Oldsmobile Futuramic: The Dramatic Design Of The Future

Images: Makarand Baokar

Oldsmobile was an American automobile company founded in 1897 by Ransom Eli Olds, which was based in Lansing, Michigan and produced more than 35 million cars until 2004, when the brand was ‘shut down’. Founded in 1897 and first named ‘Olds Motor Vehicle Company’, the company launched its first model—the Curved Dash—in 1901, which was so successful that Oldsmobile was America’s number one carmaker in the early years of the automobile. In fact, some of the earliest known cars to head to India were Olds, and the very first one shipped to India (circa 1897) sank with the ship it was on.

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Understated yet elegant with beautiful proportions

In 1908, Oldsmobile was acquired by General Motors. By the start of WWII, Oldsmobile had become one of GM’s five main brands, slotting in halfway between the more luxurious Cadillac and Buick at the top end, and Pontiac and Chevrolet as the volume leaders at the bottom end.

In 1948, with an assist from General Motors’ Fisher Body division, Cadillac was about to introduce a dramatic new ‘C-body’ model, featuring an aircraft-inspired styling theme. Oldsmobile had its own version of this Fleetwood body, and the ‘middle-class’ American carmaker rocked the post-war market with the all-new ‘Futuramic’ styling from 1948.

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Even the chromework in the first of the Futuramics was just right

Under the leadership of Art Ross, head of the division’s design studio, Oldsmobile designed an elegant yet very modern car, which was dubbed Futuramic, and for the model year 1948, the Futuramic was available as a top-of-the-line 98 only, selling alongside the last-gen Oldsmobile Dynamic 66 (with a straight-six engine) and the 78 (a straight-eight powerpack). Even the dash of the 1948 Oldsmobile was treated to Futuramic styling.

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With the top down, the Oldsmobile Futuramic was one of the handsomest cars from then

The print advertising of the period played up the Futuramic styling: “This is the first of the Futuramic cars—the Series 98 Oldsmobile for 1948. This is the car that brings truly functional design to the automotive field—the car that offers styling every bit as functional as GM Hydra-Matic Drive. And that’s saying a lot!”

Another ad went on to explain the term: “‘Futuramic’ is a brand new word that fills a gap in our vocabulary. It means ‘the dramatic design of the future’—the finest of functional modern designs in any field.”

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The same sense of discretion permeated the design at the rear

Aside from the Futuramic styling, some of the Oldsmobile 98’s talking points in 1948 was its ‘New Airborne Ride of the Future’, accomplished via the ‘solid foundation’ of a rigid X-member frame and low centre of gravity, not to mention the ‘Quadri-Coil Springing’ with ‘Heavy Coil Springs’ at the solid rear axle and double-action hydraulic shock absorbers at all four corners.

The 98’s wheelbase was reduced by five centimetres to 3.1 metres as compared that of the earlier generation, and even its overall length was less by almost eight to 5.34 metres. Height was reduced only fractionally, but the car was about five centimetres wider (at two metres) than the preceding model, which contributed to the illusion of lowness and strength.

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The interior too matched the discrete style of the exterior

Of course, the convertible was to many eyes the most glamorous of the 1948 Oldsmobile Futuramic 98s. A premium example of a rare significant automobile, this Futuramic 98 was designed to celebrate the golden anniversary of the Oldsmobile marque and to feature timeless, understated lines that were clean, unblemished with any emblems and with the minimum of chrome decorations, which went on to blight the Oldsmobiles and other American cars from later years.

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Typical of the period, the hood ornament made references to aircrafts

A long, low hood housed a straight-eight motor and automatic was available as an option—the car here features GM’s Hydra-Matic. Although some 12,602 convertibles were made in 1948 (out of a total of 65,235 Futuramic 98s), not very many survive today—this being one of two known extant pieces in India. Part of the Viveck Goenka collection, this car has been restored into a real beauty, and did star at a Cartier event some years ago.

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The Oldsmobile emblem emphasized global influence

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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