Category Archives: Tatra

10 years ago: Oldsmobile’s chickens came home to roost

Finger lickin' 98

Finger lickin’ good 98

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.

Sharp Cutlass

Sharp Cutlass

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.”

This is what a Toronado looked like in 1990

This is what a Toronado looked like in 1990


..and here we've been thinking this is the name of some kind of flourless choclate cake.

..and here we’d been thinking it’s the name of some kind of flourless chocolate cake.

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.

Omega: NOT a Nova (much)

Omega: NOT a Nova (much)

What about this ’77 Cutlass Supreme?  Does it recall a soda fountain treat or a Motown girl group on any level?

Waterfall grill before the fall

Waterfall grill before the fall

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.

Wood is good!

Wood is good!

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.

Flag Day fender bender

Flag Day fender bender

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.

Eighty Eight is classier if you spell it out

‘Eighty Eight’ is classier if you spell it out

Throwback Thursday special

Throwback Thursday special

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?

Fast fade for Olds

Slow fade for Olds

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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Rattles + Squeaks: SAAB is back

Musings, ramblings and rants of FeralCars founder Bob Merlis

Saw an article today about the fact that the Chinese-Japanese company that owns the SAAB brand actually produced a car in the heretofore-shuttered Trollhättan factory; the first new SAAB to have been built in 30 months.

My initial impulse was to share the news with my friend Ante Wendel, a transplant from Sweden who worked for Volvo for many years, first in New Jersey where he met and married Gerry, a self-described “Jersey Girl,” and ultimately in Southern California where the couple relocated after Volvo became part of Ford’s ill-fated Premier Automotive Group.  Doubtless, he would have been up to speed on this heartening development back in his homeland as he was on most obscure automotive topics.

Ante – yes, you pronounce it as you would the diminutive version of your mom or dad’s sister — however, died suddenly a few weeks ago and I had to go without sharing this with him.  I miss him just about every day because there’s so much out there that makes me think of him.

You know when you just lock in with a fellow car geek because you can mention something offhandedly about the fact that Hans Ledwinka, designer of the (Czech-built, rear engine) Tatra successfully sued Volkswagen for stealing his ideas and won a substantial settlement in the early 60s, and have instant recognition. Ante would certainly know there is a car called Tatra – he often wore a Tatra t-shirt — and that Ledwinka engeered it.  He was well aware that many of Ledwinka’s revolutionary ideas such as the “backbone chassis,” swing axles, air-cooled “boxer” motor in the rear, etc. were claimed by Ferdinand Porsche, the man, apart from Adolph Hitler, usually credited as the father of the VW Beetle.  Ante was that kind of a guy.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 6.28.37 PM

Of course Jay Leno has a Tatra!

I was at the San Diego airport earlier this summer when a ’64 Volvo 544 rolled up.  It had just  been driven from Tucson. The car is an everyday driver and it was a thrill to have that encounter which was, truly, an Ante kind of thing. It wasn’t really unexpected when he chimed in almost immediately after I posted a shot of it on Facebook, noting, “Great. Same as my 1st car + 1st offroad gravity defying experience in a car.”  Fun guy.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 6.35.20 PM

Here’s that great old Volvo 544, the same kind that Ante may have mistaken for a Land Rover or Hovercraft back home in Sweden.

We both enjoyed talking about Soviet bloc cars – Skodas, Tatras, Ladas, Volgas, etc. and he actually owned a USSR-built Zaporozhets back in Sweden.  Over here, of course, he drove a Volvo but also harbored a huge mid-70s Cadillac Eldorado convertible in his garage – one of those “I’m going to get around to this” kind of projects.  Ante certainly ran the automotive gamut and was anything but snobbish; everybody who met him took a shine to him.

We were at a film festival at screening of the original Swedish language version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” and director Niels Arden Oplay was there and asked for a show of hands to determine which of us had actually read Stieg Larsson’s novel.  At least half of those in attendance raised their hands, Ante among them.  I whispered, “Yeah, but you read it in Swedish” to which he replied, “No, I read it in English.”  The point being he was at home wherever he went.

Earlier this year, I contributed a Collectible Classic piece to Automobile Magazine about Mark Rose’s beautiful ’89 Volvo 780 Bertone – a unique Volvo variant built in Italy.  I got to include a story Ante shared about a customer who credited his own 780’s sturdy construction with deflecting a shot from a .38 revolver fired from six feet away. The bullet went through the B-pillar and ricocheted off the seat frame, saving the driver’s life.  “We resisted the temptation to use that in advertising,” Ante commented, in his understated but mirthful way.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 6.31.56 PM

Mark Rose’s Volvo Bertone 780

Yes, they actually built a  new SAAB today but the news isn’t as good as it could have been if Ante were here to share it  with. Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 6.24.01 PM

Gerry and Ante: he would have been happy about today’s SAAB news.


If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com                                                                                                                            Include your name, location of the car and some thoughts about the vehicle and we’ll look into getting it posted.