The Jetstar I confused eleven-year old me when it arrived in 1964. Hmm, looks so much like a Starfire, why do they have two similar big sporty coupes? Pontiac just has the Grand Prix, Buick the Riviera. What’s up with Olds? Did they flunk rocket science?
I probably wasn’t the only one. In a nutshell, the 1961-1962 Starfire was fully-loaded, and intended to (attempt to) compete with the Thunderbird as well as the Riviera, but of course it suffered from looking just like what it was: a tarted up 88. At least in 1963 it got a version of the roof the GP got that year, to look a bit more distinctive. But sales were always low, especially after the Riviera appeared. Meanwhile, the more affordable GP was red hot, so Olds decided they needed a GP of their own, or a Stripper Starfire. Or something like that.
That’s not to say it wasn’t without its charms, by any stretch. It was a clean and understated car, a bit too much so compared to the more dynamic GP. But with less chrome ornamentation than the rather gaudy Starfire, it looked better than its more expensive sibling.
It came standard with the same husky 345 hp 394 V8 that was also in the Starfire, but the standard transmission was a three-speed manual. Not surprisingly, only 112 were ever sold that way; the obvious choice was the optional “Roto-Hydramatic”, which was adequate at the time, but certainly not illustrious. And of course it developed a rep for certain frailties, although I hear those can all be taken care of nowadays. CL notes again that this unit is a slow shifter. The testers tried to trick the transmission by holding the shifter in a lower gear until the engine was revving higher than it would for an automatic shift, but the result was an even slower shift “it felt as if it were trying to pull a spoon out of a jar of cold molasses“. No wonder these “slim Jims” have such a poor rep. So they just left it to shift automatically, which it did at 4500 rpm. Oh, and it lurched hard into 1st gear when the speed dropped to about 5 mph.
The Jetstar I was fairly quick, despite the slow shifting, with a 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds, and the 1/4 mile in 16.3 @86 mph.
And to keep the price down, it also came with manual steering and brakes, and a vinyl interior instead of the Starfire’s leather. The Jetstar I started at $3592; the Starfire at $4128. Add a few key options, and pretty soon you’re in Starfire territory. The tested car was pretty loaded, and stickered at $4950. One option the testers had fun with was the electric antenna. They did wonder why it wasn’t automatic, as in when the radio was turned on and off. Good question.
Olsd was already using the perimeter frame that would be adopted across the board on GM’s B and C Bodies in 1965. The suspension was conventional GM fare, and the springs and shocks too soft for a performance-oriented vehicle. Of course a stiffer one was optional.
If you want a fully loaded gadget-stuffed big sports coupe, but for some reason were averse to the Starfire, this was just the thing for you. A loaded “stripper”; does that make sense?
I recall a Special Interest Autos article on this car (subtitled “Marvelous Marketing Mistake”) that determined that a loaded Jetstar I actually cost more than an identically equipped Starfire, which made the Jetstar I what CAR would have called “a real spot-the-point exercise.”
The SIA article is not correct. Base price of a 64 Starfire coupe was $4,138. The J-I base price was $3,603. The difference in base equipment was front and rear floor mats ($6.89 and $6.68), power brakes ($43), hydramatic trans ($231.34), and power steering ($107.50). The total for a comparably equipped J-I was $3998.41, still less than a comparably equipped Starfire coupe. The big difference was that the Starfire came with bucket seats and console as standard equipment, but these were not available on the J-i (bench seat only), so it was not possible to get an apples-to-apples comparison.
Your comment raises two thoughts: 1) $139 as the difference between the J1 and the Starfire in your example does not seem like a lot, especially for the guy who was going to buy with a 2 or 3 year note as was common then. 2) You say that buckets/console were not available on the J1, but the Oldsmobile brochure (and the test car in the article) show buckets/console, and the brochure says they came standard on the J1.
So I think the question of why Oldsmobile offered two different but similar cars? It still seems like one too many.
(I was still typing when you posted this — I’m not meaning to repeat you!)
You are correct about the bucket seats on the J-I for 1964. Sorry for the confusion. As for the price difference, in 1964 the median family household income was $6,600. That $136 difference was not trivial, and the $500 difference in base prices was even more significant.
