(first posted 10/12/2011) So it’s 1955, and you aren’t necessarily a brand loyalist, yet still a General Motors loyalist. The all new for 1954 B-Body by Fisher cousins, the Oldsmobile 88/Super 88 and Buick Special/Century are pleasantly updated for 1955. While Buick actually ran away with the sales game in 1955 (all the way to #3), Oldsmobile held its own in the market (holding steady at #5). Which way would you fly in ’55?
Taillight to taillight, both cars alternate on being very similar, yet very different. Both represented a butching up of the Harley Earl school of curves design philosophy. They’re more boxy than everything that proceeded them for about 20 years. The Buick hardtop with the full radius wheel well openings at the rear plus the soon to be traditional Ventiports project more of a sporting flair.
The Olds is decidedly more of a lead sled. The rear wheels are (optionally) skirted in a fashion to mimic the flying color two toning frolicking on the side panels. And the 88 is a little less square shouldered (looking) compared to the Special/Century twins. A bit softer, more feminine and more international, right down to the Globe emblem front and rear. If you value brute masculinity, the Buick is your car in looks. If you like feminine refinement, there’s an Oldsmobile showroom for you.
The same can be said for the Olds face. A tad bit more glamorous, the name “staged” on a grille bar between two rocket intake dagmars.
The Buick is decidedly more forceful, from pointed dagmars to the mesh grille and squarer hood, the Buick means business. It also seems less overdone compared to Oldsmobile.
Then there’s the matter of the divisional V8s. The Special came out the door with the smaller displacement 264 cube Nailhead, rated at 188hp, 3 more than the base 324 in basic Eighty Eights. To up the ante, a Century could be had with a blazing 236 horsepower 322 V8, compared to the 202 horsepower 4 barrel 324 available in the Super 88.
However the base Olds 324 developed more torque than the Special V8, the 4 barrel slightly more torque than the 322 Nailhead in the Century. With the flexibility of the 4 speed fluid-coupling Hydra-matic, the Oldsmobile family was no slouch. The Century might have been the first car Motor Trend tested to break the 10 second 0-60 barrier, but in the 10.5 Second 0-60 range, a Super Eighty Eight wasn’t exactly slow for the times. And more economical too. While Buicks pissed away a lot of fuel economy through their variable pitch Dynaflow and could maybe crack 13mpg in a steady 60mph cruise, A judiciously driven Super Eighty Eight could tickle the high teens in the same setting.
There were other differences, the Oldsmobile rode on firmer rear leaf springs to the Buick soft coils. The Special was $6 cheaper (and barely out of the reach of people considering Dodge and Pontiac wares) than the Eighty Eight ($2291 to $2297 base for comparable 2 door sedans), which was the first major assault on the Sloan pricing ladder.
When you sat down in the interior, you were more dazzled (well, more likely blinded) by contours of chrome in hypnotic circular patterns in the Oldsmobile. This was the last year Oldsmobile actually gave you a whole host of gauges until the early 1980s too. The 1956 dash features a more ovoid speedo and a gas gauge, and I think the hilarious “cold” light.
The B-Body Buick dash is far more harmonious and easy to decipher, with a metal dash applique instead of the yards of blinding chrome in the Oldsmobile. Also Buick held onto more gauges for longer (at least through 1959). I don’t know how either of them compared on fabric appointments, but they couldn’t have been significantly different in quality. This was a time where you got more for your money for stepping into the middle of the market.
So the question really becomes what made people choose one over the other. Beyond the obvious brand loyalties, each car had enough individual qualities to feel unique. The Oldsmobile looks softer, but in a lot of ways was the “firmer” experience. All the while the Buick projected a tower of strength attitude, but remained one big softie in the tradition of yacht like Buicks since, well it seems forever. The erosion of these subtle differences in feel started in the mid 1960s and continued until you really couldn’t tell the difference between a 307 equipped LeSabre and a 307 equipped Delta Eighty Eight 30 years later if you were blindfolded.
I don’t know if I’d be able to choose one over the other. Both have their equal merits, and the extra power in the Century would be more intoxicating. But the 4 speed Hydra-matic would feel more modern. So I turn the dilemma over to you, Curbside Commenters.
…or Chrysler Windsor
Style-wise, my choice would be a Buick Century, with two-tone paint, wide whitewalls and real wire rims.
I actually like the front-end of the 54 Buicks better than the 55s. If I was new car shopping in 55, I might be inclined to cut a deal on a new 54 still sitting on the dealer’s lot.
I wouldn’t have called the “rocket intake” things on the grille of the Olds dagmars. The Buick, now THOSE are dagmars!
EDIT: If the 3rd choice had been a 55 Desoto instead of a 55 Chrysler Windsor, I may have gone with the Desoto.
The Olds and Buick are both awesome cars, but for me the ’55 Dodge Royal Lancer and La Femme just about eclipse everything but the Nashes of that year.
Love this one for sale, as well as the one in the pic…
I love everything else about them, but that rear wheel opening on the Buick kills it for me every time. With it’s perfectly round shape and no flairing like the front one it always looked like the sort of sawzalled open wheelwell you’d see on a gasser dragster. It makes the car look crude and unfinished. It always bugs mebecause I *want* to like the car.
I have exactly the same response to that. Weird.
