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Oldsmobile V-8 History

Oldsmobile is the oldest continuing car marque in the U.S. The Olds Motor Co. was incorporated in 1897 with an initial capital investment of $50,000.00! In 1897 the company produced 4 automobiles. On September 21, 1997, Oldsmobile celebrated it's 100th birthday! Were you there in Lansing?

The full name "Oldsmobile" was first used in 1900. Prior to that, the automobiles were known simply as "Olds", built by the Olds Motor Works of Lansing.

In 1903 the Olds "Pirate" sets a World record at Daytona Beach covering 5 miles in 6.5 minutes. In 1905 two Oldsmobiles complete the first transcontinental race from New York, NY to Portland, Oregon in 44 days.

In 1922 an Oldsmobile establishes another record, traveling 1000 miles in 15 hours. Cannonball Baker drives a 6 cylinder Model 30 from New York to LA in 12 � days.

Total car vehicle production:

2 millionth in 1941 20 millionth in 1978

Ransom Eli Olds also put his name on a line of trucks: REO's.

Rocket Era 1949 - 1990

The Oldsmobile Over-Head-Valve (OHV) Rocket V-8 was first produced in 1949. Originally named for its principal designer, Charles Kettering, as "Kettering Power". Corporate GM policy disallowed that, so the powers that be, opted for "Rocket Power". The plant where these engines were built was named "The Kettering Engine Plant". The Olds OHV V-8 was the first to be produced in a sustainable quantity.

It was the second mass produced OHV V-8. In 1917 to 1919, Chevrolet produced a 265 CID OHV V-8, but production ceased. In 1955, Chevrolet introduced another, the 265 CID OHV V-8. The first Ford OHV V-8 was produced in 1954.

The first serious attempt at a commercially viable V-8 was by De Dion around 1910. Cadillac examined this design as well as the Hall-Scott aero engine, and released their vastly superior engine in September 1914. Cadillac is generally regarded as having the first successful production V-8 engine. They were also the first to introduce an inherently balanced V-8 (quartered crankshaft with integral counterweights vs. a flat 4 cylinder crank). However, none of these were OHV designs.

Oldsmobile produced an "L" head or flat head V-8 from 1916 to 1918 and from 1919 to 1921, but it was a side valve engine, not OHV.

Oldsmobile also built the Viking V-8 in 1929 and 1930. A 90 degree, 81 bhp 260 CID V-8. It used a horizontal valve design with triangular type combustion chambers. The block is a mono-block casting.

Some of the early V-8 engines are of fairly unusual design, beyond the early connecting rods. I believe the 1917-18 Chevrolet Model "D" V-8 was made up of two castings, basically split down the Center line of the crank. They were identical castings that were simply bolted together. Mono-block V-8's didn't hit until much later. Ford said they were the first to make a 'low cost' mono-block V-8, with their inception in 1932. This indicates that one or some of the higher priced V-8s must have been mono-block prior to 1932.

The Rocket engine debuted in 1949. It was termed the Rocket 88 engine. This engine was big in NASCAR, in fact with the automatic (no manual trans available early on), the Rocket won 8 out of 10 races in 1950. This engine had a number of interesting features: overhead valvetrain, hydraulic lifters, oversquare bore-stroke ratio, forged crank with counterweights, aluminum pistons, full-floating wrist-pins, and a dual plane intake manifold.

In 1957 Olds released the J-2 Golden Rocket. This was a 371 inch engine with a six-pack (it only came with a six-pack) that put out 312 horses.

I guess that once Olds hooked onto the Rocket name in '49 and people associated it with Oldsmobile, they continued to use it for many years because of that association. You could say that any Olds built V-8 from 1949 up is a Rocket engine.

The word "Rocket" on the air cleaner decals was dropped in in the mid 1970's, maybe with the 1977 model year.

All Olds V-8 pushrod engines produced between 1949 and 1990 are considered "Rocket" engines. The "Rocket" designation comes from the general design of these engines, not the HP rating. Super 88's with Rocket V-8s won many races in 1949 and through the 1950's. The Rocket V-8 has been credited with starting the quest for more power and hot rodding.

