Thursday, September 06, 2007

Some ROCKIN' impressions of Dave Foster's 1949 Rocket 88, seen at the Goodguys Nats in Pleasanton

(above) friends, meet Dave Foster from Roseville, CA
(above) yes, it's a '49, but with a '50 one-piece windshield

(above) intrepid photog, reflected

(above) Dave and Betty Foster's second Olds 88 (as above),
but briefly with nerf bars,
shown here in front of Dave's high school alma mater,
Sequoia High School, Redwood City, CA
the center of the Peninsula territory where Dave cruised for many years.
(above and two below) a de-chromed East Bay beauty,
of similar vintage, with the latest in flame treatments
(photo by Jack Snell, shown here in Vacaville, CA)
(this and two photos below,
(above) photo by Jack Snell, same car, at a Vallejo, CA meet
(above) photo by Jack Snell, same car, at a Rio Vista (CA) meet;
note valve cover marking
(above) said by some to be the first muscle car (?),
a 1950 Rocket 88, in motion
(photos above and below by Brian Vance,
for Motor Trend,
(above) 1950 Olds Rocket 88 engine
(above) the re-designed rocket hood ornament, for 1950;
note raised fins in middle section,
quite different from the long-tailed sculpture shown on Dave Foster's '49.
(above) another way to go about it: a 1950 "88" with lakes pipes
(above and below) one aspect of the 88's racing pedegree,
here, a restored 1950 entrant in the
Mexico-Pan America Road Race, driver Herschel McGriff
(above) SoCal customizer George Barris apparently was one of the first
to graft a what looks to be a '48 Cadillac to a '49 Olds, the "Stray Cat,"
and lowered the profile for full effect
(image copyright Serious Wheels,
(above) a recreation of a circa-1950 NASCAR-racing "88"
(image copyright Serious Wheels,
(above) 1949 "88" Indy pace car
(above) Motorama display car, circa 1951.
Note clear hood insert displaying Rocket 88 engine,
and the oversize rocket
which looks like it could by itself literally achieve lift-off
(above) the great Rocket 88 campaign in 1951
(below) early 1949 ad, still "Futuramic," just before Rocket engine was introduced
(below) two 1948 "Futuramic" ads, the Rocket engine
would be featured the following year

