Parking Lot Classic: 1962 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Holiday Hardtop – Happy Haunting


(first posted 2/12/2013)    To continue on the trajectory of early -’60s Oldsmobiles that continues to haunt me, I present this Dynamic 88, which I first met under the cover of night. While I continue my daytime errand-running drudgery, let’s pause to examine where Oldsmobile was in the early 1960s.


Oldsmobile entered the 1960s with sharply-styled behemoths that kept a footing in ’50s flamboyance but extended a pinky toe toward 1960s rationality. While the vista roof and skeg fins (the latter predating Cadillac’s use in mainstream models) would disappear within a few years, a more concentrated focus on economy remained undercurrent at Oldsmobile throughout the early 1960’s.

1961 Oldsmobile Full Line-02-03

It may be hard to believe, but the 1961 big Oldses were actually downsized, ever so slightly, in length and width. Also, one gear was now missing from the Hydra-Matic, which had gone on a diet at Oldsmobile and gained the “Roto” name in the process. The new Roto-Hydramatic would be the first dim-witted transmission to hold that storied family name. The weight loss didn’t do wonders for performance–or economy, for that matter.

1962 Oldsmobile Full Line-20-21

The 394 Rocket bulked up a little bit for 1962, producing no less than 280 horsepower for the most thrifty of Oldsmobile customers. Oldsmobile relied on a variety of axle ratios to achieve tolerable performance or maximized economy according to individual customer preference.


This was one step into the ever expanding “Goldilocks” tendencies of Oldsmobile in the 1960s. Zero-to-sixty times could be all over the map (from high nine-second runs to 12.5 seconds), as could fuel economy (as dreadful as 10 mpg, although the possibility of squeezing out 18 mpg remained a hope). What’s more, this was just for the Dynamic 88–we aren’t even considering the variables presented by the Super 88, Ninety-Eight, Starfire, or the “Junior Olds” F-85/Cutlass/Jetfire family.


If all this seems schizophrenic, wait ’til we get to 1964: I’ll say only “Jetstar 88.” I have to note that this was long before the Mustang was touted as comparably customized on the build sheet. At one time, this was typical of all American cars and led to some of the curiously optioned classics on the streets today.


No matter how you optioned it, a 1962 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 was a solid-citizen choice. There was enough good to be had to make up for its step-sister of an automatic transmission. However, according to a number of forums, other than the tendency to pee on the rug as it ages and its lumbering, sloth-slow 1st-to-2nd shift, it isn’t as  bad a transmission as some think–well, at least compared with other efforts like the Turboglide and Flight Pitch Dynaflow. Granted, by the time this transmission made it into my family history books in 1963, it probably had been re-engineered to do the best it could.


Although it shares the basic B-body shell of the most basic Chevrolet Biscayne, it has enough unique styling details that say “Oldsmobile.” The “Red Spot of Jupiter” ovoid tail lamps, seen first in 1959, are among my favorite styling traits of the 1962 Oldsmobiles.


I’ve also grown to appreciate the “chin strap” layered front bumper. While not as extravagant as the 1961 version, it provided a transition to the peaked-fender look of 1963 that gradually softened as the 1960s marched on. These aren’t the most beautiful of 1962’s full-sized cars, but are certainly handsome in their own right. What’s more, this face is neither as extreme as a 1962 Chrysler’s nor as bland as a 1962 Mercury’s, assuming that Mercury Montereys and Oldsmobiles were being cross-shopped at this point.


Inside was middle-class comfort and quiet to match the suburban environments that most of these Oldsmobiles would occupy. Thus is the humble Holiday Hardtop largely forgotten today. Despite the ever-expanding sea of Mid-Century Modern artifacts, practically no one specifically cites any early 1960s Oldsmobile as an example of automotive excellence. Pity those fools. On the other hand, and thankfully, that keeps prices for the more workday versions of these beautiful behemoths quite reasonable.