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Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 Photo Blunder: 1952 Los Angeles Auto Show

The lead photo of an Oldsmobile auto show chassis with actor and model Shirley Buchanan is one of a series of pre-show press photos taken of cars and show displays with celebrity Hollywood models. The occasion was the ten-day Los Angeles International Automobile Show held between March 7th to the 16th, 1952.

While looking at the photograph of the chassis, at first glance, it appeared to be equipped with a cutaway Olds “Rocket” V-8, 303 c.i. engine. After enlarging a section of the shot containing the motor it soon became apparent that it was indeed a highly prepared and detailed display cross-sectioned just behind the first two cylinders. In a rush to prepare this photo before sending it out to the press it was altered by haphazardly placing a section from another photo on top of it.

  • Expanded section of the image above shows the poorly doctored 1952 Olds V-8 o.h.v valve engine.

  • Colored illustration of the Olds “Rocket” V-8 engine from the automakers 1952 brochure.

The “Rocket” engine was one of two advanced o.h.v. postwar V-8 engines introduced in 1949 by General Motors. The motors would serve as models for many other modern engines produced by both US and Foreign auto and truckmakers for over fifty years; the other engine was the 331 c.i. Cadillac V-8. The pair of power plants are completely different designs, although further advancements with either were shared by both of the GM divisions.

Other press photos of 1952 a Hudson cutaway display and a Packard Convertible at the show preview will follow.

Share with us what you find of interest in the image courtesy of the USC Libraries. The color illustration above is a part of a 1949 Oldsmobile brochure courtesy of The Old Car Manual Project.

  • Shirley Buchanan below posing with the 1949 Oldsmobile display chassis at the Los Angeles Automobile show held at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium.


22 responses to “Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 Photo Blunder: 1952 Los Angeles Auto Show

  1. I’m just taking a guess here…but in 1952 the average person looking at the photo could have overlooked the faux pas with the Rocket V-8.

  2. The hot 1949 Olds 88 with the Rocket engine was a real hot rod accelerating from a standstill. Olds dealers would lay a dollar bill on the seat and challenge you to pick it up as the car accelerated. Consequently, buyers complained they kept spinning the tires on starting up, and in 1952 (51?) the transmission gearing was revised so the car became a bit of a slug starting off. I noticed this on an uncles new 1952 Olds compared to his 1949. I only recently read of this explanation and thought it interesting.

  3. In 2006 on a vacation to Detroit (Car guy, Detroit = Mecca) I had chance encounter at the Packard Proving Grounds in Utica, MI. A member of the Packard club let us into one of the outbuildings . In there was a 1956 Packard display chassis, like the one in the photo. It showed the torsion-bar suspension with automatic load-leveling,the Ultramatic transmission with the new push-button gear selector. It was worn with age, and had some rust spots. I’ve often wondered what it’s life was from the end of the 1956 auto show season until then, and what became of it since.

    • Ken, you miss the point here I think. Look again at the front cylinder area. Do you think Olds had a hinged valve cover that allowed you do peek into the valve train at that time. Or was this a mistake as noted above.

    • I’ve seen double sided whitewalls before. Also on display chassis like this that were never intended to be driven, and were only seen from one side,. the tires further from the viewer were simply reversed so that the whitewall was seen on the inside.

    • You never see them today, but back in the day, even the deluxe versions of America’s lowest priced late-Thirties cars and trucks (Bantam) were fitted with two-sided whitewalls.

  4. It’s not a photo blunder. The engine is split in half and the front section is tilted forward so you can see inside. Look at the photo in the USC set taken from the other side.

    • John, Take a close look at the size and scale of the front part of the “split in half” engine.

      It is close to twice the size and scale of the of the actual “cutaway” engine and there appears no possible reason for Oldsmobile to do that.

      The chassis on the show floor was set up on a platform about four feet off of the ground and with this extra large front part of the “split in half” engine it would for all practical purposes block off most of the view of either half of the cutaway except for a small part visible from the sides.

    • I have to agree with John. The shot from the other side shows the engine in essentially the same position. Perhaps it is just the angle of the engine, the fact it’s closer to the camera or the light paint color that makes it look larger – and I’d agree, it does – but looking at the originals on the USC site, I don’t see any evidence of the front half being superimposed. The overall focus of the shots is soft enough that the sharp cut line of a paste up would be easily seen. Besides, these were just some publicity shots taken for the show promoters – the same models appear in several different brand cars – doubtless for distribution to the local newspapers. Nobody would have cared enough to go thru all that rigamarole. Even if it only involved a “flunky.”

      • Jay, I hear what you are saying about all of the trouble to do this.

        On the other side of the coin, the front half of the engine in the shots is about 1.5 times the size of the rear half, compare the two together and the width of the valve cover and it is quiet evident. Why would a car company go to all of the trouble to do this when it fact made it quite hard to clearly see the interesting part of the cutaway – the insides?

  5. Something in the background was being covered up, I suspect. I can just make out *SCHLITZ* just to the left of the edited area so I figure there was something or somebody back there doing something they didn’t want associated with the intended product – the Olds chassis and engine. The pic had already been taken some time before and couldn’t easily be re-taken, so some executive found some flunky in their department, handed them the original pic and then another engine pic and told them to make that background situation ‘go-away,’ without further delay. The flunky did exactly that, without regards to actual physics or geometry. Since all attention would be directed to the actress, the botched edit could go ‘as-is’ for plenty of time and perhaps nobody would ever really notice. Having been both a photographer and newsletter editor I believe this to be very likely.

  6. This more than likely happened because an error on the Stripping Table. The Stripping Table could be used back in the day to create composite images when something in an original (negative) needed to be changed for printing and a re-shoot was not practical or possible. If the stripper was more familiar with engines it may have been avoided. The Stripping Table was in many ways an analogue version of today’s Photoshop.

  7. Ref: white wall on both sides. My 1940 salesmans data book tells about 6.00×16 tires were double sided white walls. Also same for 6.50×16 All 8 cylinder cars,90 series, came with 7.50×15 tires and white walls only one side.

  8. WELL: It pleases me that the only botch was from the Fertawgrawfer’ s Wild – – – Guess about the engine’s components!!! Shirley “saved the day” for GMC & the rest of us!

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