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Thread: Remembering Oldsmobile

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    Remembering Oldsmobile




    Remembering Oldsmobile

    Written by Pete Dunton


    Link to this article on the main page with pictures:
    http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/...8&Itemid=10924


    A little over four years ago GM factories stopped producing the last of over a hundred years of Oldsmobiles. Indeed 2004 was a sad year; it was the departure of what was once the golden division of General Motors. Though it was a sad day it was not a surprise, Oldsmobile since the late 1980s was like a patient with terminal cancer. Year by year Oldsmobile withered away in the 1990s until its eventual demise.

    In 1897 Ransom Olds in Lansing, Michigan founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company. The name a few years later was shortened to Oldsmobile. In 1908 the recently formed GM (General Motors) bought Oldsmobile. It was the start of a marriage that would be beneficial for both parties for many years to come. Under the leadership of GM, Oldsmobile thrived.

    By the 1930s, Oldsmobile’s famous use of the two-digit numbering system to differentiate its different model offerings had begun. The first digit was the body size and the second digit was the number of cylinders in the engine. Born out of this system were two of Oldsmobile’s bread and butter cars; the 88 and 98 which remained in production until the 1990s.

    However it was not until after WWII (World War II) that Olds would flourish and see it’s best years. Oldsmobile always on the cutting edge of innovation, released during the 1940s two new items that would become the cornerstone of American cars for many years. First was the release in 1940 of the first fully automatic transmission called the Hydramatic. The other was the OHV (Overhead Valve) V8, which was released for the 1949 model year. Cadillac also released an OHV V8 that same year. However the Oldsmobile motor, a 303 CID V8, received most of the attention. In fact many historians credit Oldsmobile for creating the roots of the muscle car era since it’s OHV V8 nicknamed the “Rocket V8” soon caused the emergence of copycat performance oriented OHV V8s from every other US automaker. Before the OHV V8 the only V8 available was the flathead which was an inferior design that could have never fueled the muscle car revolution in the 1960s. And it could have never fueled the explosion of big (OHV) V8 powered American family cars that cropped up everywhere by the late 1950s and were the mainstay on America’s roads until the late 1970s. The OHV V8 had done to the auto industry what Guttenberg’s printing press had done for books; it was nothing short of a revolution.

    By the 1950s the Oldsmobile 88 became a stable of what a comfortable upscale family car should be. Sales were very good. There was also the 98, the top-of-the-line Oldsmobile which to most buyers only seemed a slight step down from a Cadillac. Oldsmobile had found its niche, by offering powerful family cars with many luxuries that an average middle class family could afford.

    By the 1960s with sales in a constant climb and a whole range of exciting and innovative models such as “the way ahead of its time” front-wheel drive Toronado, it seemed the good times would never end.

    Oldsmobile even forged a nice niche in the muscle car market by offering the 442 based on its intermediate Cutlass line. The 442 soon was the muscle car of choice for performance oriented buyers who wanted a plethora of luxury and convenience options.

    During these years the 98 also continued to go more upscale and was almost becoming a Cadillac equal. This trend continued into the 1970s. Even the 88 and 98 names went upscale and were now being called the Delta-88 and Ninety-Eight by this time.

    Proving that it was not going to play second fiddle to Lincoln and even Cadillac, Oldsmobile released the ultimate in luxury; the 1972 75th Anniversary Edition Ninety-Eight, often referred to as the Tiffany Ninety-Eight. The Tiffany Ninety-Eight was nicely done with luxury touches by Tiffany’s (the world famous store). The Tiffany gold exterior paint scheme and a Tiffany designed dash clock were among some of the Tiffany luxury touches. Placing this Ninety-Eight next to the top-of-the-line 1972 Cadillac Fleetwood would have many pointing to the Ninety-Eight as the superior luxury car. This was indeed the pinnacle for Oldsmobile.

    By this time Olds had two V8 engines powering its vehicles. First was the mighty big-block Rocket 455 CID V8 that had enough torque to uproot an hundred year old oak tree. Then there was the powerful small-block Olds 350 CID V8, which had become a popular engine among the smaller Oldsmobiles.

    With sales strong and Oldsmobile at the top of its game, suddenly 1973 came. It was the year of the first Energy Crises, which had gasoline prices soaring. All of a sudden, Oldsmobile a luxury brand with large plush cars with thirsty V8s, was seeing its sales drop.