In the 50’s, the fully radiused rear wheel arch was associated with racing cars and sports cars, and also copied by car customizers. Buick was trying to tap into that trend to make their cars look sporty, especially the smaller models. The larger Buick Special and Roadmaster, as well as the Century Estate wagon, didn’t have fully radiused rear wheel openings in ’55. I think they adopted them on all Buick models in 1956.
The rear tire on the first Buick doesn’t look quite right…it almost looks too small. There also appears to be a slight rake to the car, as though it is riding too high in the back. That could be why the fully radiused rear-wheel opening does not look “right.”
At that time, it was considered to be a sporty, stylish touch. The bigger Buicks with the partically covered rear wheels look very heavy and almost ponderous. That was a more conservative look. (It’s also worth noting that, for 1955, Buick only introduced its four-door hardtops in the lower-level Century and Special series. The bodystyle was not available on the Roadmaster and Super for 1955. Given that hardtops were viewed as the rakish, stylish option at that time, it makes sense that only the smaller, “sportier” series would offer it.)
As BigOldChryslers noted, in 1956 all Buicks adopted that fully radiused rear-wheel opening.
The Lead Special is pretty beat up, but still runs. The owner alternates puttering around Berkeley in it, and the 1962 Cadillac that I did 3 months back on weekends.
Ha! The Buford’s rear wheel opening is my favorite thing about the car besides the swoopy trim down the side.
I’m with Mr. Tactful on this. The Buick has that banker’s hotrod look to it, whereas to me the Olds looks fussy and stodgy — it’s already got too much of the Your Father’s Oldsmobile going on.
Interesting comparison. Stylewise, the 1955 Chryslers are better than either the Buick or the Oldsmobile, but Chrysler (and Ford) had not yet switched to the 12-volt electrical system. That would happen the next year. A 1955 Windsor hardtop coupe, with two-tone paint, is a sharp car. It just looks longer and lower than the Buick or the Oldsmobile.
Overall, I’d go with the Oldsmobile…it had better quality than either the Chrysler or the Buick, and offered great performance from its drivetrain. Hydramatic didn’t hurt gas mileage to the extent that Dynaflow did.
The 1955 Buicks sold so fast that Buick rushed production…Buick resorted to all sorts of short-cuts and tricks to keep up with the unprecedented demand. Buick sold almost 750,000 cars in 1955, which was a tremendous sum for the division. But it could not build all of those cars properly, and sales really started to drop in 1957 as word got around. By 1959, Buick was struggling to sell 300,000 cars.
Olds all the way. Rocket up front, the world at your finger tips (literally, love the steering wheel hub).
I was on the fence until I saw the Olds dash, and then I knew I was an Olds man all the way in ’55.
Buick all the way!
Great piece, Laurence. We haven’t had a comparison at CC for way to long. I would have to go Olds.
Oldsmobile for me as well (even though my father bought a Buick that year). But please, no fender skirts.
I’d go with the Eighty Eight. I love the globe badges, and the two-tone is very distinctive. One of Mom’s uncles had a 1955 Olds 2 door hardtop back when they were new. It’s a little off-topic, but I especially like the 1957 Oldsmobiles.
Have to agree. We had (when I was 13) a 2 door dark blue 2 door ’57 88 Super in 1970 that was a fantastic machine. Mom loved it, it was her car and named it her “Blue Baron”.
Dad once accidently dropped it into reverse while engine braking down the steep twisty road from Mt.Wilson (easy to do with reverse being after low). The back of the car hopped and shuddered until he found low again, but it never fazed that old beast.
It plodded on as though nothing happened.
I also remember the vacuum wipers that would slow down going up the hill and speed up going down.
Once the family got into the wrong (identical ’57 Olds) car at the supermarket, I still remember Mom putting in the ignition key and then saying “this isn’t my car!’
We had the ’56 Buick special when I was a small kid. I think very similar to ’55 except I think it had the 322 engine w/ 2 barrel carb.
I have a couple memories of it. First off it lasted quite a long time. I remember traveling on family vacations in it when it was in the 70,000 to 80,000 mile range. My dad kept it as a second car till he bought a ’66 Mustang.
I remember the vinyl upholstery cracked very prematurely. The drivetrain had a bit of a whine which I used to mimic as a kid. The gauges changed color, temp gauge bar was green when normal, which turned red when it got hot. Which was occasional due to poor cooling system maintenance on our vehicle. It had a starter switch engaged by flooring accelerator pedal. It failed and a button was installed in the dash as a cheap repair. It did not have major engine work in the 10 years but it was burning oil at the end. All of our family cars in the ’50s and some ’60s required an oil drip pan on floor in the garage. It was industrial green color, about an inch deep and maybe 24 by 36″ and intended to catch drips from engine/transmission. I remember many other people in the neighborhood used these pans. At least in our family minor oil leaks were not repaired.
After reading the post, personally I’d rather have the Olds. I’m not going to give up 5 mpg to a transmission at cruising speed.
The Buicks were notorious rusters; I remember seeing one sitting in front of a wrecking yard near Fort Lewis that had rust-out clear around the rear wheel cutout as well as all the more common places. Clearly a rust-belt import. I never did see an Olds that was that bad. I’ve had just one drive in either of these – a 56 Buick that was a loaner car, and a 55 Olds 98 sedan that belonged to a family friend. I remember the Olds having basically no road manners, and the Buick was as quiet at 85 on the freeway as at 55.
