Project Rocket: 1953 Oldsmobile 88

With so many overpriced old cars for sale lately, and owners overselling cars with plenty of flaws, it’s a welcome relief when you run across a seller who not only asks a reasonable price, but admits the car’s problems up front.

This 1953 Oldsmobile 88 two door post sedan is advertised for sale in Staten Island, New York here on craigslist, with an asking price of $2,450. This car definitely has some problems, according to the seller, and only some of them are evident in the photos supplied. The Olds has not run in many years. It looks like the last registration in the windshield says 1972, so it’s been off the road for a lot longer than it was driven, though evidently it was garaged for all those years.

Predictably, this car does have rust, some of which is shown. Take a look at the rear bumper, for example. The seller says the worst of the rust is in the passenger quarter panel, and that is not even pictured. Given that this is a northeastern car, you can expect to find more rust than is shown or mentioned. It will need a lot of work to be drivable again. It will probably need all new brakes and lines, a new exhaust system, new wiring, the gas tank will need to be boiled or replaced, and who knows what the engine may require to be a runner again (or why it was retired in the first place).

Now for the good. The interior looks decent, including seats and dashboard, the glass is all good, and Olds sports an unusual-to-find three-speed manual transmission, which at least for some of us is an attraction. According to the seller, he has all the paperwork from the original owner, the Olds shows having been driven only 63,000 miles, and the car comes filled with extra parts, including chrome parts, bumpers, proper wheel covers and fender skirts.

While the seller has neither the keys nor the title, he does have a New York State transferable registration, which may be enough for some states. If this car has a four barrel carburetor, it’s a Super 88, of which Olds made 36,824 in 1953 in two-door configuration, and if it’s not a Super, it would be one of only 12,400 Deluxe two door sedans made that year.

Given that this car will need just about everything to even be a driver, it will probably have to be either restored as a labor of love or perhaps it could be restomodded or done over as a street rod. Early fifties Oldsmobiles that featured the original Rocket 88 engine are fun cars to drive and have an enthusiastic fanbase. With a relatively reasonable asking price for what looks like a fairly solid car, and with low miles and documentation (and a seller who seems ready to consider serious offers), could this be the basis of a good project for one of our readers to take on? You can visit the Statue of Liberty and come home with a car.

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  1. L.M.K. Member

    Fyi, the transferable registration is the equivalent of a title in pre 1973 automobiles in NY state….That’s all you’ll need to register it in any state.
    This car seems like a good deal…..

    Like 2
    • Terry J

      Wikipedia: Late in the 1953 model year, a fire destroyed GM’s Hydra-Matic plant. The temporary loss of Hydra-Matic production led Oldsmobile to build thousands of its 1953 models with Buick’s two-speed Dynaflow automatic transmissions . New options this year included Frigidaire air conditioning, power steering, and power brakes. :-) Terry J

      Like 1
      • Mark

        Thanks for that information.

      • Mark

        This could be a fun project. Wish I could

      • Bonanzaparts

        Does anyone know how many 3 speed manual transmission cars Oldsmobile produced in 1953 ?

    • Barney

      You are exactly correct regarding the title/registration issue. For us westerners it’s comparable to the the California pink

  2. Jesper

    It look like it has a damage in the back on the body, over the bumper.
    No photos of engine, rust, or all the extra parts.
    It has bin for sale 20 days, so maybe its not a super deal.
    I like it, but 5500$ before it stays in my drive way, incl. Shipping to Europe is to much :-(
    I also must finish my 88 rocket 1950 before i buy more rockets.
    A super deal from Barn find.

  3. Vince Habel

    Don’t see many with a stick shift. Could be the shortage of auto that year. Some Caddys also had the Buick trans.

    • Kerry Glenn

      My Great-Uncle (Grandfather’s brother) had a 1953 Cadillac with the Buick “Dynaflow” transmission.

  4. Phil Harris

    Appears to be a good purchase. I do not think if it was restored, it would bring big money. Put it together and drive it. Imagine the sound you would get with a set of hollywood mufflers. Any one remember that saying,”Hollywood Mufflers”?

  5. Stu

    Okay… which one of you damn kids broke off the shift lever?

  6. Jim Morris

    @Stu, the large round collar below the turn signal lever moves with the shift lever, which is one the right side as usual.

    This is a Super 88, it has the downward side trim, the front fender trim, and the trim in front of the taillamps. The 88 only has the lower trim on the side bulge.

  7. Keith C.

    I dunno why he included this last pic in his Craigslist….but whomever “customized” that ’64 Olds 88 proved the old saying, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.”

    • Marshall

      The owner would have had to cannibalize three ’59 Cadillac’s to acquire all of those taillight lenses. I hope that the the donor cars (RIP) were all unrestorable. Or maybe he bought them NOS. Either way, I noticed there are 12 lenses. I wonder if he rigged them up as sequential turn signals, six for the left turn signal and six for the right turn signal. That would be pretty cool if he did!

  8. moosie Craig

    & all the Jag could see was my 12 tail lights.

  9. Ed Williams

    I had a New “53 88 painted blue over white and it had the 3-speed MANUAL transmission. After the Hydra-Matic transmission factory fire as stated above Buick Two-Speed units were installed to keep production moving and mine was one that got the Chevy 3-speed stick shift. The salesman had mentioned this at the time he was selling me the car and that’s why I know it had a Chevy tranny installed.
    It made for one fast car for sure! I once got 62 miles an hour out of first gear from a dead stop. It was going so fast in first that I thought the pistons were going to swap holes. Whew!!

  10. Michael Phipps

    Google Bill Blair Daytona Beach winner 1953. He was from my hometown and bought a ’53 88 new, drove it to Daytona Beach for the race and won, then drove it home! It had three on the tree. His son still owns the car.

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