This Car Might Have Changed The Course Of Oldsmobile… Forever26
Those who remember the market introduction of the first-generation Chevy Corvette C1 in 1953 will likely also remember a similar car that debuted as a concept from another General Motors division. The vehicle in question is the Oldsmobile F-88 Convertible Concept, sometimes referred to as Rocket 88, and it made its debut as an Autorama dream (concept) car in 1954.
The F-88 was penned by none other than Harley Earl and just like the Vette, it was a two-seat roadster with a fiberglass body. But unlike the C1, which was powered by a rather measly 150 hp (110 kW) Blue Flame inline-6 mated to a 2-speed Powerglide gearbox for the first two years of its existence, the F-88 cradled a 324 cubic-inch Oldsmobile Rocket V8 making a brawny 250 horses.
And it was never put into production.
The consensus, back in the 50s and even today, is that the F-88 wasn’t built since it would have threatened the Corvette. As the legend goes, Chevy — GM’s biggest and most profitable division at the time (and even today) — campaigned within GM against bringing the F-88 to market due to concerns that the Olds would hurt sales of the Corvette, which might not have been as attractive as an Olds with a big ol’ V8 under the hood. So The General decided against bringing the F-88 to market.
As history would have it, only two copies of the F-88 concept were ever assembled. One was destroyed, while the other was disassembled, and its parts stored in wooden crates. The rest was history… until recently.
On February 1, 2005, the only remaining example of the F-88 concept, a golden convertible, sold for a whopping $3.24 million to John and Maureen Hendricks at the Barrett-jackson Auto Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. Mr. Hendricks is the founder and chairman of broadcasting and film production company Discovery Communications that owns the Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet cable TV networks, among other ventures.
“While most of their brethren were destroyed after their debuts at GM’s Motorama shows, the gold-toned Olds survived this fate to become one of the most historically significant vehicles of its era,” said Craig Jackson, president and CEO of the classic car auction company Barrett-Jackson. “Many automobile historians consider the roadster to be one of the greatest expressions of automotive design to ever come from North America.”
This remaining F-88 is the cornerstone of the Gateway Colorado Automobile Museum, where the car is housed in a rotating display, all in a room of its own. Because it deserves it.
The GM Authority Take
Outside of the F88’s historic and sentimental values, we wonder what would (could?) have happened to Olds had the sporty roadster been produced. The oh-so-cool-and-sexy car might have changed the course of the brand, saving it from its eventual demise and for-grandpas only image. Either way, feast your eyes on this beauty:
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What a beautiful car.
Thanks for the story and pictures.
Acording to rumors Chevrolet has been castrating other division’s designs for decades. The Fiero was not allowed to even come close to the Vette’s performance for instance. It had to be a “commuter” car to get the green light.
OMG that is so gorgeous it makes my eyes hurt, absolutely amazing!! Add that to my bucket list, I was going to climb Everest but I think I’ll take a trip to Colorado instead!!!!
Alex, thanks for a great article… The demise of Oldsmobile and Pontiac still makes one weep… Truly amazing that we have seen in the last 20 years the demise of so many American brands…
The loss of Pontiac probably being the biggest shocker…
Thanks to EL Cord for hiding this car away first off. You left one of the more interesting parts of the story out since he was the owner of the wooden crate.
If anything this car more than not would have changed Olds as Olds started to implode in the late 70’s with the loss of their own engine. From that point on sales began to slip and not so many years after that they decided to call more than one model Cutlass as a desperate act to fool people.
Olds was mismanaged right into the ground and was a great example of what was wrong at GM.
As for two seaters the room and life for them at most MFG are like the seating space in them limited.
Two seat cars are a limited market as only so many people can live with them. Often because of their limited nature investment is lean as if you only sell 12K cars why invest much in them. Often the market is filled and the cars life is less than 10 years.
Like it or not the Vette bulling the other brands at GM has kept it alive much longer than any other two seat car in history. Only the Miata can come close in this class of car. Look at the RX7, MR2 and 280z all had limited lives as they ran out of market.
Yes it is true the FIero was compromised by the Chevy people. Pontiac sold it’s sole and made it s commuter car with shelf parts. They also put it into a plant that needed to build 100K cars a year in hopes the GM 80 program would be built there till it was killed. This opened the door for Chevy to finish the car off. I have held the paperwork to this meeting and there were several option presented but going in they knew it was dead.
In the greatest Champion and designer of the Fiero John Schnella Chevy sells more cars do Chevy gets more say. He later lifted the styling from the 1990 Fiero GT and reused it for the 4th gen F body that replaced the GM 80 program. [Note GM 80 was a FWD/AWD replacement for the F body]
Compare the side profile of the 1990 Fiero GT to the 4th gen F body and you will see how much the cars look alike. John stated the styling was too good to throw away.
