Some believe that the Starfire was the first muscle-car from Oldsmobile, since it combined a very powerful engine with a very small, compact body.
A brand of automobiles that were produced for most of its existence by General Motors, Oldsmobile was founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897. Oldsmobile had a production run that lasted for 107 years and produced 35.2 million cars which at least 14 million built at its Lansing, Michigan factory. Oldsmobile was the oldest surviving American automobile marque, and when it was phased out it was one of the oldest in the entire world, after Peugeot and Daimler. Oldsmobile was also GM's first brand that was phased out in the 21st century, following the company's Geo and Canadian-market Asuna brands were phased out in the early 1990s.
The Oldsmobile Company produced 425 cars in 1901, which made it the first high-volume gasoline-powered automobile manufacturer. Over the next few years, Oldsmobile became the top selling Car Company in the U.S. Ransom Olds left the company in financial straits and formed the REO Motor Car Company. GM purchased the company in 1908. From 1901 until 1904 Curved Dash was the first mass-produced vehicle that was made from the first automotive assembly line. The Curved Dash was an invention that is often credited to Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company, mistakenly.
By March of 1901 the Olds Motor Works as it was renamed, now had a whole line of models ready for mass production. A fire was started accidentally by a worker and the factory caught fire and burned to the ground and all of the prototypes were destroyed. The only car to survive the fire was a Curved Dash prototype which was wheeled out of the factory by two workers while escaping the fire. A new factory was constructed and production of the Curved Dash commenced. The cars were officially called 'Olds automobiles,' while they were colloquially referred to as 'Oldsmobile's.'
Fitting right into the personal-luxury market niche, the Starfire debuted as a sporty four-passenger luxury vehicle. The show car was finished in a very attractive turquoise hue with a turquoise and white leather interior. The Starfire featured advanced styling that was several steps ahead of the future. This unique Starfire appeared at the major automobile shows in 1953 and 1954. The public seemed to love this innovative little car, so the Starfire badge found its way to the front fender of a production Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight convertible. The introductory catalogue touted the new car as 'Inspired by Oldsmobile's fabulous STARFIRE, the new Ninety-Eight Starfire for 1954 represents the ultimate in motor car sophistication and glamour.
From 1954 until 1957 the name ‘Starfire' was used on the Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight convertible and reappeared in 1951 as a specially trimmed hardtop and convertible that was produced until 1966. During the 1960's, Oldsmobile's position between Pontiac and Buick in GM's hierarchy began to dissolve. One of the notable achievements by Oldsmobile was the introduction of the first turbocharged engine in 1962 and the first modern front-wheel drive car produced in the U.S.
Produced from 1954 until 1966, the body of the Starfire was based on the Oldsmobile B-Body 88 platform. The Starfire was a sporty and luxurious hardtop coupe and convertible that embodied the personal luxury cars for Oldsmobile. The vehicle came with leather bucket seats, sport and special luxury trim. The Starfire also came standard with hydra-matic transmission, tachometer, sports console, power steering and brakes, and dual exhausts with ‘glass packs'.
The Starfire's standard engine was the Rocket 394 CID V8 which produced 330 horsepower from 1961 until 1964. From 1965 until 1966 the Starfire was powered by a larger 425 CID Super Rocket V8 which was rated at 375 hp. A total of 7,800 units were produced during the Starfire's lifespan.
The Oldsmobile Starfire featured a wheelbase of 126 inches and measured more than 214 inches from bumper to bumper. Standard equipment on the Starfire included 8x15 inch tires, hydraulic windows, two-way power seat and power top. The standard Starfire was priced at $3,249, which was $200 more than the Custom Holiday Ninety-Eight hardtop. The inside of the Starfire featured a lot of chrome on the dashboard and the first production Starfire closely resembled its experimental namesake. The Starfire was also done in saddle-stitched, patterned, hand-buffed leather combinations. For 1954, a total of 6,800 Starfires were produced.
