High-Tech Classic! 1963 Oldsmobile Jetfire

Though missing its original factory turbocharger, this 1963 Oldsmobile Jetfire in Mooresville, North Carolina (Race City USA!) comes to market in “Get in and drive” condition. A selective mechanical and cosmetic refurbishment followed the Oldsmobile’s 2017 rescue from an Arizona yard where it languished since around 1988. The listing here on BarnFinds asks $9000 for the rare specimen of America’s first mass-produced turbocharged car, an honor it earned by beating Chevrolet’s Corvair Spyder turbo to market by about a month, according to SpeedHunters.

In naturally aspirated form, the aluminum 215 cid (3.5L) V8 made either 155 HP (8.5:1 compression, 2bbl) or 185 HP (10.25, 4-bbl). The Jetfire turbo boosted power to the magic one HP per cubic inch marker at 215. Designed for torque and minimal lag, the small Garrett turbo used its waste-gate-limited 5 lb (0.34 bar) of boost to make 300 lb-ft of torque as well. For reference, the 1994 Ford Mustang GT makes nearly identical numbers, and the Mustang weighs more than the sub-3000 lb Jetfire. In fairness the ’60s numbers are gross and the ’90s numbers are net, but still interesting! An innovative “Turbo-Rocket Fluid” (distilled water, methanol, rust inhibitor) injection system let Oldsmobile keep the higher 10.25:1 compression ratio. Having several turbo books on my shelves I can’t help wondering what a tweaked turbo-215 could make with, say, 8.5:1 compression and 11 or 12 pounds of boost. My modified (supercharged) ’02 Buick Regal GS made about 300 HP with those specs. Thanks to SpeedHunters for some details.

Red wheels contribute a rockabilly vibe normally found in the under-30 crowd or those who stretch their speed parts budget only far enough to snag a $6.00 rattle can (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The trim looks mostly straight and shiny, though, so you could enjoy the bar bomber look a while then spring for a paint job. Hagerty estimates about 150 turbo Jetfire Oldsmobiles remain, and I’ll cast a rare vote to work towards making this one original, as long as you promise to have fun with it along the way.

Recovered seats look great, and the polished metal gleams. While gearbox details evade the listing, the shift selector suggests an automatic transmission sends power rearward. The broad speedometer reminds me of efforts to “bury the needle” on the Saybrook Stretch, a long flat road paralleling the rail line near my home town. Would you hunt down a factory turbo setup for this rare Jetfire?


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  1. alphasud Member

    Definitely worth fixing up and I think it’s safe to say there are more Jetfire turbos remaining without the turbo than with. The battle between Olds and Chevrolet over who brought the turbo to market first has been contested for quite some time. I think it’s safe to say the Corvair made it work. They are still finicky to get right but the turbo was used till 1966 whereas Olds quickly dropped the turbo due to their approach. Customers didn’t want to have to add rocket juice to keep the engine happy so the Corvair won on that front. Still when compared to today’s turbocharged engines they are pretty crude. However proper modifications to the Corvair engine and turbo can yield impressive results.

    Like 14
  2. DualJetfire

    An overly complicated and unreliable slander if the Jetfire name, stolen from the mighty Nash Jetfire 252 Six, and the even mightier Nash 252 Dual Jetfire Lemans engine. But I’m a little biased with my 19(4 Nash Ambassador Custom Countty Club Lemans, which is rarer than any Duesenbirg or even a 1930 Packard 729 Boattail Speedster, neither of which feature Italian styling.

    Like 5
  3. Dave

    Find a 455 out of a wrecked 98 and that’ll liven this puppy up!! It’ll also bring you into a closer relationship with your guardian angels and their boss…

    Like 12
    • Poppy

      I’d love to see one of these with one of the ’80s the Buick turbo V-6 (which have roots back to this little aluminum 215). What a screamer that would be.

      Like 1
      • Todd Fitch Staff

        Stay tuned, Poppy! I’ve got one coming out later this week that’s right along those lines. Hope you like it.

        Like 4
  4. Goatsnvairs

    Who was first with the turbo is oft debated, but who was most successful was definitely the Corvair. They dropped the compression and limited the boost to 6lbs. by keeping the carb venturi small. Many of the Olds cars were retrofitted by the dealers back to natural aspiration because the owners lacked the discipline to add the boost juice causing detonation. I have a ’65 Turbocharged Corvair with a larger carb, meth injection, and wrapped exhaust. It is very reliable and pumps 15 lbs. of pressure.

