It was ten short years ago that the very last Oldsmobile, an Alero sedan, rolled off the assembly line in Lansing, Michigan. It was in Lansing that Ransom E. Olds started building vehicles in 1897; General Motors absorbed the company in 1908 before which Olds had departed and founded REO, building cars and trucks that bore his initials.
In 2000, more than four years before that last Olds was built, GM had announced its plan to phase out the brand, a sharp contrast to the comparatively instant deaths of Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer in the wake of the company’s 2009 bankruptcy.
Olds had been on a downward spiral since the mid-90s, despite some innovative offerings. That decline followed tremendous success: Olds’ domestic market share was over 5% as recently as 1985 — actually higher than Toyota’s that year.
We offer some Oldsmobiles, captured in the wild, as a tribute to what had been American’s longest running marque. That distinction has been ceded to Buick which started up in 1899 and, miraculously, survived the infamous GM brand purge of 2009.
First is a 1990 Toronado Troféo: It’s certainly a big come down from the original ’66 streamline moderne-styled Toronado in terms of groundbreaking design. Its front wheel drive technology had become common place by this time so, as is said, “no big whoop.”
Olds dabbled with smaller cars over the years. Here’s a brazenly badge-engineered ’73 Nova that masquerades as an Olds Omega. Nobody was fooled at the time but now it’s a nifty left-field leftover from a bygone era.
What about this ’77 Cutlass Supreme? Does it recall a soda fountain treat or a Motown girl group on any level?
If you want to live really large we suggest an ’86 Custom Cruiser wagon. This particular one commutes regularly between Provincetown, MA and Palm Springs, CA. We think this very merry Oldsmobile in the very embodiment of the “Family Truckster” paradigm.
Cutlass was a hit name for Olds, having been launched in 1961 as a bucket seat model of the mid-size F-85. It soon became its own line and, thereafter, branched into Cutlass Supreme and Cutlass Ciera sub-models. Their shared root name was just about the only thing the two had in common with Supreme continuing as a traditional rear wheel drive car with Ciera a front wheel drive mid-size line. Here’s a Cutlass Ciera S with international flair.
Oldsmobile’s 88, introduced in 1949, was the inspiration for one of rock ‘n’ roll’s first hits: Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88.” This ’92 Eighty Eight Royale is one of the last generation of 88s and soldiers on despite some gnarly roof scale.
At the time of its final demise, only Daimler, Peugeot and Tatra had longer runs in the motorized vehicle business than Olds. Daimler is still very much with us through Mercedes-Benz and Peugot was just revitalized with a boatload of yuan from China’s Dongfeng Motors. Tatra made absolutely the hippest behind-the-iron-curtain cars of all time: full Buck Rogers/AstroBoy styling plus a rear-mounted air-cooled V8. We could go on but note that Tatra still makes huge trucks in the Czech Republic to this day. Olds was GM’s first (of many) sacrificial lambs. Let’s hope it’s the last. Did you hear that, Buick?
Check out this Toronado commercial from 1966, the first year for the most innovative model ever offered by Olds in the post war era. The spot stars race driver Bobby Unser and, ironically, Shorty Powers, the voice of NASA’s Project Mercury.
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