The Ninety-Eight convertible once again carried the Starfire badge on the upper part of its front fenders in 1955. This years model remained basically the same, but had a mild restyling which produced a much more oval shaped grille opening and flashier side chrome and two-toning. Also this year a power steering system built by Saginaw Gear became standard equipment on all Ninety-Eight models. The base price for the 1955 Starfire rose slightly up to $3,276 and a total of 9,149 units were produced.
At the top of the Oldsmobile model lineup was the 1956 Starfire Ninety-Eight convertible. The Ninety-Eight was chosen to wear the production Starfire tag first, and just prior to that, the name had been applied in 1953 to a fiberglass-bodied show car that borrowed its space-age moniker from the Lockheed F-94B Starfire fighter airplane. The Starfire nameplace continued to be used exclusively on the Ninety-Eight convertible for 1956. The moniker was now spelled out STARFIRE in chrome letters on the lower portion of the front fender. The rarest Ninety-Eight available was the 1956 Starfire which was listed at $3,380 and only 8,581 were ever produced.
Oldsmobile expanded the Starfire nameplate to all four Ninety-Eight models in 1957; convertible, four-door sedan, and two- and four-door hard-tops. For this year the standard equipment list expanded to include Jetaway Hydra-Matic transmission, Safety power steering and Pedal-Ease power brakes. Also available for this year was the popular mid-year J-2 tri-carb engine option. Due to the expanded lineup, production soared for the 1957 Starfire to 79,693 units. This year ended up being the best model year for the Starfire nameplate. Unfortunately the Starfire disappeared for the next three model years.
Distinguished . . . Distinctive . . . Decidedly New' was how Oldsmobile flouted their all new 1961 first full-fledged Starfire series. Oldsmobile chose the General Motors 1961 Motorama which opened on November 3, 1960 at the Waldorf-Astoria in NYC to debut the new one-model series.
The '61 Starfire bowed as a separate series, and featured bucket seats and console-mounted tachometer inside. The Starfire was debuted as a personal-luxury convertible, and was designed to compete with the four-passenger Thunderbird and used much of the same design formula. Since it was modeled as competition to the Thunderbird, only two-doors came on the 1961 model year in coupe or convertible form. The new Starfire featured a plush interior, a higher-powered version of the legendary Rocket V-8, a more impressive 88 chassis and bold exterior chrome/aluminum trim. This series remained until the revolutionary Toronado picked up the Oldsmobile personal-luxury banner.
At select Oldsmobile dealerships in January 1961 the first Starfires began arriving. The new Oldsmobile convertible shared its 123-inch –wheelbase chassis with the 1988 models, unlike the Starfires of the Fifties. On the outside the Starfire included two slim parallel hood moldings and a 4-inch wide band of brushed aluminum on the sides, touches which were exclusive to the Starfire.
The power behind the Starfire was the Rocket V-8, a 395-cubic-inch V8 that produced 330 HP and 440 lbs/ft of torque at 2800 rpm. The 1961 Starfire also sported a chrome-plated air cleaner perched on top of the four-barrel carburetor and shiny valve covers and oil filler cap. Burning only premium fuel, the Starfire had a 10.25:1 compression ratio.
The production Starfires came in 15 exterior colors and interiors of gray, blue, fawn, and red. One could purchase a convertible top in black, white, green, blue, fawn, and red. The most expensive Oldsmobile since the fiesta convertible listed at $5,717 in 1951, the 1961 Starfire was priced at $4,647. 7,600 of the 1961 Starfires were produced, making it the second most popular 1961 Oldsmobile convertible.
Unfortunately the introduction of the Starfire came too late to include the first-year model in most 1961 Oldsmobile literature. A special tri-fold, six-panel brochure outlined the Starfires virtues. Another unique advertising campaign was a direct-to-dealer piece that urged dealerships to stage special open houses to showcase the new model, and gave interested dealerships with up to 500 invitations and envelopes.
In 1962 Oldsmobile product planners expanded the Starfire lineup with the addition of the coupe. The Grand Prix was newly introduced by Pontiac, but even though this was direct competition this model year would mark the all-time high production record for the Starfire as a separate series. For this year the Starfire received a complete sheetmetal revamp which gave the vehicle a clean, new look. With a total production run of 41,988 for 1961 the coupe outsold the convertible by nearly five to one.
