In My Merry Oldsmobile
Ransom E. Olds built his first car, a steam-driven one, in 1887. He was twenty-three years old. In 1893, one of his steamers became the first American car exported. Unfortunately, the ship carrying the car sank, and the vehicle ended up in Davy Jones’ locker. 1896 saw Olds build a gas-powered car and in 1900 he named it the Oldsmobile, a car so iconic in American auto culture, that in 1905 it inspired the popular song “In My Merry Oldsmobile.”
The “Curved Dash” Oldsmobile inspired what is most likely the first song written about a car. Johnny Steele got himself an Oldsmobile and courted his girl Lucille, suggesting “You can go as far as you like with me in my merry Oldsmobile.” Even in 1905 those words were, shall we say, “suggestive.”
Come away with me, Lucille In my merry Oldsmobile Down the road of life we'll fly Automobubbling, you and I To the church we'll swiftly steal Then our wedding bells will peal You can go as far as you like with me In my merry Oldsmobile. --music by Gus Edwards and lyrics by Vincent P. Bryan
Oldsmobile joined Buick to form the General Motors Corporation in 1908, and produced the first V-8 motor in 1916. By 1929, Oldsmobile employed 7,000 workers spread through 12 different buildings.
The one millionth Oldsmobile come off the assembly line in 1935. Dave LaChance, writing for Hemmings in April 2007, had this to say about the 1935 Oldsmobile: “Oldsmobile literature called the 1935 models ‘The Car That Has Everything,’ and even allowing for the copywriter’s hyperbole, you have to admit that they covered an awful lot of bases.” 1935 was a banner sales year for Oldsmobile, with 126,768 cars produced. Olds was in 6th place in U.S. sales. A lot of people liked their merry Oldsmobile. The car came in the F series and L series, with the F-35 powered by a straight six. The L-35 had a straight 8.
Oldsmobile styling changed completely in 1939, and that style carried over to the 1940 models. The cars came in three models, the series 60, 70 and 80. (In 1940, there was no model 80, but a new model 90 debuted.) I have no idea what model this car started as, but today, the only thing 1940 about it is the body shell. Note how the trunk has now been fully integrated into the body style, instead of looking like an afterthought as seen in the 1935 model above.
Oldsmobile introduced the 88 name in 1949, replacing the model designated as 78. Also in 1949, Olds brought out the Rocket V-8 engine. The two proved to be a winning combination. In more ways than one. A Rocket V-8 powered 88 won NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) races in 1949, 1950, and 1951, becoming the “king of NASCAR.”
The car also inspired a 19 year old kid to write an R&B (Rhythm and Blues) song many have deemed the first Rock and Roll song: “Rocket 88” which reached the number 1 spot on Billboard’s R&B chart in June, 1951, and was also Billboard’s number 1 juke box R&B song. Little Richard says he copied the intro when he wrote “Good Golly, Miss Molly. “…the exact same, ain’t nothing been changed.” Jackie Brenston got the credit for the song, but that 19 year old? None other than Ike Turner, before he married Tina.
1953 marked the last year for this body style. GM built 37,342 two door sedans marked as Super 88 models. Deluxe 88 was the entry level, and 98 the top of the line. Super 88 came in between. For the 1953 model year, Oldsmobile produced 208,134 Super 88s and total production for the marque was 341,264. Sales put the marque in 6th place nationally.
With a new body style introduced in 1954, Olds moved up to fourth place in U.S. sales (behind Chevrolet, Ford, and Buick). Introduced late (in January, 1954, instead of September ’53), the 1954 Olds models were supposed to be ’55 cars. The President of GM hated the proposed 1954 designs and scrapped them forcing the designers to move up production of their 1955 cars. Whatever really happened in those corporate offices, the (late appearing) 1954s were quite popular, and the body style continued through the 1956 model year.
The 1957 Olds had a new body style, but one recognizably consistent with the ’54-56 models. In 1958, Olds added so much chrome, the car practically shone in the dark. 1959 brought a complete change in style. Oldsmobile offered the Holiday Scenicoupes in both 88 and 98 versions. There were basically no styling differences between the two lines. The Holiday Scenicoupe was a two door pillarless hardtop with a quasi-fastback look. Poppa seriously considered getting one of these, albeit as a 4 door sedan, but our move to California took the money that would have gone into a new car.
Following in the wake of Chevrolet’s Corvair, the B-O-P (Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac) marques brought out their own new compacts in 1961. The Oldsmobile compact was named the F85 to keep it in line with the 88s and 98s used on the full sized Olds models. Originally, the F85 came with four doors and a fixed roof, but in 1962, GM offered a convertible model F85 with the Cutlass moniker. The beauty shown here was truly “found on the road,” or at least in an espresso stand parking lot in Somers, Flathead County, Montana, USA. The car is not for sale, to the best of my knowledge, but wouldn’t it be a gas to drive down the highway, top down! This could very well be a merry Oldsmobile.
Taken August 1st, 2019, in Somers, Flathead County, Montana, USA.
Back in 1954, Oldsmobile showed a concept car called the Cutlass. The company resurrected the name for the top-of-the-line F85, as seen above in 1961. Already larger than the Chevrolet Corvair, the F-85 and its Pontiac and Buick twins carried the designation “Senior Compact.” In 1964, the three grew even larger, becoming “Intermediate” sized cars.
Cutlass eventually became a model in its own right, and the F-84 moniker disappeared. All told, Olds built cars named Cutlass from 1961 to 1999, with the name garnering a wide range of models as if the Cutlass were a brand of its own. The sporty 4-4-2 was a Cutlass, as was the Hurst Oldsmobile. The final Cutlass had little to distinguish it from other intermediate GM cars, and the name died with the 1999 model.
General Motors ceased production of Oldsmobile in 2004. As a somewhat last gasp, in 2000, the Oldsmobile Profile showed up at the Los Angeles Auto Show. A cross between a luxury sedan and an SUV, with a touch of mini-van thrown in, the Profile looked great, and had all the features one could want in a 2000 model car. GM never built the car for the market, however. Tom Appel wrote a review of the Profile and posted it under The Daily Drive site for ConsumerGuide Automotive’s website. He called it Forgotten Concept: Olsmobile Profile.
I know when I head out for a road trip, I stock up on food. Potato Chips, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Carrot and Celery Sticks, bottles of water, cans of V-8, maybe apples and grapes. Cassie Johnston, on her blog Wholefully has given us 44 healthy road-trip snacks. They look pretty good to me. And when we’re back on the road, I’ll be sure to follow her suggestions.
I know you love reading car reviews. That’s why you subscribe to Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Automobile, and Collectible Automobile. They make up an important part of your reading list. But what if Kent down the street wrote the review? That’s exactly what Nick Roman has done with his Regular Car Reviews. Today we look at the last model Olsmobile sent to Market, the Alero. Oldsmobile and the Alero died in 2004, but today’s video is Nick’s take on the 1999 Oldsmobile Alero, a car he calls “agressively forgettable,” and probably not a merry Oldsmobile.
And That’s It
There’s nothing more I can say about my merry Oldsmobile. If any of the photos above thrill you, click on the linked caption and visit my RedBubble sales site. All the photos are available as photographic prints, of course, but also as t-shirts, shower curtains, clocks, even mini-skirts and a whole lot more. If you’d like more Oldsmobile info, the Oldsmobile Club of America is a good place to start, especially if you plan on collecting the make itself. They even have a one-page History of Oldsmobile on their club’s website. Also, leave any comments below and if you like my writing, please click on the subscribe button. The next scheduled post talks about my 1965 travels in Japan by train.