While many people who are into classic cars know the Oldsmobile Starfire, odds are they are remembering the full-figured yet sporty early ’60s hardtop coupe and convertible. Honestly, the name had to have come from the early ’60s. Could there have been a more Jet Age name for a car than Starfire?
Introduced January 1, 1961, the new Starfire was a flossier version of the Super 88. Following the introduction of the 1958 Thunderbird, Detroit quickly caught ‘buckets and console’ fever, and as a result many special models were added by all the manufacturers.
In addition to Super 88 equipment, the Starfire received, naturally, buckets seats and a center console, but also a tachometer, brushed aluminum side moldings on the ‘cove’ stamped into the bodyside, power seats and dual exhaust. It was available solely as a convertible, with a base price of $4,647. Only 7,800 were built.
For 1962, a hardtop coupe joined the convertible. As a result, sales spiked, with 34,839 coupes and 7,149 convertibles built.
It might have helped that the two-door hardtop was over $600 cheaper than the soft top version, $4,131 compared to $4,744.
Interestingly enough, the Starfire convertible was more expensive than the upper-crust Ninety-Eight convertible ($4,459), though the Ninety-Eight two-door coupe was slightly more, at $4,180.
Although the Starfire was definitely more youthful, with that cool aluminum side trim, and of course the buckets and console.
Interiors were suitably bright, bechromed and very, very colorful.
1963 Starfires were a little more ‘grown-up’ looking, though still with its primary identifiers of huge aluminum moldings on the sides, bucket seats and console with floor shift.
Pricing was now $4,129 for the coupe and $4,742 for the soft top.
Production was 21,489 coupes and 4,401 convertibles.
The Starfire’s last year (until today’s featured Olds, that is) was 1966. It was slightly de-trimmed and moved down a tad in the Olds hierarchy to make room for their new halo model, the front-wheel drive Toronado. After a final run of 13,019 coupes (the convertible had been dropped after ’65), the nameplate disappeared. Until 1975. I think it is safe to say that folks who had owned 1961-66 Starfires would not have recognized the new car.
Yes, it was different. Also in 1975, Chevrolet introduced the Monza, which was essentially a Vega with a very sporty, very Italian-looking body, in Monza 2+2 form. All the other GM versions received a copy, and copy is pretty much what they were. Only very minor trim differences separated the Chevy, Olds, Buick and Pontiac-though the Pontiac version would not appear until 1976, as the Sunbird. In 1975, the trio consisted of the Chevrolet Monza, the Buick Skyhawk, and the Oldsmobile Starfire.
Like all of its corporate cousins, it rode a 97 inch wheelbase and an overall length of 179.3 inches. All were powered by the 231 CID V6, with 125 horsepower at 3500 rpm, breathing through a two-barrel Rochester carburetor.
Standard equipment included the aforementioned V6, power front disc brakes, sport steering wheel, cigarette lighter (yes, this was important in 1975) and four-speed manual transmission.
The S coupe had an MSRP of $3,873, while the sport coupe was slightly higher at $4,157. I suspect, but wasn’t able to confirm, that the S was a stripped down model; at any rate only 2,950 Ss were made. The sport coupe took the lion’s share of sales, to the tune of 28,131. But that paled compared to the 66,615 Chevrolet Monzas built – though the Monza did offer a notchback Town Coupe model that wasn’t available as a Starfire.
It was downhill from there for Oldsmobile’s smallest, sportiest model. 20,854 SXs and 8,305 sport coupes were sold in 1976 and 14,181 SXs and 4,910 sport coupes came off the line for ’77.
In its final year, for those who still wanted one, it was still available, though getting a little long in the tooth, and save a facelifted nose, not much different from the inaugural 1975 model. 5,689 sport coupes and 2,548 SXs were made, then that was all she wrote. The 1982 front-drive Firenza was its replacement, though it was available in body styles beyond the two-door hatchback.
