Lot 247

Hershey 2023

1938 Oldsmobile L-38 Convertible Coupe 'Safety Transmission'


Sold After Auction

United States | Hershey, Pennsylvania



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Canadian Registration
  • The only surviving Oldsmobile with the semi-automatic Safety Transmission
  • Equipped with many available options and accessories
  • Formerly owned by Don Spieldenner and Fred Greybeal, Jr.
  • A landmark of General Motors engineering history

The 1938 model year was a transitional period for General Motors, in which the corporation offered its final rumble seats but innovated the Safety Transmission. An early attempt by GM at obsoleting the manual transmission, the Safety Transmission allowed the driver to use the clutch only to get the car moving and underway. From that point, the transmission could be conventionally shifted, up and down, without manual clutch operation. It was, essentially, a semi-automatic gearbox.

The Safety Transmission was costly and, like all new technology, not immediately welcomed by GM’s conservative clientele. It lasted for only a season but was the predecessor of the Hydra-Mmatic, introduced only two years later, which was, of course, a fully automatic transmission, would be hugely popular, and would be used in various forms for four decades. Thus, the Safety Transmission remains a rarity, but an important one, that marked one of the first steps taken toward the engineering of a truly modern automobile.

This 1938 L-38 Convertible Coupe is the only known surviving Oldsmobile equipped with the Safety Transmission. Originally restored in the early 1970s by Don Spieldenner, in his ownership it won Best of Show at the Oldsmobile Nationals in 1973 and an Antique Automobile Club of America Senior First Prize in 1974. It was later sold by the Spieldenners to longtime Oldsmobile enthusiast Fred Greybeal, Jr., of Marion, Virginia, in whose ownership it was refinished in Starlight Blue with a red interior. The car has many of the available options and accessories, including a Deluxe AM radio and dashboard clock. Dual side-mounted spares were, by this time, quite rare, but this car has them, as well, in keeping with its well-optioned persona.

In 2007, the car was sold by the Greybeal family to noted Texas collector, Richard L. Burdick, and was exhibited in his stable for over a decade. More recently part of a noted collection of American convertibles, its restoration remains in good order, with minor patina from age visible throughout, and still has wonderful eye appeal, especially in its beautiful engine-turned dashboard.

Attractive, well-accessorized, and containing a significant engineering landmark under its hood, the Safety Transmission Oldsmobile is an outstanding choice for any enthusiast seeking rare specifications in a beautiful package.