Oldsmobile Rocket 88: The World’s First Muscle Car

Before your Mustangs, Vipers, Chargers, and Cobras, there was the Oldsmobile Rocket 88. Although less popular than its later Ford and Dodge counterparts, it was the world’s very first muscle car originally manufactured in 1949. The Rocket 88s were one of Oldsmobile’s more popular models and remained in production until 1999 with a vast number of variants created to improve both the car’s design and performance.

Oldsmobile Rocket 88 1951 © Randomshots | – 1951 Oldsmobile 88 Photo

Automobile producer Oldsmobile separated the production of the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 in 1949 to complement their then existing 76 and 98 lines which run on two six-cylinder engines. The new car based on the same body used to build the 76 line, the B-body platform, which was a lightweight, slightly elongated, compact body. The main deviation from the existing 76 cars was its engine. The new Rocket 88 was equipped with the fresh-off-the-press Rocket V8 engines. This combination of a high-powered engine with a compact body paved the way and became the standard for muscle cars.

From its conservative image, the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 turned the brand into a performer known as the car to beat in the National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) circuits. The Rocket 88 took home six out of nine NASCAR late model division races in 1949, 10 of the 19 divisions in 1950, and 20 out of the total 41 in 1952. Although it was eventually overshadowed by the faster Hudson Hornet in its later years, the Rocket 88 was the original King of NASCAR when it first came out.

 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 1950 dashboard© Maijaliisa | – USA: Classic Car – 1950 Oldsmobile 88 – Dasboard Photo

The celebrity status that the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 enjoyed in the NASCAR led to an increase in market popularity. The boosted sales of the Rocket 88 created a pent-up demand for the car in the Post-World War II United States economy where waiting lists for this model became an everyday thing. Most of the buyers were ex-military personnel who handled high-powered military equipment during their deployment overseas. Its popularity even led to the creation of the first “rock and roll” song ever recorded, ‘Rocket 88’. It also inspired one of the 1950’s most popular slogans, ‘Make a date with a Rocket 88’. The celebrity status it enjoyed kept the Rocket 88 in the Oldsmobile lineup until its closure in the late 1990s.

Oldsmobile Rocket 88 1949 © Deepgreen | – Vintage Car Photo

The 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 was equipped with a dual ignition mechanism. It needed an ignition key and the start push-button to engage the ignition sequence. Without either, the car will not start. A badge that read ‘Futuramic’ may be seen at the bottom of the fender, directly behind the steering wheel. This signifies the Oldsmobile approach to simplified driving with an automatic transmission. Although mainly released with a four-speed automatic transmission, Oldsmobile also released a three-speed manual transmission option with a column shift in lieu of the Hydra-Matic automatic transmission models.

By the year 1950, the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 became so popular that Oldsmobile decided to make it their entry-level vehicle. The production of the six-cylinder engine-powered 76 line was totally discontinued and replaced with the Rocket 88s. The Rocket V8 engine-powered vehicle, Rocket 88, became the brand’s flagship vehicle with its 145hp, 5.0-litre Rocket V8 engine equipped with a two-barrel carburetor. Backed by this high-powered engine, the 1950 Rocket 88 model took home the 1950 Carrera Panamericana championship.

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