    Oldsmobile kicked into gear and began to change direction. It would continue to offer luxury cars but in more efficient packages. With the arrival of the Chevrolet Nova based Omega to the Olds lineup and the shrunken 1977 Ninety-Eight and Delta-88, Olds was on its way down a new path.

    The new shrunken 1977 Ninety-Eight and Delta 88 were big hits. The luxury was just as plush as ever especially on the Ninety-Eight and smooth-accelerating V8s were still available. The standard engine in the Ninety-Eight was a variant of the small block Olds 350 – the Olds 403 CID V8. Oldsmobile still had the competition beat with the 403 (185 horsepower and 325 lbs/ft torque); a fuel efficient large displacement V8 with big block torque. It was certainly the best of both worlds. It seemed Oldsmobile was going to weather the storm with ease. However by the late-1970s the new C.A.F.E. (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards were being rolled out which spelled the end of the 403 V8 (1979 would be its last year), and the Olds 350. By the early 1980s all that was left was the small-block Olds 307 CID V8 for Oldsmobile customers who wanted Olds V8 power.

    Also worthy to note around this time period GM was sliding motors from different divisions into some of its cars. For instance a Buick V6 could be found during this time in some Oldsmobiles. GM received a lot of flack along with lawsuits for this policy since it was a given for many years when you bought an Oldsmobile you got a Oldsmobile motor, if you bought a Pontiac you got a Pontiac motor, etc.

    And speaking of motors it was also during this time when the notorious Olds 350 CID V8 Diesel was released. At the time it seemed like a smart idea however it was plagued with so many problems; even to this day this diesel motor is looked upon as one the biggest engine flops in automotive history.

    One big bright spot for Olds back in the late-1970s and early 1980s was the Cutlass, its rear-wheel drive intermediate car and the best selling car in America.

    Oldsmobile had forged a new niche by providing luxury in a sporty package for a reasonable price. Oldsmobile showrooms during this time were always crowded with buyers.

    However a very bad trend was rearing its head at Oldsmobile – the arrival of new front-wheel drive models. By the early 1980s the Omega was now front-wheel drive and for all intents and purposes an econo-car with Oldsmobile badges. In 1982 a small front-wheel drive J-body called the Firenza joined the Olds lineup. That same year a new mid-sized front-wheel drive A-body Cutlass Ciera also arrived. Unfortunately buyers weren’t really taking to these new front-wheel drive Oldsmobles. They were passing them over and going right to remaining bigger rear-wheel drive Oldsmobiles. This could only go on for so long. The Cutlass Ciera though not a bad seller was not a sales leader, its GM A-body brother the Chevrolet Celebrity outsold it by a very large margin. By 1984 Oldsmobile still was doing well and its future still seemed bright and it appeared Oldsmobile could survive with a mix of rear-wheel drive and front-wheel drive cars.

    However the line was crossed in 1985. This was the model year Oldsmobile rolled out a new extremely shrunken front-wheel drive Ninety-Eight. For the first time in it’s history the Ninety-Eight would not have a V8 under it’s hood, only a Buick built fuel injected 3.8 liter V6 (150 horsepower) was available. On the inside it was luxurious but on the outside it was uninspiring. For the first time most buyers could not tell the difference between a Buick Electra and a Ninety Eight. Both were victims of Roger Smith’s (former GM President and of Michael Moore’s movie Roger and Me fame) cookie cutter car program which was supposed to save the Big General millions but ended up throwing away sales to its competitors. The new Ninety Eight at a very short 196.6 inches was only a few inches longer than the much less expensive Cutlass Ciera. It was a hard pill for the traditional Ninety-Eight buyer to swallow since a well optioned 1985 Ninety-Eight was in the $20K range and this was back when the average car was about half that price.

    1985 would also see the release of a new N-body front-wheel drive Calais to replace the unpopular Omega.

    If you think 1985 was a bad year, 1986 would prove to be even worse for Oldsmobile. The Delta-88 which had held out as long as it could in rear-wheel drive form, became a virtual front-wheel drive Ninety-Eight clone. The cars were so similar only the Ninety-Eight’s more upscale interior helped some to see the difference between the two cars. However Olds still produced the rear-wheel drive Custom Cruiser wagon which was based on the former rear-wheel drive Delta-88 platform. Oddly enough the Custom Cruiser wagon which was built in the same factory as the rear-wheel drive Chevrolet Caprice, would survive through the 1992 model year (it had a redesign along with the Caprice wagon in 1991).