One side note the origin for the Fiero came right from the GM tech center engineering. In the mid to late 70’s they drew up the space frame with a mid engine V6 and presented it to Chevy and the Vette group. They rejected it and when Pontiac wanted a sports car it was offered to them to help lower the cowl so they would not end with a high cowl like the Mercury Capri. This is detailed in the Dave Mc Lelland book inside the Corvette.
As much as we would love to see GM do more 2 seat cars they are just not good business unless you raise the price up. Ferrari’s did not start off expensive because they were a Ferrari but that is how much it had to be priced to make a profit. Today people will pay for the name.
The Olds is a wonderful car and while you could pose a lot of what ifs the outcome would not have been much different. To much other issues clutter the history that a limited production 2 seat car would have moved history much.
In fact the Vette is and has never been on a free ride. They still have to provide a business case and they have to make money. Dave points this out in his book and this is why Chevy is protective. Even Tadge Juechter has pointed out his goal for the present C7 is to double the present sales of the C6 as if they drop any lower they will be facing issues.
the bottom line is 2 seat cars are great for image and marketing but non have ever saved a company unless they were a sports car company to begin with. In face many sports car companies have filed because of just offering one kind of car. History is littered with them. Now you know why many are looking to sedans and SUV’s today.
Knowing history and good business is important when dreaming.
Note I am a long time Fiero owner and have been involved with collecting its history. I also own a collection of 1990 Fiero emblems and worked for several years to document them with GM. I had wished the 1990 model had made it but even if it has I did not expect the car to line much more than 5 years unless GM had shared it with Opel.
I liked the Pontiac Fiero very much, and I saw one at the GM attraction at EPCOT in Orlando. There is another piece of GM history that the Fiero program developed, and it is the electric-assisted power steering. Since the Fiero was rear-engine, the hydraulic power steering hoses were too long and lost pressure for the power steering rack up front. So a new electric motor power assist was developed but never used as the Fiero was cancelled. GM used this assist for the rear-steering Silverado, and most new GM vehicles now have electric power steering assist, removing the hydraulic pump and reducing one fluid from the maintenance checks.
The market today is so unique and competitive one wrong poorly conceived product can damage a brand severely… Each car has to represent the brand 100%. A vehicle that doesnt can lose the brand tons of credibility and customers… Consistent brand language and brand identity an absolute…
The F88 was indeed a gorgeous prototype. I’m thankful for its developement as we can see the styling cues that filtered throughout GM in the following years. Especially the 1954, 1955 and 1956 Olds sedans and coupes. I can see some of the detail in that first Corvette rear end. The F88 would have been a big seller initially but it probably would have turned into a 4 seater in a few years just like the TBird did.
Lot of great engines, cars, concepts have been nixed because of the dirt bags at chevy!
GM needs to get their head out of the sand and bring back Pontiac. Since they dumped Pontiac there hasnt been a chevy in our garage!!!
The contention that Chevrolet was the most profitable division (no doubt it was the largest) back then is debatable. Cadillac in the fifties was a huge cash cow for GM and, especially prior the 1955, Chevrolet wasn’t. Starting in 1955 Chevy reinvented itself and that required a huge investment that obviously paid off.
Awesome car! My first car was an Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible- great memories of the brand. No, it would not saved the brand, GM management screwed that up beyond belief in the 80s and 90s.
Lotta Fiero comments. I have a basic model Fiero that I’m still driving. 1985 4 banger. Even though it’s a dog by comparison to today’s models, its still a blast to drive. One thing that fascinates me, is the millage I get with the car 33-35 might combined millage consistently. I have a Solstice that I baby,and there are many carry overs lifted from the Fiero, to let one know of the Pontiac lineage. I cried when they shut down Pontiac. I also cried that GM did not send the Solstice machinery and design to one of the surviving brands.
I agree with others that Pontiac should be returned, if not a brand… then at least a model for one of the existing brands.
Interesting story. It does make you wonder what could have been, and if so would Oldsmobile still be here today.
Just to add to the Fiero electric power steering. There were a handful of units that did get the system and get out of GM. I have seen a few of them and they show up on E bay once in a while. These systems are the first use of this and are much like what was used on the Olds Aurora and all the later Electric power steering we have an all GM cars today.
The fact is Oldsmobile was damaged beyond belief in the 80’s and 90’s and only a major shift in product and a major investment could have saved them. They lost their way when GM just made them a different version of a Buick.
Pontiac was lost when they made Pontiac a fancy over done Chevy for too long. Then when they did away with the TA how could you call Pontiac a performance division with no RWD. Lutz did what he could but he was ten years too late and had no money to work with.
The global market has changed and GM need to change with it. The sad fact is Olds and Pontiac are gone and are not coming back. GM’s plate is full and going global with the product they have will prove to be the most profitable way to do so. GM just had too much of everything with models, brands, dealers etc.
GM is best off now with doing more with less as they can put more development into less models and do a better job of selling them. This is a case where less is more.
