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Here's What Only True Gearheads Know About The Oldsmobile F-88 – HotCars

by Nov 2, 2022Blog0 comments

The Oldsmobile F-88 was one of just four models produced, and one of these rare sports cars got auctioned in 2005, selling for over $3 million.
Once upon a time in the late 1950s, the legends themselves, including Zora Arkus-Duntov (the godfather of the Corvette), Harley Earl (the father of the Corvette), Ken Pickering (former GM Executive Director, Engineering, and Design Services), and Bill Mitchell (we dare say, the father of the Stingray Corvette) huddled together to mastermind a roadster for Oldsmobile.
What these legends were putting together scared others, particularly the car's would-be siblings – scared them enough that they all agreed the project must not see the light of day for their own collective and miserably selfish good. Everyone knows this new car suffered demise because its siblings were afraid it would threaten their place at the table. It was such that even GM’s most profitable division then (and now) campaigned vigorously against bringing the vehicle to the market.
The car's burly V8 scared the Chevrolet Corvette. In the end, the GM acquiesced, and left the V8-powered car to rot in the annals of history. In the process of creating this car, Duntov and Co designed several bold and magnificent prototypes compared to the regular Oldsmobiles. But only two copies got left standing by the time the show was over — its name, the Oldsmobile F-88 Convertible Concept, also called Rocket 88.
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Bill Lange penned the initial sketches of the concept car (we prefer ‘dream car’ in this application) that would get known as the Oldsmobile F-88 in 1954. The dream car rode on the Corvette’s chassis, shared its 102-inch wheelbase, and wrapped itself in fiberglass, the same as the Pontiac Bonneville Special and the Chevrolet Corvette. And that big old V8 we mentioned? It's a 185-hp 5.3-liter V8 from the Super 88 featuring a four-barrel carburetor and a small, flat air cleaner.
The modified F-88 V8 mated to a four-speed Hydramatic transmission could churn out 250 horses (advertised as 249 horsepower). Corvette hated the idea of the new Oldsmobile because it didn’t have that V8 and was dealing with poor sales at the time. Duntov and friends used a Corvette-derived rear axle with a ratio of 3.55:1 and a modified console lifted from the previous year’s Oldsmobile. They just added a tach and restyled the gauges and fascia. This console would later feature on the 1961 Oldsmobile Cutlass.
Fast-forward to 2005, John and Maureen Hendricks bought the only surviving Oldsmobile (gold-colored convertible) F-88 for a respectable $3.24 million at the prestigious Barrett-Johnson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. In case you’re wondering, Mr. Hendricks is the founder and chairman of broadcasting and film production company Discovery Communications that owns the Discovery Channel, TLC, and Animal Planet cable TV networks, among other ventures. Now you know.
They don’t have the car stashed in some secret climate-controlled garage underground somewhere. The F-88 is on a rotating display at the Gateway Auto Museum. If you’ve heard the rumor of how the only other surviving F-88 met a grim end at a fire between display shows, you might get comforted to know that this last Oldsmobile F-88 has its own showroom at the museum.
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We won’t think you’re crazy to compare the mystery shrouding the F-88’s story to an Agatha Christie murder mystery. For starters, in a world where all is right and fair, who’d think the Oldsmobile F-88 would die an untimely death at the hands of its own sibling – the Corvette? The star of its future was evident in that showroom at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on January 21, 1954, where it made its debut.
Finished in metallic gold, it stole virtually all the Cutlass fastback coupe’s shine. The show lasted six full days, with GM showing off its finest alongside its “dream cars” like the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88. But its star shone so brightly that Chevrolet, blinded by the F-88’s shine, did the devil’s work to ensure the concept was no more than a Motorama show circuit star.
But that’s not where the Agatha Christie effect ended. The natural question any gearhead would ask is, what happened to the F-88 post-Motorama? The consensus is that the car got dismantled and passed around between various owners. Who they were and in what time frame is another Agatha Christie mystery.
So, you can imagine the palatable puzzle surrounding the surviving copy that was supposedly dismantled, crated, and shipped to some unknown person (some say it was E.L. Cord, the boss of Auburn Cord Duesenberg) at some point, standing there in glorious gold, reassembled painstakingly enough to break records as the highest selling car ever at a Barrett-Jackson auction.
Aside, there’s still the question of what exactly happened to the other three F-88 concepts. That’s right. The F-88 was one of four. Four F-88 examples escaped the guillotine that fell upon the others still in the conceptual phase. Still, legend has it that only two copies of the F-88 concept ever got assembled. One got destroyed, while the other got disassembled and stored in wooden crates. Speak of a murder mystery.
A huge part of the F-88’s shadowy tale is the unproven story that Harley Earl had a duplicate red F-88 made for himself and drove it to his son’s races. Whether this is true or not, no one can deny Earl was especially fond of the F-88, crating and saving it from getting scrapped. This sawed-and-crated copy is supposedly the same that the Hendricks couple bought at the Barrett-Jackson auction.
You may have heard that Earl designed the car, but he was essentially the overseer, while Bill Lange, Art Ross, and Jack Humbert penned the exterior and interior. For some gearheads, the real mystery is why GM never thought to bring back the Oldsmobile F-88.
Philip Uwaoma, this bearded black male from Nigeria, is fast approaching two million words in articles published on various websites, including toylist.com, rehabaid.com, and autoquarterly.com. After not getting credit for his work on Auto Quarterly, Philip is now convinced that ghostwriting sucks. He has no dog, no wife- yet- and he loves Rolls Royce a little too much.

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