After World War 2 ended, pent-up consumer demand meant that the auto manufacturers could pretty much sell whatever crap their factories could churn out. It took, in fact, four years for the carmakers to start selling new products incorporating all the technological advances of the Depression and war years.
Oldsmobile kicked it off with the restyled Futuramic Rocket 88. It included the Hydramatic automatic transmission and a brand-new V-8 engine. Now, neither was new. Olds introduced the automatic transmission in 1940 and it had been building V-8’s since 1932, but the two things hadn’t been put together in a designed-from-the-chassis up vehicle. In addition, the Rocket V-8 was the first overhead-valve design, allowing the engine to take up much less space and producing less vibration when accelerating. It also had an AM radio that could sorta kinda be heard with the top down at cruising speed maybe if you had lots of imagination.
My father, therefore, wanted one. But they were hard to find in February of 1949. Yet the above pic from 1949 shows that he got one. (Well, actually the Rocket 76 with the Big Six engine.) Only wanting is not having. How did he make that leap?
In his own words, if slightly edited for grammar. A few sentences have been transposed.
There was this school-wide fraternity dance in February; a weekend party where all the houses were open and everyone invites in their girlfriends from out of town. One buddy invites down his girlfriend and asks me if I’d be the “squire” of her sister. So down comes this nice-looking blond girl from Long Beach, and I’ve got her as a date for the week.
So I’d take her out driving in my father’s 1941 Oldsmobile that my father had bought in ’42 right before they discontinued manufacturing civilian cars. He used it to drive to Miami (they moved there when I was overseas) but he barely put 15,000 miles on it. There was a 35 mile-per-hour speed limit on all the highways during the war and everyone was allocated gas ration cards. Since my father was a government contractor, he had a T-card and could buy gasoline, but he drove at 40 miles at the most. Only thing that ever broke on it was the generator. (We called them generators back then; they produced DC current.)
Did my father give me the car? Hell, no. I bought the car for $600 and drove it up to Georgia Tech from Miami when, as a returning G.I., I signed in as a sophomore. Where did I get the money? Simple. When I got out of the Army I had about $8,000 from back pay and the stuff I’d sold back in Europe. (That's $84,889 today. What he'd been selling back in Europe is another story. —NM.) Also, the Feds gave us the 52-20: $20 a week for 52 weeks. ($212 in modern money. —NM.)
In addition, I knew that I was gonna get $75 a month for living expenses from the G.I. Bill. Add to that the fact that I got a pretty good job in college with two part-time jobs, as the art director of a small magazine called Life Around Atlanta, a sort of gossipy thing, society shit, and I also did photoengraving with the engravers who did the covers. Money was not a problem. I not only had a car but I could go out on weekends and spend money on booze and clubs and all that shit. Life was good.
Anyway, on Saturday I’m driving past an Olds dealer with this beautiful-looking blonde in the front seat — Renny was a beautiful blonde — and I see a red convertible in the showroom. Now this is right after the war. There aren’t any red cars on the road! They needed the chromium, so they outlawed all colored cars.
“Holy shit!” I say. I never saw a car like that. It’s streamlined, it’s gorgeous, it’s the Oldsmobile redesign, it’s the first red car I ever seen. It was like driving a Model A and walking into the 1941 black sedan that I was driving. It was a car from the future. “Wouldn’t it look gorgeous, the two of us sitting inside that car?” I say to Renny.
So we roll into the showroom and I sit in the car with her. The goddamn car is loaded. It’s got chrome wheels, outside mirrors (which no car had back then), chrome fittings, leather seats, a Delco AM-radio. I’m sitting in the car admiring the chrome fitting and the wood dashboard and the salesman walks up to me and he says to me, “You a Georgia Tech student?”
“You a senior?”
“Where you live?” he asks.
“Florida,” I say, because my father was living in Miami Beach at the time.
“You gonna graduate this weekend?” he asks. Georgia Tech, you see, had several graduations in a year, one in February. I was graduating in June, but I said “yeah” anyway. It seemed like the right answer.
