Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 5th Generation

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Olds Dynamic 88

1961 - 1964
310 bhp @ 4400 rpm
3 spd. Turbo Hydramatic
Top Speed:
Number Built:
3 Star
Olds Dynamic 88
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3

Guard Beam Frame and All Coil Suspension

The 5th generation Dynamic 88 hit the showrooms across the USA in 1961. The new cars featured an all-new body and chassis with perimeter "Guard Beam" frame and all-coil suspension replacing the previous leaf springs highlighted the 1961 full-sized Oldsmobiles, which were joined by the new compact F-85. At the bottom of the Olds full-size line-up was the Dynamic 88, offering six body styles: a four-door sedan and hardtop, two- and three-seat station wagons, a two-door hardtop coupe, and a two-door convertible. Next up the line was the Super 88, offering the same body styles except for convertible and three-seat wagon.

Olds 98 models included three four-door sedans (a regular sedan and two hardtops), a two-door hardtop, a sports coupe, and a convertible.All full-sized Oldsmobiles were now powered by the 394-cubic-inch Rocket V8 with the Dynamic 88 getting a two-barrel, 250 hp (186 kW) version that used regular petrol, while the Super 88 was powered by a four-barrel "Ultra High Compression" 394 Skyrocket V8 rated at 325 hp (242 kW).

The Skyrocket engine was available as an extra-cost option on the Dynamic 88. A new three-speed "Roto" Hydra-matic transmission that was smaller and lighter than the previous four-speed unit was introduced as an option. The 1961 Oldsmobile body design represented the after-effect of the 1958 recession. While wheelbases remained the same as in 1960, the overall length and width were reduced slightly - a trend seen throughout all of GM's brands.

Body design focused on a trimmer, fuselage design. At the bottom of the rear quarters, a "skeg" - a downward fin - jutted outboard to counterbalance the rearward point of the quarter panel. Round tail lights, one on each side, were set into the rear cove. For 1961, GM retired the compound curve windshields that it introduced in 1954, and the much hated body dogleg necessitated by the shape of the windshield. Instead of adopting the cleaner straight angled "A" pillar, Bill Mitchell pushed for a small curved switch back, used in 1961-62, at the outboard base of the windshield.

At mid-year, a sporty and luxurious convertible called the Starfire was introduced. It was based on the Super 88 ragtop and featured leather bucket seats, center console with floor shifter for the Hydra-matic transmission (incidentally the first U.S. full-sized production car to feature an automatic transmission with a console-mounted floor shifter) and many other standard items such as power steering, brakes, windows and driver's seat. The Starfire was also powered by an even higher-performance version of the "Ultra High Compression" 394-cubic-inch Starfire V8 rated at 335 hp (250 kW).

Bill Mitchell and the removal of Skegs

For 1962 the Oldsmobile 88 received a "second-year" face-lift that included a revised grille and front bumper. Changes to the rear included the removal of the rear fender skegs (GM's Vice President of design Bill Mitchell disliked skegs, and personally ordered their removal), and oval taillights replaced the 1961's round units. Changes to the greenhouse included new roof lines for the four-door Celebrity sedan and Holiday hardtop sedans. Two-door sedans were dropped, while two-door hardtops received a new convertible-inspired roof-line. The "bubble-top" two-door hardtop was dropped as well. Length was increased somewhat to give the 1962 Olds a longer look. Engines were uprated to 280 hp (209 kW) for the standard engine in the Dynamic 88 thanks to a higher compression ratio that demanded the use of premium fuel (a regular-fuel 260 hp (194 kW) version was offered as a no-cost option), 330 horses for the "Skyrocket" V8 standard on Super 88 and Ninety-Eight and 345 horsepower for the top Starfire Rocket V8.

Oldsmobile marketing continued to use the trade names of "Roto-matic Power Steering" and "Pedal-eeze Power Brakes". 1962 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88s and Oldsmobile Fiesta wagons (based on the 88 platform) each had their own upholstery patterns in single and dual-tone colors. Super 88s received tri-tone upholstery and trim. Heaters became standard equipment on all models, and the push-button controls were located to the right of the steering wheel column. Vehicles not equipped with air-conditioning received push-button vacuum-operated fresh air vents, called "Summer Ventilation", which replaced the pull level type vents. This control panel was located on the left of the steering column. Cars equipped with factory air-conditioning replaced the vent control panel with the air-conditioning panel, which also contained its own blower switch. These cars also sported round dash vents for the A/C airflow deliver. Dynamic 88s received aqua dashboard panel inserts with "OLDSMOBILE" lettering, while Super 88s received panels with that model's nomenclature on the insert.

