between those absurdly long front and rear ends. No wonder big car sales were just about to head into a terminal decline, as quite large “mid-sized” cars were poised to take over the sweet spot in the market. This Dynamic 88 looks like it’s hiding a Cutlass sedan in all that Jet-Puffed marshmallow cladding.

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Just 15 years earlier, big American sedans, like this 1951 Olds 88, had such better proportions, less wasted space,  cast a smaller shadow, yet were more comfortable with their tall sofa-style seats and easy egress. No wonder CUVs are so popular.

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But in 1966, one could have done worse than this Olds Dynamic 88.


Related reading:

CC: 1951 Oldsmobile Super 88 (driving review) – Rocketing Back In Time