Monday, October 3, 2016

1955 Oldsmobile 88 Delta Concept

What were called dream cars were exciting back in the 1950s.  Usually General Motors' annual traveling cars and entertainment show, the Motorama, could be expected to have a good crop of them.  As far as I'm concerned, 1953-56 were the best years for Motorama.

It's usually not wise to evaluate the significance of a dream or concept (today's term) car when first shown.  It can take five or more years before the concept design can be compared to features appearing on production cars.  The 1955 Motorama is long gone, so I thought it might be interesting to put one of its dream cars into a proper context.

The car I have in mind is the Oldsmobile 88 Delta, a hardtop (pillarless) coupe, a popular body type back then.  I last mentioned it here when writing about odd dream car wheel openings.  Oldsmobiles were redesigned for the 1954 model year and due for a 1957 restyling.  The 88 Delta was probably designed during 1954 when the production '55 facelift was largely established and the basic body forms (though not all details) of the redesigned 1957s were known.


This is a 1955 Oldsmobile 98 Holiday Coupe, the model current at the time of the Motorama.  It shared its body with Olds 88s, though details varied slightly.  The top has a large-radius curve above the side windows, the grille opening is close to being oval, and the wheel openings are wider towards the rear, having a half-teardrop shape.

And here is a publicity photo of the 88 Delta.

Its grille is not not oval, but the headlight assemblies are.

The roof is very similar to that of the 1955 production car, though the A-pillar is vertical instead of slanted.  The hood is lower relative to the fender line which has a dip where it passes the passenger compartment.  The car's design has a theme of roundedness, something appearing on other '55 Motorama cars such as the Chevrolet Biscayne and Pontiac Strato-Star.

The rear of the 88 Delta continues the rounded theme.  Exhaust pipes are part of the bumper ensemble and are oval like the headlight assemblies.  If the too-large Olds ringed-planet symbol was eliminated, this would be a tasteful design.

Compare this view of the 88 Delta to the car below.

Here is a 1957 Oldsmobile 98 four-door hardtop with one of the redesigned GM bodies that did not sell well.  The A-pillars are thin like the 88 Delta's, but retain the slant of previous production Oldsmobiles.  The grille opening is even more oval than the 1955 model's and wheel openings are in the same spirit as before.  Another carryover from the 88 Delta is a low hood, and the car seems a  little more rounded looking than the '55 model.  But it also seems that the 88 Delta did little in the way of anticipating restyled 1957 Oldsmobiles.

This makes me wonder what the point of the 88 Delta dream car design was.  It wasn't way-out futuristic, one of those styling staff showoff jobs.  Instead, with some changes to make it street-practical, it was basically what a future GM production car might have been.

Perhaps it, the Strato-Star and some other '55 Motorama dream cars represent a direction Harley Earl had in mind as his final designs before his 1958 retirement.  Such cars would have appeared in the 1959 or 1960 model years.  But the taut, finned, commercially successful 1957 Chrysler Corporation line provoked a rebellion in Earl's staff and GM styling took a direction different from that of the 88 Delta.

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