    The Toronado a solid midsize car though front wheel drive it was a decent sized car by 1980s standards got shrunk worse than the kids from the Honey I Shrunk the Kids movie. The Toronado had lost almost two feet in length and was only 187.5” long. Visually it looked very similar to an inexpensive 1986 Oldsmobile Calais which was only a few inches shorter. The Toronado like the Ninety-Eight was in the $20K range and was competing with cars like the Lincoln Mark VII which was about 15 inches longer.

    The only bright spot by this time was the rear-wheel drive 2-door and 4-door Cutlass Supreme however like someone hanging from the Empire State Building by a fingernail, it was living on borrowed time. Though the Cutlass Supreme still sold well GM had decided its days were numbered. The rear-wheel drive Cutlass Supreme would hang on through the first part of the 1988 model year and then was laid to rest.

    There was a resurgence of the Hurst/Olds (a performance special edition Cutlass from the late-1960s and 1970s) for 1983 and 1984, along with a 1985-1987 442. All were performance packages on the Cutlass Supreme and powered by a 180 horsepower High-Output 307 CID 4bbl V8 (170 horsepower for 1987).

    From the 1980 introduction of the front-wheel drive Omega to the death of the rear-wheel drive Cutlass Supreme in 1988, in eight short years Oldsmobile had been so drastically changed. The traditional Oldsmobile buyer who had come back to an Olds dealer in 1988 to buy a new Olds would have thought he had awoken in a terrible nightmare or somehow stumbled into the twilight zone.

    What was left by 1988 at Oldsmobile was an odd collection of uninspiring over-priced front-wheel drive cars (barring the Custom Cruiser wagon). Roger Smith’s front-wheel drive cookie cutter strategy had failed miserably.

    Olds spent the 1990s trying to reinvent itself realizing it had alienated its former customer base and that the only way to survive was finding new customers. They tried changing the Oldsmobile logo to a modern space-age design, changing the names of their cars, marketed the Oldsmobile as the upscale Saturn division, and even introduced an Olds SUV. None of this worked, and by 2004 GM pulled the plug on Oldsmobile.

    Could this have been avoided? I believe it could have been. Though GM had its back up against the wall with the C.A.F.E. standards, it should have never allowed its full-size lineup to go to front-wheel drive during the mid-1980s. GM should have kept both its full-size cars and its G-body platform (Cutlass Supreme) rear-wheel drive. Then it would have been able to give Oldsmobile Customers a rear-wheel drive Olds Ninety-Eight, Delta 88, and a smaller rear-wheel drive 2-door and 4-door Cutlass Supreme. Essentially this is what Cadillac has done in recent years with its full-size STS and mid-size CTS both of which are rear-wheel drive and based on GM’s new Sigma platform. This rear-wheel drive platform template if implemented back in the mid-1980s for Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Buick would have prevented the General’s big market share loss the last 20 years.

    The Roger Smith cookie cutter front-wheel drive cars are responsible for the loss of individual identity among all the different GM divisions. Don’t get me wrong GM was smart going to front-wheel drive on its small and some of its intermediate cars however on the higher-end brands like Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Buick the intermediates and full-size should have stayed rear-wheel drive as previously mentioned. It was a sad testament to General Motors when back in the late-1990s its only rear-wheel drive cars were the Corvette, Firebird, and Camaro.

    The death of Oldsmobile is a sad chapter in automotive history. It’s a text book case of why you don’t let the bean counters run an automobile company. Designing cars for the sole purpose of making money as was the case with the Roger Smith cookie cutter plan, is a receipe for killing sales. Ben Franklin said it best: “a penny wise is a pound foolish”. Put another way it’s counting the pennies as the dollars are flying out the window. My advice to GM is to keep its eye on the big picture and fire all the Roger Smith types who still remain in the company, these bean counters need to work at Walmart.

