The Oldsmobile 90 Series first appeared in the 1941 model year. The 90 was the top-of-the-line model for Olds, whose 76 and 66 were progressively less-equipped models powered by a six-cylinder, inline engine. The new 90 Series had an inline, eight-cylinder engine, so in 1946, immediately after Olds began production after World War II ended, it was renamed the model 98" to indicate that it bore a straight-eight power plant.
It was a General Motors practice to have shared body panels between similarly graded models in their respective divisions. Often the Cadillac, larger Buick and Olds 98 had much the same body panels, differentiated only by the brand badge, grille and trim pieces. This was indicative of the GM marketing plan that an upwardly mobile person would first select the big Olds, then move up to the large Buick, before finally arriving as a Cadillac customer. The Oldsmobile 98 broke from that practice on a number of occasions by offering body designs not shared with any other GM platform.
For the 1949 model year, Oldsmobile introduced the Rocket V8 engine. This Kettering engine was shared by the 98 and the new Rocket 88 model. The six-cylinder 76 was dropped from the line as Olds became an eight-cylinder only brand. At this same time, Olds introduced a hardtop convertible in both models. Called the Holiday, the hardtop had no B pillar between the windshield surround (A pillar) and the rear windscreen surround (C pillar). With all side windows rolled down, it created a breezy, open-sided car, sort of like a convertible with the top still raised.
The 98 was the premium Oldsmobile and featured many innovations later incorporated in other General Motors brands. The Holiday model had hydraulically-operated windows and seats. Later, power steering and brakes were pioneered in Oldsmobile models, first on the 98 and then on the 88.
As more features and accessories were added to the top Olds model, the name was changed to Classic 98 and, finally, to Ninety-Eight in an effort to reflect what Olds management felt was a more sophisticated offering. The wonderful overhead valve V8 also changed over the years, growing from the initial 303.7 CID displacement to 324, 371, 394, 425 and, finally, to a behemoth 455 CID.
Olds moved to front-wheel-drive in 1985. The Ninety-Eight shared mechanicals with other GM models. In 1996, the Ninety-Eight was replaced by the Aurora, ending the era of numbered models for the big Oldsmobile.
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