I like the styling of both for different reasons…can’t really pick one or the other. Now, add a 55 Chrysler into the mix – this was as powerful and would actually handle to some extent.
I am surprised to hear of the rusting. That was a ’55 so I cannot speak of it. My grandmother had a ’54 Special, blackwall tires and poverty hubcaps. The car was solid into the 1960s in New England winters and all. My ’54 Chevrolet convertible bought in Fall ’61 was already rusting around the rear fender bottoms and the grille part with the parking lights. Also a terrible Powerglide and I had to carry oil with me to refill on the road! The Buick had incredible oil pressure as shown by the gauge. Cheapest Buick, but a great value.
The Buick Century underselling the Olds 88. Can anyone tell that a former Buick division head (Harlow Curtice) was running General Motors? No favoritism there, I’m sure.
Tough call. Personally, the Chrysler would be mighty tempting. A Hemi, but still a 2 speed Powerflite. Ok, then, back to the real question.
I think I have to go Oldsmobile. As Geeber said, Buick was slapping them out too fast that year. And I much prefer the Hydra-Matic to the Dynaflow. My parents briefly owned a 57 Buick. They recalled that it could pass anything but a gas station.
Style-wise, I’m not crazy about the rear wheel cutouts on either one. I think I like the Buick better in looks, and it would have the extra prestige. But for me, the Hydra-Matic and the Rocket V8 trumps it all. So one more vote for OldsMobility.
Curtice’s influence notwithstanding, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac targeted one another aggressive throughout this period, and there was nothing particularly subtle about it. The rationale was simple: B-O-P outsold all their mid-price rivals combined, by a substantial margin. If you were at Buick, Olds, or Pontiac and wanted to increase your market share, the natural targets weren’t Mercury or Dodge, but the other GM brands. From an overall corporate strategy standpoint, it might not have been a great idea, but division management was rewarded for their growing sales and market share, not for upholding the Sloan brand model.
Notice that the greenhouse windows and doors (sans chrome molding) are identical on both cars, Pontiac & Chevy used this body as well. GM was sharing chassis and under-bodies even before the 50’s. This is just convenient ‘evidence’ of it…
Actually Chevy and Pontiac used the all new “A” Body for 1955 (through 1957). One way to quickly tell is that their wraparound windshields have completely vertical posts, contrasted with the slanted ones on the year old B-bodies.
All Oldses from 1954 through 1960 would be considered B-bodies (although the body sharing in 1959-60 confuses things a bit, although there was never a 6 window hardtop Ninety Eight, a C body style, those years) while Buick had a Junior/Senior B/C line.
I am partial to the Olds, because my dad owned one in the late 1950s. It was replaced by a Pontiac, around the time I learned to drive.
Color me a bit surprised that the voting so far is going towards the Olds Eighty Eight. Considering by a wide margin people gobbled up the Buicks at a faster rate back when they were new.
My personal vote goes for the Eighty Eight (hell I have an Oldsmobile Tattoo) because it’s oddly flamboyant and conservative at the same time. The Buick is a bit brutish looking, and the Olds has more of a “long hood/short deck” look than the Junior Buicks.
The glaring postnote is there wasn’t really a Ford product in price and performance during these years (and for most of Ford’s history there would never be). Chrysler still had three lines: (DeSoto) Firedome, Fireflite and (Chrysler) Windsor. It makes you wonder why Ford never “got” this segment of the market, other than firing rounds at it’s prestige with the Thunderbird and LTD….
Ford did try to crack this market with the Edsel and that attempt failed miserably. GM had this segment sewn up in those days, and the sales GM didn’t get went to Chrysler. Even Chrysler consolidated its offerings in this segment to one division – Chrysler – after 1961.
The four-seat Thunderbird was an end-run around GM, and a very successful one, as it carved out its own niche for several years, while making Ford a lot of money in the process. It also burnished the image of the Ford Division, preparing the way for the LTD.
Ford got more bang for the buck with the LTD and Thunderbird than it would have with a series of sedans and hardtops that met Buick and Oldsmobile directly. Today, the successful “mass market divisions” – Ford, Toyota and even Chevrolet – sell vehicles in several different price brackets. It’s possible to buy Fords and Chevrolets that are as expensive as a Mercedes E-Class. Granted, most of them are trucks and SUVs, but they still command high prices while wearing a blue oval or a bowtie.
By selling the Thunderbird and LTD as Fords instead of as Mercurys or under a new division’s name, Ford predicted the model line-ups and structure of today’s automobile companies. It was the Thunderbird and LTD that forecast the future, not the Sloan stair-step model.
Not to get political, but part of me wants to make the comparison that along with no middle class brands being left, there’s no American Middle class left to buy them.
The last big blast for Oldsmobile (and to a lesser extent Buick) happened in the mid 1980s when the gaps in wealth started to approach the frenzied rate that they are now. Buyers of entry level import luxury sedans are more likely lessors these days, and therefore don’t really have the relative wealth that the former Oldsmobile buyers had.
No Oldsmobile, no Pontiac, no Mercury… I feel like Charleton Heston wondering on the beach about to come upon the head of Lady Liberty sticking out of the sand.
The reason those brands disappeared is because there simply wasn’t any reason to buy them anymore, except for brand loyalty and nostalgia. When those become the main rationales, the customer base tends to age rather quickly.
