The Oldsmobile Rocket 88 - Speeding Up The 1950s

Rocket 88 magazine ad
Rocket 88 magazine ad | Source

I love these old car ads. The Oldsmobile Rocket 88 was heavily advertised in 1950. I keep running in to these awesome ads in magazines from this era. They capitalized on the space craze, as evident by the rocket and the happy couple riding it. This concept continued well into the 1950s, as cars grew fins, gained more chrome, and gained more speed.

The Rocket 88 was the first of its kind with a fast overhead-valve V8 engine and a light body. The Rocket 88 is considered to be the car that ushered in a new era in fast cars, which led to all the other car manufacturers copying the concept and offering their own version of the engine. Chrysler, Studebaker, Lincoln, Buick, Dodge, Ford, and more all had engines designed inspired by the Rocket OVH V8. This overhead-valve V8 would dominate the American industry well into the 1980s, resulting in engines that have only recently been surpassed. Driving in the 1950s became faster than ever.


The Rocket 88 could go from zero to 60 mph in less than 13 seconds, and got a top speed of around 95 mph. The Rocket 88 won many races on the NASCAR circuit soon after its release. Out of nice races in late 1949, a stock Rocket 88 won six of them. In 1950, 88’s won ten out of 19 NASCAR races and went on to set new speed records at Daytona. An 88 won the Carrera Panamericana, the 2,176-mile held in Mexico. Ten of the twelve Eighty-Eights that entered the race finished, which showed the durability and speed of the car. Rocket 88’s in stock and modified configurations continued to win drag races throughout the 1950s. I have no doubt that Rocket 88s sped around the countryside on small county roads in the hands of teenagers and adults looking for a fast ride.

Oldsmobile engineers kept making the Eighty Eight larger and were able to get more speed from it. But lighter cars came onto to the market, and by the end of the 1950s, the Eighty-Eight, now at the 4,400 pounds, was only a rocket in name only.

There are lots of Rocket 88s still around today. If you want to buy one restored, expect to pay into the low-mid five figures.

1953 television ad


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