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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    Awwwww. I miss my oldsmobubbles. I had 2 Delta 88s. One bought in 86 and the other in 90. I put something like 95,000 miles on the first one and that was in North Dakota. Bought the second one in Alabama. I tell you, the one from NoDak was a much better vehicle and was much better built than the one I bought later. I think the only major work I ever had done on it was maybe an alternator replacement. Of course there were the consumables such as tires. I know it still had the original muffler on it when I traded it in and it was still in good shape. Don't know if the difference was that it was built for winter weather. However, that front wheel drive came in mighty handy in the frozen north. I know I got a lot of stares at the electric plug sticking out of the front of the car (block heater) when I moved south. When I finally traded in the second 88 in 1999, it had an overheat problem that nobody could figure out. I wanted that thing GONE. Traded it in for a Buick Century. Now I have my Hyundai and am back in love with my car. It reminds me of that earlier 88.

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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    Right again. If GM had invested money in RWD cars back in the 1990's, GM would have kept a lot more market share. I always think that GM should have killed off Buick before Olds. Olds were real cars. Buicks are rolling wheelchairs.

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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    GM can never kill Buick, because GM originated with Buick. That would be like Ford killing Ford, or Chrysler killing Chrysler.

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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry
    Right again. If GM had invested money in RWD cars back in the 1990's, GM would have kept a lot more market share. I always think that GM should have killed off Buick before Olds. Olds were real cars. Buicks are rolling wheelchairs.
    Doubtful. No one but a small minority, enthusiasts, either cares about or even knows about RWD vs. FWD.

    GM isn't losing market share to RWD competitors. I doubt the 300/Charger/Magnum sales have taken much of anything away from GM. GM lost market share to Toyota and Honda.

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    Great story, Pete -

    As you know, I grew up with Oldsmobiles; we had three 98s one sedan, two coupes - all V-8/RWD (the last was an '83 coupe). They were magnificent cars; nothing like them exists today.

    I can still remember my parents driving home both the '79 coupe and the '83 - brand new from the dealership.

    And you know what? When it came time to replace the '83, the folks refused to buy the godawful FWD downsized POS that the 98 had become by then (1987). Instead, they went to Lincoln and bought a new (and V-8/RWD) Mark VII LSC.

    Olds lost my parents as customers - after 20-plus years of consecutive purchases - because they, like many others, wanted a real Oldsmobile - not the pretenders that Olds was selling by the latter '80s.....

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    "Doubtful. No one but a small minority, enthusiasts, either cares about or even knows about RWD vs. FWD."


    Really? Then why has virtually the entire luxury car world switched back to RWD?

    Do you consider the luxury car market (Cadillac, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Infiniti, Jaguar - etc.) a "small minority"?




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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    It's a trend, that's all.

    Unless you're performance driving, or towing a trailer, there's no advantage to RWD in a daily driver grocery-getter car.

    And what do Cadillac, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Infiniti, Jaguar, et. al. have to do with Buick and Oldsmobile?

    Go stand in front of Wal Mart and survey people as they're leaving, whether their car has FWD or RWD, whether it was a factor when they bought it, whether they even know or care.

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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel
    It's a trend, that's all.

    Unless you're performance driving, or towing a trailer, there's no advantage to RWD in a daily driver grocery-getter car.

    And what do Cadillac, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Infiniti, Jaguar, et. al. have to do with Buick and Oldsmobile?

    Go stand in front of Wal Mart and survey people as they're leaving, whether their car has FWD or RWD, whether it was a factor when they bought it, whether they even know or care.
    The main point is that most Oldsmobile owners took a walk to other brands after Olds went to FWD like Eric's parents did. I can't tell you how many people I knew years ago who went to rwd foreign brands or rwd domestics like the Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car after Olds went to the cookie cutter front-wheel drive cars. One family I knew only bought Olds, the father had a new 98 every two years. When the 98 went fwd, he started buying a Mercedes-Benz every two years, and still buys them to this day.

    The fwd 88 and 98 were well built cars and they drove well however they had fwd. Back in 1987 a run of the mill fwd 98 cost $25,000 when I worked at an Olds dealer. You could get a loaded fwd 3.8 liter V6 powered (same engine as 98) 1987 Cutlass Ciera with all the power options and equipped similar to a 98 for about $16,000. Both the Ciera and 98 were about the same length and had the similar interior and cargo capacity. The buyers did not want to pay $25K for a small fwd luxury car that was essentially work $16K this is why traditional Olds buyers left Oldsmobile and went to other luxury brands with rwd cars.

    Oldsmobile was a luxury brand. And when they started selling small over priced fwd cars, to their customer base, most of them took a walk. This is what caused the death of Oldsmobile.

