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GM's First Personal Luxury Car

On April 29, 2004, a dark maroon Alero sedan marked the end of the oldest operating automotive marque in America, Oldsmobile.  It came from a long line of interesting, dynamic, and often revolutionary models that had been produced over the years.  From the mighty Limited of the early 1910's, through the first “Rocket V8" in 1949, to the muscle of the 4-4-2, Oldsmobile was always considered a fast and powerful car.

 As the 1960's dawned the automotive market was being pulled in several different directions at the same time, and Oldsmobile was gearing up its offerings to meet all of them. Those looking for big, roomy, luxury cars had the Ninety-Eight series to turn to. Compacts were arriving and Olds presented the neat little F-85 series to meet this demand.  Eighty-Eights were there for those looking for comfortable family transportation with comfort and a little flash. However, the most exciting area of the market was performance, and here again, Oldsmobile was ready to meet the challenge.

 On January 1st, 1961, Oldsmobile added a rather spectacular new model to their roster, the Starfire.  In its premiere season, only one body-style was available, a sporty and dressed-up convertible that had its origins in the Super 88 series. This sleek new model was gussied up with full-body length brushed aluminum trim framed in bright stainless steel.  Inside, leather-covered bucket seats and a center-shift console with tachometer were standard fare. Also included was a full compliment of power equipment including windows, driver’s seat, “Roto-Matic” steering and brakes. However, Starfire’s real claim to fame was the package under the hood, 394 cubic inches belting out 330 horses, backed by the 4-S Hydramatic automatic transmission. Based on the same 123" wheelbase as the Super 88s and measuring out at 212" from bumper to bumper, this was big American performance.

 Starfire was the most expensive model in the Olds family for 1961.  At $4,647, it was about $300 more than the Ninety-Eight series convertible.  Its target market was the potential buyer of Ford’s Thunderbird, which up to this point had enjoyed the sporty, personal car market all by itself. This would also mark GM’s first entry into this highly-profitable segment.  Production was limited to exactly 7,800 copies for 1961.

Low and sleek, the original Starfire is a looker.

Early Starfire interiors were quite flashy, such as this '62.

The '64 brought minor trim changes.

For 1962, Starfire returned with a new hardtop to join the convertible. Still based on the Super 88 versions of these body styles, many of the same amenities that had been found in the first edition returned, and more. Special wheel trim rings were employed for the hardtops, while the selection of leather interior colors was expanded to four. Under the hood, the 394 cid Rocket-V8 engine was tweaked and peaked, pumping out an even hotter 345 horsepower.  Price for the convertible was upped slightly to $4,794, while the new hardtop could be secured at a $4,131 starting point. With popular equipment, such as radio, heater, white wall tires, etc., one could expect to pay about $5,300 and $4,650, respectively for the two different models.   The 1962 hardtop surprised everyone, with sales coming in at 34,839 units, while the convertible’s appeal dipped only slightly to 7,149.  During the year, the car designated as the 7,500,000th Oldsmobile produced was one of those Starfire hardtops, produced on January 11th of that year.

1963 saw new sheet-metal for the Eighty-Eight series, and Starfire reflected most of those same traits. While the hallmark brushed aluminum trim panels were not as obvious with the new model, they were retained, running the full length of the car in a two-inch wide strip just below the belt-line.  In an effort to keep rising costs in check, leather now became an extra cost item in the soft-trim department with all vinyl becoming the standard trim. Remaining on the 123" wheelbase, the new restyle grew to 214.4" from bumper-to-bumper, with hardtop prices increasing about 6.5% to $4,401, while the convertible actually dropped a few dollars to $4,742. Under the hood the powertrain remained unchanged.  Starfire production dropped this year to 21,489 hardtops and 4,129 convertibles. One factor that may have contributed to this notable drop was the introduction of a new personal luxury car entry from GM’s Buick Division, called Riviera.

1964 brought an update to the trim inside and out.  Inside, nylon cloth insert material with vinyl bolsters now adorned the bucket seats. All vinyl was a no-cost option this year, but there was a rather hefty increase in price for the installation of full leather.  Most of the other Starfire amenities were left such as the bucket seat interior, center-shift console, all the power goodies, plus the instrumentation package. Most importantly, the 345-horse, 394 cid V8 was still found under the hood. Another minor re-style was instituted this year which expanded the bumper-to-bumper spread to 215.3".

Prices for the 1964 Oldsmobile line generally stayed within a dollar or two of their 1963 levels.  Starfire saw a decrease in the hardtop’s base price to $4,153, while the convertible remained at the previous season’s level.  Convertibles saw production drop to just 2,410 units while the hardtop fell to 13,753 examples.  Undoubtedly, some of the fall of this superstar in the Olds line-up could be attributed to yet another new model, the 4-4-2 option now available on several mid-size Cutlass models.

Despite the lower production figures, Starfire was back for 1965, again wearing all-new sheet metal with even more bulk and length while still trying to promote itself as a sporty, luxurious and powerful personal vehicle for four passengers.  Exterior appointments were considerably more subdued than the early versions, and base interiors used more economical fabrics and materials to help keep costs down.  While still riding on a 123" wheelbase, the overall dimensions had now grown to 216.9" from bumper to bumper.  All vinyl trim for the convertible, or cloth and vinyl trim for the hardtop were part of the base prices, which rose slightly for the open-model and dropped a few bucks for the hardtop.  Full power items were still standard with the Starfire including windows, seats, steering and brakes.

go to Starfire, page 2

P. Skinner and the editors at Collector Car Market Review

Current Values:   Main Oldsmobile Menu    Starfire page 2



Year One


Jim Carlsons Auto Center