The Oldsmobile Hugo

Arthur C. Clarke received Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

Arthur C. Clarke receives Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

It might have been the greatest April Fool’s joke in the history of science fiction had the 1956 Hugo Awards been given on this date. They weren’t, but there’s no more appropriate day for the story of Dave Kyle’s Hugos.

When the Hugo Award was revived in 1955 (having skipped a year) the Cleveland Worldcon committee hoped Jack McKnight, who machined the originals in 1953, would make their rockets, too. Time passed and their letters brought no replies. Finally, Nick Falasca asked, couldn’t they simply use Oldsmobile “Rocket 88″ model hood ornaments?

They ordered one from the local Olds dealer. Unfortunately, the rocket had a hollow underside. It wouldn’t look right standing perpendicular to the base, the way every Bonestell fan envisioned a rocket ready to launch. The committee discarded the hood ornament idea. Ben Jason asked the Hoffman Bronze Co. prepare a pattern rocket from his design. Yet Jason must have had an unfulfilled longing for the Rocket 88 logo because his 1955 Hugos still looked like a larger, 3-dimensional version of Oldsmobile’s emblem.

Attending Clevention’s awards banquet was Dave Kyle, chair of the next year’s Worldcon. Dave must have thought the Rocket 88 logo was nifty, too. And never mind Bonestell — Dave knew how to take care of the objection to hollow hood ornaments.

1956NyConSo NyCon II produced the1956 Hugos by affixing Oldsmobile rockets to a decorative wooden backing. The L-shaped base displayed the rocket standing upright while concealing its hollow underside.

I’m confident Arthur C. Clarke in the photo above is smiling with pleasure about the award he’s just won. But if he was laughing about Dave Kyle’s audacity at handing him a Hugo made from car parts who could blame him?  

(To see how Hugos are made today, read Peter Weston’s article at the official Hugo Awards website.)

1 thought on “The Oldsmobile Hugo

  1. Some of the “jet plane” hood ornaments from ’50s cars would have been good, too. I’m particularly fond of the ones from the 1953 Mercury Montclair and the 1955 Pontiac Star Chief.

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