Vehicle Info From Hemmings


Although one of the most revered General Motors nameplates has gone the way of Studebaker, Packard and others, Oldsmobiles of all eras are admired for their engineering, styling and comfort. But like most other things in life that change, so did the market for Oldsmobile, which spelled the end for this once-proud nameplate. Olds had superlative engineers who developed many firsts, designs which are still in use today, such as a fully automatic transmission in 1940 and the first modern high-compression overhead-valve V-8 engine in 1949. If you desire a big Fifties convertible and don't want to take out a second mortgage for a '57 Chevy, these big Ninety-Eight convertibles are a sagacious alternative.

In 1959, there were Eighty-Eights, Ninety-Eights, Super Eighty-Eights, Holiday models and the Fiesta station wagon, 17 models in all. All hardtops were called Holidays, and all station wagons were Fiestas; all were well styled, built like Sherman tanks and had powerful V-8s under their expansive hoods. Suggested list prices ranged from $2,837 for a base two-door Dynamic Eighty-Eight to $4,366 for a top-of-the-line Ninety-Eight convertible, like our feature car, one of 7,514 produced. Unlike their predecessors in 1958, the 1959 models, while still large and now sporting vestigial fins, seemed smaller, with a lower stance and sides devoid of excess chrome and trim, and had a "linear look." But they really were bigger than the 1958 models, with overall length up substantially; the Eighty-Eight models were nearly 10 inches longer and the well-appointed Ninety-Eight about seven inches longer overall.

There were two engines for the 1959 model year, with the base engine, the V-8, available in the Dynamic 88 series producing 270hp at 4,600 rpm and 390-lbs.ft. of torque. This engine had a 4 x 3-11/16-inch bore and stroke and was called the "economy" version; it was fed fuel via a Rochester 2GC "Econ-o-way" two-barrel carburetor. This engine carried code "C." For the Super 88 and 98 series, the rugged V-8 was the standard engine and was four cubic inches larger than GM's top-of-the-line Cadillac 390. The 394 featured a 4-1/8 x 3-11/16-inch bore and stroke. The compression ratio was 9.75:1 and produced 315hp at 4,600 rpm with 435-lbs.ft. of torque. It featured hydraulic valve lifters, a 20-quart cooling capacity and a Rochester 4GC Quadrajet carburetor; its engine code is "D." These engines were designed with your friendly mechanic in mind and featured a male hex head on the oil filter for quick removal and replacement; Olds engineers did away with the messy cartridge oil filters late inckard and others, Oldsmobiles of all eras are admired for their engineering, styling and comfort. But like most other things in life that change, so did the market for Oldsmobile, which spelled the end for this once-proud nameplate. Olds had superlative engineers who developed many firsts, designs which are still in use today, such as a fully automatic transmission in 1940 and the first modern high-compression overhead-valve V-8 engine in 1949. If you desire a big Fifties convertible and don't want to take out a second mortgage for a '57 Chevy, these big Ninety-Eight convertibles are a sagacious alternative.

the model year. Another feature that shows the quality put into these cars was corrosion-resistant copper tubing for the A/C's Freon. In addition, when polished, it looks great at the local cruise night. The 394 engine is durable and, if regularly maintained over the years, will likely require only a minor overhaul.

The lone transmission in the Ninety-Eight was a Jetaway three-speed automatic unit with an integral cooler. These were among the best-shifting transmissions ever produced, maybe because they contained whale oil, which may explain the effortless shifts that owners report. Originally, the transmission fluid in these cars, and others of the era, was clear; engineers did not begin adding red dye until the early 1960s. The standard transmission in other, less-expensive Oldsmobiles was a three-speed column-shifted manual.

Differential/Rear Axle
The rear axle was typical of the 1950s, a Hotchkiss drive with hypoid gears leading out to semi-floating axles in a heavy steel axle housing. Inside was a standard 2.87:1 ratio gear set. The rear ends are stout, and if properly maintained and not abused, they will remain trouble free and last a long time.

