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This or That: 1963 Olds Dynamic 88 versus 1964 Dodge 880 Custom

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1963 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 (top); 1964 Dodge 880 Custom (bottom). Images by the author.

Editor’s note: This or That is not a comparison report between two vehicles, but rather a feature that enables us, in an idyllic world, to add a collectible vehicle into our dream garage on a weekly basis, but with a catch: We can only pick one vehicle from this pairing and it has to be for enjoyment purposes rather than as an investment.

This episode of This or That explores the possibility of open-air motoring with a pair of convertibles: a 1963 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 versus a 1964 Dodge 880 Custom. Each were former features in our Hemmings Classic Car magazine.

Perhaps Oldsmobile’s factory literature stated it best: The Dynamic 88 was the “value leader of the medium-priced field.” It wasn’t just a bold selling statement. As the restyled 1963 models were rolled off the assembly line, the Dynamic 88 remained the division’s entry-level full-size car, which featured smoother flanks complemented by crisply peaked fenders and quarter panels. Available in six body styles – a sedan, two hardtops, a convertible and two wagon variants – the chassis consisted of a “Guard-Beam” box design frame featuring four crossmembers and a 123-inch wheelbase, along with a wider 62.2-inch and 61-inch front and rear track width respectively. To help resist twisting, four torque boxes were installed at each corner. Inside, bench seats were finished in pleated Morocceen vinyl or a combination of pleated Morocceen and cloth in eight color combinations, though convertibles were restricted to four colors, along with four colors of fade-resistant fabric tops. Among the items found on the option chart were power steering, power brakes, AM or an AM-FM radio, seat belts, heater, white-wall tires and air conditioning.

Undeniably stylish, the Dynamic 88 was surprisingly sporty with one of three variants of the division’s 394 cubic inch V-8 available. Fitted with a Rochester two-barrel carburetor and touting a 10.25:1 compression ratio, the base version produced 280 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. Olds offered a no-cost economy option that, thanks in part to a reduced 8.75:1 compression ratio, was rated for 260 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque. An optional performance version with a Rochester four-barrel bumped output to 330 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque. Each of these engines were backed by either the Roto Hydra-Matic automatic transmissions (later nicknamed “Slim Jim”), or a three-speed manual transmission with the gear selector mounted on the steering column.

Overall, Dynamic 88 sales witnessed a 5.61 percent jump in production for 1963. More than 199,300 were assembled for the model year, including 12,551 convertibles like the one pictured above.

Meanwhile, Dodge – since the dawn of the Sixties – had been struggling to catch up in a hurry. As we chronicled in the August 2010 issue of Hemmings Classic Car (Utilitarian Beauty – 1964 Dodge Custom 880):

In the early days of the Sixties, rumors abounded of Chevrolet downsizing its entire fleet. As a result, Chrysler Corporation’s frenzied rush to keep up with the competition meant that everything in the Dodge camp was redesigned into a substantially smaller package. In a strange twist of fate, the poor-selling De Soto was nixed early in the 1961 model run, which effectively left the mid-price full-size car market wide open for the competition to absorb.

This goof became obvious almost immediately in late 1961, when Chevrolet introduced the new 1962 Chevy II Nova to its already established and little altered intermediate and full-size lineup. Chrysler’s error became even more obvious when law enforcement agencies, which traditionally favored full-size Dodge sedans, began to consider other marques. Since it was too late in the cycle to design and introduce a new full-size car, company officials simply took their 1961 Chrysler body shell from the windshield back and grafted on a ’61 Dodge front end. The end result was given the Custom 880 designation and made available in five body styles, including the hardtop wagon.

For the 1964 model year, the Custom 880’s styling was changed ever so slightly from the previous models. Most notable was the grille: now concave with a horizontal bar flanked by quad headlamps. Above each set of lamps was a fender ornament not seen on any other Dodge. Engineers retained the same 122-inch-wheelbase chassis, as well as all the different engine and transmission offerings.

That chassis, as found under our featured convertible, was a unit-body design that was virtually identical to the Chrysler Newport, comprised of a front independent torsion bar system featuring non-parallel control arms and tubular shock absorbers. The rear half was stabilized by an asymmetrical leaf spring system (seven leaves under station wagons; six under all other models) that helped prevent wheel hop during hard acceleration. Tubular shock absorbers completed the ensemble.

The body, with its uniquely curved-at-the-top windshield, enveloped a bench seat interior shod with vinyl or vinyl with nylon inserts. Its instrument panel was arranged in a three-tier layout: the top third housed the horizontal speedometer; the middle section auxiliary gauges, air circulation controls, automatic transmission push-button controls and optional clock; and the lower tier light and auxiliary equipment controls, as well as the ignition. Power windows, power steering and power brakes were just some of the optional convenience equipment offered in the 880 and Custom 880 series.

Below the hood was a standard 265 hp V-8 that employed a two-barrel carburetor and 9.0:1 compression ratio. Just one option was available: a 10.0:1 compression V-8 that was rated for 305 horsepower, also fitted with a two-barrel carburetor. Several sources suggest that a V-8 was also available; however this engine was reserved strictly for fleet police pursuit sales. Fleet sales excluded, most 880 and Custom 880s were built (or ordered) with the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic, although a three-speed and A833 four-speed manual were optional; both floor-shifted units.

As it turned out, the 880 and Custom 880 models were a quick fix that just happened to work, appealing to consumers who wanted a full-size car from the Chrysler Corporation at a more affordable price than those available in the parent company’s luxury line. After a 61 percent increase in sales was recorded for the 1963 season, the series output for 1964 increased nearly 13 percent. That percentage is a bit misleading, however, when one takes note that total 1964 output numbered 13,760 cars across the two 880 and Custom 880 trim levels. This includes just 1,058 convertibles; a body style that was available only in the upscale Custom 880 subseries.

Armed with this knowledge, which of the two would you add to your stable and why?