Although the tidal change that the 1959 General Motors Full Sized line was, perhaps no marque needed that change more than Oldsmobile. The brand had gone from offering the most conservative offerings in 1957 to the most derided offerings for 1958.
Mocking came in the form of musical notes written on the chrome trim in comics of the period, mocking the excessive levels of trim of the loving motorboats on offer from Lansing that year. Fortelling a renewed appreciation for simplicity and decorum, the 1959 Oldsmobile line pointed in the direction of a series of ever increasingly elegant offerings for middle class buyers for the next decade.
For all GM divisions, the huge change meant all cars shared the same basic B-Body shell, with slight variations for the model year. The Oldsmobile Ninety Eight had moved away from sharing the premium “C” body shell with Senior Buicks and Cadillac in 1954, so the reformation as an extended B-Body didn’t affect its top dog status for 1959.
With an extra 3 inches in wheelbase over both 88 models, those long “Linear Look” lines seemed to stretch to infinity and beyond with the extra length and additional details that made the Ninety Eight the crowned jewel in Oldsmobile showrooms.
Styling continuity with the past wasn’t a strong suit with any of the new 1959 General Motors products, with Buick eschewing any connection with the past that year. Oldsmobile followed the example lead by Cadillac. At the rump, the familiar jet tube tail lamps that had been a hallmark of Oldsmobile since their Futuramic days, growing alongside Cadillac tailfins, took on an ovoid form for the model year.
They topped a new feature with a beauty panel resembling a television variety show stage. On Ninety Eights of course, the space boasted the brand the biggest, with O-L-D-S-M-O-B-I-L-E spelled out over the full width. Surprisingly on our subject example, as a top of the line model with standard power steering, brakes and Hydramatic, are missing reverse lamps.
The new Oldsmobile face for ’59 pointed towards the future however. The “barbell” headlamp arrangement with a pinched grille pattern would subtly assert itself in Oldsmobile faces through 1970, becoming almost as equal a brand trait as having a split grille in terms of Oldsmobile brand identity. The very very Mid Century type sets used throughout, sadly found themselves on the dustbin of automotive font history by 1960.
Behind the stage face sat a recently upsized Rocket V8, now sitting pretty at a slightly larger than Cadillac 394 cubic inches, with a slightly modest boost in output to 315 horsepower over the top option for 1958, the J-2 fueled 312 horse 371 cubic inch version of the Rocket V8, which in 270 and 300 horse flavors, was still available in Dynamic 88’s this season.
With the trusty Hydramatic, the slightly more muscular Rocket managed to hide weight gain with 0-60 performance just under 10 seconds, on the way to nearly 120 mph capabilities flat out. While in the mid 50’s, this combination was praised for relative operating efficiency, by 1959 Oldsmobile was only slightly more efficient that competitors from Mercury and Chrysler with their 400+ cube V8 offerings.
Oldsmobile had re-focused the Ninety as a cheaper alternate to chasing full out Cadillac ambitions for modest suburbanites, and the de-emphasis of outright performance or economy kept it a popular offering for families of white collar professionals, in ever increasing increments. Often the 4 door hardtop glamour lead the charge, and it was no different for 1959. This theatrical re-visioning of what the most premium closed quartered Oldsmobile would be proved to be the most popular Ninety-Eight for the year. With 36,813 examples delivered, it was nearly 3 times as popular as the hardtop coupe. For finer 4 door sedans in 1959, one could do a lot worse than the most opulent Oldsmobile of the year.