1959 Oldsmobile 98 - a strong survivor

When you see a car that’s over half a century old but has fewer miles than most cars at the rental yard, you have to stop and ogle. And this 1959 Oldsmobile 98 was just such a car with fewer than 50,000 original miles on the odometer but over half a century getting attention. A member of GM’s massively-changed family of new 1959 cars, this one had some of Oldsmobile’s most unique features. So how does a car keep the odometer down while time marches on?

This particular example was in a museum collection for about 30 years according to the present owner, who is looking to sell it and get a boat. This is akin to patching the hole in your garage where the money falls and drilling a hole in the water to put that same money - but we collectors all know and appreciate this. It’s part of the hobby. 

One of my favorite body styles is a pillarless hardtop and General Motors has always done this better than almost anybody else. Oldsmobile touted that these new-for-1959 models had some 40% more glass than their predecessors, which looked remarkable when these came out. The low, flat body style and almost total glass canopy with a flat metal roof gave these cars a really airy feel. The space age was upon us and this one was powered by a Rocket. 

Of course all that glass meant that those who didn’t opt for the air conditioning were going to swelter and just seeing the back seat on this hot day made me glad I wasn’t a kid riding across the country in one of these. 

However that same back seat occupant is treated to a cigarette lighter smack in the middle of the front seat back which had to result in some kids having the same concentric burn on their finger as I had when I was a kid. Yeah, just because the thing isn’t red doesn’t mean it’s not hot. It’s hot. And the worst part is showing your parents what you did after they told you not to touch that thing. 

Yep, your butt hurt almost as much as your finger did. 

The front seat is where the real magic happens in this car, well, except at the drive-in movie theater, and that’s where you’ll find one of the coolest things I’ve seen in years. In ’59 Oldsmobile offered a removable, battery-powered radio in this car and this example had that. A huge plus was that the owner took it out and it still works!

As you scratch through the dial local stations fade in and out just as they did in 1959. The radio has a detachable antenna and runs off “C” cell batteries. Amazing that this Oldsmobile-branded device can still carry a tune after all these years and what a cool accessory. You would be the only one at any picnic with an Oldsmobile-branded transistor radio, not to mention that it's now a vintage radio that still works. 

I wonder if it would think that rap “music” was also missing a “C” as the first letter?

When I was a kid I thought these cars were so cool and I still do. Some of the things that intrigued me was the power window switches on the base of the A pillar instead of being on the doors. This one has those along with the “ribbon” speedometer where a ribbon of color indicates your speed. Oldmobile called this the “Safety Spectrum” speedometer and the bar started out green and then changed to yellow and then red as your speed increased. You would see this thing through a Safety-vee steering wheel. 

Under the hood is the original 394 cubic inch V8 engine, as it should with so few miles on the clock. That engine produces about 315 horsepower, according to specs. When the owner took delivery time had taken its toll on the seals so the engine was removed and all the seals were replaced. The engine was also repainted, but not the original color as purists will notice in the pictures. 

While the objective of General Motors in 1959 was to create more commonality among all the divisions in the parts nobody saw and create uniqueness in styling and features in the things they did, Oldsmobile was unusual in that they used a full-perimeter frame instead of the “x-frame” of the rest of GM’s offerings. 

Nowadays there is no way one division of GM would be able to build their own engine or stray from the family and use a different frame from the rest. Of course GM no longer owns 2/3 of the American car market either. 

This is a really beautiful example of a car that could never be built again. While there is certainly a good amount of room inside this car the amount of interior space relevant to exterior size is in no relation to what we’re able to achieve today. 

Furthermore, it was clear that these cars weren’t focus grouped to death based on the public reaction to the giant fins and other outlandish styling cues at the time. Clearly, you can see how GM toned all of this down for ’60 and then went significantly further in mainstreaming the line in ’61. While that’s bad for GM’s sales at the time, it makes for a truly stand-out collectible car. That might have been the first time GM got schooled in the fact that they couldn’t dictate the tastes of the American public and that they had to listen to lead. 

And that’s just what this vintage machine is - a wonderful time machine that takes us back to the days when safety gear was the domain of the advertising department and styling ruled the roost.