(cluster above) Here's a rare photo of Jackie Brenston, who sang the #1 R&B hit in 1951,"Rocket 88," and played sax in his cousin Ike Turner's band, the Kings of Rhythm (renamed "Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats" by Sun Studios producer Sam Phillips, when he sent "Rocket 88" to Chess Records in Chicago for issue).
So I was cruising the Goodguys West Coast Nats in Pleasanton two Saturdays ago, and on a whim I decided to revisit a section of the fairgrounds where I'd already seen some fine rides and took some nifty photos. To my utter surprise and delight, I literally stumbled upon Dave Foster's '49 Rocket 88.
Now as all you readers know from perusing ROCKIN', the subject of the song "Rocket 88" and its relationship to the car of the same name is greatly detailed on pages 26 - 27. So here was an opportunity to spend some time with the car itself, and its owner.
Dave Foster is Corporate Controller for B&G Delivery System, Inc. in Sacramento. He and his beautiful wife Betty live in Roseville, the same town as where ROCKIN's book designer, Brent Rector, makes his some with wife Jen and son Rex.
I wandered around the car about 35 times, each time discovering more and more amazing reflections and sculptural details, as you see above. It helped that the deep black paint was hugely reflective.
I then asked Dave if he'd send me the story of this outstanding vehicle, and here it is:
"The "88" is the fulfillment of a long time dream. In the early 1960s, I had one just like it, enjoyed it for a very long time, and then (as things go) sold it. Nearly 40 years later, this '49 "88" (pictured here) was fashioned as a remembrance of that earlier vehicle.
"So, let's go back in time. In 1960 I traded a '53 Oldsmobile Hardtop Coupe for a black '49. The '49 was bored, had an Engle cam, "staggered four" carbs, a 4.11 rear end, and a LaSalle floor box transmission. After I acquired it, a four-barrell replaced the "four twos," and a nice burgundy tuck and roll interior was installed in Tijuana. I also replaced the front bumper with nerf bars.
"From 1960 to 1963, I had the greatest time cruising El Camino boulegard between San Francisco and San Jose, with my home being right in the middle--Redwood City. The car was raced numerous times at the Half Moon Bay and Fremont drag strips. I also cruised Modesto, a la American Graffiti. In August, 1962, I met Betty and we began dating. We married in November, 1963. Weeks before the wedding, the black '49 was sold and replaced by a '57 Olds. Alas . . .
"Years passed. Two daughters and four grandchildren later, I began the search for another '49. There were very few '49 coupes to be had, but in late 1999 a beautifully restored coupe was discovered. As nice as it was, it wasn't black . . . yet.
"The transformation to black involved a complete disassembly and reassembly. While this Deluxe 88 coupe is the exact model, including all trim, of the '49 I owned earlier, it differs in a number of respects (including a '50 one-piece windshield). It has a 455 Olds engine with a 400 Turbo transmission, a front and rear air-canover suspension, and a 9" Currie-Ford rear-end. The black custom interior has many Cadillac Eldorado features; the wheels are 16" chrome reverse, and the front brakes are 12" disc. A note on the canover suspension. These are canisters with air, in place of springs and shocks. They are metal devices, not bags, and are patterned after an aircraft design. This custom work was handled in large part by Roseville Rod & Custom, Jason Haskin's Hot Rod Shop (paint), Ward Auto Interiors, and Aaron's Machine (also in Roseville).
"Early on I discussed a possible engine re-work with Aaron. When I got it, it had a 303 V8 Rocket (the original for the car) and was recently rebuilt. A performance cam would have been nice, but, Aaron suggested if changes were to be made, why not put in a 1972 "455"? Then, Roseville Rod & Custom built the custom headers and exhaust, jet coated.
"A word about the interior. My and Betty's daily driver was a 1996 Cadillac Eldorado. One day, I thought maybe an Eldorado shifter, vanity mirrors, bucket seats, and courtesy lights would look good in the Olds. My second daily driver was a 1991 5.0 Mustang, so the shoulder harness seat belts were selected from that.
"One day, while visiting the Roseville shop, I was asked, "have you thought about your wiring? It's 50 years old!" That led to a complete rewiring with a Ron Francis kit. Another day, "Have you thought about your firewall?" And that led to a smoothed engine bay.
"Bottom line, this originally was to be a relatively straightforward project . . . turn a green car into a black car. But, like so many wonderful projects, it became a full rebuild, frame up, with many changes. For while it had nerf bars. So I can't really call it an exact "replica" of my earlier '49. It really is a "remembrance."
Dave's '49 was featured in the July, 2002 issue of Rod & Custom. You also can read more about at the Roseville Rod and Custom website,
Here are a few other notes about the song, and about the car.
