General Motors’s status as the majority producer of Automobiles for much of the 20th Century meant it could waste time where other car manufacturers couldn’t. This meant that GM fielded no less than 3 automatic transmissions for shiftless driving throughout its 5 brands into the 1960’s. This also meant, as Air Conditioning became commonplace, and fun in the sun motoring became a thing of the past, GM fielded convertibles, full sized convertibles to boot, in all 5 brands way into the Disco Ball and Opera Window’d 1970’s.
Right in the middle of the pack, in the middle of the model generation, we have the Oldsmobile Delta 88. What’d you get over the other offerings at Chevy, Pontiac, Buick and Cadillac? Who bought these beautiful beasts?
Oddly, as the 1970’s drew on, the Oldsmobile version of the B-Body Convertibles seemed the most sports orientated. As the Impala version at Chevrolet became a Caprice convertible, it mirrored the Bonneville/Grandville transition towards being an open air rolling bordello that functioned as a cut rate Eldorado Biarritz drop top, replete with Fender Skirts. Buick went the other way, de-emphasizing the pseudo-sports luxury ethos of the Centurion (nee Wildcat, nee Invicta, nee Century, the longtime “Banker’s Hot Rod” slot of athleticism in the Buick line-up) for the bargain beef LeSabre trim level in 1974.
Only the Delta 88 remained as much of an anachronism in the middle of Tricky Dick’s rise and fall, hailing back to a smidge and smugness that had been the swagger of Oldsmobile Convertibles as far back as the Truman Administration. In particular, the open wheel cut outs, jaunty trim and relative beef of the looks cajoled buyers into a romp on the road, or the optimal mid-life crisis machine, but most likely a little bit of both.
The Olds Rocket V8 was a little less emasculated by ever increasing emissions regulations, accessories and weight gain compared to other V8’s in GM’s stable minus the stump pulling 500 Cube V8 over at Cadillac. Fender Skirts stayed a parlance of the Ninety Eight, as Delta 88’s projected a humble, jocular charm more easy going, more confident in its place in an every changing world.
The Delta 88 kept a fair share of the styling flair that was rapidly waning in all American cars as well. Character lines, sharp angles and gentle curves still had a voluptuous charm more befitting where the automotive industry was in 1965 than 1973.
Compared to the dismal convertible figures that Ford and Chrysler had for their final full sized convertibles, Oldsmobile, or GM in particular was all the more happy to make frothy profits off of their fun in the sun machines as long as there was a market for them.
Oldsmobile’s total of 7,088 Delta 88 Royale Convertibles barely trailed the number of Caprice Classic Convertibles sold in 1973, and handily bested the totals for the Buick Centurion and Pontiac Grandville. This may have plenty to do with the glow and shine of Oldsmobile rising behind Chevrolet and Ford to be #3 or #4 in overall sales during most of the 1970’s.
Oldsmobile rode high on the strengths of the Cutlass drawing people into *just right* sized Oldsmobiles, the Ninety Eight and Toronado took up profit expanding slack as cut-rate Cadillacs. Missteps where few during this era from the rocket brand, and the Delta 88 managed to maintain heritage more than any other Oldsmbile.
The charms of this charismatic chubster frolicking on the soon to be restricted to 55 mph highways can’t be discounted. Whether you chose 350 cube or 455 cube strength, it flaunted in the face of new restrictions a way that motoring could still be about.
Now, more than 2 generations of culture later, they seem an exuberant time machine that travels further back, preserving a heritage of motoring deeper than their age. Oldsmobile would try again at drop top motoring in the 1990’s, offering a sporty jaunt that some took to while others didn’t heed the freedom call. We thank these dearly departed yet still sanding and ambling Oldsmobiles for trying to preserve the legacy of brisk top down motoring decade after decade.