The success of the 1953 GM Motorama Chevrolet Corvette spurred the creation of several Corvette-based two-seater sports car variants for the following year’s Motorama. Pontiac had the Bonneville Special, based on the 1954 Corvette, with a Plexiglas canopy featuring gullwing-style windows that closed into traditional doors, fins, taillights, and a vertically mounted spare that gave the rear end the look of jet thrusters, and finished in a bold bronze color. The Bonneville Special was cousin to the Oldsmobile F-88. The F-88 had a shape closer to that of the Corvette on which it was based, but the front had a very Olds looking oval grille with polished mesh in place of the Corvette’s heavy chrome teeth, vertically mounted headlights with Plexiglas bubbles, twin vents on the sides just aft of the front wheel openings were shaped like 88s and allowed air into the passenger compartment, a small washboard detail just in front of the rear end (a styling detail that would turn up on the 1958 Cadillac Eldorado, but in front of the rear wheel well), fins that ended in bullet-style taillights, and chrome bumperettes across the back between twin vertical oval exhaust ports.
Known internally as the XP-20 project, the Oldsmobile F-88 debuted at the 1954 General Motors Motorama held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The F-88 sported a 102-inch wheelbase, just like the Chevy Corvette on which it was based. Like the Corvette, the F-88 had a molded fiberglass body. Unlike the Corvette, the F-88 was powered by a 324 cubic-inch Super 88 Rocket V8 topped by a four-barrel carb and backed by a four-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission. The rear gear ratio was 3.55, also taken from the Corvette. The instrument panel was lifted from a 1953 Oldsmobile and incorporated a tachometer.
The Oldsmobile F-88 had lots of thoughtful features included in its design. The spare tire was housed in a hidden compartment beneath the floor of the trunk. The fuel filler was centrally located in the rear deck, allowing the F-88 to be filled from either side (this design would later turn up on the 1963 Corvette). Vents atop the windshield header would direct air into the passenger compartment. The pigskin interior was finished in a pearlescent tone, and the floor mats smacked of those found in the 1954 Buick Skylark. There was custom trim throughout the interior. So fully finished was the Olds F-88, it could be driven, unlike so many other show and concept cars. The F-88 would be displayed at four more Motorama shows after its New York debut, including L.A., Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco.
The Oldsmobile F-88, with its V8 power and four-speed automatic was very good. In fact, it was too good, as Chevy brass feared it would steal sales from or outsell the inline-six powered, two-speed Powerglide Corvette. Chevy convinced GM to forego F-88 production.
This Oldsmobile F-88 (there was more than one built) managed to do what so many other concepts failed to: it survived. It was disassembled and acquired by E.L. Cord. After having changed ownership several times, it was treated to a comprehensive restoration in the 1990s. It subsequently sold for more than three million dollars at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction in January of 2005.
This exceptional bit of General Motors and Corvette history will cross the auction block at the Broad Arrow Radius event at the Monterey Jet Center August 17th and 18th.