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1961 Oldsmobile Starfire Convertible: Big Engine, Little Luxury

1961 Oldsmobile Starfire ConvertibleThe Ford Thunderbird may have started out as a sports car to rival the Corvette, but it was quickly redesigned to be a luxurious, four-seat convertible. That change may have disappointed enthusiasts, but it was a massive hit for the company. Seeing this success, Oldsmobile tried their hand at the upscale convertible market with the 1961 Starfire. The name had been used for a show car and a trim level on the 98, but this time it would use the familiar small-car, big-engine formula to give the traditionally “old folks” brand the impression of sportiness.


Dressing up the 88

The designers started with the 88 chassis which had been redesigned for the ’61 model year. Although the wheelbase had stayed the same, the car was lower, narrower and wider, which decreased weight and improved handling.

However, almost nothing about the car’s looks suggested its lineage. Wide slats of brushed aluminum trim along the sides, a unique grill and narrow-band whitewall tires set the Starfire apart from its 88 brethren. Inside, the Starfire had thick leather bucket seats, a center console, and, weirdly, floor mats with chrome strips. It also featured the first floor-mounted automatic shifter ever used in an automobile to help imply the car’s sportiness. This jet-age design was about as close as one could get to buying a concept car, and many of its features would be copied by competitors in the following years.


1961 Oldsmobile Starfire Convertible – Big Engine, Little Luxury

Every Starfire convertible was fitted with a high-compression, 396-cubic-inch V8 with a four-barrel Rochester carburetor, the most powerful engine in Oldsmobile’s lineup at 325 bhp, 25 more than the T-bird.

Despite its place as a luxury vehicle, there was a surprising lack of standard features. Everything from power brakes to power windows was available as an option although it was priced higher than any other Oldsmobile. Worse still, a Thunderbird had about the same base price, but it came with most of this equipment.


A Minor Success

Just one Starfire sold for every 10 Thunderbirds, but it was still successful enough for Olds to make the car a staple of their lineup. However, its place as Olds’ top vehicle was short-lived, being replaced in 1963 by the front-wheel drive Riviera. It had even wilder styling, shedding the brand’s image as an “old people” car and making it a true challenger to the Thunderbird. There were still plenty of buyers who wanted the Starfire’s more traditional design, but that also meant a push toward more traditional styling. By the time production ended in ’67, there was little to differentiate it from a standard 88.


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