1965 Oldsmobile Jetstar 88 Holiday Coupe
To get into Paul Chamberlain's collection, a car has to be a bit special. With just 27,000 on the clock since new, this rare Oldsmobile Jetstar 88 certainly qualified. Words: Nigel Boothman Photography James Mann.
Something a bit Special 1965 Oldsmobile Jetstar 88 Holiday Coupe
Paul Chamberlain loves cars. He's been around them all his life, since an apprenticeship among the Rolls-Royce and Bentley traffic at Jack Barclay's in London. In the years that have passed since then, and in 40-plus years of American car ownership, Paul has learned the kind of discretion that we would all like to employ — if we had the skills. «A nice car always speaks to you,» he says. «I never really set out to buy one particular thing, but I try to say yes to the right cars when they turn up.»
This explains how Paul has ended up with such a diverse group of classics. He has American cars as different as a '1939 Plymouth Business Coupe and a '1976 Corvette Stingray, and you might remember his red Chevy Caprice from Car of the Year a little while ago. He also has some unusual classic Daimlers, but whichever car we chat about, a similar theme emerges — often low mileage, low ownership, unusual rarity, or all three. And there were enough of these qualities in this handsome 1965 Oldsmobile to turn Paul's head when he saw it advertised in Wiltshire back in 2018.
«I showed it to my wife and she agreed it was worth a look, as it wasn't a long trip from our home in Somerset,» he says. «I was impressed when we saw the car in the metal, though I did wonder how genuine the 26,000 miles was. But once I'd inspected it and looked at what history there was, it became pretty plausible, and then highly probable! The interior is original and immaculate and there were other little signs too — the previous owner had stripped the rear brakes and found factory-fitted parts in there, suggesting it hadn't been apart before.»
Apart from a smartened engine bay and a coat of paint, carefully matched to the original and applied some years before (probably to refurbish a faded finish), the car seemed unrestored. Paul could find no trace of rust underneath, never mind any welded repairs: «The previous owner had imported it from America, where it seemed to be a one-family car, spending its whole life in Idaho. He'd added a few things — a proper water temperature gauge and matching fuel gauge under the dash, a retro-modern radio that fits perfectly where the original went, some larger wheels and various extra lights.» These had been applied under the bonnet and along the underside of the car, presumably to give a slightly hot-rodded look for cruises.
Paul removed them within a day of getting the car home, as he explains: «It looked like it belonged on Blackpool's seafront. I obviously kept the wheels though — they're 17-inch Cragar-type alloys and the wider, lower-profile tyres seem to work really well with the set of uprated dampers on the car.
I have the original steel wheels and their immaculate hubcaps, but to refit them with the correct whitewalls would be about £1000… after which the car wouldn't handle quite as nicely. At the moment it's a really good blend of a comfortable ride and good handling. It doesn't wallow and you can hurry it through the lanes surprisingly easily.»
This happens to the accompaniment of a rich exhaust burble from the twin mild-steel system the car now wears, which adds a little drama without any tiring booming at speed. At some time the car also acquired the correct kind of brake servo, though it wasn't ordered with power brakes. It is, in fact, a base model among 1965 Oldsmobiles, though you wouldn't think so to look at the graceful pillarless side profile or the extremely smart and stylish interior.
The full-size Olds models included the 88s on a 123-inch wheelbase and the more luxurious, big-block-powered 98s on a 126-inch wheelbase. Among the 88s, you could choose from the Jetstar 88, the factory hot-rod Jetstar 1 with a 370bhp big-block V8, the Dynamic 88 and the Starfire. The Dynamic was the big seller, with almost twice as many of the pretty Holiday Coupe sold in that guise (at $3065) than in Jetstar 88 form, at $2995. That tiny price gap would have given most salesmen an easy 'up-sell' to the Dynamic, though not every customer would have relished the extra thirst of the Dynamic with its 425cu in V8 — the Jetstar came with a 330cu in small-block and a two-barrel carb. Still enough for 250bhp and respectable performance, though, leading to 13,911 sales for the Jetstar 88 Holiday Coupe.
The first owner of this car ticked at least three boxes on the options list: the transmission is a two-speed automatic ($245), there is power steering ($109) and there's a radio ($88), now cunningly replaced with a modern one, as we mentioned before. But the windows, door locks and seats must be moved by hand. However, we are not in base-model Chevy territory here, so the Jetstar came as standard with foam padded front seats (here trimmed in a fabulous combination of metallised vinyl and brocade), a padded dash, rocker panel mouldings, an automatic dome light, electric windshield wipers, carpets and a parking brake signal light.
None of which you notice, of course, because the main impression on seeing this car is curiosity… it's totally unfamiliar. Paul was told it's currently the only example in the UK and probably Europe too. Mid-decade Oldsmobiles and Buicks of the Sixties represented General Motors at their best, offering crisp and well-judged styling that managed to be restrained, without being dull — check out the architecture around those corner hoods for the headlamps, or the way the bumper mouldings remain entirely within the car's outline, rather than bulging forward or back. Paul particularly likes the Coke-bottle side profile, and it's hard to disagree. Build quality and handling were also strong points, with none of the boat-like driving experience people tend to expect from large American machinery.
There is one feature that we've alluded to already, about which Paul admitted to being a little sceptical — the two-speed automatic. He was unsure how well it would suit modern roads before he drove the car, but soon began to appreciate it and to understand the appeal.
«The car is more of a cruiser than a bruiser,» he says. «It's okay at 70 or 80mph but to be honest, do I want to be smoking it around the place as fast as I can? Not really. You learn to drive it the way it likes to be driven — it changes up very smoothly between around 25 and 30mph — and it takes us wherever we want to go.»
That tends to be to show fields, where the car must attract a lot of favourable attention, just as it attracted Paul's attention when he first saw the advert. «When I saw it, it was one of those cars that just said 'take me home — you'll have a hard job to find another!»' he says. So there's a lesson for all of us here: when you go to view a car, don't just look, but listen. It might be telling you something very important.
Gorgeous Coke-bottle styling epitomises American styling of the '60s. Original owner's manual. Sidelights are unusually centred.
Rocket science: Oldsmobile's great V8
When Oldsmobile's Rocket motor made its debut in 1949, no other manufacturer had an overhead-valve V8. But they soon would. Trying to imagine American cars without their large, lazy, highly tunable V8 engines is impossible — all that torque and power provided the wave on which Detroit's designers would surf for decades afterwards. Even in 2020, with the launch of a new mid-engined Corvette, you'll still find a pushrod V8 under the hood.
The 330cu in V8 in the Jetstar Holiday Coupe on these pages is one of the second generation of Rocket V8s, introduced in 1964. They had evolved slightly from the originals, but retained the same bore centres and deck heights, though increasing the stroke to give more potential for increased capacity. The original Rocket was such a strong and successful design that refinements came mainly in the top end, with wedge-shaped combustion chambers arriving with the second generation and delivering surprisingly clean and efficient performance. Indeed, it's said that of all V8 engines manufactured by the Big Three, only Oldsmobile's gen-2 Rocket met emissions standards all the way up to 1990, while still running on a carburettor.
That was the final year for a design with roots in 1949, but during its 41-year life across numerous different capacities it powered many innovations, not least the front-wheel-drive Toronado and the related GMC Motorhome, plus tarmac-tearing muscle cars, family station wagons and any number of sedans, both modest and luxurious. It was loaned out to Buick, Pontiac and Cadillac as well. So while the Chevy and Ford small-blocks might be more famous, when you think of a big, brawny, burbling American V8, remember it all started with the Rocket.