1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88
“Step in my Rocket and don’t be late, baby we’re pullin’ out about half-past eight.”
A ground-breaking, toe-tappin’ tune (look it up, it’s great!), “Rocket 88” is likely the only song ever recorded about an Oldsmobile, but Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats had a lot to sing about.
Widely considered the world’s first muscle car, the Olds Rocket was introduced in 1949. It offered drivers potent V8 power in a relatively small package, hence the reason it was both the subject and title of the world’s first rock-and-roll song.
The car’s engine was on the forefront of a trend that would soon sweep Detroit. Displacing about 304 cubic inches it featured a large bore, small stroke and most importantly, overhead valves. Flathead engine technology was on the way out by the middle of the last century and Oldsmobile was part of the reason. Moving the valves out of the block and putting them above the pistons allowed for much greater airflow and more power.
Henry Ford had popularized the V8 engine layout. In 1932 he was the first to deliver an affordable car with a two-by-four under the hood. But Ford’s depression-era performance advantage was rapidly fading in the years following the Second World War. The flathead may have brought power to the people and spawned the hot-rod revolution, but it was completely outgunned by larger, more efficient powerplants in cars like the sprightly Oldsmobile Rocket 88.