One interesting thing about this car is the grille doesn’t appear to be the 1975 grille. In the brochure and contemporary ads, the grille is split, but on this car, it is a single slot.
In fact, it looks like the Buick Skyhawk grille, which begs the question. Was this a classic case of the wrong header panel being put on the wrong car (stuff like that ran rampant in the 1970s, with Dodge Aspens having Plymouth Volare dash emblems, and Thunderbirds with a Mark IV emblem on the fenders), or was it in an accident when still fairly new, and the Buick panel was easier to locate? Who knows?
At any rate, the Starfire does have the correct Oldsmobile script and hood emblem.
I particularly liked the color combination, in burgundy with white interior, black dash and black carpeting. I have seen very few of these, whether Chevy, Pontiac, Olds or Buick, over the past twenty years, and haven’t seen one as nice as this since probably the 1980s. It’s currently for sale on Muncie Craigslist. For more pictures, check out the Craigslist ad here.
Sure, these were ’70s cars, with ’70s paint, quality and driveability issues. To deny that would be the height of folly. But I’ve always had a soft spot for them. They looked good! But then I remember a friend of mine had one (the Buick Skyhawk version, a ’77) that started on fire. On Virginia Beach Boulevard in Norfolk. During rush hour. So I’ll just admire them from a prudent distance. But I wouldn’t say no to a ’62. Make mine mauve.
The interesting thing about these was going to the Buick V6 as the standard engine in place pf Monza’s durabuilt 4 or later iron duke. A modern V6 with a 30% torque advantage to the German V6 in the Mustang II and a good 50 % advantage compared to Celicas. Not all of the youth market was listening, but Olds was telling you the advantage of what Detroit can give that the others can’t. To drive that point home, there was even an optional 5 speed. For once not there to band aid a lack of torque but to take full advantage by adding a tall overdrive over the traditional direct drive fourth. When Toyota finally got around to putting a six in the Celica for 1979, notice it still had a big torque disadvantage, despite an asking price that implied they thought the broughamy Supra was the second coming.
Though the two Starfires were aimed differently, you see the challenge Setroit was seeing with pricing thants to allowing in so many imports. The 1961 equates to $39,640 today while the 1975 sport coupe equates to $20,282 today. Try to find a V6 sport coupe for that today.
Though in these earlier ones it would have been the rougher running non-even fire V6. Though it was a good motor back then and a tribute to its pretty solid engineering that a motor that came out when Kennedy was President was still around and still competitive in the 2000’s
While I didn’t own one of these, I knew a number of people who did. If I’m honest, these cars were hit and miss in terms of assembly quality and they rusted pretty well, but not as fast as a Pinto or any of the other imported subcompacts.
A good friend of mine had a yellow Starfire that he called the Sunfish. It had the Buick paint shaker and the five speed manual trans. For a car assembled back in the nadir of emissions controls, it was pretty darned zippy. It also ran pretty well, considering some of the other H-bodies I was familiar with had constant problems with drivability, which not that it was unusual compared to other early emissions cars. One thing that GM did right was the styling on these H-bodies, looking like a tiny Ferrari. They definitely turned heads back in the day.
I’m too young to remember the original Starfires other than as old used cars. The H-body Starfire, Skyhawk, Monza and Sunbird were part of the background scenery for me. But the real upgrade really was the J-body reboot of these cars. The assembly of the J-bodies (believe it or not) was better than the H-bodies. The fuel economy was better, the space utilization was better and once you got into optional engines, the performance was better.
Given my druthers, I’d go for a nice 2.8L powered V6 Firenza from the mid 80’s over any of the H-bodies. Maybe the V8 Monza Spyder might be worth a look but I still prefer the J-body cars…
The FWD J-cars don’t deserve half the negative rep they get hit with……
I really liked the styling of the Monza and clones, and they were certainly much better looking that the Mustang II. Unfortunately, they weren’t very well engineered cars. The Vega sized brakes were marginal at best for the heavier V-6 and V-8 versions, the V-8 Monza needed to have the engine moved in order to access the rear spark plugs, and the 6 and 8 cylinder engines provided very anemic power until the 305 version was later added. Build quality was also atrocious, which is probably why so few of these pretty cars survived.