I was a life long Pontiac guy and still own my V6 Fiero I bought new. I hold and share much of the Fiero and Pontiac history I can and even place for top awards at Pontiac meets. But even with all that Pontiac dies a long time ago and even I was blind to it. Looking back I never understood the folks who considered 1979 as the last Pontiac with the loss of the 400 V8. Now I understand as you take away the engine you remove the soul of what Pontiac and Olds were.
Just as trivia question here. What was the last all Pontiac built.
The 1988 Fiero 4 cylinder. It was a platform only used by Pointiac, It had a Pointiac built 4 cylinder and was built in Pontiac MI at Plant 17. Even a GTO owner can’t claim all these. LOL!
It is sad GM did not do more to evolve GM as time went on as when the cuts came they were deep and painful.
The days of badge engineering 5 cars on one platform and only changing a few things are over. Today you will see a shared platform like the Alpha but there will be major changed to each model used on it. The days of the 88 and Le Sabre being close together are long over.
We are all with you Rich, Fiero all time favorit GM…
The key for many Fiero owners should be to be honest about our cars.
The Fiero is a great case study in how GM did not function as a corperation. It shows how GM would stop production Pontiac would hide it and then convince them it was a commuter car. Pontiac then sold their soul to build over and neat 100K units each of the first two years killing the market. But even in the worst year sales were not bad but they had a plant that could build 5 times the number of cars they were. It was all Chevy needed to help kill the car.
The 1988 was pretty much where they wanted to start but just could not get the funding to do it.
While I love my Fiero and will always keep it the car is flawed. The handling is fun but you really have to work hard to go fast on anything but a smooth surface. But over all I have had a blast with my car and at shows I get more attention than I ever did with my 68 SS Chevelle.
I can only ponder what GM could have done if it was tuned by the group who did the GM Performance Division cars. Having driven and owned some of their work it would be neat to have seen them at work on this car.
I wish someone would do a complete book on the Fiero and tell the whole story as it was not as GM told it. But still to this day the bad blood between the UAW, GM and Pontiac have keep many silent or just speaking the line GM wanted them to say.
I have heard and read the truth from those that were there and it would make a very dramatic book. I have one historian buddy that has it all and I have tried to get him to write. Maybe we both can get together and work on this. I am sure a publisher would love the real story as it really was.
As it is there is so much misinformation out there it is frustrating.
By the way the 4th gen F body and the 1990 Fiero GT did share styling. Please look it up and you will be shocked how many likes were shared on each car.
If memory serves, a Pontiac version was also built in a shade variant of Daytona Blue. Hmmmm.
“of the brand, saving it from its eventual demise and for-grandpas only image”
This is not true. There were no “so called” grandpa cars or images of them at the end of Oldsmobile. That is not how and why it ended either. There was a Pontiac version called ” Bonneville Special”.
@Ninety Eight Regency Oh c’mon! Oldsmobile was THE definition of cars for the old folks at the ends of its life. Whether deserved or not is a whole other question, but I’m sure its name didn’t help.
We will have to disagree. The old Oldsmobile you referred to died around 1996- 1997 time frame. The cars I own a 1995 Olds 98 and a 1992 Olds Toronado may fit your definition of what you stated, but at the end Oldsmobile was the Alero, Bravada, Intrigue, Aurora , and Silhouette. The buyers of those cars were not old. That I do know. It was the marketing and how things were managed at GM at the time that killed Oldsmobile. Buick is going the very same thing right now. They are turning Buick around slowly, and the demographic is dropping.
The name had nothing to do with it either. I respectfully disagree with you.
I was selling Oldsmobiles from ’96 until the end and you are correct, they had evolved the brand moving toward a younger audience. As I re-call,the Alero, Intrigue and Silhouette all had much broader appeal and the Aurora was really a totally different customer.
For those who don’t know/remember all of that brand direction started with the ’95 Aurora. It was Oldsmobiles “all-in” bet to evolve the brand into something new and contemporary. There was serious discussion about re-naming the brand Aurora division? (first gen Auroras had no Olds badging) Ultimately the plan did’nt work and GM decided to shut it down. Even if it had stayed around, it likely would have been eliminated just like Pontiac during the crash/recession/BK.
Thank you. I am glad you chimed in and confirmed what I stated. I had a feeling that new Oldsmobile was not working and they were going to do something had Oldsmobile lived past 2004. It would have been interesting to see.
98 wow thx for sharring this…
What an incredible car. Even had a straight eight. Thanks for bringing it to us.
I remember a friend of mines “The Guch” back in the day,mom’s had bought a new Fiero in 85, and we all seen it coming up my block ,and ran around the corner to see it.The red base model was a manual,not the souped one with fan blade wheels, and they had a slight incline to get into the driveway,I swear it musta took her a hour to get that car in up the driveway.It had to be at least 25 people watching , when she let out on the clutch the car would roll back on too the street .That was the memory that stuck with me about the Fiero.