The Oldsmobile Rocket 88 was a full size car that saw eleven different generations ranging from 1949-1999. The first four generations were different than the boat-style vehicle produced in the later generations. It was relatively small in size, light weight, and had an advanced overhead-valve high-compression V8 engine developing 135 horsepower and 283 lb-ft of torque. The increased compression ratio also helped the car improve upon fuel efficiency by 10%. These specs are what lead people to believe that this was the first ever muscle car.
Today most people consider the Ford Mustang to be the original muscle car. After all, it did start a revolution of sorts with companies building smaller cars with bigger engines to satisfy the appetite of the American consumer. Its seems to us that one legendary automaker, now more known for building your grandfather’s car, was poised to begin the horsepower arms race in the early 1950s. Oldsmobile was part of the larger General Motors conglomerate that had strict marketing and production plans for its various monikers.
The cars that utilized a big V8 were strictly Cadillac and LaSalle models. The main reason they needed a V8 was to move their behemoth bodies around, but GM also felt it helped distinguish those cars as the top of the line models. Oldsmobile was about to shake things up in more than one way. For starters, if they were going to make a more powerful production car that was also exhilarating to drive then they were going to need a completely new car body to work with.
At that time, the company had the compact 76 series cars and the very large 98 series. The company decided to use the underlying chassis of the 76 series, put a brand new V8 under the hood, and design a body to mimic the space race era. This would all come together to be the Rocket 88 car that is now legendary and truly began the muscle car era way back when it was introduced in 1949.