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General Motors’ Oldsmobile of 1949 was a perfect combination of a lighter than usual body and a big, powerful engine. Because of this, it became a darling among NASCAR drivers. This popularity translated into considerable buyer demand. In retrospect, the Model 88 changed Oldsmobile and began a new era of horsepower wars in Michigan (Detroit!). Here’s the history of the Oldsmobile Model 88:

The Oldsmobile’s’ Early History

Before 1949, Oldsmobiles had in-line, flat head engines. In 1949, however, Oldsmobile installed the new and powerful 303 cu. in. Rocket V8 engine in their Model 88 cars. In a year, the model 88 vaulted Oldsmobile from a conservative car brand to a serious performer that became the one to race against on the NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) circuits. People really felt super alive when driving these cars!

Race Results

Here are some race statistics: In 1949, the Model 88 won six out of nine NASCAR late-model division races, 10 of 19 division races in 1950 and 20 of 41 in 1952. The car was later eclipsed by the low-slung Hudson Hornet, but it was still the first “King of NASCAR.” According to the sales manager at East Hills Chevrolet of Roslyn, a full-service car dealer in Roslyn, NY, the car’s top speed was 97 mph and it took the car 13 seconds to speed up from zero to sixty mph.

In addition to its speed, the Rocket 88 offered several user advances. For example, it was equipped with a dual ignition mechanism. A driver needed a key to the ignition and the start push-button to engage the ignition sequence. No more needing to push a solenoid switch on the floor. Although mainly released with a 4-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, the Oldsmobile brand also released the Model 88 with a 3-speed manual transmission option. This was one of the reasons it was popular among the NASCAR racers. The Rocket 88 car also had an oil bath air cleaner.

If you wanted to add a clock and chrome to the interior, then you could purchase the vehicle with an available deluxe trim package. A radio was available as an additional option as well.

The status the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 enjoyed in the NASCAR circuit led to an increase in popularity. This created a demand for the car and waiting lists for the model were common for many years. The car’s popularity even led to the making of one of the first “rock and roll” songs, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. The car also inspired one of the 1950′s very popular slogans, “Make a date with a Rocket 88.”

But the Fun Eventually Ended

The celebrity status enjoyed by the Rocket 88 kept the car within the Oldsmobile lineup until its closure in the late 1990s. An unprecedented run for what’s considered America’s first muscle car. Automotive historians typically agree that when General Motors’ Oldsmobile division introduced the Rocket 88 model in the late 1940s, they created what many individuals see as America’s first real muscle car.  

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