For most of its existence, Oldsmobile had its cars produced by General Motors. Its birth did not happen under the GM umbrella, however, rather, it came to be as the Olds Motor Vehicle Company so birthed by Ransom E. Olds in 1897. In its lifetime, Oldsmobile made and sold over 35 million vehicles before it finally closed shop in 2004. That’s a polite way of saying it was sacrificed by a cash-strapped GM to consolidate and save Chevrolet.
Olds was known for many cool cars and a few lemons too. It was GM’s middle child, slotted below Cadillac and Buick but above Chevrolet, and Pontiac. Yet, it was an over-achiever, known for the best of tech.
Olds saw the strongest sales in the ’80s, with over 1 million annual sales from 1983 to 1986. But by the ’90s, the charm was fading. When it finally gave up, it was America’s oldest surviving marque and worthy of respect. Here’s celebrating Oldsmobile with cars that sold aplenty and some that were just lemons.
10 No One Bought: Oldsmobile Intrigue
The Intrigue made its debut in 1998 as a brand new nameplate in the Oldsmobile lineup. The car shared its hardware with its cousins like the Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevy Impala, Buick Century, and Buick Regal. It came armed with either a 3.5-liter or a 3.8-liter V6 mill paired with the same four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.
The Intrigue felt European and offered desirable amenities but somehow, buyers went towards the Impala and the Regal, although even these were dying breeds. The Intrigue, unlike its nameplate, offered no mystery or allure.
9 Sold Like Hotcakes: Oldsmobile 88
The 88 became the game changer for Oldsmobile in the late 40s. It was introduced in 1949 as a replacement for the 70 series and holds the title of the very first all-American muscle car. It was the car that started Oldsmobile’s Rocket V8’s successful run in 1949.
This ground-breaking rocket engine was also the first post-war overhead-valve V8 developed by GM. The Olds 88 remained in production for another 50 years and thrived for over ten generations until 1999. Not just on road, the 88s dominated the NASCAR series between 1949 and 1952, pushing the sales even further.
8th No One Bought: Oldsmobile Bravada
In the early 90s, the luxury SUV bazaar was limited to larger trucks like the Range Rover and Grand Wagoneer. Around the same time, GM was mulling over the idea of creating a new segment of a luxury compact SUV. So, the Bravada was born.
But this was not a new truck, rather a badge-engineered Chevy Blazer with an even blander design but a pricier tag. This didn’t go down well with the buyers back then. The 1991-introduced Bravadas didn’t survive past the 2004 model year.
7 Sold Like Hotcakes: Oldsmobile 98
The 98’s journey started in 1941 and it remained popular till 1996 as a full-size flagship model. Except for a three-year gap between 1943 & 1945 due to WWII, 98s were in production for almost a good four and a half decades.
During this time the 98s were the top-line Olds. Later too, they remained loaded with first-rate features through all twelve generations. While the 98s were nothing more than giant 88s, they ruled the golden age of large luxury cars in the US and strongly competed with the Cadillacs and Lincolns of the time.
6 No One Bought: Oldsmobile Aurora
Oldsmobile lasted 124 years and before it went defunct, it launched the Aurora as a last hurrah! It debuted in 1995 as a flagship luxury sedan featuring the best GM had at the time. Including a massive 250-horsepower 4.0-liter V8 powerhouse that also made 250 lb-ft of torque.
As a last-ditch effort to revive the struggling Oldsmobile brand, the Aurora was done right. However, Oldsmobile was too deeply embroiled in its financial dilemmas and discontinued the nameplate in 2003. One year later, Olds itself died.
5 Sold Like Hotcakes: Oldsmobile Starfire
Debuting in 1961, the Starfire shared most of its underpinnings with its siblings, the Super 88 and the Dynamic 88. But the Starfire was more expensive and also carried more goodies for its buyers than others. Among these were classy leather bucket seats, a center console with a rev counter, a power driver’s seat, and a floor shifter for GM’s revolutionary Hydramatic transmission.
At the time it was the first full-size production car in the US that featured an automatic transmission with a floor shifter. Everything was perfect for the Starfire and it sold like hotcakes in the 60s simply because it was the fanciest.
4 No One Bought: Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Diesel
The concept of diesel-powered GMs was fresh in 1978 and buyers were blown away by the fact that these engines could deliver 30 miles per gallon. GM decided to use the fourth-generation Cutlass Supreme to publicize diesel engines with a 4.3-liter V8 oil burner.
But later they turned out to be a fiasco. These diesel engines were not reliable. Rather, they broke apart at will. GM launched another more durable 5.7-liter V8 diesel mill in a bid to save face but by that time, the damage was done. GM’s ill-fated diesel mills were a big dent on Oldsmobile’s sales.
3 Sold Like Hotcakes: Oldsmobile 442
The 442 was the GM’s bet in the full-fledged high-performance car’s bazaar and it turned out to be a good one. It debuted in 1964 following the amazing success of its cousin the Pontiac GTO, which had launched a year earlier in 1963.
Later in 1968, freshly-launched Hurst models cemented the 442’s brand identity in the segment and it sold like hotcakes. The 442 remained in production till 1980 and after a gap of four years, reappeared as a trim level on the Cutlass Supreme and Cutlass Calais briefly. It still sells as a classic muscle car today.
2 No One Bought: Oldsmobile Firenza
The Oldsmobile Firenza was as bad as its cousin, the Chevrolet Cavalier, but a more expensive buy. Cavalier’s affordability still made people stop and listen but no one bought the more expensive Firenzas. The Firenza debuted in 1982 and was never a good seller from day one.
It lasted only till 1988 but has the dubious distinction of being the worst-selling model from Oldsmobile’s stable. The J-Body Firenza also had a sportier trim on the lines of Chevy Citation X-11 but the buyers preferred the latter although the Buick Skyhawk also suffered a similar fate.
1 Sold Like Hotcakes: Oldsmobile Toronado
Oldsmobile took the covers off the Toronado in late 1965 and it soon became the biggest news of that year. It was on a league of its own as it featured a front wheel drive along with its long, sleek profile. It was the first US-made front-wheel-drive car in almost 30 years after Cord made them till 1937.
Other niceties were the concealed headlamps, Turbo-Hydramatic three-speed automatic transmission, and massive V8 mills. Later generations also featured an efficient V6 engine and carried the Toronado name for 26 years.
Sources: TopSpeed, The Los Angeles Times
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