Well Built and Dependable

By 1963 Oldsmobile was in 5th place on the US sales charts. There was a time in the 1950s when the Olds 88s were the hottest stock cars on the road. But the speed image was gradually dropped and the emphasis, by the early 1960s, was toward a smooth, solid family car that was both well built and dependable. New, squared-off styling highlighted the 1963 full-sized Oldsmobiles, and the 88/Starfire featured their own unique bodies, separate from the 98, which received its own styling cues and roof lines. 1963 also brought about GM's across-the-board adoption of the straight angled windshield "A" pillar on all full-size production vehicles. Models and drivetrains in both the Dynamic 88 and Super 88 series were unchanged from 1962. New options that year included a "tilt-away" steering wheel that could be adjusted to six positions, AM/FM radio and cruise control.

No wagons were available in the 98 or Starfire series. On top of the heap was the specially equipped Starfire, available either as a convertible or hardtop coupe. All Olds from this era used the same basic 394-cubic-inch. 90-degree, ohv V-8. The 1963 Dynamic 88 had 280 hp, the Super 88 and 98 had 330 hp, and the Starfire boasted 345 hp with a 10.5-to-1 compression ratio (as compared with a 10.25 for the other engines).

As you would have expected, the base Dynamic 88 was a very plain car in contrast to the many bucket-seat, special-interior models offered at the time. It came out of Detroit f.o.b. for US$3052, and with normally ordered accessories of Hydra-Matic, power brakes and steering, whitewall tires, push-button radio, disc-brakes, courtesy lights, seat belts, and the deluxe steering wheel. Add most of these options and the Dynamic was nudging the US$4K mark. And there was one option that was becoming ever more popular, and one that would push the Dynamic over 4K, and that was air-conditioning. Thus equipped, the Dynamic 88, the cheapest series in the Oldsmobile line, would sell for US$4238.

Even though the Dynamic was the lower end in the range, it retained the smooth, solid, well-built feel that had made Oldsmobile so popular. For its intended audience, that of the American family, it was damn near perfect. It had a soft, boulevard ride, more than enough power, room for six, a cavernous boot, and adequate brakes and handling. The big engine was loafing right up to its top speed of 109 mph. And while many Australian's would claim US built cars from the '60s were large hulking affairs (with some justification), the experience from the driver's seat was not what you would have thought. For a start, you could see all four guards for easy maneuvering of the 214.4-inch-long, full-sized Olds.

280 Willing Horses

Beneath the long, wide hood of the Dynamic 88 were 280 willing horses, with the standard 10.25-to-1 compression ratio. Economy-minded Olds buyers could order the car with a 260-hp version set up for regular petrol with 8.75-to-1 compression. Or, the 330-hp Super 88 engine could be ordered for US$37.60 (1963 prices) extra as the "Skyrocket" option. As it was, the Dynamic was never intended to have loads of street cred, so the standard version, with its whopping 430 pounds-feet of torque, full pressure lubrication, and five-main-bearing crankshaft, had enough muscle to hustle the hardtop from 0-30, 0-45, and 0-60 mph in 3.9, 7.0, and 10.7 seconds. At wide-open throttle (and the auto left in the drive position to make up its own mind), the four-stage, three-speed Hydra-Matic with Accel-A-Rotor would upshift at 38 mph and 4000 rpm and again at 70 and 3700, turning the quarter-mile in 18.2 seconds at 80 mph.

As you would have expected, when the speed approached the century mark, it would become progressively lighter and the front end would tend to wander with the slightest crosswind. According to one test review made at the time, when traveling at 110 mph the right side of the bonnet (or, as they called it, the hood) had the unnerving tendency to rise a good four inches above its normal position. The road testers made a quick stop to check that the latch was fastened, which they confirmed, but to their chagrin it was simply a case that it wasn't doing the job of holding the (bonnet/hood) lid-part that covers the engine bay down. GM probaby never thought anyone would seriously amble along at 110 mph in a Dynamic 88, but if any were imported to Germany, we are pretty sure the Deutchlanders would have been left scratching their collective heads at the sight of the lid wanting to lift-off, much like a matress strapped to the roof during a cheap-skate removalist job.

1965 Olds Dynamic 88

1965 Olds Dynamic 88

Behind the Wheel

American V-8's were always brilliant. And the big V-8 fitted to the Olds Dynamic was no exception. It was a flexible, slow-turning unit with gobs of low-end torque, designed to last an eternity. It did as much work under 4000 rpm as other engines did at 5000 rpm, and we are not talking Japanese 4 cylinder here, but other American V-8's and Sixes. It also did it more quietly and with less strain, because it was turning more slowly. The standard rear axle ratio of 2.56 to 1 (with Hydra-Matic) allowed the Olds to maintain 65 mph at just a shade over 2000 rpm. But at any speed the impression from behind the wheel was that the Olds was simply loafing along. Fantastic for relaxed driving on long hauls.

