Curbside Comparison: 1962 Buick Invicta vs. 1962 Oldsmobile Eighty Eight vs. 1962 Chrysler 300 Sport- Wide Eyes and Double Chins

(first posted 10/25/2011)   I didn’t realize I had another Buick-Olds mid market smackdown hiding in my photo collection. And due to some Mopar outcries, I’ll throw in the previously-covered crazy-faced 1962 Chrysler 300 in the mix. “Which would do in sixty-two?” is the question for you.

This time the roles are a bit reversed: Oldsmobile survived the collapse of the middle of the market due to the Eisenhower recession better than Buick, and for 1962 at least, maintained a marginal lead over its family rival from Flint.

However, at nearly 400,000 cars sold, Buick was a long way from the “dismal” 250K range they sold in the 1959-60 season. Still burned by a few quality lapses from their sprint to number three in production between 1954 and 1956, Buick was still trying to find the playbook that would answer legitimately the question “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?”

Chrysler was making steady gains by standing proudly on the grave of DeSoto. However, selling fewer Chryslers than GM could send Cadillacs out the door pointed out that between worries about build quality and some rather bizarre styling was still hurting the prestige normally associated with Chrysler. Nor did the Newport touting a base price of under $3,000 help (roughly just over $22,000 today). That would be the first salvo of a war that continues to this day with the overlapping of Dodge and Chrysler sedans.

The two GM cars featured a further rationalization of the themes introduced on the 1961 B and C body cars. For the Buick that mean those delightfully pointed fenders up front were shaved down, revealing a set of rather wide eyes.

For the Olds that meant the skeg fins on the chin of the Oldsmobile Family face went away, along with the “Hollywood Sign” presentation of the brand name that had been an off & on theme at least since the 1955 model year. The Olds also sprouted, for a lack of better way of describing it, a double chin.

And then there’s the Crazy Chrysler, in all of the Exner-fueled lunacy that was having its last flare in 1962. Not much changed on the oddly familiar face of the Chryslers, so the more than 30,000 car production increase was all the more remarkable considering this face was one of the last few exuberant traces of the 1950s on the market.

Maybe it was the dramatic rationalization out back on the Chrysler that helped? Finally free of fins for 1962, but more bulbous than a Chrysler hind quarter dared to be since 1955.

Olds decided to harken back to 1959 with the tail lamp shape, but instead of mounting it at the end of a rocket tube-like blob on top of the rear fenders with little finlets on top, it was integrated into the rear panel. Ironically, all Oldsmobiles would unabashedly embrace crisp blade like fins running front to rear in 1963, a good six years after most of the industry went crazy for them.

The Buick has what I’ve derisively called the Buick Blob: a rather generic rectangle of red or/and white lens that, given time, would take over the whole rump of Buick cars, especially the upper tier Electra. It’s still a curse that the current LaCrosse tries to hide with a swath of chrome. Ironically, like Oldsmobile, 1963 would prove a brief reprieve with the return of a chrome covered and fin capped tail lamp assembly before the blob took over again in 1964.

It’s hard to decide on who was the engine winner this year however. If we start at the bottom of the totem pole, the Olds 2 barrel 394 has the  265hp 361 B-block available in a Windsor beat, and ties the 401 2 barrel available in a LeSabre.

But the problem with directly comparing our photo cars arises in their engine compartments. The Chrysler 300 started with a 305hp 383 V8, but you could check off boxes all the way to the 413 V8.

That leaves the most Masculine Buick (a 325hp 401 equipped Invicta or Wildcat) and Oldsmobile (the ultra expensive Starfire with 345hp) a little bit behind.

Neither of the GM cars could match the brute force of any full-tilt engine optioned Chrysler, but in the normal comparison of what sold most (the base powerplant in all mid level series) they’re a more competitive. Each of them properly tuned and equipped with the right engine and axle ratios could see north of 120mph and could dash to 60 in a little less (or a lot less) than 9 seconds. This in a period where your typical 283 equipped Impala took 13 or more seconds doing so through a Powerglide.

The Roto-HydraMatic, in it’s 2nd season could only hamstring the 394 so much, especially in one of the more powerful combinations.

Nor would a Wildcat/Invicta level 401 have anything to feel bad about, despite the latest evolution of the rather dreary update of the Dynaflow concept; now in marketing speak called Twin Turbine.

But General Motors was designing the Turbo Hydramatic during this period to once and for all match the excellent Torqueflite automatic, which combined smooth operation with swiftness. Between the great Mopar engines and the legendary Torqueflite, you have to give the powertrain crown to the Chrysler.

And the prowess of the Chrysler extends to the superior torsion bar front suspension that provided better roadability than either of the GM cars could hope for on four soggy coil springs. All Mopar offerings were known for their great handling. Perhaps the only GM car known for being responsive to input controls in 1962 was the Corvair, for better or worse.

But the “All Mopar offerings were great at actual driving” brings up a sore point: Why trade up from a Dodge if a Polara or Custom 880 was just as good. And arguably (and accidentally) the 880 was the best looking offering from Highland Park in 1962.

Then again, you could say why buy an 88 or LeSabre/Invicta when a Bonneville still kept the superior four-speed HydraMatic with lush appointments and a ready to party 389 V8. All with arguably the best styling from General Motors in 1962.

And before I end up splitting the vote far too many ways:

I open the debate, and hand all of you $3,500 in 1962 money. Some of you might have a Standard Catalog of American Cars and can find the cost of options and the sort. Create your ideal family coupe, convertible or sedan for 1962.

Only rule? No Impalas, Galaxies or Furies.