The front suspension was typical of this era, with independent A-arms, coil springs, hydraulic shock absorbers and a 7/8-inch diameter anti-roll bar. The solid-axle rear is suspended with longitudinal semi-elliptic leaf springs and hydraulic shocks. The wheels were just 14 inches in diameter and 5 inches wide. On 98s, the wheels were 5.5 inches wide. This suspension and available power steering made these two-ton-plus cruisers handle effortlessly. Steering can be done with one finger in terms of effort, but judging it against standards of the time, it was fairly tight and not sloppy.

The braking system had four-wheel drums with power assist. Both front and rear drums measured 11 inches in diameter with a total swept area of 191.7 inches. The parking brake was the standard cable-activated rear-drum setup. Owners report that these brakes are adequate, but could be much better. Although far from today's standards, the optional power brakes made these cars stop quite well with no fade and no pulling to either side.

The body, as with most 1950s cars, was made of welded steel pressings yielding a weight of 4,545 pounds for convertibles, and varying weights on other models. The lightest 1959 Oldsmobile was the Dynamic Eighty-Eight two-door sedan at 4,214 pounds. The frame was a deep-channel design perimeter unit with a center X-member and featured five crossmembers. The big Olds used a "Vista Panoramic" windshield, and the tailfins were cast from slab-sided verticals into thinly contoured rockets. There were some differences on the Ninety-Eight series; one was a special aluminum appliqué on the rear body panel beneath the trunk lid, with the widely spaced letters "O L D S M O B I L E." The taillamps were special too, with lenses that curved inward, and they were dripping with chrome plating. All other 1959 Olds rear lenses bulged out and were sans chrome.

The wheelbase for all models except the Ninety-Eight was 123 inches, and overall length was 218.4 inches. The Ninety-Eight had a wheelbase of 126.3 inches and was a whopping 223 inches from stem to stern. Front styling was somewhat conservative for the time, but chrome-laden as well. Parking lamp/turn signals separated the quad headlamps at each front corner, and the grille was an aluminum flat mesh screen on lesser models and cast aluminum on the Ninety-Eight. The Ninety-Eight had chromed pot metal headlamp rings, while the Eighty-Eights had better-quality anodized aluminum rings. Above the massive grille was the familiar Olds Rocket at the leading edge of the hood.

As with many cars of this era, rust is a big factor. The lower quarter panels tend to rust as do the bottoms of the front fenders and doors. The U-channel/box member side rails with X-center frames are generally sturdy, but time consuming to repair if damaged. Convertible top mechanicals work well, and hydraulic top pumps are easily rebuilt. Bill Kinas of Parma, Ohio, has owned a 1959 Super 88 two-door hardtop for about 20 years and restored the car over a 15-year period. He says for buyers to beware of rotted floors and trunk pans. "This car sat in a barn for many years, but a thick undercoating was applied at the factory, and it retains moisture. The floors rotted out, as did the trunk pans. Reproductions were not available, so I made Chevy pans fit with some fabrication," he said. Bill says one quarter panel had some rot, and he was lucky enough to find an NOS piece in Texas to replace it.

Get behind the massive steering wheel, and you'll have a symmetrical dashboard design staring you straight in the eyes. It's typical of 1950s dashes and positively stylish, with legible controls, radio mounted in the center and large glove compartment, with a metal door, of course. The 98's door panels were a thing of beauty, yet functional and durable. They were a combination of hard-wearing Morrokide vinyl, stainless steel trim and nylon/rayon carpeting on the bottom half. For safety's sake, there was a reflector at the rear of the armrest, which was visible to other cars at night.

The steering wheel was ahead of its time when airbags were the things of fairy tales. Engineers designed a deep Safety Vee into the wheel, meaning the center hub was away from the driver's chest in the event of a crash. The headliner was another form of beauty. Called "Star-Lite," it was a foam-textured material that featured a thin vinyl foam sheet glued to cardboard-like panels, which were held in place by plastic bows with a chrome-like finish. While pretty, the materials were not durable, and after years of heat exposure, the foam tends to fall off in sheets and make a mess inside. No reproduction is yet available, and owners restoring their cars must use a conventional vinyl headliner. The Star-Lite pattern was available in ivory, pale green, light blue and beige in the 98, 88 and Super Holiday Sport Sedans and two-door hardtops, and optional in other models except Fiestas and convertibles.