    Like 9
  5. Fran

    As a Ford fan, the big 3 where very good back then. They will never be good again as our government has got then where they want them via EPA and UAW. It was a lot of work but they finally got them and by 2035ish we will be buying everything from China motors. Get ready for dirty electric cars via Afghanistan/China lithium mining.

    Like 8
    • S

      Ugh. And no one cares either. I do but most other people do not care about the American auto industry anymore.

      Like 7
      • fran

        Seemingly so, they don’t care. I bet they will when the gas pumps turn into electricity pumps. Think of the poor people that have an older car that they need to get to work, but cannot afford the cost of a new electric version of their car.

        Like 7
      • John Klintz

        Y’all are both right Fran and S. Most people are “content” to drive their white, grey, or black ill-handling, slow, boring potato crossovers because they DON’T KNOW ANY BETTER! They’ve never driven a real car! And yes; I’m an old Corvair guy; had two of them growing up. My last was a 4-carb Corsa; fabulous car. Wish I’d kept it.

        Like 4
      • Bill

        Ever watch Barrett Jackson?

    • vintagehotrods

      It’s always amazing to me when I hear comments about “how great Detroit was back then”. Are you living in a cave? In the last few years we have seen the greatest performance revolution from Detroit with cars that have 700+ HP that will out handle and stop better than anything ever made. They will last longer, need less maintenance and go farther on a gallon of gas. It makes anything we had in the 60’s look slow in comparison. Turn off the doom and gloom TV news shows that feed you that political stuff and see what’s happening on the streets and tracks outside your door. It’s great time to be alive and watch the young people of today doing things that we did fifty years ago, only better and much faster!

      The Most Powerful American Cars You Can Buy Today

      2021 Dodge Challenger SRT Super Stock: 807 HP
      2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500SE: 800+ HP
      2021 Dodge Charger/Challenger Hellcat Redeye: 797 HP
      2020 Tesla Model S Raven Performance: 778 HP
      2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500: 760 HP
      2021 Dodge Charger/Challenger Hellcat Widebody: 717 HP
      2020 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: 650 HP

      For instance, the new C8 Corvettes are being modified and are turning 9 second (9.050 seconds at 159.53 mph) quarter mile times! They will be in the 8’s soon if not already.


      That just broke the record fast time set by a Emelia Hartford, a beautiful young gal at the historic Famoso drag strip near Bakersfield in her modified C8.



      Although I’m into old cars and no longer have the “need for speed” that I used to during my racing days I truly appreciate where we are headed. The market has said what it wanted and Detroit has delivered it in spades! Celibrate life while you still can, in fact I just might have to have a Corvette, Camaro, Mustang or Challenger for my 70th birthday next year!

      Like 3
      • John Klintz

        Right on, vintagehotrods; your comments pulled us all, including me, back to reality. My comment was a reflection on the current majority of the vehicle drivers/buyers rather than the excellent vehicles that are out there right now. Another company turning out some really great performance sedans is Genesis. Hopefully the current crossover fad will come to an end soon; already signs that it’s starting to wane a little. BTW, we are the same age!

        Like 1
      • vintagehotrods

        Thanks John, there has always been a small segment of the population that are enthusiasts like us, but the majority of people just need to get from Point A to Point B economically and safely. I want them to drive the slow, boring, electric, non-polluting, self-driving cars so that guys like us can have the good stuff and have fun! Detroit will always build some cool stuff, we just have to keep buying it.

        Maybe I need an “old man’s car” like this one that just blows me away, it’s the Cadillac CTS-V and not many people know what a beast it is. It’s nicknamed the “four door Corvette” because it’s powered by a Corvette Z06 motor. My friend John (who bought my ’32 Ford roadster and owns a Corvette Z06) has one and he says its a handful, even on the drag strip, where he can do a 12.2 @120 mph. John was a SCCA racer out of Michigan and he knows how to drive fast cars even though he’s older than me.

        For anyone that doesn’t know about the CTS-V Sedan, here’s the story. The fastest and most powerful Cadillac ever released, the CTS-V sedan was released in 2015. With a 640 hp supercharged V-8, the car is able to go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds and can reach a top speed of 200 mph. This puts it at only one-tenth of a second slower than the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, and significantly faster than the BMW M5.

        The 2015 model is the third generation of this model, originally launched in 2004. Much like other V-model Cadillacs, the CTS-V sedan is a high-performance version of the base model that’s loaded with technology straight from the racetrack. Further, the aerodynamics, stiffer chassis, and cooling systems that help race cars keep their line around corners are present in the CTS-V, along with an 8-speed automatic transmission and four drive modes. Sadly it was discontinued in 2019, but I could never afford a new on anyway, so they are starting to come down to my price range and it’s a hell of a lot more practical than a Corvette!