In the 1950s and 1960s, moving up the Sloan ladder did get you a better car (although I would argue that, quality wise, there really wasn’t much of a difference between an Oldsmobile and a Buick, with a few exceptions).
By the 1980s, this wasn’t true. In some cases, the more expensive car was actually WORSE (a TH-4100 or Northstar-equipped Cadillac compared to a Chevrolet with the faithful ohv V-8, for example).
In 2011, Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai all manufacture and sell very nice vehicles. If you want something that is really and truly “better,” you’d have to spend about $60,000, and even then you’ll be giving up reliability and low service costs (unless it’s a Lexus or a full-size pick-up).
The old medium-price brands disappeared because the mass-market brands moved up the ladder in features, quality and content (thanks to pressure from the Japanese), while the luxury-import brands moved down with lease deals on lower-price models. Those luxury brands maintain their prestige by continuing to offer a flagship (the Mercedes S-Class, for example), which moves a fair number of lower-priced models (Mercedes C-Class). The old medium-price brands got squeezed out by competition from both above and below.
I would agree. There are lots of medium priced cars out there: they are Fords, Toyotas, Hondas, Nissans, etc. I don’t think that there are any “low priced” brands, except possibly Hyundai and Kia, and they are rapidly morphing into middle price territory too. I was recently in some Hyundai and Kia dealers and saw some $30,000 vehicles, which would seem mighty middle-priced cars to me. It seems to me that it is the low end of the market does not have much action anymore. Pricing now seems to go by size and features rather than by brand name, so that you can find low, medium and high priced cars in the same dealer showroom.
I think that the old “medium priced brands” disappeared because they were no longer offering anything beyond what you got in the same car offered by the “low priced brand”.
Laurence: It gets more complicated than that. I strongly suspect middle-class buyers spent more of their total incomes on cars in the fifties, than comparable folks do today, since they typically bought a new one every three years, and the cars often needed a fair amount of maintenance.
But if you’ll consider that housing, education, health care, and other aspects of middle class life now require a much greater share of that income, it makes it a bit easier to understand.
People’s lives were simpler; other than the house payment and car payment, it was food and a few other things. How many folks were funding their own retirement accounts in 1955? Expensive private school and college education for their kids? Cable tv? Wireless service? Health care?
It’s difficult to compare living standards a half-century apart, and draw apples-to-apples comparisons.
Anyway, I consider all those high-trim Chevy and Ford pickups to be the Olds and Buicks of today. It’s very easy to spend $50-$60k on a big truck, and there seem to be plenty around.
I remember my parents buying a Muntz color TV for around $500 in the mid-60’s. My dad only made about $500 a month!
Ahh! Muntz – “The Gutless Wonder”!
Off-topic for a moment, but my uncle bought a (can’t remember the brand) color TV in 1966. What a dazzling world of color erupted when a color show came on! Especially game shows, as the colors were so vivid and garish.
Anyway, we went back home in my dad’s ’60 Impala sports sedan and returned to our 21″ Zenith B&W “portable” – it had a handle that you could carry it if you had the strength for more than a few feet! Of course, it occupied the corner spot in our living room on its gold pipe-and-wire roll-about stand – the kind that even held records or Life magazines!
The memories are killing me, but I thought I’d take all you with me!
Mad Man Muntz would literally go back in the lab, remove a part from the TV, and if it still worked (no matter how badly) the part stayed gone. The $500 in mid-60’s money is about $3500 today. Now you can get a 21″ color set new for less than $200.
My Dad brought home his first TV in 1950 (same year I got brought home). It was a 12″ Philco that retailed for $400! In 1950!
He was able to make a deal with the TV store owner by putting in a kitchen for the guy!
Sloan’s structure was a product of the twenties, and was essentially obsolete after WW2, although it had enough momentum to keep sort-of going for a while.
GM was like Kodak or Xerox: they once too had a successful product (strategy), but times change, and the Ford/Toyota model proved it to be the wrong one in the (painful) end.
Overe here we had a severly regulated finance system that really showed who had money commercial vehicles could be finances over 3 y years on a low deposit cars new or used were 60% down 12 months to pay no exceptions this stayed in force untill the 80s by which time Id moved to Aussie. Those laws were in place to regulate demand along with a quota import system and high tariffs on built up cars.
The Olds had Hydramatic and that alone would be the clincher for you. Dynaflow was simply horrid.
Just remember in 55 Olds , as well as Pontiac and Caddy had the orgrinal 1937 version of the Hydramatic. It would slam between gears, chirp the tires down shifting on coast down and leaked more than any Dynaflow. The 1956 to 64 Dual Coupling Hydramatic was much improved.
If I have to move up from a Chevy Id go with the Buick the Olds looks a bit too much 54 Ford around the tailamps for me and I like the rear wheel cut outs like the Nomad.
Make mine a ’55 Chevy…wait a minute that’s not a choice…the Buick Dynaflow (basically a one-speed slushbox) and coils vs. the Olds 4-speed Hydra-Matic and leafs, a little more sporting ride, you say…
I’ll take the Olds.
I am at an Impass….I have the option of buying a 54 2dr buick super 8 nailhead V8 for $6500 cdn….or a 1957 chevy 4 door for $3500 cdn. ….I have no idea which to choose
Thanks in advance
Body on both are OK. …Chevy has a dent on roof but chrome OK.! Interior good condition…on both
Buick is imported from states so had new VIN bought.
