The Oldsmobile 98 was the Rocket division’s top-of-the-line model for decades, encompassing every cutting-edge piece of tech and styling that they could dream up. The nameplate first appeared in 1940, coinciding with the introduction of the world’s first fully automatic transmission. In 1949, the high-compression, short-stroke OHV “Rocket” V8 showed up in the Olds 98 as well, transforming the automotive industry forever. In the years that would follow, the 98 would get cutting-edge styling, ever-increasing performance, and as much luxury as its more expensive cousins across the way. If you’re a fan of the Oldsmobile Rocket, a 98 of any sort is the car you dream of owning.
This 1961 Oldsmobile 98 convertible is one of those awesome cars that maybe you never imagined you’d want, but once you see it, it’s easy to fall in love. For some reason, the 1961 cars were called the Classic 98, although that name doesn’t appear very often in the sales literature nor on the car. Regardless, it remained the top offering at the Rocket division, loaded with big firepower, awesome styling, and lots of comfort and convenience features. Hailing from a warm, dry climate, it’s a very clean car that has been restored as needed over the course of its lifetime but apparently never fully disassembled and refinished all at once. That means there’s a pleasing combination of originality and quality throughout, making it a car you can enjoy now, fix up along the way, and add value for later.
The long, straight flanks are covered in Cordovan Metallic paint, which isn’t quite burgundy and isn’t quite brick red, and the metallic mixed into it gives it a fantastic glow in the sunlight. The lights in our studio just don’t do it justice, I’m afraid. According to the trim tag, this car was originally white, but a color changes is welcome and as you can see, there’s just no trace of the original color anywhere, to the paint job was incredibly thorough. Styling was all-new in 1961 and it is far more restrained than the 1960 versions, which looked like the 1950s with a hangover. Tailfins were completely removed, although the neat little mini fins on the bottom of the rear quarters are a fine substitute. The sheetmetal is very straight, the paint is well done, and all the original trim (none of which is reproduced, by the way) remains in excellent condition. Doors open and close easily, especially for a convertible, and the long, straight piece of stainless running down the side doesn’t allow for sloppy panel alignment. A tasteful grille and hood ornament work together to give the Olds a distinctive look that is far more sophisticated than many of its competitors and the bumpers are beautifully chromed to accentuate their curves. Some of the stainless is original, so there are some dings and the insert on the rear panel shows some very light pitting, but these are minor demerits on a pretty darned nice car.
The interior is GM’s familiar two-tone red leather, which in Pontiac circles was referred to as “Morrokide.” Here, it’s simply red but the look is no less dramatic. The darker insert on the seats give the front bench the look of buckets and the door panels are beautifully done works of art that look like they cost as much as the whole car to create. Matching carpets use the correct weave and feature bindings and a heel pad for the driver, so someone knew what they were doing there. The deep-dish two-spoke steering wheel is pure Rocket future-look, with a pointer that indicates straight ahead inside the horn button. The ribbon-style speedometer is up top with three pods for the secondary functions directly underneath: generator and oil lights, a clock, and the fuel gauge. Controls for the ventilation system are separated into heat and fresh air, one set of pushbuttons on either side of the steering column, and the knobs for the lights and cigarette lighter are space age cool. The original AM radio is high in the dash and the speaker housing separates the driver and passenger sides, enhancing the feeling of individual “compartments.” It’s all in good condition, with the steering wheel showing a few cracks in the usual locations, but things like the dash top, door panels, and the painted dash are in excellent shape. Sadly, the cool speedometer doesn’t work but the odometer does, suggesting that the problem is in the head unit, not somewhere else. And, as is typical with old cars, the clock and radio are no longer functional, either. On the upside, however, the power windows zip up and down without issues and there’s a brand new white power convertible top overhead that disappears under a matching burgundy boot for a clean look. And as a large luxury car, you’d rightfully expect a giant trunk, which is still wearing what we believe to be its original mats.
Oldsmobile didn’t invent horsepower, but you could argue that they perfected it with the OHV V8. By 1961, the Olds “Sky Rocket” V8 had grown to 394 cubic inches and a very impressive 325 horsepower. The air cleaner advertises “Ultra High Compression” which suggests more firepower on tap here than elsewhere, but it’s happy to run on pump gas, so no worries there. The stout V8 is dressed in red engine enamel with chrome valve covers and the stock air cleaner, all of which give it a correct look. You’ll note it is equipped with both power steering and power brakes, which are probably mandatory on a luxury car this size, and the original generator is still making electricity. This sucker always starts quickly and idles smoothly, kicking down to about 650 RPM after it’s warmed up a bit. It has no bad habits and pulls the big ragtop around with genuine enthusiasm—this car is not merely quick for its size, it’s downright fast!
That big V8 is backed by GM’s new Roto-Hydramatic 3-speed automatic transmission, which was less complex, less expensive, and easier to service than the old 4-speed unit. In reality, it’s a 2-speed transmission with something akin to a lock-up torque converter providing high range, but on the road, you’ll never know the difference. With all that torque on tap, it could be a 1-speed transmission and this car would still be plenty fast. Nevertheless, shifts are crisp and in high gear, it’ll run from 10 MPH to 100 MPH without a hiccup, showcasing the flexibility of that powerful V8. The rest of the undercarriage is extremely well-preserved, although not detailed for show. The floors are completely solid and unmarked by rust or rot, the rockers are 100%, and there’s no evidence that this car has even been hit or bent. A recent dual exhaust system fits well and sounds great, giving it a healthy burble that’s never annoying and the front suspension tracks well with a luxury car ride. Power brakes are drums all around, but they’re effective as any other brakes of the era and the car remains a superlative highway cruiser that’s just effortless at speed. It’s sitting on original 14-inch wheels with Oldsmobile’s unique color-matched hubcaps as well as a brand new set of 215/75/14 whitewall radials.
Admit it, you love this car. We sure do! It’s a car we never expected to enjoy this much, but everyone who sees it in the showroom stops to take a second glance. It’s not perfect, but a little TLC on the weekend will take it up a notch, and in the meantime, you’ll have what’s arguably the best-driving luxury convertible of the era. Call today!