Hmm. The SIA article (SIA #86, by Josiah Work, reprinted in the Hemmings Book of Oldsmobiles, if anyone’s curious) lists the Jetstar I base price as $3,592 and the option prices as follows:
Power steering: $107.50
Power brakes: $43.00
Power windows: $108.00
Power seats: $71.00
Adding that to the list gives $4,163.60, compared to $4,128 for the Starfire. (It don’t mention the floor mats.)
It looks like Work mistakenly assumed that power windows and the power seat were standard on all Starfires rather than just on the convertible, which of course was more expensive (and the Starfire convertible had the less-expensive 2-way power seat rather than the $71.02 4-way variety). The Hydra-Matic price seems to be the 1965 list, which was actually for the new Turbo Hydra-Matic. Not sure what to make of the $11 disparity in list price,
However, the Jetstar I definitely did come with buckets and console — the test car has them, and the brochure (http://www.oldcarbrochures.org/United%20States/Oldsmobile/1964%20Oldsmobile/1964_Oldsmobile_Prestige_Brochure/slides/1964_Oldsmobile_Prestige-20-21.html) describes them as standard equipment. Given how essential the “buckets and console” setup was to the image here, it would have been odd for them not to be available.
Still, it looks like you’re otherwise correct.
I would trust the Oldsmobile SPECS booklet that I posted with the factory retail prices over the SIA article. And yes, I was mistaken about the buckets on the J-I.
Oh, I agree that the SPECS data is almost certainly more accurate. Judging by the bibliography of the Work article, he looked at a variety of catalog-type production references, which often have various errors and discrepancies, some minor, some less so. Also, we have the advantage of being able to look up the dealer price lists on the Internet, which wasn’t really a possibility in 1985.
Ok, I admit it. As a 17 year old car fan I loved the Starfire. It was everything my flat head Chrysler was not, beautiful, fast, sexy, and weatherproof.
And yes, it was a tarted up 88, but more so, a tarted up SUPER 88 (lighter body but with the 98 power).
And while the Roto Hydra-Matic had some 1-2 and 2-1 quirks, when driven normally by a mature adult it functioned quite well. We got over 100K miles on a roto-equiped 1961 Ventura and the one thing that never failed was the transmission.
I must say though that the green Jetstar shown in this post is very nice. As a more mature 20 year old in 1964, that would have been my first choice over the immaturely styled (teenage dream) 1961 or 1962 Starfire.
I like these old magazine posts. Sometimes I can [vaguely] recall reading the original hardcopy back in the day.
The real confusion in 1964 wasn’t just the J-I vs Starfire, it was the simultaneous introduction of the Jetstar I and Jetstar 88 at completely different ends of the B-body model line. The J88 was the decontented bottom-feeder B-body, using the smaller engine, trans, rear axle, and brakes from the new-for-64 F85 line. The J-I, as noted in this article, was a slightly decontented Starfire at the high end of the model line. The similarity in both name and appearance confused consumers then and continues to confuse today.
The 60s were a big time of change for a teenage boy, as well as just about everything else! The auto industry was still trying to find new buyers, while keeping those loyal to each brand. Corporate competition was rampant! Dodge and Chrysler had squeezed DeSoto out of existence. FMCs EDSEL had failed, and compacts were unfortunately furthering the competition. GM had the widest range of automobiles, each trying to find buyers and stay alive. Alfred Sloanes hierarchy was no longer working. Olds was struggling to hold on . The 62 Starfire was a beautiful interpretation of controversial styling. In summer of 62,parents are I were on vacation in our 62 Belvedere. Talk about confusion in the auto industry. 😲. We kept seeing two young guys traveling in a white chrome laden 62 Starfire convert! Kept thinking that some day, I WOULD be driving a car like that. And I DID! My first car was a used red 66 OLDS Dynamic 88 convert! White top, wire wheel covers (with spinners) and 425 ! 🏆😎 . BACK to the Jetstar, I truly believe OLDS was struggling to hold on by appealing to every possible sale. I also believe that part of the eventual demise of OLDS was the fact that the first four letters of the brand were O L D S! Later the use of Young Mobile and Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile were attempts to lure younger buyers. 🤔. Unfortunately OLDS is gone, like so many others. BUT that 62 Starfire and my 66 Dynamic 88 were one young guys dream come true 👍 😉 WHAT is there today to inspire a young man’s fancy? 🤔. An SUV that drives itself? God help us! OLD 🐕 DOG, hates New TRICKS! 🏆 😉. 😎
“Later the use of Young Mobile…” During the mid 1960s to mid 80s, Oldsmobile did succeed getting younger buyers with Cutlass line up, and of course the Supreme coupe. Was huge with then young Boomers. While WW2 Generation loved 88/98, though some went to Cultass from Chevy Impalas.