Make mine the Olds with swapped in Nailhead adapted to the Hydramatic
Hi, I have a 1955 Buick Century Two door hardtop. The car has the original 322 nailhead and dynaflow transmission. I want to change the transmission to a 1955 Oldsmobile Hydramatic dual range transmission. How did you get yours to fit. Is it bolt on withe the bell housing or do you need an adapter plate? Any information will be apriciated. Thanks in advance
Make mine a Century 2 door hardtop. I’ll take the Dynaflow tranny too. I think a nice navy blue with a silver top and silver/blue guts would be sharp. Wide whites also, ps, pb…
Went by a 55 Buick hardtop on I94 Saturday afternoon. He was cruising at 65. Original turquoise and white paint colors. Beautiful, At my age I would take all three, but partial to the Chrysler..
Anybody else catch the homophone for his name in the first picture that Laurence posted above?
Kudos on that one, Laurence!
Put me down for the Oldsmobile. My late grandfather (a lawyer and prosecuting attorney in a rural county seat) always drove Oldsmobiles. I have seen pictures of his red and white Rocket 88 that he had gotten rid of before I was old enough to remember it. My grandparents never kept any of their cool cars long enough for us grandkids to get them, darnit!
Olds. The Buick married a handsome side view with a sad catfish mouth.
And any 55-56 Mopar wins anyway. I love them more than the fin cars, though I would try to find a way to slip in a Torque-Flite.
Tattoo? Is it crass to ask for pics? 🙂
Here it is, and yes it’s pointing down (Check where the tat artist puts the stencil first).
The direction of the rocket sort of tells the whole Oldsmobile story after about 1985.
I “Lie” and say it’s for a fallen brand (like a downward pointing sword).
Make mine that red Olds. Simply beautiful! Dreaming…dreaming…….Goodnight, now.
When these were 10 years old, I seem to remember seeing a lot more of the Oldsmobiles surviving.
I prefer the styling of the Buick. The 55-56 Olds always reeked of being an old person’s car. The Mrs. Trumball To Pontiac being the choice of The Ricardos.
Make mine a ’55 Dodge Royal Lancer or La Femme. Though the Olds and Buick are certainly great cars (I prefer the Olds of the two, and have actually had the good fortune of riding in both), but if I could have my choice it’d have to be the Dodge for its combination of performance, handling, comfort, and style. The other Chryslers were as good, but the Dodge just has the look. 🙂
The ’55 Chrysler’s styling always struck me as really bizarre. Somehow Ghia managed to make it look really elegant though… In fact the ’55 Imperial Ghia Limo has to be one of the all-time coolest choices of cars to be chauffeured in.
This has always been my favorite Dodge, perhaps of all time. But I don’t think Dodge was really in full assault of DeSoto for 1955 (although in years previous and years to come they would be).
I think of Dodge being in direct combat with Pontiac and Mercury at the time, and of all things having a better image than those two. I think of all 1955-56 GM cars the Pontiac line was particularly ghastly looking, while the Dodge is remarkably graceful. The DeSoto toothy grin went a little too far to me in 1955, and I find its hind quarters a bit plain in comparison to everything else on sale at Chrysler that year. Perhaps that’s why I offered the Windsor instead of either DeSoto as an “alternate choice.” Weren’t they sold as having “the million dollar look” in 1955?
The Hundred Million Dollar Look. Sounds like a chocolate-covered, crispy rice, and caramel Chrysler. 🙂
Holy Hyperbole Batman.
The Olds over the Buick, but the Chrysler over either. The Chrysler 300 had the Imperial grill grafted onto the front which improved its looks considerably.
If the question had been open to ANY car from 1955, my choice would also be “none of the above”. I think that Laurence chose the cars he did because they were aimed at the same target market and price range.
A 55 Desoto would’ve probably fit the bill as well, and has a nicer grille than the 55 Windsor. I suspect that the 300 was considerably pricier though.
I just excluded the DeSoto (and less so) The Chrysler Windsor because I haven’t found either yet. They were the only big 3 rivals to this pair (Although I think the revamped Packard Clipper, Hudson and Nash cars were in a similar price range).Given that I’ve run across 2 1953 Firedomes over the last couple of months, one can hope.
I think the only thing that would keep me out of the comparable Mopar offerings at the time would be the Powerflite. I think Chyrsler’s extensive use of Jacquard Fabrics in interiors at the time would have been a draw for me, but the flexibility/economy of the Rocket/Hydramatic combination plus likeable styling is hard to beat.
In 1955 my father owned a Dodge Custom Royal Lancer and my best friend’s father owned 1955 Rocket 88, on the next block not so close friends dad owned a 1955 Buick Century. In 1959 and 60 we all had our driver license and we performed our own Motor Trend Road Tests. First note that all of the three were 2 door hardtops fully optioned, my dads Dodge however was running a 2 barrel, 270 cubic inch displacement and 183 hp. Dodge also had a rare power pack option with a 4 barrel boosted it to 193 hp. This was still less than the Olds 202 hp (324 c.i.) or Buick 236 hp (322c.i.), and as noted the hydro was the best transmission.