“You gonna go home after graduation?” When I told him that I would, he said, “If you guarantee that you’re gonna take this car and take it out of the state I can sell it to you. I got to sell this car and I got to get it out of the state.”
“I’ll tell you why. This car was ordered by Governor Talmadge as a graduation present for his daughter. Now, she’s not graduating until June, but they delivered it six months early. Now, if the governor finds out that this car is here driving around ... his daughter is supposed to get the first red convertible off the line, it’s gotta be exclusive! So I’ll make you the best deal you ever had in your life. I’ll give it to you at the factory price, I’ll throw in all the accessories for free.”
What would this sell for at retail?
“Oh, shit,” he says, “I’d add on at least a thousand. I’m giving you a thousand dollar deal on this!”
I look at him. I think. “I got a car outside. Can I trade it in?”
“I’ll give you the trade-in value on that.”
“How much?” Renny’s sitting down and listening to all this. And I’m serious about it!
“I’ll give you $500 for your car.” Now I knew that he could easily sell my Olds for $1200, since it only had 30,000 miles on it because I’d only driven it around Atlanta, but that was a reasonable offer on a trade-in.
“How much would the full price cost me a month?” I ask.
“I can put you on the GMAC and it’d cost you $110 a month for 36 months, $600 down.”
“Can I use your phone to call my father in Miami?” He has no problem with that — I think he could see that I was serious. I call my father and I say, “Hey, Pop, I got this Oldsmobile sitting here, it’s a 1949 red convertible. He wants $2100 for it, the lowest rock bottom price, all he wants is for me to take it out of the state.”
“How much is this gonna cost you?” he asks.
“$110 a month for 36 months,” I say.
“Can you do a trade in?” asks Pop. We thought alike.
“Yeah, but my old roommate, Bob wants $600 for it, he’s desperate for the car. You know Bob, he came out to visit a couple times.”
“Take the deal!” he says.
I call Bob. “Will you take it?” “Yeah.” “Cash?” “Yeah.”
I hang up the phone and tell the dealer to give me the papers. I sign. The plan is for me to come down the next day and pick up the car and give him the down payment. I went out of the showroom and it hits me, here I own this beautiful fuckin’ car, and I’m supposed to drive it out of the state. Only I’m supposed to be here for another four months. I’m talking to Renny about that, and it hits me ... there is a way to salve my conscience.
Bob comes down with me and Renny the next day. He takes the ’42 and I drive the ‘49 out of the showroom with the promise that I’m gonna drive the car home that weekend.
Here I come scootin’ into the campus with my new red convertible and this blonde. So who’s the BMOC now? Oldsmobile, red convertible, and I drive around like fuckin’, like I’m crazy, like I’m that guy in Saturday Night Fever, I’m Tony Manero playing the hotshot.
Renny goes home that Sunday, the next day. No disaster. She was a nice Jewish girl, and I’m not gonna play with my buddy’s fiancee’s sister … well, I, uh … there’s a story about how I met her again, in the same car, on Long Island on the highway to Jones Beach. But that’s another tale.
I get the car and I drive it around all weekend. Add that to the fact that I’d gotten Claude Thornhill to come down and play for AE∏ and my life is good. BMO-fuckin’-C. That night we have a drunken party and I made out with Thornhill’s singer, another beautiful blonde from New York, in my red convertible. What was her name? Can’t remember. Gorgeous. Great night. Hell of an investment. I’m not taking this back to Florida.
But I need to do something for the conscience.
So I make it my business that whenever I need to go downtown I will take the time to cruise slowly around the governor’s mansion hoping that Talmadge is in there and can see me driving his daughter’s car. We hated this bastard because he was an anti-semite and a racist and one of the worst governors that any state ever had. Fucker succeeded his father, another piece of work. Eventually got himself thrown out of the Senate for corruption.
The only good thing he did was give me a lifetime drivers license when I got out of the war because I’d enlisted in Atlanta. I could have driven a Mack truck with this thing. I also got something from New York, I’ll add, since I still had a residence there, and they gave me $350.
I’d rather have had the money.
Eventually we got to belt Talmadge with empty beer cans, but I didn’t know that at the time. I really hope the bastard saw me.