Just that when 1988 FWD W body came along, same Boomers went to Imports. GM Loyalists went to trucks, hence the Bravada came out, but was not enough to save brand.
And note to Gen Z, folks born before 1946 were/are not “Boomers”. Some online have claimed the WW2 and older gens are “Boomers”, no.
It is funny, I don’t ever remember experiencing a shivering structure in our 64 Cutlass, but then again, it was before I was driving and before I would know to pay attention to such things.
I have no idea if this is relevant, but for a long time registration fees in some states (Michigan was one, for sure) were based on the *base MSRP* of any given model of car, and that includes trim levels.
(In my particular scenario, it was cheaper to license/tag/register a Volvo 245DL than it was a 245GL. The cost difference was significant.)
Certain savvy car dealers, mostly of American makes, would order this sort of “loaded stripper” for the lot and offer them with a nod and a wink.
That’s a really interesting point, and it would make the Jetfire I a bit more sensible from a financial standpoint. (If the licensing fees were based on base MSRP, I assume a 14 percent cheaper list price would make a meaningful difference).
A “loaded stripper”? Sure, all the strippers I know make great money. 🙂
I’d be interested in what impact the low sales of the quasi-PLC Jetstar had on the introduction of the radical, FWD Toronado for 1966.
Clearly, Oldsmobile was shooting for a piece of the Thunderbird/Riviera/Grand Prix PLC pie. Maybe the Jetstar was simply an attempt to get in on it on the cheap.
It didn’t work out, maybe because of how close the Jetstar was to the Starfire, and maybe that was a big factor in GM corporate green-lighting the entirely unique Olds Toronado, which then begat the beautiful 1967 Eldorado.
We’re missing a page. It ends mid-sentence. I’m dying of suspense here.
If you prefer leather to vinyl, and who doesn’t?, the Starfire seems to be a better buy. I wonder if you could delete some chrome trim.
I was sure it was there, but here it is now.
For some foggy reason, I thought the Jetstar came with the 330 F85 engine. What am I thinking of??
You are thinking of the Jetstar 88, which used the 330 engine and also the puny F-85 brakes. I did an article that goes through the (confusing) line-up for 1964.
“Sure- let’s install 9-inch diameter drum brakes on an 18-foot long, 4500 pound automobile. What could possibly go wrong?”
As I noted above, confusion between the J-I and the J88 continues to this day…
Took me years to figure out the Olds 88 naming conventions before they all were called ‘Deltas’ in 1969. Delmont? Dynamic? Huh?
How and why GM designed and built several truly awful transmissions in the late 50’s, early 60’s is beyond me. Corporate hubris, I imagine. The Turboglide, this Slim-Jim, Buick’s Dual-Path, until finally they landed on the Turbo-Hydramatic! Our new ’61 Catalina (with the ‘economy’ low hp engine), and driven gently, puked it’s tranny at 60k. It’s hard to imagine it lasting long with this powerful 394 Olds engine.
Then they did it again in the 70’s with the original TH-200 Metric…
The three-speed Roto Hydra-Matic was basically a simplification of the dual-coupling four-speed. The latter was really, really complex and expensive to produce, so Detroit Transmission Division was looking at ways to take some pieces out of it to bring down the manufacturing costs. That’s honestly the only way the three-speed unit makes any sense; it’s a bizarre layout, and not something anyone would have probably come up with starting from scratch.
Similarly, Turboglide was the end product of a lengthy effort to build the perfect “shiftless” torque converter transmission. It took concepts that worked reasonably well for the late twin-turbine Dynaflow/Turbine Drive transmissions a step further, which turned out to be a step too far.
Dual-Path Turbine Drive, by contrast, was a very clever design with some clear advantages over other contemporary light automatics, and it worked pretty well. However, its input torque capacity was limited, it was air-cooled, and it couldn’t be beefed up the way a two-speed Ravigneaux gearset could.