Gearbox shifts were hard to notice during normal driving, and even during full-throttle acceleration they were smooth and solid. Olds' Hydra-Matic featured low, super, and drive ranges. Low was very low, at 3.23 to 1, super shifted up to a 2.93-to-1 ratio, and drive went into a direct fourth stage. Accel-A-Rotor gave a low starting ratio but was designed to diminish in effectiveness as car speed increases. And while this may sould like the formula to make the car a slug in the hills, the exact opposite was the case. In Super (or, as we would simply call it today, 2nd) the engine would be prevented from lugging and give instant response for passing and rounding curves without the shift-down lag of drive. It also held speed down on downgrades, saving the brakes from unnecessary abuse. 2nd was also great for fast cornering on sweeping curves, since it held the car in intermediate gear range.

In drive, the transmission was inclined to shift up at just the point where you would need power to hold it in the proper line through the turn. But even Super had some lag when slowing down for corners and then accelerating - some road testers claimed there was a momentary gap before it dropped back into its lower range. But even though the transmission had a few idiosyncrasies it would soon have you singing its praises, particularly with regards to its smoothness and the level of control given the driver during varying driving conditions. It really was the "Super" (2nd gear) range that made this such a good transmission rather than just an average one. Of course a 4 speed unit would have been better still, but unfortunately Olds didn't offer it on the 88. The three-speed manual gearbox came standard on the 88 series, while Hydra-Matic was standard on the 98 and Starfire.

On the Road

Out on the highway, the ultra-high-compression 88 could manage15 mpg cruising at a steady 65-75 mph, while fast driving on winding roads would take the figure down to around 10 mpg. As mentioned, the ride was soft and there was sharp front-end rebound on dips or rain gutters, but the overall effect was relaxing and controllable. The Olds leaned in corners but the lean was moderate, as was nose dive on quick stops. Interestingly, the Olds 88 did not exhibit anywhere near the amount of understeer prevalent on most other US built (and heavy) cars, and owners would have been surprised at just how nimble the car was - not British sports car nimble - but for a low end spec car it was punching well above its weight in the handling department - able to negotiate a winding mountain road without getting all out of shape.

The then relatively new seat-belts would keep the driver and passenger from being tossed back and forth during hard maneuvers. Drivers today have probably long forgotten how invaluable seat-belts proved when trying to maintain a good driving position when cornering while seated perched on a bench seat. Next time you are sitting at a bus-stop, imagine pulling half-a-G while holding your backpack in front of you. Nearly every car review from the era told of just how well the Olds 88 handled and gave good traction - although there was one caveat - and that was that the road surface was dry. With most of the weight up front, it tended to break the rear end loose whenever the road surface was wet or on dirt roads.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Simply put, it was a case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Of course, the Olds wasn't a race car, and all normal driving situations could be handled with ease. But Olds owners quickly learnt to use caution when eating large portion. Sorry - thats a line from Hale and Pace. They learnt to show caution when driving in wet or icy weather - all the useful low-end torque could break the rear end loose very quickly. But in the dry, the Olds handled well for a big car, and the tyres offered a good, solid bite for acceleration and braking. And, speaking of braking, the Olds used big, husky, 11-inch cast-iron drums in steel shells, which gave better than you would imagine stopping power. Not that it approached that of a disc setup - but it was pretty darned good none-the-less.

Although hard stops were prone to wheel lock-up and a little swerving, road-testers were able to stop the Olds from 30 and 60 mph with little trouble in 35 and 168 feet respectively. Olds power brakes were light in action and normal driving brought no fade. When used hard during high-speed runs and braking tests, there was some pedal hardness and loss of effectiveness. The power steering was light and precise, with 3.8 turns lock to lock, making the Dynamic 88, relatively speaking, easy to park and swing through close quarters. Without it, 6.1 turns lock to lock were required. Once criticism of power anything back in the early 60's was the tendency for the engine to die during hard braking, vacuum and petrol surge working togther to kill the engine. And that meant anything power operated would die with it too. An emergency could well mean, when you least expected it, loss of power, not only to the engine, but to the brakes and steering.

GM were aware of the problem, and ensuered the Dynamic 88's power brakes had a reserve for two or three stops if the engine stopped, but that didn't help the steering - or lack of - in an emergency. But this was 50 years ago - and while there was the technology available to make the car much safer - it could never have been included at a price point that would have made the Dynamic affordable.

