In 1959, America’s ‘Chrome Age’ reached its peak. The decade finished with some of Detroit’s wildest ever designs: designs that, for many, are still revered today. Of course, those with even a passing knowledge of four-wheel Americana will be familiar with the ’59 Cadillac.
Those sky-high tailfins defined the era like nothing else and have made it a popular choice with individuals and hire companies alike.
Equally as memorable are the ‘batwing’ fins on the Chevrolet’s 1959 models, while Ford’s 1959 ‘tank’ Fairlane is arguably the most popular of all Blue Oval offerings from the entire 1950s. While the Caddy and Chevy still draw a lot of attention today, it’s fair to say that GM’s other 1959 models aren’t as well-known or popular here. Buick’s sharp tailfin treatment and diagonally canted headlights has found favour with a number of enthusiasts, while 1959 saw the debut of Pontiac’s “split” grille; a style feature that the brand would hold onto for decades. Oldsmobile, however, largely missed the spotlight and remains GM’s most underappreciated 1959 car.
Oldsmobile’s ‘curved dash’ runabout was America’s first truly successful automobile and set a template for volume production in the USA, well ahead of the Ford Model T. In 1901, the same year it debuted in the US, a curved dash Olds is believed to have been imported into Australia; making it one of the first American cars to reach our shores.
For much of the interwar period, Oldsmobile was a popular brand in Australia. Both locally-bodied (by Holden) and fully-imported Oldsmobiles roamed our roads, with the local offerings including the famous ’sloper’ coupe and four-door tourer bodies that were unavailable in the US.
Following World War II, local Oldsmobile manufacture and assembly continued, but with the 48-215 Holden gaining momentum, GM-H officially phased Oldsmobiles out of the locally-available range in 1951.
Today, an Oldsmobile of any era – and especially from the late ‘50s – is a rare sight here, even at an American-themed car show. But the Oldsmobile Club of Australia, as well as individual enthusiasts like Wayne Beard, are keeping the marque alive.
The rarity of a 1959 Oldsmobile was just one of the elements that appealed to Wayne when he spotted this one in JUST CARS back in 2012.
The advertised car was a Ninety-Eight ‘Holiday’ hardtop sport sedan fitted with a factory-correct 394ci V8 and ‘Jetaway’ 3-speed HydraMatic auto transmission.
The Ninety-Eight represented the top of Oldsmobile’s three-tier model structure (above the Dynamic 88 and Super 88) for 1959 and was the second most expensive Oldsmobile you could buy that year. At US$4,159 new, only the US$4,362 Ninety-Eight convertible outpointed it.
So, why ‘Ninety-Eight’ and not ‘98’? It was a curiosity of the Oldsmobile range that, while the Super and Dynamic 88s were badged ‘numerically’, the Ninety-Eight model name was identified in written form, and had been since 1952.
As well as the rarity, Wayne also love the size of the hardtop sedan. At 18.2 feet long by 6.7 feet wide (5.54mt x 2.05mt), the ’59 model Ninety-Eight was significantly longer and wider than the previous year’s model. All-new styling for the ’59, dubbed the “Linear Look”, accentuated these expanded dimension, too.
Bold O-L-D-S-M-O-B-I-L-E lettering in the grille AND tail panel meant the car was easily identified from both ends, while dual headlights were incorporated into the grille and widely spaced – wide enough to allow customisers to fit a third full-size headlight in between.
Trimmed-down tailfins, smaller ‘rocket’ tail lights and a significant reduction in chrome trim further identified the ’59 models and foretold the coming decade’s styling trends.
For Wayne, the size and style of the big Olds appealed, as did the condition. The price was right, too, so he bought the car and has been enjoying it ever since.
The previous owner had imported the Ninety-Eight from a dealership call Gessewin Motors in South Dakota in 2007. Perhaps reflecting the somewhat unloved nature of Oldsmobiles amongst classic car enthusiasts, Wayne discovered the car had been sitting in Gesswein’s showroom for several years before it came here.
Soon after purchase in 2012, some rust around the base of the Oldsmobile’s rear window was repaired, with the fuel pump rebuilt the following year. Since then, the car has needed nothing.
With the grunt of the 315hp (235Kw) V8 and smooth-shifting auto, the Ninety-Eight is a delight to cruise in, while the rarity of the car causes more than a few double-takes from other road users.
The Olds draws plenty of attention at shows, too, scoring a ‘Top 4 Classic Car’ trophy at the Northern Beaches Car & Hot Road Show in both 2013 and 2014.
With this car, Wayne is in pretty special company, as Jay Leno also has a ’59 Oldsmobile in his world-famous car collection. Given Leno’s penchant for the rare and unusual, this is further proof of the ‘uncommon’ nature of a 1959 Oldsmobile.
While Wayne’s garage will never match that of Jay Leno’s, he is keen to pair this Oldsmobile with another – a 1959 Ninety-Eight convertible. Maybe Leno can help out a fellow Olds enthusiast with that one!