From, "Jackie Brenston was playing tenor sax and singing in Ike Turner's band in Memphis in 1951, and when the band was recording there that year he was given the microphone to record "Rocket 88," which had been written by Turner. Ike Turner, born in 1931, started gigging at the age of 9, and soon was playing professionally with Howlin' Wolf, BB King, Sonny Boy Williamson, etc. in the Memphis area. In his teens he was also a DJ and a talent scout for the Modern and Chess labels, and he even played piano on many of those records (editor's note: by the time he created the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, he mostly played bass). In 1951, at Sam Phillips' tiny recording studio in Memphis, Turner and his Kinds of Rhythm band recorded "Rocket 88," with Brenston handling the vocals and adding some sax. However, Phillips shipped the tape to Chess Records in Chicago as having been performed by "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats," and Chess released it as such. Songwriting credit on the record also went to Brenston. It was similar in many ways to the 1947 record by Jimmy Liggins called "Cadillac Boogie." The song was the first hit record for Phillips (it went to #1 on the R&B charts), who would use the cash to start his own label, Sun Records, and BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Junior Parker, and Elvis Presley started their careers there. Although "Rocket 88" has been cited as having the attributes of the "first rock & roll record," it was very much like "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino, "Rock The Joint" by Jimmy Preston, "Rockin' at Midnight" by Roy Brown, "Rock and Roll" by Wild Bill Moore, and "Good Rockin' Tonight" by Wynonie Harris."
From, an article by Bill Vance. "The '49 Olds Rocket 88 (could be measured against) the 1932 Ford (in terms of its impact). Ford's V8 engine in a light bodied car was one of the most spirited vehicles on the road. Olds did the same in 1949. Each was a performance sensation, although Olds moved it to a higher plateau and really began the modern high performance ear. Both were pioneering efforts. Whereas Ford brought smooth, velvety V8 power to the popular price field, Olds--along with Cadillac--introduced the short stroke, overhead valve V8 to the American scene (and set the standard for the next 30 years). Actually Olds began working on its new V8, which it called the Rocket, in 1946. It was based on experimental work done by GM's research director, Charles Kettering, whose experiments led to adding tetraethyl lead to gasoline, raising the fuel's octane, or resistance to knock, allowing much higher compression ratios. Kettering's paper on high compression that he presented to the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1947 started a revolution. Olds pressed forward in their development of a higher compression engine, settling on the V8 because it was compact and because its short crankshaft was sturdier than that of an inline eight. Cadillac at the same time was working on a new overhead valve, short stroke, high compression V8 which it introduced in 1949, but the new Olds and Caddy engines shared no common parts. The Olds Rocket engine appeared in the fall of 1948, initially in Olds' top-of-the-line (and much heavier) "98" series. It displaced 5.0 litres (303.7 cu. in.) and developed 135 hp. But then Olds installed the new V8 into the much lighter "76" series, new-for-1949 A-body, and called it the "88." It was introduced to the public as a mid-year model in February, 1949, and instantly nicknamed the "Rocket 88." Immediately, it was chosen as the pace car for the 1949 Indy 500. The new "88," although only a half-year model, helped increase Olds' sales from 171,518 in 1948 to 288,310 in 1949. In 1950, Olds sold 268,414 "88's." It also vaulted Olds from a somewhat staid, conservative marque to a high performer that became the one to beat (prior to the advent of the Hudson "Hornet") on the fledgling NASCAR circuit. It won six of the nine NASCAR late-model division races in 1949, 10 of 19 in 1950, and 20 of 41 in 1952."
Technically speaking, the Rocket 88 engine had a number of interesting features: overhead valve train, hydraulic lifters, forged crank with counterweights, aluminum pistons, full-floating wrist-pins, and a dual plane intake manifold. The "88" had a 22.5:1 power-to-weight ratio, outstanding for its day. With that, it brought to thousands of buyers the kind of performance once reserved for high-priced cars or home-built hot rods. You could buy an "88" for as low as "2,143," with the Rocket engine. Just sayin' . . .
You can see an array of fascinating ads for the 1948 - 1955 Olds "88's" at In addition, there's a fascinating DVD of suchlike material, "Classic Oldsmobile Commercials," at
Other references to consider: (stories by Bruce Kunz, and especially look for the one titled "1950 Oldsmobile Rocet 88 was my "father's Oldsmobile.")
- ("1950 Oldsmobile garaged for 20 years")
- ("1950s Oldsmobile Concept Car sells for $3 Million")
- ("Olds Rocket: Winnter of the 1950 Mexican Road Race")
- (where Pete Johnson's "Rocket 88 Boogie, Parts 1 and 2", an instrumental, originally recorded for Swing Time Records in 1949, is noted, along with many other tidbits and arcania).
and finally, there's a video from the 1970s of blues harmonica great James Cotton, tearin' up with his version of "Rocket 88", at


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