But we still raced the cars with the Buick 1st, Olds 2nd . I think this all changed in 1956 with the Dodge D-500, but we are talking 1955. Also I remember the California Highway Patrol drove Buick Century’s in 55. Back then I loved the Buick performance, the looks of the Olds but the car I like to own today would be the Dodge. A side note on the Dodge, about a year ago I was reading car for sale ads on e-bay. According to this ad the 55 Dodge for sale belonged to Tennessee Ernie Ford. It was a coral, black and white Custom Royal Lancer convertible. The interesting part was that it had the rare Power Pack and a standard shift transmission. Now I think that car could run with the Buick, but I suppose you could say lets put standard shift in all three and see how they ran. I am sure back in the day someone ran post coupes with standard shift but this little story was about 16 and 17 year olds in 1959.
Not only was the 300 much pricier (if I recall correctly, it was in Cadillac territory), but the engine was tuned for performance, not smoothness, and the suspension was very stiff for the time. The nickname for the letter-series 300 was “Beautiful Brute,” and it was entirely appropriate. These were very specialized cars for a narrow audience.
Your average Eighty-Eight, Century, Firedome or Windsor buyer would have quickly passed on one of these after a test drive.
Let’s say I didn’t know of the Buick quality issues and lesser transmission….
the Buick looks far more sporting!
Great article, especially the photography as always. My grandparents were Olds people, and that’s the superior car. I do like the looks of that Buick. But then the Chrysler, that’s the punch. If it was the 1950’s I’d be a Chrysler man.
Definitley the Buick.I love the the radial rear wheel arches and the squared up fenderline as the author says it has a more masculine sporty look than the Olds.I think Olds best car was the 57 which was incredibly clean looking and very underestimated but then by 1957 Chrysler and DeSoto were eclipsing everything else on the road at least until the rust started blistering through the paintwork
The Buick Slush bucket transmission has proven over the long term test of time to be the least reliable. The four speed hydro in the Olds was always the more exciting set up. And I cannot understand how anyone would say the Olds was the more feminine looking of the time. I was 10 years old when these cars came out & the real men of the day drove Oldsmobiles. The Buick was a doctors car or older aristocratic driver. The Olds was for the younger more energetic driver.
Broderick Crawford on “Highway Patrol” drove the Buick in 1955; the few Oldsmobiles on the show were 1954s. That’s good enough for me.
Back at the beginning of posts some one said the Olds Hydramatic was more modern. Don’t forget the Dual Coupling Hydramatic did not come along until 56. Meaning the 55 had the old original 1937 design Hydramatic. That tranny would chirp the tires downshifting on coast down as you heard the leaf spring shackles slamming up and down. Also would loose traction in the snow it shifted so hard. As for the gas millage on the highway my ’63 with Twin Turbine Dynaflow still get into the 25 M.P.G range on the highway at a steady 65.
Our family had the 55 rocket 88 exactly like this one with the same red/white 2 tone, but had red interior. I was a young kid but was sorry to see it go after the axle shaft splines got stripped a few blocks from home entering the shopping center, the year being around 1964. My fathers next car was a 98 4 door.I loved the 55.
I’m in a different position from most people in judging these cars, as I owned all of them. In my teens through my 20’s I had over 1,000 cars, virtually everything built from 1950 to the late 50’s early 60’s. The Hydramatic in ’55 was an old trans, they were not smooth and when cruising on hot California nights the trans (on my 98 Starfire convert) would overheat and refuse to shift into high gear. Keep driving and you progressively lost gears until low was all you had. If you let it cool off a few hours it was back to normal.The Olds also got worse gas mileage than any of my Buicks. I liked the ’55 enough I had 7 Century’s ( a wagon, 5 two door hardtops and a convertible, plus Roadmaster and Super 2 doors. One of my Century coupes had been special ordered by the local Commander of the Highway Patrol. It was a Century hardtop but with a hotter engine than stock (and an unsilenced air cleaner) with suspension stiff enough there was no lean on corners. It had the Dynaflow but regularly ate new GTO’s alive. Most people didn’t know how to drive Dynaflows and later Twin Turbine (the ultimate dynaflows) trannys. If you left it in drive 0-60 was 9-10 seconds on a ’55 Century, in Low I was clocking off 7.5 in the stock Centurys and 6 seconds in the CHP version. This was stunning performance in the day. In low you could take them to 80 mph, then shift to Drive. The Buicks also had hemi combustion chambers, with spark plugs top center as the Chryslers but without Chryslers advanced valve train. The quality on all the ’55 GM cars I had, from Bel Air to Cadillac Coupe de Ville was about the same. My ’55 Roadmaster was actually better than the 3 ’55 Cads I had. The Buicks were built well and I ran one to over 400,000 miles, with one Dynaflow rebuild on it at 300,000 miles. I had ’55 Windsor s, a convertible and a two door hardtop (also a New Yorker convertible and sedan) The Windsors were not hemi’s but Spitfire V8’s with polyshperic combustion chambers. The PowerFlite 2 speed was a fine transmission, a bit slow to 30 mph, but usually by 40 they came on strong enough to catch what you were racing, and by 60 mph be leaving the other car. On my DeSoto’s and New Yorkers of ’55-’56 (they were all hemi’s) I could reach 90 mph in low gear and catch scratch from the tires going into high gear. Today, I’m driving my ’56 De Soto Fireflite (with Adventurer 341 Hemi, Powerflite, heavy duty suspension and power steering and brakes, built in the days when you could custom order a car, which my father did, I was 7 when we got this De Soto) At the end of the ’56 model year there were some Chrysler products coming through with TorqueFlites. It was on the Imperial, 300, and some New Yorkers. I’ve seen one ’56 De Soto with it and a few Dodges (all D-500’s) and one Plymouth Fury. I like the TorqueFlite more, but there’s nothing wrong with the PowerFlite (other than a lack of a Park position until years later). The only thing from Ford that I liked as well as the Buicks and Mopars was the ’55 Lincoln, I had 3 of those, a convertible, 2 door hardtop and sedan, these were fast, reliable cars that handled beautifully, but were in the higher price catagory when new. By the way, the “slushbox” Dynaflows in all the Buicks I had returned gas mileage in the high teens to low 20 mpg range at anywhere from 70 to 90 mph. Although not in the same year group one of my favorite Cadillacs I had was a ’53 Coupe de Ville with a Buick Dynaflow after the Hydramatic factory fire. In all the cars I’ve had there were more Buicks than any other make, 164 of them.
