Rocket 88, 455, A/C, 4-wheel disc, former Oakland Roadster Show winner, amazing
- Condition: Used
- Make: Oldsmobile
- Model: Eighty-Eight
- SubModel: Rocket 88
- Type: Coupe
- Year: 1950
- Mileage: 14,791
- VIN: 8A280725H
- Color: Black
- Number of cylinders: 8
- Power options: Air Conditioning
- Fuel: Gasoline
- Transmission: Automatic
- Interior color: Black
- Options: CD Player
- Vehicle Title: Clear Want to buy? Contact seller!
1950 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight Rocket 88
There are so many things in the custom car world that we all take for granted, but at some point, someone had to be first. This 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 business coupe is one such machine, a car so superbly built and beautifully finished that it set the standard for all that would follow. And before you dismiss that as hyperbole, take note that this magazine cover car won the Oakland Roadster Show nearly 15 years ago. It is most certainly the real deal, offering style and finish quality that everyone else has been chasing ever since. The quality is apparent in every single component, but it’s easy to dismiss at a glance as being ordinary—such is the case with cars that get the details right. This simple black car stands out in a crowd because everyone who sees it up close is absolutely blown away by the build. If you know what you’re looking at, this is a benchmark car.
This clean, desert Olds was found in a barn in Phoenix, Arizona by noted chassis builder Dane Christensen, who was going to build the Olds for himself. Things change and the car was sold to the gentleman who ultimately finished it and turned it into the work of industrial art you see today. Between the two of them, there’s a lot of spectacular, high-level work that completely justifies all the accolades this car has collected.
Oldsmobile fans will recognize the 88’s profile in an instant, a clean, muscular design that neatly blends post-war sensibility with a bit of ‘50s jet-age optimism. Experts are surely quick to point out that this is an early build car, identifiable by its split windshield, which was replaced by a one-piece curved glass windscreen later in the year. The rest of the sheetmetal is as Oldsmobile designed it, albeit smoothed and massaged into a condition that assembly line workers could only dream of. The hood is punched full of louvers, a traditional look that works very well here yet doesn’t interfere with the car’s graceful lines., and the rear fenders were subtly modified to accommodate the oversized rubber, but the work is virtually invisible. The business coupe is the lightest body style, so it was a hot performer in 1950, the second year of the OHV V8, and even more so now. The car was stripped to bare metal (there are photos of the restoration in one of the magazine articles) and rebuilt from there. Several cycles of priming and blocking ensure that the glossy black paintwork is smooth and ripple-free, and the PPG Deltron Black looks deep enough to dive into. All the chrome and stainless trim was restored to show quality and glitters like jewelry against the inky black paint. Even though the build is now 14 years old and has almost 15,000 miles on it, it’s still a show-stopper, a testament to both the quality of the work and the care it has received. Of course, spending its life in California never hurts.
The interior was treated to the same kind of “less is more” makeover. Bench seats fore and aft retain the big coupe’s character and give it a spacious feel, but they’ve been wrapped in supple high-grade materials in a traditional rolled-and-pleated pattern. The experts at Armondo’s Upholstery in Hemet, California did the work, and it looks as good today as it did when it was first finished. Neatly fitted black carpets add a plush feel, and the door panels and rear side panels were all given that same pleated look. The dashboard is mostly original, painted a contrasting light gray and fitted with a set of Moon gauges from Classic Instruments, and all the original knobs and buttons were retained due to their cool period look. A custom panel was cabbed up to house the auxiliary gauges and the A/C vents, giving it a very finished look. The steering column and wheel are from a ‘60s Cadillac, and includes a cool telescope feature as well as a custom leather rim and beautifully painted Rocket 88 horn button that’s just one of this car’s many tricks. Radios were still optional in 1950, and it appears that this one did not come with one, so during the build, they kept the cool “OLDSMOBILE” block-off plate on the dash, which really gives it a clean look. Instead, they installed a Kenwood AM/FM/CD stereo head unit under the seat, where it’s accessed by a hand-held remote control. Overhead there’s a custom headliner that incorporates the original dome light, and even the rear package shelf has been given a makeover. The massive trunk has beautifully fitted carpets that are embroidered with the Rocket 88 emblem found on both the steering wheel and the front floor mats, and the divider panel is pleated to match the seats.
The original 303 cubic inch Olds V8 was a definite high-performance engine in 1950, but for this build, they went with something a little more substantial. And by “a little” we mean “a lot.” It’s a 1971 vintage 455 cubic inch Oldsmobile big block that was bored .030 oversize and fitted with forged internals and flattop pistons. The 442 heads were ported and polished and an Ultradyne camshaft gives it that wicked lope and makes it sing. Up top, there’s a 750 Holley on an Edelbrock intake, and it’s all lit up by an Accel ignition system. It’s beautifully dressed, with the engine wearing black and lots of polished aluminum, including the relatively rare Oldsmobile valve covers and a finned aluminum air cleaner. The hoses are especially trick, being custom made just for this car, allowing the extensive use of polished stainless hard lines to really give it a clean look. There’s a giant radiator up front and the accessories were tucked down low on the block for a clean look.
With more than 500 pounds of torque on tap, it needed a robust transmission, so an unbreakable TH400 3-speed automatic with a 2500 RPM stall torque converter was bolted behind the gnarly Olds big block. A Lincoln Versailles 9-inch rear end was suitably modified and fitted with easy-cruising 3.25 gears on a limited slip, then hung on a 4-link suspension with Aldan coil-over shocks. Up front, a Fatman Fabrications front suspension was grafted to the original Olds frame and includes tubular A-arms, 2-inch dropped spindles, and another set of Aldan coil-overs to fine-tune the ride. An Oldsmobile Cutlass power rack makes it feel effortless on the road and there are power assisted disc brakes at all four corners. Long-tube headers dump into a custom-made Flowmaster exhaust system that’s a feat of engineering all by itself, offering a bolt-in crossover that makes chassis service easy and a set of cool stainless megaphones exiting just ahead of the rear wheels. Note the OEM-looking heat shields on the mufflers, the neatly routed plumbing and wiring, and the exceptional attention to detail throughout. Finally, it sits on the very last set of Halibrand wheels made before the company left California—not necessarily making them valuable, but a neat connection to history that’s now gone forever. Staggered 215/60/15 front and 275/60/15 rear BFGoodrich rubber gives it a great stance and the tall sidewalls preserve that impeccable Oldsmobile ride quality.
How does it drive? Like an Oldsmobile! The ride is smooth and comfortable, not bouncy and harsh like most hot rods, and that’s the difference between a home-built and a pro-built car. It just works better. Turn the key and hit the button and the big 455 sparks to life easily, although it’s a bit cold-blooded and needs a little tending for the first few seconds. After that, it drives like it was built by GM, with appropriate control efforts, laser-like tracking on any road surface, and powerful brakes that never let you get over your head. It’s content to idle at 600 RPM in traffic, A/C blowing, but you’d better be sure it’s pointed in the right direction before you plant your right foot on the carpets, because there’s serious blasting powder under that louvered hood. Everything works, it drives beautifully, and until you’ve driven a car that is totally dialed-in, you don’t know what you’re missing. It only took a minute of driving for us to understand just how special this car really is.
The slavish attention to detail throughout the car is visible everywhere you look, and in the flesh this car is absolutely amazing. It should not be a surprise that it is a multiple show winner, including the Oakland Roadster Show, possibly the most prestigious event on the west coast. Add in a handful of magazine appearances, and you know this car is something special. Totally sorted, beautiful to drive, and still a stunner, this is how all rods should be. Call now!