For most of its existence, Oldsmobile had its cars manufactured by General Motors. Its birth did not occur under the aegis of GM, but rather as the Olds Motor Vehicle Company, born by Ransom E. Olds in 1897. During its lifetime, Oldsmobile manufactured and sold over 35 million vehicles before its final closure. store in 2004. That’s a polite way of saying that it was sacrificed by a cash-strapped GM to consolidate and save Chevrolet.
Olds was known for a lot of cool cars and a few lemons too. He was GM’s middle child, below Cadillac and Buick but above Chevrolet and Pontiac. Still, it was an over-performer, known for the best in technology.
Olds had the biggest sales in the 1980s, with over a million annual sales from 1983 to 1986. But by the 1990s the charm was fading. When he finally gave up, it was the oldest surviving American brand worthy of respect. Here’s the Oldsmobile celebration with cars that sold in abundance and some that were just lemons.
ten Nobody Bought: Oldsmobile Intrigue
The Intrigue debuted in 1998 as an all-new nameplate in the Oldsmobile lineup. The car shared its hardware with its cousins like the Pontiac Grand Prix, the Chevy Impala, the Buick Century and the Buick Regal. It was fitted with either a 3.5-liter or 3.8-liter V6 engine mated to the same electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission.
The Intrigue felt European and offered desirable amenities, but somehow buyers turned to the Impala and Regal, though even those races are dying. The Intrigue, unlike its nameplate, offered no mystery or appeal.
9 Sold like hot cakes: Oldsmobile 88
The 88 was a game-changer for Oldsmobile in the late 1940s. 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 launched the success of the Oldsmobile Rocket V8 in 1949.
This revolutionary Rocket engine was also the first post-war OHV V8 developed by GM. The Olds 88s remained in production for another 50 years and thrived for over ten generations until 1999. Not just on the road, the 88s dominated the NASCAR series between 1949 and 1952, pushing sales even further.
8 Nobody bought: Oldsmobile Bravada
In the early 1990s, the luxury SUV bazaar was limited to large trucks like the Range Rover and the Grand Wagoneer. Around the same time, GM was considering the idea of creating a new segment of luxury compact SUVs. Thus, the Bravada was born.
But it wasn’t a new truck, but rather a Chevy Blazer crafted with a badge with an even more bland design but a more expensive label. It didn’t go well with buyers at the time. The Bravadas introduced in 1991 did not survive beyond the 2004 model year.
seven Sold like hot cakes: Oldsmobile 98
The 98’s journey began in 1941 and it remained popular until 1996 as a full-size flagship model. With the exception of a three-year gap between 1943 and 1945 due to World War II, the 98s have been in production for almost four and a half decades.
Meanwhile, the 98s were the frontline Olds. Later, too, they remained loaded with top-notch functionality through the twelve generations. While the 98s were nothing more than the 88 giants, they ruled the golden age of large luxury cars in the United States and competed strongly with the Cadillacs and Lincolns of the day.
6 Nobody bought: Oldsmobile Aurora
Oldsmobile lasted 124 years and before it was gone it launched the Aurora as a last hurray! It debuted in 1995 as a flagship luxury sedan with the best GM at the time. Including a massive 4.0-liter V8 that puts out 250 horsepower and also produces 250 lb-ft of torque.
As the ultimate effort to revive the struggling Oldsmobile brand, the Aurora has been done right. However, Oldsmobile was too deeply involved in its financial dilemmas and abandoned the nameplate in 2003. A year later, Olds himself passed away.
5 Sold like hot cakes: Oldsmobile Starfire
Launched in 1961, the Starfire shared most of its fundamentals with its siblings, the Super 88 and Dynamic 88. But the Starfire was more expensive and also offered more freebies to its buyers than others. Among these were sleek leather bucket seats, a center console with a tachometer, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and a floor-mounted shifter for GM’s revolutionary Hydramatic transmission.
At the time it was the first full-size production car in the United States to feature an automatic transmission with a ground shifter. Everything was perfect for the Starfire and it was selling like hot cakes in the 60s just because it was the fanciest.
4 Nobody bought: Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Diesel
The concept of GM diesel engines was new in 1978 and buyers were blown away that these engines could deliver 30 miles per gallon. GM decided to use the fourth-generation Cutlass Supreme to market diesel engines with a 4.3-liter V8 oil burner.
But later they turned out to be a fiasco. These diesel engines were unreliable. On the contrary, they separated at will. GM launched another more durable 5.7-liter V8 diesel mill in a bid to save face, but by then the damage was done. GM’s ill-fated diesel factories had a big impact on Oldsmobile sales.
3 Sold like hot cakes: Oldsmobile 442
The 442 was GM’s bet in the full-blown high-performance car bazaar and it turned out to be a good one. It made its debut in 1964 following the resounding success of its cousin the Pontiac GTO, launched a year earlier in 1963.
Later in 1968, the freshly launched Hurst models cemented the 442 brand identity in the segment and sold like hot cakes. The 442 remained in production until 1980 and after a four-year gap reappeared briefly as a trim level on the Cutlass Supreme and Cutlass Calais. It still sells today as a classic muscle car.
2 Nobody bought: Oldsmobile Firenza
The Oldsmobile Firenza was as bad as its cousin, the Chevrolet Cavalier, but a more expensive purchase. Cavalier’s affordability still meant people had to stop and listen, but no one bought the more expensive Firenzas. The Firenza debuted in 1982 and has never been a good seller from day one.
It only lasted until 1988 but has the dubious distinction of being the least sold model of the Oldsmobile team. The J-Body Firenza also had a sportier finish on the Chevy Citation X-11 lines but buyers preferred the latter although the Buick Skyhawk also suffered a similar fate.
1 Sold like hot cakes: Oldsmobile Toronado
Oldsmobile took the covers off the Toronado at the end of 1965 and it quickly became the biggest news of that year. It was a league of its own as it featured front-wheel drive with its long, sleek profile. It was the first front-wheel drive car made in the United States in nearly 30 years after Cord made them until 1937.
Other niceties were the concealed headlights, the Turbo-Hydramatic three-speed automatic transmission, and the massive V8 mills. Subsequent generations also featured an efficient V6 engine and carried the Toronado name for 26 years.
Sources: TopSpeed, TheLosAngelesTimes
Most Americans have dreamed of buying and restoring a cool classic car. Unfortunately, when it comes to these cars, they’ll have to keep dreaming.
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