      • Bill

        Vintagehotrod you are forgetting one thing, yes those cars you listed are great performers but very few people can afford them. The cars of the
        Past any one could!

        Like 1
      • Will Irby

        I agree 100%; we are living in the golden age of performance cars. I don’t think we will ever see cars with the styling and character of the cars of my youth, and I still have a ’65 Barracuda that I bought in 1978, dropped a 340 in it, and ran it like that until 2015. However, it now has a full frame, Detroit Speed front suspension, independent rear suspension with Hammerhead center section and differential cooler, Viking active shock control, Alcon brakes, aluminum 433 c.i. 3rd gen hemi with Hilborn stack injection and dry sump, Tremec 6-speed with PPG sequential shift conversion, etc. All of that stuff would have been beyond comprehension in ’65, but my 700 hp barely raises an eyebrow these days. For another perspective, my 2018 Honda Accord with a stock 2 liter turbo four will run a 14.1 quarter mile at 103 mph; that would have been fairly competitive with some of the ’60s and ’70s muscle cars, but none of them got 40+ mpg on the highway like my Honda does.

        Like 2
      • John Klintz

        Agreed again; drove a CTS-V sedan and coupe when they were being produced. Fabulous cars, and IMO MUCH better than the E63. E63 was a cheap car underneath with a brute engine; WAY overpriced and overrated. And I was just telling someone recently that the Accord Turbo hybrid’s 0-60 times would have put it in the muscle car performance category in the ’60s, and yes, those cars didn’t come anywhere near the Honda regarding fuel economy.

      • vintagehotrods

        The original post said Detroit wasn’t going to make anything good anymore and was a doom and gloom cry based on politics Sure, these cars are expensive but they sell out quickly and I see plenty of them out there on the streets. I couldn’t afford a new muscle car in the 60’s and 70’s and I still can’t (or won’t) now, but I can afford a used one as they get a few years old. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t buy my brother’s ’57 Corvette for $1200 in 1972, but I was too broke and Uncle Sam had other plans for me for a few years. I’ve been watching Craigslist for C5 and especially C6 Corvettes for some time and I’ve seen plenty from $15K to $25K, and that even includes early Z06’s for under $20K. And then there’s the Cadillac CTS-V’s from 2011 to 2015 that will do 12.4 @116 mph in the 1/4 mile and you find them from $28K and up. There’s lots of performance cars out there for less that will give you a lot of bang for your buck such as earlier LS powered Camaro’s and Firebirds. Here’s ten affordable examples.


        I just ran across this insane CTS-V that does sub 7 second quarter times so I thought I’d share it with you.


        The bottom line is American performance car’s aren’t dead and are thriving. It’s too bad they cost so much but the difference is that our economy has changed for the worse for the average working stiff over the last 50 years because our wages have been stagnant since the 70’s. That’s not Detroit’s fault, in fact they’re one of the last employers that pay a good union wage with benefits so their employees can afford the high performance cars they make. Buy American and support them.

      • Will Irby

        The Accord hybrid isn’t nearly as quick as the 2.0 turbo four; most of the road tests I have seen on the hybrids show a 15.4 quarter mile time. But yeah, considering their almost-50 mpg, not too shabby.

  6. Bryan

    I’m curious what effect the hot exhaust that fed the turbo had on the aluminum 215 V8. Excessive heat, after all, breaks down oil quickly and can destroy an engine. Wouldn’t an aluminum engine be more vulnerable?

    Most of us are already schooled on the issues with the “Slim Jim” automatic transmission these and other Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs were equipped with. A four-speed would fix that problem.

    Like 4
    • S

      I dont believe these smaller cars got the Slim Jim transmission that was used in the larger Oldsmobiles at this point in time. It is a 3 speed automatic though. Someone please correct me if i’m wrong but I’m 90% sure it’s not the same transmission the bigger cars had.

      Like 2
  7. Gary Rhodes

    Cut the price by 2/3 and add a aftermarket turbo

  8. S

    These cars, as well as its Buck and Pontiac siblings, are awesome cars. I don’t know why they aren’t better known or more commonly collected.

    Like 1
  9. Bryan

    Transmission: It’s official name was Roto-HydraMatic 375 Model 10 in the full size Olds and Pontiac and Model 5 in the Olds F85. Olds used it across the board 1961-64. Pontiac used it only in the Catalina and Grand Prix, and Cadillac would have nothing to do with it.

    Like 2

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