With a body two inches lower and longer, the 1957 Oldsmobile 88 Convertible with J-2 option debuted as a brand new addition to the Golden Rocket 88 lineup. Oldsmobile celebrated its 60th Anniversary that year by introducing a convertible to the Golden Rocket 88 series for the first time. Today it remains one of the top classic 50s cars, an icon of American automotive history.
This beautiful Iridescent Charcoal 1957 Oldsmobile 88 Convertible had the ultra rare J-2 tripower carbureted Rocket 88 engine from the factory. Just looking at this elegant cruiser there was no outward hint to the immense amount of power available under the hood. Framed by the gleaming copper air conditioning lines, lurks the famous gold painted 371 cu in “Rocket V-8” with the J-2 option. The J-2 features three two-barrel carburetors, high compression heads and a low restriction air cleaner. Under light loads only the middle carburetor was used. Under heavier loads a vacuum operated system opened up the other two. The system proved to be problematic requiring frequent tuning especially if the front and back carbs clogged due to infrequent use (hence the phrase “blowing out the cobs”). The set up was discontinued after 1958. When tuned correctly, however, it cranked out an impressive 300 horsepower and pushed the Olds from 0-60 mph in something under 8 seconds.
Of the 384,390 total Oldsmobile’s produced in 1957 only 6,423 were 88 convertibles. Few survivors exist today and even fewer with the J2 set up. This beautiful Iridescent Charcoal 1957 Oldsmobile 88 Convertible with J-2 option part of the Ken Nagel Collection. Nagel acquired this car in 2009. Since the restoration was somewhat older and the car had been driven, he immediately commissioned Bob Baker of Old Coach Works Restoration to fully refurbish the car. Ken’s gleaming black (Iridescent Charcoal) 88 is now completely restored. It is a documented 3 owner car with both factory air conditioning and the J-2 engine options. To find a concours quality 88 convertible with both the J-2 engine option and factory air conditioning today is exceedingly rare. Made in Lansing MI., It was delivered to its first owner, Joseph Allen in Sanford Lee, North Carolina in 1957. With contrasting red and white leather seats the interior is further highlighted by the sparkling chrome dash gauges sandwiched between red and white accents.
While automobile styling in the late 50’s was all about flamboyant fins and gaudy chrome Oldsmobile’s style was more evolutionary rather than revolutionary. In addition to the new mechanical innovations, Oldsmobile designed a new body for 1957 that displayed a wide, “open maw” grille, suggestive of a jet intake with rockets above the headlights and twin rocket-pod styled rear skirted fenders accentuating the “Rocket” theme. Wheelbases remained the same as 1954-56, but bodies were longer and two inches lower (due somewhat to switching from 15 in to14” rims), so the look was a bit more rakish. For 1957 only, the basic 88 was officially named Golden Rocket 88, taken from Olds’ 1956 Motorama two-passenger show car. However, the only badging was an “88” underneath each rocket exhaust styled taillight. The gas tank filler cap was cleverly hidden in a compartment blow the left rear taillight just above the bumper that featured dual integrated exhaust outlets.
As impressive looking as the understated elegance of the all new 88 convertible was it looked dated when compared side by side to the finned 50’s flamboyance of the DeSoto’s “Forward Look” design introduced by Virgil Exner. In the end, however, De Soto was discontinued three years later on November 30, 1960 while Oldsmobile was a successful brand for the next 44 years. Oldsmobile eventually succumbed to financial pressures too and ended manufacture in 2004.
The Petty connection:
Eager to showcase its power, Oldsmobile made a deal with Lee Petty (Richards dad) to go racing. Lee raced the strictly stock J-2 powered Olds down Daytona Beach at a blistering 144.9 miles an hour. The multiple carburetor J-2 setup was subsequently banned from racing. That year Lee ran in all 51 races sponsored by NASCAR. He ended up winning his second Grand National Championship in the 1957 Oldsmobile.
When Lee’s son Richard Petty turned 21 he started his race career. On July 12, 1958, Richard raced his fathers old 1957 Olds convertible on a dirt track in Columbia, South Carolina, where he won $200 for a 6th place finish.
Although capable of “blow your doors off” performance, Ken is content to preserve and display his exceptional 88 convertible for its historical significance and the enjoyment of those who remember when and who are just discovering now. The cliché “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” certainly applies to Ken’s beautiful piece of automotive historical art.
Oldsmobile was founded by Ransom E Olds in 1897. The brand became part of GM in 1908. In its 107-year history, it produced 35.2 million cars, including at least 14 million built at its Lansing, Michigan factory. When it was phased out in 2004, Oldsmobile was the oldest surviving American automobile marque and one of the oldest in the world after Daimler and Peugeot.
Oldsmobile introduced the 88 badge in 1949. It was named to complement the already existing 76 and 98 models. The new car used the six-cylinder 76’s new Futuramic B-body platform with a powerful new Rocket V8 engine. This combination of a relatively small light body and large, powerful engine made it a precursor to the muscle car. The Rocket 88 vaulted Oldsmobile from a somewhat staid, conservative car to a performer that became the one to beat on the NASCAR circuits. It won six of the nine NASCAR late-model division races in 1949, 10 of 19 in 1950, 20 of 41 in 1952. It was the first real “King of NASCAR.” This led to increased sales to the public. There was a pent up demand for new cars in the fast-expanding post World War II economy, and the 88 appealed to many young ex-military personnel.