Oldsmobile was founded in 1897 by Ransom E. Olds, and a group of investors. Just prior to this, Ransom completed his first vehicle, in 1896. Ransom, along with his father, also had experience in producing steam engines at their machine shop operation.
The first mass-produced Oldsmobile was the Curved Dash model of 1901 with 425 copies made. To entice interest in the brand, a Curved Dash model was driven form Detroit to New York City for the 1901 New York Auto Show. This was a perilous feat back in that time, but was successful in bringing attention to the marque.
In 1904, Random E. Olds left the company he founded. This exodus was preceded with his dismay for the higher end cars that the company was starting to market. He simply wanted to keep building lower cost cars for the masses. He moved on to form the Reo Motor Car Company.
In 1908, Oldsmobile, which was then known as ‘Olds Motor Vehicle Company’, was brought into the General Motors family. Buick was the first brand, and Oldsmobile was the second brand following just two months later.
Oldsmobile was innovative during the years…..
-The first bright trimmed radiator in 1926, though obviously not a styling feature that stuck around past the 30s.
-The first mass produced automatic transmission in 1940.
– Hydraulic brakes in 1934.
– The first ‘knee action’ front suspension, also in 1934
-The first mass produced American front wheel drive car, the Toronado, in 1966.
-Some of the earliest front seat air-bags, in 1973-1974.
-The first American passenger car diesel engine in 1978, which was however, problematic.
– the first factory installed onboard navigation system
There were many firsts for Oldsmobile itself, after the original Curved Dash model:
– the first Olds V8, in 1949
– the first Olds compact, the F85 in 1961.
– the first Olds subcompact, the 1975 Starfire
– a high output 4 cylinder, the Quad 4, in 1987
– a DOHC aluminum V8, the 4.0 Aurora engine, in 1995
– provided the 4.0 powerplant for the Shelby Series 1 roadster
– a DOHC aluminum V6, the 3.5 ‘ShortStar’, in 1999
– first American car company over 100 years old.
– unfortunately, the first division of GM to be phased out
In the 1970s, Olds was in its heyday. The top selling cars in the U.S. were the 1977 Cutlass, and the 1978 Cutlass. They were the Taurus or Camry of their day.
By the late-80s/early-90s, Oldsmobile was starting to lose it’s identity. Overshadowed by other GM divisions, and other marques, it was time to reinvent itself.
In 1997, Olds was at Indy. An Aurora was the pace car. An Aurora engine was in the winning IndyCar. This follows a long line of Oldsmobile pace cars at Indy.
don’t read below if you can’t stand the heat…
It seemed there was an attempt to go head to head with the Japanese and European makes. Starting in the mid-90s, the Aurora was introduced. In the late 90s, the Intrigue and Alero were introduced. The styling on all three was impeccable. The engines were relatively reliable. However, it was the little trim and electrical problems that started to do-in Oldsmobile. Common folks, i.e. NOT car people, panic with all car issues no matter how minor. This is all fine and dandy, but similar problems could be had with the other GM models of the time. But Olds appeared to be the ‘step-child’ that the ‘know it all’ leadership at GM wanted to make headlines with. It was (literally) said by the leadership of the time, that the “Old” in “Oldsmobile” conveys and image of unhip and stodgy. But hey, when you put too much time and money into Saturn, things happen! And go figure, Saturn is on its way out too.
… bias mode off
The decision was made in December 2000 to phase out the brand. This arose even though the Alero and Bravada were huge sales hits. Intrigue production ended after the 2002 model year. Aurora sales ended after the 2003 model year. Bravada, Silhouette, and Alero production ended with the 2004 model year. The last 500 copies of each of Intrigue, Aurora, Alero, Silhouette, and Bravada were produced as commemorative ‘Final 500’ models. This package included a special deep red paint color, unique wheels, unique seats and identifying trim. The last Olds ever to be built was an Alero finished on April 29,2004. It now lives in the R.E.O. transportation museum. It was signed by all the assembly line workers…