My Car Quest

June 17, 2019

LOST DREAM CAR FILE : The Lost 1959 Oldsmobile F88 Mk. III

by Wallace Wyss –

Harley Earl was a big man. Well over 6’. He was a towering figure in American automobile design. He was the one who basically thought up the idea of making clay models, because as a boy he made model cars with the clay of a nearby riverbed in Pasadena, CA.

From the moment he created the Art and Color Section at GM in the late 1920s he began exploring color and new shapes, always having show cars built to whet the public’s appetite for what was to come.

1959 Oldsmobile F88 Mk. III

In blue, sans hood scoop, at Palm Beach.

He would also, in a King-like fashion, appropriate what he liked to take home. Sometimes putting the cars under his own name, other times giving them to friends (you wonder what his wife thought when he gave a Cadillac dream car to an actress named Marie “The Body” MacDonald?)

One car that is still a mystery as to where it went was the Olds F88 Mk. III dream car. It was last seen in the hands of Harley Earl.

1959 Oldsmobile F88 Mk. III

This was the retractable hardtop that caused so much trouble.

There had been three earlier incarnations, tantalizingly promising to give Olds what Chevrolet already had, a two seat sports car. All three had concealed folding tops. The first one was powered by a 324-cid ‘Rocket V8’ rated at 250 bhp. He gave that one to wheeler dealer car company owner, E.L. Cord (CEO of Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg) and took another home as his retirement perq. The only surviving F-88 was sold at auction in 2005 for $3.2 million.

The first Oldsmobile F-88 was built for the 1954 Motorama show circuit and followed in 1957 by the Mark II version. Also on the same stage was a Cutlass fastback coupe that had the same instrument panel.

1959 Oldsmobile F88 Mk. III

The tail fins didn’t go all the way back, not full grown yet

There was an unwritten rule back in those days that, after its show career was over (and with the Olds two seaters you knew they were over because a production two seater never followed), the cars were taken to the nearest junkyard. But ironically the nearest junkyard–Warhoops–didn’t want the fiberglass-bodied cars because there wasn’t enough metal in them to junk.

MODERN STYLING

What makes the Mk. III more interesting than the doughy shape of the first two versions, is that it had quad headlamps (offered on many 1958 GM cars) and little baby tailfins. The final one was the Mark III, introduced in 1959, that had a totally modern shape and a neat rectangular grille cavity with mesh. It even had a disappearing hardtop, and in one version twin headrest nacelles similar to those featured on the Pontiac Solstice many decades later.

1959 Oldsmobile F88 Mk. III

The hardtop might have first been on the doughy Mk. II

The engine was again a ‘Rocket’ V8 rated at 250 hp. Earl really championed the car figuring it could reach more people than the Corvette. But his stodgy cohorts on the 14th floor of the GM building were skeptical. After all, the Corvette hadn’t made money yet. Why pour good money after bad?

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One thing that would have helped propel the Olds in sales over the Vette was that the Corvette still only had a six but the Olds would have a V8. Plus a four speed automatic compared to the Corvette’s two speed auto.

The interior was using some original Olds gauges but with new housings, basically blinding you with chrome. So despite GM’s policy of having dream cars crushed, that one gold one of the earlier style did reach auction in January 2005, selling for several million. This car could be worth more, if found.

1959 Oldsmobile F88 Mk. III

Earl liked chrome and aircraft style gauges

Now the trail to the Mk.III, if it still exists, is very very cold. We know that, over 60 years ago, the car went to Palm Beach, FL where Earl lived in retirement. We know it was sent back to the GM Tech Center more than once to Michigan to fix the pesky retractable top, which may have been activated by a sensor that made it go up when it started to rain; an Earl obsession.

Methinks that, it was on one of those trips that the execs at GM decided to test the waning power of Earl, who was already, you hafta know, was well-retired, by saying something like “We’re not sending it back– this car is too much trouble.” (which in the old days, when he was in power, would have got someone fired!)

On the other hand, since one other of the four had escaped to become a shooting star in the auction world, that gives hope that there is a chance the Mk. III did too, and is, at this very moment, in some underground garage in Palm Beach, maybe under a car cover, and many layers of much well deserved patina….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car histories. As a fine artist, he is accepting commissions for oil portraits of collector cars. He can be reached at mendoart7@gmail.com

 
 
 
 
 
 

1959 Oldsmobile F88 Mk. III

With two other GM show cars, this time with a hood scoop

1959 Oldsmobile F88 Mk. III

The first clays were in ’57

1959 Oldsmobile F88 Mk. III

Here it is just parked like a regular car at a race track

Summary
LOST DREAM CAR FILE : The Lost 1959 Oldsmobile F88 Mk. III
Article Name
LOST DREAM CAR FILE : The Lost 1959 Oldsmobile F88 Mk. III
Description
Now the trail to the Mk.III, if it still exists, is very very cold. We know that, over 60 years ago, the car went to Palm Beach, FL where Earl lived in retirement.
Author

Comments

  1. There were a couple of different iterations that were called F88, the later ones were mainly one-off adaptations for Harley Earl’s personal use, one with scalloped wheel openings that showed up on the 54 Skylark and other mods like that. One of those was painted several different colors during HE’s use. Initially there were four, based on the Corvette chassis with Rocket88 power. The gold one is one of those and sits in the Gateway Museum. It was shipped to EL Cord in Beverly Hills after disassembly and in crates. It sat unopened for some time, changed hands unassembled for years until Gordon Apker acquired it, realized what it was and had it reassembled and restored by a restorer in AZ. He was the seller at Barrett-Jackson when John Hendricks purchased it (via a broker on the auction block).

    Another of the four caught fire awaiting participation in the Rose Bowl Parade in 54 or 55. It’s immediate attendants did not know how to open the engine bay and it half burned. I am fairly sure John owns the remains as well. The other two were either destroyed as GM ordered them all to be once they were out of the limelight, or they were similarly hidden/taken away and lost to time or remain unknown. These are details established by my client’s (prefers to remain anonymous) research based upon conversation with Mr Apker prior to his passing, EL Cord’s family members, two family members of key personnel on the car’s development and build, and Harley Earl’s family members.

    Cindy Meitle
    cindy@carprusa.com

  2. SKIP HINOJOS says

    SO SAD MOST OF THESE FACTORY PROTO-TYPES NEVER CAME TO BE, FOR THE PUBLIC”S USE.

  3. Of the 3 iterations, the `59 Mark III has always been of interest to me. I read more than once Harley Earl took that car to FL. when he retired. And since it was HE himself who had the car returned to GM to fix the top, I myself would think (out of respect, if nothing else..) that the factory would not destroy this particular car. It had beautiful lines, traveled to a couple races and got some notoriety. I’d like to think it’s buried in one of GM’s basements; safely tucked away someplace to be re-discovered.

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