Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1964 Oldsmobile Jetstar I – A Loaded Stripper

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?