You may notice different variations of Rocket on air cleaner housings. Here are some:

 Name     Years  CID  Notes 
 Golden Rocket   1957 - 1958  371  3x2 
 Rocket 88       1949         303   
 Sky Rocket      1961-1963    394   
 Super Rocket    1965-1967    425   
 4-4-2 Rocket    1967         400   
 Jetfire Rocket  1967         330   
 Starfire        1967         425   
 Tornado Rocket  1967         425   
 Ultra High Compression             

The Musclecar War started when Oldsmobile introduced the first overhead valve V-8 in a relatively light body in the 1949. The war became hot when Pontiac brought out the GTO and Olds countered with the 442. As the decade of the sixties ended, more of the corporate limits were removed until they were building almost all out race cars. From 1968 to 1971, the 442 was a separate line that could be identified by it's VIN. The 1970 model year had more "trick parts" than almost any other year.

General differences among the power ratings of Rocket V-8s produced between 1949 to 1964, and 1964 to 1990 are in the manifold, carb, and air cleaner. Some small bracketry and the like is also different, of course. The distributor is slightly different in terms of either vacuum or mechanical advance, but nothing major. The main internal difference is in the pistons, with the 4-barrel hi-compression pistons having a more shallow dish than the 2-barrel ones. Heads and camshafts are pretty much the same, with W machines and 442's (hi-performance applications) using different heads and camshafts.

[ Thanks to Joe Padavano, Kevin Wong, Mike Van Auken, Cliff Feiler, Bob Barry, Greg Beaulieu, Mark Cornea, Kurt Heinrich for this information ]


Oldsmobile engines can be basically broken into the following generations:

1949 was the beginning of production of the Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 engine.

1964 represents a new generation of engines. This was the last year for the 394.

1990 was the last year of the two valve OHV Oldsmobile V-8s.

1995 represents another new generation - the Aurora DOHC V-8 - the A8.

First Year Items

1926: Oldsmobile starts using chrome plating. 1931: Starts using a synchromesh transmission. 1953: The complete Olds line changes from 6 volts to 12 volts. 1956: Disposable spin on oil filter? 1963: PCV system in use on all Oldsmobiles, no more down draft tubes for crankcase ventilation. 1967: Disc brakes are an option on full size Oldsmobiles. Ultra High Voltage (UHV) system available. This was the forerunner of HEI. 1970: First year for the windshield antenna. 1971: First year for induction hardened valve seats in heads. 1972: First year for a factory coolant recovery bottle. 1973:

EGR is added to Olds engines.

1974: HEI was offered as an option in 1974 Oldsmobiles and became standard in 1975. 1975: Catalytic Converters are added to all Olds exhaust systems.

[ Thanks to Graham Stewart, Joe Padavano others for this information ]

Indy Pace Cars

Oldsmobile automobiles have paced the Indianapolis 500 more than any other car manufacturer.

  Year  Car  Driver
    Winner  Comments 
 1949  88 Conv.              Wilbur Shaw  
    Last time he drove the Pace Car, w/Olds chief engineer Jack Wolfram
    riding shotgun. Same as available at dealership. 
 1960  Ninety-Eight Conv.    Sam Hanks  
    Last pace car delivered from dealership. Same as available at dealership. 
 1970  442 Conv.             Roger Ward  
    Same as available at dealership, but engine tweaked. 
 1972  H/O Conv.             Jim Rathmann  
    Same as available at dealership, but engine tweaked. 50 88 conv. done as parade cars. 
 1974  H/O Targa             Jim Rathmann  
    Targa not available, but sunroof was. 
 1977  Delta 88 Targa        James Garner  A.J. Foyt
    Targa not available, but sunroof was. Modified 403 w/dual exhaust. 
 1985  Calais Conv.          James Garner  
    Convertible not available, nor Centerline wheels, headlight cover, lowered
suspension, rear spoiler w/lights or 215 hp 4 cylinder engine. 
 1988  Cutlass Supreme Conv. Chuck Yeager  
    Replicas did not come from Oldsmobile, but from Cars & 
Concepts. Produced 50 conv. & 200 coupes for local distribution. 
Quad 4 Turbo not available.
 1997  Aurora                Johnny Rutherford  
     No replicas planned. First FWD 4 door to pace the race.

[ Thanks to Brad Nicholson for this information ]

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