1956 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 Convertible

The 1956 Oldsmobile represent the best styling of Oldsmobile designs to date.

1956 Olds 88 Convertible
1956 Olds 88 Convertible

The 1956 Rocket 88 Oldsmobile Convertible, in many ways, featured the more sleek design and “rocket look” that several other automakers presented during this period. The Chevrolet models of the late 1950’s is just one example. The series of Oldsmobiles which were introduced in the 1954 model year and carried through 1957 were truly ahead of their time. The 1954 full sized model was originally planned to be introduced in 1955 bit was moved up one year because of what the competition was doing.

The 1956 Oldsmobile 88 Restyling

The new design changed started with the 1954 Oldsmobile models with an entirely new look than anything before it. The first thing you would have notice was a lower and longer body shell with wrap around windows on the front and rear. In addition to that,  Oldsmobile offered buyers a choice of eighteen colors and eighteen two tone color combinations.

Olds Rocket 88 dashboard
Olds Rocket 88 dashboard

The 1956 Oldsmobile Convertible as shown here had a large concave grille and bumper that got even larger in 1957. The tail lights were revised somewhat from 1955 as well as the vehicles side chrome trim.

Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 Engines

The Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 engines were to some degree another brand name for an older Olds engine. The difference was that their performance was enhanced with a new design.

The Rocket V-8, engineered by Charles Kettering, came out in 1949 with an overhead valve design and hydraulic lifters and was meant to give out an image of performance. Charles Kettering is considered to have been one of the best automotive engineers ever. Kettering held well over one hundred patents and is credited with developing the electronic ignition system, automobile lighting systems and many other innovations. Kettering became extremely wealthy from his patents and is noted for his philanthropic contributions including the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center which helped to found in 1945.

1956 Oldsmobile Rocket 88
1956 Oldsmobile Rocket 88

The Rocket name that Oldsmobile used to market the engine really was a reference to the engine design rather than horsepower. From the engine’s inception in 1949, any Oldsmobile built with this V-8 engine is usually referred to as a Rocket Oldsmobile.

The first series of these engines were 303 cid’s delivering 135 horsepower. The engine’s displacement was moved up in steps after that. The Rocket V-8’s were built at the Kettering Engine Plant in Lansing Michigan and were also referred to as the Rocket 88 engines. The Rocket V-8’s were a big hit with NASCAR in as much as the engine won several races in 1950 and that was with employing an automatic transmission.

In the early 1950’s the standard Olds V-8 was 324 inches delivering from 70 to 230 hp, then the 371-incher was brought in from 1957 to 1960. During the 1957 to 1960 period the other Olds engine produced was a 371 cid Rocket delivering 270 to 305 horsepower.

1956 Olds Rocket 88 Convertible interior
1956 Olds Rocket 88 Convertible interior
To increase power Oldsmobile created variations with two and four barrel carburetors.

Because of their superior performance the Oldsmobile Rocket V-8’s (Rocket 88’s) were the engine of choice for hot rodders right up into the early 1960’s. During the period of 1949 to 1963 there was an estimated 5 million of these engines produced. This amount of production made it relatively easy for hot rodders to pick one up and at a good price. Some will say that the Olds Rocket V-8’s were the catalyst for hot rodding during this era.

1956 Oldsmobile Super 88 Convertible Specifications

The 1956 Oldsmobile Super 88 came with a 324 cubic inch Rocket V8 delivering up to 230 horsepower.

1956 Olds Rocket 88 grille and ornamentation
1956 Olds Rocket 88 grille and ornamentation

A new four-speed Jetaway Hydra-Matic transmission was also unveiled in 1956. A four speed automatic was something fairly unique and was a great combination with the Olds Rocket V-8’s of the time. The Jetaway transmission employed a secondary fluid source and was actually an improved version of a transmission introduced in 1952. The Jetaway transmission, a great brand name considering that “rocket styling” was in vogue during the latter 1950’s, utilized dual coupling and a pair of sprag clutches in place of a friction clutch and brake band. The secondary coupling was alternately drained and filled when shifting.

The car’s weight came in at a bit over 4,000 lbs.

Options offer during the 1956 model year included power steering, power brakes, Hydramatic transmission, light package, rear seat speaker, windshield washer, dual exhaust, and clock.

A total of 9,560 of the 1956 Olds 88 Convertible models were produced. This was out of a total Oldsmobile production figure of that year of 485,400 units.

Links below are to two more AutoMuseumOnline photo articles of period cars of the 1950’s you may find interesting…..

1955 Studebaker President Speedster

1957 Pontiac Star Chief Convertible

1955 Packard Series 400 Hardtop


1956 Oldsmobile Convertible
1956 Oldsmobile Convertible

The 1956 Rocket 88 as a Collector’s Car

The Rocket brand of Oldsmobiles from the mid 1950’s remain popular with car collectors. As mentioned above, the car’s design was a big step forward from what Olds had been producing. There’s also a lot of closeness many collectors have with this mid 1950’s Oldsmobile since many of them had a relative who owned one.

As of this writing, 1956 Oldsmobile auction prices show a restored Model 88 Coupe selling for $19,000, another restored Super 88 Coupe with an asking price of $48,000 and another asking $36,000 and yet another restored coupe with an $18,000 asking price. The asking price range is obviously wide therefore mileage and degree of restoration will be key. 1956 Super 88 Convertibles in fine condition should get a high figure.

(Article and photo copyright 2013 AutoMuseumOnline)