Another nice touch was the optional vacuum-powered trunk release, operated by a chrome handle inside the glove compartment. The speedometer, designed like many in the 1950s, featured a colored band that ran from left to right. From zero to 35 mph, the band was green, from 36 to 65 the band turned orange, and above 65 it was red.

As for the interior color choices, there were 60 available upholstery selections from which to choose; 15 acrylic lacquer Magic-Mirror exterior colors were available. The convertible tops were called Toptex, came in six color choices, and were stowed under a soft vinyl boot.

Restoration Parts
While not as plentiful as Cutlass/4-4-2 reproduction parts, new parts for 1959 Oldsmobiles are available. Scanning through Hemmings Motor News, we located several firms that carry reproduction, used and N.O.S. parts. Bill Kinas offers this important view on some N.O.S. parts. "I completely rebuilt the engine on my 1959 Olds and then had an overheating problem. I tried everything: Cleaned out the radiator, changed the thermostat and, finally, after taking off the cylinder heads, found that the N.O.S. head gasket was missing a hole for the water to flow through and that made the engine run hot; the gasket was incorrectly made. Always look at parts carefully, especially N.O.S., because they were likely returned in 1959 because they didn't work, and ended up on somebody's shelf."

Parts Prices
Brake overhaul kit - $160
Coil springs, pair - $185
Convertible top, vinyl - $240
Convertible top, canvas - $490
Engine rebuild kit, w/pistons - $935
Exhaust system, single - $319
Exhaust system, dual - $419
Exhaust system, stainless steel, dual - $860
Firewall insulator - $155
Front end rebuild kit - $260
Fuel pump, w/exchange - $105
Hood insulation - $40
Ignition wires, Delco-Packard repro - $70
Inside rear-view day/night mirror - $85
Negative ground strap - $40
Oil filter, AC - $16
Outside door handle, repro - $95 pair
Outside rear-view mirror - $80
Radiator hose, upper, correct repro - $27
Shock absorbers, four - $119
Water pump - $100
Wiper blade and arm - $20 each
Wheel cylinders, four - $110


Fusick Automotive Products
N.O.S. and reproduction parts

SMS Auto Fabrics
Interior upholstery fabric

Pro Antique Auto Parts
New and reproduction mechanical and trim parts

Kanter Auto Products
New engine, brake and suspension rebuild kits

What to Pay

Low Average High
Dynamic 88 two-door sedan $4,000 $10,000 $15,000
Dynamic 88 four-door sedan $3,000 $8,000 $12,000
Super 88 four-door sedan $3,000 $7,500 $11,000
Super 88 convertible $11,000 $26,000 $40,000
98 Holiday two-door hardtop $5,000 $12,000 $19,000
98 Holiday four-door hardtop $4,000 $9,000 $14,000
98 four-door sedan $3,000 $8,000 $13,000
98 convertible $13,000 $30,000 $45,000

Club Scene

Oldsmobile Club of America
P.O. Box 80318
Lansing, Michigan 48908-0318


Dynamic Eighty-Eight
Two-door sedan 16,123
Two-door Holiday hardtop 38,488
Four-door sedan 70,995
Four-door Holiday hardtop 48,707
Two-door convertible 8,491
Station wagon, five- and seven-passenger 11,298

Super Eighty-Eight
Two-door Holiday hardtop 20,259
Four-door sedan 37,024
Four-door Holiday hardtop 38,467
Two-door convertible 4,895
Station wagon, five-passenger and seven-passenger 7,015

Two-door hardtop 13,669
Four-door sedan 23,106
Four-door hardtop 36,813
Two-door convertible 7,514

This article originally appeared in the JULY 1, 2005 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.