Lawrence, I agree 100% with all you said. Thanks for the insteresting post.
I thought this article was a bit ridiculous comparing the Olds 88 against the Buick Special, but then running the speed comparisons using the Super 88 and Century models. I was the proud owner of a 1955 Oldsmobile 88 Holiday Coupe “back in the day”. What impressed me was the 4 speed Hydromatic transmission. The first two gears were very low, shifting out at 15 and 40 mph respectively. In a short drag, the car was quite formidable, but third gear was quite high and usually allowed a comparably powered car to catch up. Third shifted into fourth at 70 mph, My best buddy had a 1957 Buick Special convertible at the same time. A beautiful car but with the Dynaflow transmission and added weight was no match for the Oldsmobile up to about 50 mph. By then he had caught up and the two cars were virtually even.It bothered him because my Olds only had 185 hp vs his 250. In 1959 he bought a new Lesabre 2 dr hardtop and found out that it was slower yet. I bought a 1958 Impala coupe in 1960 and was satisfied with the power of the 348 4bbl, even though it had the Turboglide transmission.
Had both mid 50’s Old’s and Buick’s.For the short run drag race the Olds would eat the Buicks flat out up to about 50.By than you had to take the Dyna(slow) out of low range and it might, “MIGHT”,catch the Buick.The hydro Olds really seemed to slow down after 3 rd gear while the Buicks keep pulling.The 56 Certury was,in my opinion, the “hot ride” of its day.The quality of the 56 Buicks was really poor.My Dad purchased a brand new Special Rivera in 56 and the rear quarters rotted out in 8 months and the rear end let go.Buick,at the time ,did repair both problems (they had a good reputation at the time)Only to have a 56 Century Convertible today!
Another awesome story. My favourites have always been Buicks, Chevys and Oldsmobiles. My favourite years for each of these marques are 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959 and 1960. 🙂
I’ll take a Buick with three-on-the-tree.
Interesting in light of the recent comments about lookalike styling, to me both these cars have a very similar profile.
I rather like the “cold” light! I most recently had one on my first gen Prius and appreciated it for letting me know when it was warm enough for heat output from the cabin heater. I miss the darn thing!
My Electra has a COLD light as well. If I remember correctly the owners manual states it was simply to let you know when you could stomp on the gas. In cold weather the light goes out in my car after about half a mile.
Friends owned both of these in the ’70s. The Olds was more fun to drive, but the Buick could do one thing that I’ve never experienced in any other car. The friend lived 5 miles from town on a rough gravel road. He always took that road at 60. Smooth as glass. Like fresh pavement.
Hydra Matic over Dynaflow means it’s gotta be the Olds.
The 1955 Buick. Because Broderick Crawford drove one on “Highway Patrol” (although every episode had a 1954 Olds in the opening segment).’
For the first season, the TV production used actual California Highway Patrol cars with the official CHP star covered over by a generic “Highway Patrol” emblem. So those Buicks, and that lone Olds, were real police cars for that first year.
Oldsmobile with fender skirts, please.
I actually like the Olds more, the Buick strikes me as an “old lady’s” car. However, I think Packard did the full radius rear wheel openings better on their early Caribbean models with the heavy chrome trim.
Body styling, I have got to give it to the Buick. The wheel cutouts, so mindful of the earlier Riviera. I just have to give it to the Olds though, It has a much better drivetrain and I just like the detailing of the body jewelry. Also,one winter, an uncle of mine parked his 54 super 88 in our back yard when I was a kid. I got to examine it repeatedly. He picked it up in the spring. Much later, I saw that car again. It was parked beside his 56 Super 88 sedan, both idle and parked across the road from his driveway. He had a 63 Chev sedan to drive at this time. The Oldsmobiles were eventually dragged up behind his house and have become overgrown. My uncle is long dead and is now below ground but his Oldsmobiles are still standing, somewhere, in the bush above his Hectanooga home.
I’d go with the Buick. I prefer the styling and I really like the Nailhead engine. The open wheel cut outs are a Skylark influence that works for me. One thousand cars. Did you just keep most of them for a few months?
Nice comparo ~
Having driven both a fair bit , I like the Buick better visually but I’d prefer to keep my old ’54 Pontiac Coupe because Hydromatic .