The '62 Oldsmobile Starfire featured exterior restyling and also an exclusively V8 which turned out an additional 15 HP – 345 from the same 394 cubic inch as the previous year. The '62 Starfire came with a new combustion chamber shape and a slightly higher 10.5:1 compression ratio. The outside styling treatment centered on an expanded brushed-aluminum side trim package. Much like previous model years, the standard equipment list was impressive. The new coupe was priced at $4,131, around $50 less than the Ninety-Eight Sports Coupe. Remaining the most expensive car in the Oldsmobile lineup, the Starfire convertible was priced at $4,744.
In 1963 the sales unfortunately slid for the Starfire. Both a coupe and convertible were offered for the second consecutive year but production dropped to 25,549, only 4,401 of these was convertibles. Grand Prix was priced $600 cheaper and outsold the Starfire by an almost three to one margin. This was despite the extra sales appeal of a convertible. Buick Riveria in its first year nearly doubled Starfire production totals, and the Thunderbird outdid it by two-and-a half to one. The Starfire continued to roll on the 123-inch wheelbase in this year that it shared with the Dynamic 88 and Super 88 models. The power came from the 345-HP Rocket V8 engine. Keeping all of the convertible's standard equipment, this year added a power driver's seat and electric window lifts.
For 1964 the Starfire continued to slip in sales numbers, mostly due to competition from Thunderbird, Grand Prix and Riveria. For this year the Starfire pricing remained at the same basic level, $4,100 for the coupe and $4,700 for the convertible. For 1964 a total of 2,410 convertibles were sold and just 13,753 coupes. For this year the 394-cubic-inch Starfire Rocket V8 was used once again which was rated as Oldsmobile's highest output engine at 345 HP. For this year the Convertible added power windows and seat as before. The T-87 was one of the popular options fitted to many Starfires this year, which was a new cornering light package for $34, and N-33, the Tilt-away steering column $43.
When 1965 arrived, the end of the line for Starfire series was obvious, though some time was left for the series, major competition from the traditional outside models still heavy. This was the final year for the convertible, the model that started it all in 1961. All new full-size Oldsmobiles received curvier sheetmetal for 1965 though they continued on a 123-inch wheelbase. Standard equipment was a new Turbo Hyda-Matic, and for the first time in the history of larger cars that a four-speed manual transmission could be ordered for an additional fee.
The '65 Starfire came with a larger all-new 425-cubic inch Super Rocket V8 engine. This new engine featured better cooling, a higher capacity fuel pump, and an enlarged intake and exhausts valves and redesigned combustion chambers. The Super Rocket, the version for Starfire continued to be the most powerful Oldsmobile motor available. Compared to the year before, the output was boosted quite substantially over 370 HP.
Unfortunately the price was too high and the Starfire line continued to suffer. The coupe was priced at $4,148 and the convertible ended up being the most expensive Oldsmobile at $4,778. For 1965 a total of 15,260 Starfires were produced, with only 2,226 of these being convertibles.
The 1966 Starfire was unfortunately completely overshadowed by the revolutionary front-drive Toronado which had become Oldsmobile's first ‘true' personal-luxury vehicle. For this year, the Starfire only produced 13,019 while the Toronado produced 40,963 units.
The base price of the Starfire dropped substantially, due to much of the previously standard equipment being lost. The base price on the Starfire started at $3,564 and the equipment list included dual exhausts, console, deluxe steering wheel and Strato bucket seats. The only thing that went up for the '66 Starfire was the Super Rocket V-8 which picked up an additional five horses, though unfortunately is fell 10 bhp short of the 385 listed for the front-wheel-drive Toronado.
The '66 Starfire only came in the coupe, which was delivered with a new grille and side trim. After 1966 the Starfire slipped inconspicuously from the Oldsmobile roster and was quickly replaced by the Toronado. Fortunately though, the name didn't die, and for 1975 it was revived. From 1975 until 1980 the Oldsmobile Starfire was a sporty compact, hatchback coupe that was very similar to the Chevrolet Monza. Following 1980 the Starfire hatchback was retired without any real fanfare.By Jessica Donaldson