Rockets start to fall back to the earth after they pierce their way into outer space. That’s pretty much the legacy of Oldsmobile during the second half of the 50’s. As the Overhead Valve V8 performance revolution Oldsmobile inspired in 1949 spread to all popular priced cars in the middle of the decade, the laurel brand of Lansing found itself in a dilemma.
Where was the athlete to go when so many challengers to the crown were on the track and field? Was it mission impossible to attempt to maintain the performance crown? Was adding luxury and maintaining consistency the key to longevity, success and praise?
It might be hard to see, but the 1957 Oldsmobiles found themselves graced with all new B-Body shells for the new model year. Hiding the change was very evolutionary styling that seemed to accentuate and plump the already curvy figures of Oldsmobiles of the post-war.
Up front was another Jet Intake grille, out back were ovoid mutations of the rocket tip tail lamps seen on Oldsmobile fenders since the 1950 Ninety Eight. Also remaining was the dip before the hips in the belt line that gave Oldsmobile’s a sensual maturity to go along with their more adult price tags. The effect was a sensible update to what loyal Oldsmobile customers loved in the looks department, but didn’t challenge the brand to be the design leader it once was.
That’s a role that decidedly went to Highland Park’s second run of Forward Look fintailed fancies. Next to a DeSoto Firesweep or Chrysler Windsor, the Golden Rocket 88 looked downright dowdy, despite being just slightly less fresh under the skin.
What wasn’t fresh was much proven, respected and beloved. The Fluid Coupling based Hydra-Matic had graduated to a more flexible, smooth “Jet-A-Way” version in 1956. The stalwart super Rocket V8 grew to keep up with weight and competition demands. Now measuring 371 mighty cubic inches, it offered 277 horsepower in base form, 300 horsepower with the optional J-2 triple carb set up.
While that might seem lacking compared to the maximum whack of 325 horsepower available in upper trim Chryslers, the flexibility of the 4 Speed Hydra Matic and the locomotive torque of the Rocket V8 kept the Olds offerings competitive with offerings elsewhere in the Mid Priced field.
0-60 times remained on either side of 10 seconds depending on body style with the base engine, closer to 9 seconds with the J-2 set up. There were penalties at the pump because of the increased displacement, power and weight gains. Never lightweight cars, the new for ’57 Body and Frame tipped the scales at 2 tons before popular options were larded on. Once capable of eeking out 20 mpg in moderate highway cruising 5 years earlier, Oldsmobiles developed a healthy drinking habit worthy of a Sterling Cooper ad executive.
Despite the consistency that bordered on boredom, Oldsmobile found itself the 2nd most popular medium price brand, behind faltering family rival Buick for 1957. Nearly 34,000 Golden Rocket Holiday Hardtop Sedans found buyers for the year alone.
It proved, despite the grandeur of what Mopar and Ford offered with their more flamboyant wares that year, that most American buyers appreciated class, restraint and reliability with their slightly premium purchases. Steady on won the race, and set the pace for Oldsmobile to remain at the heart of the market as the decade changed and beyond.