I hate the Dynasquish tranny .
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I need to throw my ’55 Chieftain into this comparison. It had to be a lot of work for GM Styling to come up with different front ends, rear styling and bright metal configurations to make all of these different GM division B bodies look unique.
I would take the Olds and it wouldn’t even be close. My favorite uncle (father’s younger brother) had a ’55 Olds Super 88 that he bought used in late 1957 when he got out of the Air Force. That was the first “performance” car I can remember riding in. Before that all of my experience was in low priced three brands with six cylinder engines. In my mind I can still feel the sound and fury when my uncle kicked the Hydramatic down into “Super”, opened up the secondaries on the four barrel carb, and away we would go. I know that in measurable terms the Olds was slower than a four cylinder Camry, but it was a lot more fun.
I’ve always had a thing for ’55 – ’57 Buicks. They strike me design-wise as strong, elegant, and athletic.
The Olds to me is a much fussier design, more confused and erratic in its expression. The two-tone colour design on the side seems arbitrary – even incomprehensible – and the grille to me looks a little like the random contents of a custom-jewelry box. And those wimpy little taillights! 🙂
By comparison the Buick grille is clean and hungry, and the taillights look like they could form a significant part of the propulsion system. But it was the side treatment – with the three portholes and that chrome swoop over the huge rear wheel openings – that was the real masterstroke IMO. It was a clear statement of strength, power, and speed.
To me, the Buick is the clear winner from a side profile standpoint. I don’t mind the radiused openings, and that trim sweep is about perfect. However, I find the protruding grille a bit “catfish-y”. The Olds wins inside, and sounds like the better drive. So if forced to choose one, I think it would be the 88.
The 55 Olds Super 88 would take the 55 Buick Century from a dead stop til about 45 MPH at which point the Buick would overtake it. However if the same race was all out, the Olds would overtake the Buick just past the 1/4 mile mark and hold the lead from there up to top speed which was 5 mph higher in the Olds than the Buick.
My brother, in my Dad’s Super 88, raced a fraternity brother in his Dad’s 55 Buick Century on a city street on the near southside of Chicago. My brother claimed he won.
My best friends family had one of each of these, both of which I drove while in high school. My friend got his Olds 88 shortly after graduation. I drove it back from the mountains one time and just then realized the difference in how these cars felt on the road compared to my 57 chevy. On a clear, straight stretch of road, my friend said “lets see what she will do”. At over 100 mph it still felt stable and composed. I always remembered that as my family mostly drove chevys and fords. Again this was a straight road and the Olds was no sports car but it did impress me nevertheless. His parents car was a 55 Buick Roadmaster in beautiful condition and it also was a pleasure to drive although like others, I was not a fan of the dynaflow trans. It was very smooth and quiet. I was about 10 yrs. old when these models came out. Already a car nut, I thought then, and still do, that the styling of almost all models of the big 3 car makers in the years,1955 thru 1957 was exceptional. Chrysler in particular made great strides during these years with exciting trends that still look good today, in my opinion.
I can remember (just turned 70) that at the drag strip, The 55 Olds would beat the 55 Buick by a considerable margin. The Olds would always leap out first, the Buick would close but with both in high gear, the Olds would again pull away.
A stock 56 Olds with a 3 speed, 3.64 gears, would turn 16.1 – 16.3, 85 mph in the quarter. I remember that car was the fastest factory stock there. (Those were unheard of times back then). Of course racing tuned versions (Chev, Olds, Buick, Ford) with slicks/headers were often faster. There was no Pure Stock division then.
I have a feeling that the publications who listed the 55 Buick faster, were relying on a very inaccurate speedometer. Side by side was a different story, from what I seen anyway.
1957 up, the Olds were certainly faster than the Buicks, but by then Pontiac was starting to sow its oats.
Just about the best thread ever! I am 73 now and recall these cars when new or near new. My grandmother had a ’54 Special (black/blackwalls/poverty hubcaps) that I wound up driving a lot in the late ’50s to about ’64. Solid, reliable car. Not a bit of rust on salted Connecticut roads. My father had two company cars, one after the other- ’55 Olds 88s. These cars he had from about ’55 to ’59. Solid cars; I saw no rust. We also had a ’57 Dodge Coronet four door hardtop. You would think as a 14 year old kid I would be proud of this flashy new car, but it was a piece of excrement. You would sit in the thing and see daylight around the window frames; the headliner was ?cardboard? with little gold stars printed on it. I don’t recall what happened with this car, but I do recall that in the late ’50s and early ’60s we watched the fiftyseven/fiftyeight Chrysler and Ford products literally disintegrate before our eyes. I gotta laugh though: in 1970 I bought a new Volvo and that car wound up rusting pretty badly, so not only an American problem. I recall that ’49-’52 Chevrolets seemed to hold up well, but my ’54 BelAir convertible was pretty, make that very, rusty; the parking lights just fell apart. A friend’s mother had a ’55 New Yorker hardtop in about ’62. The car seemed to be in good shape, but bizarre looking with that trim and split grille (Imperials were rare and fascinating to me at the time-good looking cars) The New Yorker had power windows on the front windows but not the back windows. At the time we considered a car with 50,000 miles to be over the hill. Tires lasted maybe 12,000 miles.
I’ll take both please. Ha Ha!😉