By Angelo Van Bogart
It’s not a Photoshopped Chevrolet, nor is it a custom. It is indeed a 1950 Oldsmobile sedan delivery, and no, Oldsmobile did not build one for John Q. Public. It built the vehicle for itself.
In 1950, soaring sales meant Oldsmobile could do and build almost anything it wanted, and on a few occasions, it did. Oldsmobile went racing, and it’s believed to have built just seven of these sedan deliveries, one for use at each of its factories.
The popularity of General Motors’ mid-level marque took off when Olds went from building solid but hum-drum straight-eight and six cars to exciting performance models with the 1949 introduction of the oversquare 135-hp, 303-cid Rocket V-8 engine. The hot V-8 made Olds a red-hot seller, especially with the new-for-’49 “88” series. The “88” shared its body structure with General Motors’ lightest cars for 1949, the freshly restyled B-body Chevrolet and Pontiac, but used the Rocket V-8 from the flagship Ninety-Eight.
Before 1949, Oldsmobiles would never have been considered race cars, but when the “88” hit the track with the new V-8, Oldsmobile kept blasting across the finish line first. Red Byron won the 1949 Daytona Beach, Fla., stock car race in an “88” coupe, and Oldsmobile took five of eight NASCAR Grand Nationals in 1949.
In addition to its on- and off-track performance, the dependability of the new Rocket 8 helped Oldsmobile sales skyrocket. In 1948, the last year Olds offered L-head engines across the board, the company sold 173,661 cars, which was good for seventh place in the industry sales race. When the Rocket V-8 replaced the L-head eight for 1949, sales climbed to a record 288,310 Oldsmobiles, still good for seventh. In 1950, sales hit the moon at 407,889 for the model year, propelling Oldsmobile into sixth place.
Like many impressionable young men of the era, Ed Flaherty saw one of those many 1950 Olds “88” models rocket past him and had to have one — at least one — when he grew older.
“As a kid, I had a family friend who was four or five years older than I was and he had a customized two-door sedan I always thought was cool,” Flaherty said. “About 15 years ago, I ran into this ’50 Olds convertible ... at Back to the 50’s and 20 minutes later, I owned it.”
That 1950 Oldsmobile 88 convertible met Flaherty’s expectations and then some. Soon, he was hunting for more Rocket 8 Oldsmobiles to add to his collection, which includes sedan deliveries. When he found a sedan delivery version of his favorite car about eight years ago, it was a match made in the stars.
“I found it in a guy’s body shop in Louisiana, and it had been sitting 18 years uncovered, so when we got it, it was sad,” Flaherty said. “After 40 hours of buffing, we discovered we had the original paint — it was amazing how well it cleaned up.”
The sedan delivery’s mechanical components also required attention. The brakes were locked up from the moist Louisiana climate, but after a new battery and squirt of starter fluid, Flaherty was surprised the Rocket V-8 lifted off, and it still runs smooth.
He wasn’t able to learn much about where his sedan delivery was employed, or how it came into circulation after it left an Olds factory. In buying the Olds, Flaherty went back and forth with the owner through the owner’s children, so much of its past remains a mystery.
“The whole thing was a difficult transaction,” he said. “It was the kind of transaction that usually you say isn’t worth it, but in this case, I thought it was worth taking this kind of abuse.”
From what Flaherty has learned through other Olds sedan delivery owners (two others are known to exist) and other hobbyists, the vehicles were parts runners or plant manager vehicles that shuttled around Olds factories. Later, General Motors is believed to have sold them off to larger Oldsmobile dealers. One of the owners Flaherty spoke to bought his vehicle from a dealer in Chicago.
The seven 1950 sedan deliveries weren’t the first light trucks built by Oldsmobile. The company was building light delivery vans upon its famous curved-dash model as early as 1904, according to the “Standard Catalog of Light-Duty Trucks.” The source adds that between 1905 and 1907, Olds also built heavier trucks, then offered a 1-ton truck from 1918-1924 for the U.S. market. From that point, Olds was all but gone from the U.S. light-truck market, the category into which sedan deliveries fell.