  10. #10
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    "It's a trend, that's all."

    As was the trend toward FWD that began in the early '80s. However, RWD is still a line in the sand, separating the cars of the masses and luxury/high-end "serious" cars. Even Hyundai is adopting RWD for its new luxury sedan/coupe because it knows that FWD is not acceptable to most luxury car buyers. Ditto sports cars.

    "Go stand in front of Wal Mart and survey people as they're leaving, whether their car has FWD or RWD, whether it was a factor when they bought it, whether they even know or care."

    If that were true, you'd have to account for the decision by Cadillac to go back to RWD - and be successful because of its new RWD layouts. You'd have to explain why Lexus and Infiniti are RWD - while the "regular" lines (Toyota and Nissan) are mostly FWD... but I think the keyelement in your statement is "Wal-Mart." You're right that the people who shop there are mostly in the FWD camp. Because they drive mostly lower-priced cars.

    But for high-end cars, RWD is almost a given these days.






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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    Acura probably isn't as successful as they could be ... because of FWD cars (although some have AWD -- it's not the same)

    Chip H.

    Former owner: 2012 Honda Civic LX, 2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL, 2000 Honda CR-V EX, 2003 MINI Cooper S, 1992 Honda Accord LX, 1999 Mercedes ML-320, 1995 VW Jetta GLX, 1991 Mercury Capri XR2, 1981 Mercury Zephyr, 1975 Chevrolet Impala

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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    Quote Originally Posted by ducky1776
    Awwwww. I miss my oldsmobubbles. I had 2 Delta 88s. One bought in 86 and the other in 90. I put something like 95,000 miles on the first one and that was in North Dakota. Bought the second one in Alabama. I tell you, the one from NoDak was a much better vehicle and was much better built than the one I bought later. I think the only major work I ever had done on it was maybe an alternator replacement. Of course there were the consumables such as tires. I know it still had the original muffler on it when I traded it in and it was still in good shape. Don't know if the difference was that it was built for winter weather. However, that front wheel drive came in mighty handy in the frozen north. I know I got a lot of stares at the electric plug sticking out of the front of the car (block heater) when I moved south. When I finally traded in the second 88 in 1999, it had an overheat problem that nobody could figure out. I wanted that thing GONE. Traded it in for a Buick Century. Now I have my Hyundai and am back in love with my car. It reminds me of that earlier 88.

    Ducky,
    Excellent point. I worked at an Olds dealer in 1987 and spent a lot of time behind the wheel of the Delta 88. It was a very nice driving car and the two door with a semi-fastback roof was not a bad looking vehicle. These fwd Delta 88s have proved reliable, still see a lot of them on the road. However the traditional Olds buyers did not take to them, due to their much smaller size. If Olds had kept their 98 and 88 rwd and renamed the Delta 88 the Cutlass Ciera, it would have been a much more successful strategy in my opinion.

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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    Quote Originally Posted by chiph
    Acura probably isn't as successful as they could be ... because of FWD cars (although some have AWD -- it's not the same)

    Chip H.
    The Acura RL hasn't really made a dent in Lexus LS460 sales, but I see a lot more Acuras TLs and TSXs on the road than I do the smaller Lexuses and Infinitis. Infiniti is doing pretty well with the G cars though.

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    Senior Member J. ZIMM's Avatar
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    Re: Remembering Oldsmobile

    One of my first dirt track cars was a 1956 Oldsmobile two door sedan> I ran it for about two years until someone forgot to check the oil and water before the next heat. (it weren't me ha ha ha). Olds had some of the most eye appealing cars ever produce back in the fifties. My wife and I had a 1964 F-85 442 when we were married in 1969. It made a heck of a nice get a way car. My dad had a 1940, the first one that I can remember. He towed an eighteen foot plywood travel (not self contained back then), trailer from Roseburg Oregon to Crescent City California across the Siskiyou Mountains in 1950. The only problem he had were the darn back wheels kept splitting, letting the inner tube to come out. GM like Ford and others, killed one of the best cars ever made. At least it was a great Ginny Pig for the other brands. If it worked, you could find it on some of the other brands within a year or two. Yep, the Oldsmobile will be missed, just like the De Soto, Plymouth, Edsel?, Studebaker, Nash, and the list could go on and on and..... :

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