The beauty of 1960s Starfire on the other hand is in the details. The styling inside and out is not only flashy, but clearly also done with quality materials and good workmanship. Thanks for the nice photos and history lesson Tom.
I had a olds starfire, with the 231 engine. It died on the railroad tracks, with a carb full of fuel bubbling away….the linkage had broke, and I was waiting for the trains whistle to blow…..ready to say goodbye….
A college friend’s dad had a ’62 convertible and we drove it a lot back in ’64-’65. I remember it being typically GM, floaty and the Hydramatic shifted sloooowly. But, with the top down and the AM cranked up, it was a wonderful place to be!
Yeah, I remember these from when I was a kid. The styling was great. They were rust buckets, though, and few survived. My high school parking lot was a sea of J-bodies, but I recall only one of two of the H-bodies. And those were very rust-perforated.
Always thought it would be interesting with an LS1/T56 swap and modern brakes. Souped-up Vegas and Monzas were a mainstay of drag racing for a good long time.
While growing up, our family owed two, over a period of several years, and both wound up junked because of the poor design of the front strut mounts. The unibody was unable to support the weight and it cracked and buckled the sheet metal, eventually causing irreparable / non-mitigatable issues with the front suspension and steering.
The H body did not have struts, front or rear, but a live rear axle and unequal length control arms up front.
I think the issue he’s referring to happened to Chevettes.
It appears Oldsmobile was considering retaining the Starfire name for their J-car variant before settling on Firenza.
The Monza clones, to me, were interchangeable and quickly destroyed by rust. Forgotten even faster – the only legacy they left was that it was the most-blatant example of badge-engineering ever seen to that date.
But the 1961 and 1962 Olds models…are a trip down Memory Lane. Two of my friends, when I was a little runt, had those in their family. I remember, now, the 1961 grille – belonging to the mother of one kid my age. She was trying to pretend to be a swinging beauty – she wasn’t especially bad looking, but with four kids, and trying to play “hott” …it was jarring. She had a convertable 1961 – from her self-employed husband, who she later ditched. Not the Starfire – but I remember those wonderful lines, the bladed fenders, the dramatic pod taillights, the rolling-under grille. Even at six years old, I knew it was something special.
Another friend’s father had the 1962. I didn’t know what year it was; but I knew it was about the same generation for the teardrop vent pane. But, more sober…an interesting, but less-whimsical grille, with design language later explored with both a Toronado model and a Thunderbird. The snout, protruding forward of the body lines.
That was an Olds but a stripper olds. IIRC, it had three-on-the-tree – decontented, with minimal chrome. Later got traded in for a 1969 Rambler wagon.
I owned an identical maroon 1975 Olds Starfire (SX high option model) as in your picture. Maroon velour interior. As for the “Buick” nose, that was on all early-production ’75 Starfires, as the Olds ‘twin nostril” nose cap was not available until around December of that model year. If I remember right, the car also had the Buick steering wheel (three spoke), but with an Olds center cap. One other piece of trivia- these Monza-series, HS-body cars were originally intended to use a Wankel engine, but the Wankel never delivered adequate fuel economy, so GM stuffed a 262-cid V8 in the Chevy Monza and the Buick 231-cid V6 in the Olds Starfire and the Buick Skyhawk. The too-small engine bay that was designed for the more compact Wankel resulted in two spark plugs being hidden from easy access in the Monza saddled with the longer block V8. The V6, however, fit just fine, other than the oil filter being located over a frame member, making oil changes messy. Sold the ’75 to my boss’s wife and bought myself a ’78 Starfire with the waterfall grill and the smoother, improved even-firing V6.