On the Inside

According to road testers from Motor Trend, the "big, horizontal speedometer was accurate (only one mile off above 60 mph), but the fuel gauge was miserable. It read full for the first 150 miles of driving, then seemed to operate normally". As was the custom for the 1960's there were no gauges for the ancillaries, instead these being shown via warning lights which told you when the engine is hot or cold, was low on oil pressure, or when the generator wasn't charging. Certain options were available for Olds owners who wanted to use their car as a tow-vehicle, or simply wanted stiffer suspension and heavy-duty components.

The 3.23 rear axle came with the manual gearbox, but this ratio could also be ordered with the Hydra-Matic for pulling loads of more than 3000 pounds (a 3.08-to-l1 ratio was recommended for lighter loads). A heavy-duty Hydra-Matic sold for US$247.48 (just US$16.14 more than the regular automatic), and the limited-slip differential was a US$47.61 option. For US$26.90 a six-bladed fan, shroud, and heavy-duty radiator were available with a clutch that engaged the fan only when necessary. This was standard on air-conditioned cars, as were oversize tyres (US$23.67 extra on other cars). A heavy-duty frame and rear spring assembly could be had for US$19.37, while "Super-lift" air bag inflatable shocks for heavy loads cost US$40.35. Axle ratios didn't cost extra, nor did the low-compression engine option.

Although not an exciting car, the Dynamic 88 was forceful, active, and extremely smooth and quiet. Even by American standards, it was a big. But in being big, it made it a comfortable, roomy automobile - one that looked well built and durable. Oldsmobile had a solid reputation for building durable hard working cars. The Dynamic 88 was no exception. Standard these days, but exceptional for 1963, was the 24,000-mile (or two-year) warranty and service periods of six months or 6000 miles - this demonstrating the faith GM had in their product. That these survived for so long just went to prove how, despite there being an element of obsolesence, an Oldsmobile would always give long, faithful service.

A Minor Facelift

In 1964 the entire Oldsmobile full-sized range received a minor face-lift, which included new sculpted bodies, grilles and taillights. New that year was the introduction of price leader for the full-sized Olds series, the Jetstar 88, which used the same basic bodyshell as other 88 models, but shared many of the mid-size car components with the F-85. The Jetstar 88 used the smaller 330 V8 and Jetaway (Super Turbine 300) two-speed automatic transmission in place of the 394-cubic-inch V8 and Roto Hydramatic found in other Oldsmobiles, and 9.5-inch (241.3 mm) drum brakes which were less effective than the 11-inch (279 mm) drums found on other full-sized Olds models.

Oldsmobile also introduced the Jetstar I for 1964. Not part of the Jetstar 88 line, the Jetstar I instead was a direct competitor to the Pontiac Grand Prix in the same $3,500 price range. Jetstar I's shared the notchback body style with the Starfire along with its more powerful 345 hp (257 kW) 394-cubic-inch Rocket V8 engine, but with less standard equipment and a lower price tag. Jetstar I's are distinguishable from the Starfire and Jetstar 88 in that the rear window on the Jetstar I is concave, rather than convex. Oddly, Oldsmobile teamed the 345 hp (257 kW) Rocket engine with a very unsuitable transmission in the Jetstar I...the Jetaway (Super Turbine 300) two-speed unit with "switch pitch" convertor.

With the introduction of the Jetstar 88, the Dynamic 88 models were elevated up the rung for the 1964 model year. Dynamic 88s could be had in four door-sedan and hardtop bodies, two-door hardtop, convertible and station wagon models. 1964 was the last for the Super 88 series, which limited to two body styles: a four-door Holiday hardtop sedan and a four-door pillared sedan. Total production for both four-door Super 88 models reached 19,514 assemblies for the model year. 1964 was also the last year for Oldsmobile to offer full-sized station wagons until the 1971 model year. Oldsmobile's full-size Fiesta wagons (and Buick's Estate Wagons) introduced in 1957 had never been strong sellers. From 1960 to 1963, production per model (Super or Dynamic) and seating capacity (six or nine passenger) never broke 15,000 units.

The wagons' bodies weren't made by Fisher Body, but were instead farmed out to Iona Manufacturing Company of Iona, Michigan. As Oldsmobile set its sights on more luxury and performance, full-sized wagons weren't in the mix. The division introduced a new Vista Cruiser wagon in mid-1964 that featured a raised roofline and skylights over the rear seat and cargo area. The models were offered with six- or nine-passenger seating with all seats facing forward. The Vista Cruiser used a six-inch (152 mm) stretched wheelbase version of the intermediate F-85/Cutlass. This allowed Oldsmobile (and Buick, which used the same body and stretch wheelbase for its Sport Wagon) to offer a wagon comparable in overall size to the full-sized Chevrolet Impala and Pontiac Catalina wagons, but without diluting the cache of its full-size cars with a utilitarian body style.
1964 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Fiesta Station Wagon

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