In the 1930s, Oldsmobile apparently delved into sedan delivery production again when it built 1,386 L-34 sedan deliveries in 1934, according to Helen Jones Early and James R. Walkinshaw in their book “Setting the Pace: Oldsmobile’s First 100 Years.”
No other sedan deliveries are known to have been built by Oldsmobile after that 1934 model until 1950. By that year, sedan deliveries were hitting their heyday. Production leader Chevrolet was producing the most with only about 20,000 units annually in this era, so they were not considered big sellers. The relatively few sedan deliveries on the road were visible because they were buzzing around America from 9 to 5, delivering flowers, parts, baked goods and any other small deliverable items. Given their sleeves-rolled-up lifestyles, they were utilitarian in nature and usually based on the most affordable automobile chassis — Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth — and were usually part of the least-trimmed series.
In their purest form, sedan deliveries had two side doors and a cargo compartment behind the front seat or seats. Sedan deliveries of the 1920s and into the 1930s were usually based on the maker’s two-door sedan, but in the later 1930s and beyond, sedan deliveries had the profile of a steel two-door station wagon, which they were sometimes based upon. Regardless of the era in which they were built, sedan deliveries usually had blanked-out side panels to prevent curious eyes from viewing the cargo, a single or sometimes bench seat in front, a flat rear floor for loading cargo and a side-opening rear door for maximum access to the rear cargo area.
Flaherty’s Oldsmobile sedan delivery incorporates these features, and since the Oldsmobile’s “88” passenger car shell was shared with the Chevrolet B-body, one might expect the ultra-rare Olds sedan delivery body to be shared with Chevrolets, and even the few Pontiac sedan deliveries built at this time. However, Flaherty has done the measurements and his Oldsmobile sedan delivery’s body doesn’t share dimensions with a Chevrolet.
“I looked at the doors, for example, and the fenders,” Flaherty said, “they are all different [than a Chevrolet]. That was pretty interesting when I went through that drill. Those cars look very similar, but those parts aren’t interchangeable.
“What was interesting about this is that it was built on a four-door Olds ‘88’ chassis, and that’s a bigger chassis,” Flaherty said in comparing the Olds’ 119-1/2-inch wheelbase to the Chevrolet sedan delivery’s 115-inch wheelbase. He also noted that besides the Oldsmobile front doors and the obvious difference with the front Oldsmobile sheet metal, the shape of the Olds’ rear cargo door is different than that of a Chevrolet sedan delivery. Also, the Olds sedan delivery has the one-piece windshield of later 1950 “88” models, while all 1950 Chevrolet and Pontiac sedan deliveries have a two-piece windshield.
“What I was led to believe, and I have met two other guys in the country that have these... is these were built by a custom coach house for GM in or around Detroit,” Flaherty said.
Regardless of how they were sourced, Oldsmobile sedan deliveries were unique enough to get identified on the firewalls with an exclusive style number: 50-3771. The “50” denoted the model year, while the 3771 was part of a four-digit sequence that started with “37” for the “88” series. Standard 1950 Oldsmobile “88” four-digit style numbers range from 3707 for the two-door club sedan to 3769 for the “88” four-door sedan; the sedan delivery’s 3771 style number was simply a continuation of that sequence.
Fellow 1950 Olds sedan delivery owner Jim Spurbeck added that, “These seven [sedan deliveries] were identified by ‘99’, but ‘88’ emblems were incorporated. To produce ‘99’ emblems for seven vehicles would not be cost-effective.”
Spurbeck’s research also included the plant managers to whom the seven sedan deliveries were assigned: Laurel Dykxhoorn (Flint, Mich.); Moe Zaragoza (Atlanta); Lou Ybanez (Framingham, Mass.); Hardy Tschantz (Kansas City, Mo.); Bud Bjowerud (Linden, N.J.); Larry Adamzadeh (South Gate, Calif.); and Curly (Joe) Myrtakis (Wilmington, Del.).
Flaherty isn’t sure which Oldsmobile factory employed his sedan delivery, but he’s always on the hunt for another “88” that rocketed out of their doors in 1950.
“You know the affliction,” he said. “I think if I could find the fastback and the hardtop, I would have them, too.”
Special thanks to Old Cars reader and 1950 Oldsmobile sedan delivery owner Jim Spurbeck for providing information included in this story.
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