Category: Oldsmobile

A Brief History of Oldsmobile

A Brief History of Oldsmobile


Oldsmobile was an American automobile brand that was founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897. The company was the oldest surviving American automobile brand until its discontinuation in 2004.

Ransom E Olds in 1901 (Wikipedia)

Oldsmobile’s early years were marked by innovation and success. In 1901, the company introduced the Curved Dash, which was the first mass-produced car in the world. The Curved Dash was affordable and reliable, and it helped establish Oldsmobile as a major player in the automotive industry.

By Lars-Göran Lindgren Sweden (Wikipedia)

In the early 1900s, Oldsmobile continued to innovate. In 1908, the company was acquired by General Motors (GM), which helped it expand its production and distribution capabilities. In 1916, Oldsmobile introduced the first electric starter in a mass-produced car, which eliminated the need for a hand crank.

Oldsmobile-Six 1914 Model 54 (Wikipedia)

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Oldsmobile continued to produce popular cars, such as the Oldsmobile Six and the Oldsmobile Eight. The company also introduced many features that are now commonplace in modern cars, such as hydraulic brakes and automatic chokes.

In 1940, Oldsmobile introduced the Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, which was the first fully automatic transmission in a mass-produced car. The Hydra-Matic was a major technological advancement and helped Oldsmobile establish itself as an industry leader in transmission technology.

A Hydra-Matic Drive transmission, produced between 1939 and 1956, on display at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum

In 1949, Oldsmobile introduced the Rocket V8 engine, which was the first high-compression overhead valve V8 engine. The Rocket V8 was a powerful engine that helped establish Oldsmobile as a leader in performance and innovation.

1949 303 cu. in. Rocket (Wikipedia)

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Oldsmobile continued to produce popular and innovative cars, such as the Oldsmobile 88 and the Oldsmobile Cutlass. The company also became known for its muscle cars, such as the Oldsmobile 442.

By Alfvanbeem (Wikipedia)

However, the 1970s and 1980s were not as successful for Oldsmobile. The company struggled to compete with foreign imports and faced financial difficulties. In 1985, General Motors announced that it would be phasing out the Oldsmobile brand.

1971 Oldsmobile 442 (Wikipedia)

Despite this, Oldsmobile continued to produce cars throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, including the popular Oldsmobile Alero and Oldsmobile Intrigue. However, in 2004, General Motors announced that it would be discontinuing the Oldsmobile brand due to declining sales and market share.

The RE Olds Transport Museum

The R.E. Olds Museum was incorporated in 1977 on the incentive of a study task force of the Greater Lansing Chamber of Commerce. After site selection and renovation, the Museum opened to the public on May 18, 1981 at its present location. The Museum rented its building from the City of Lansing until February 2018 when the city sold it to the museum for $2.

As the Museum has grown in interpretation of its mission, and to more accurately promote Lansing area’s many contributions in transportation, the word “Transportation” was added to the Museum’s name in 1987.

The museum is a 501c3 nonprofit organization governed by a Board of Trustees. It is dedicated to Ransom Eli Olds, a Lansing inventor, entrepreneur, financier, and one of Lansing’s most notable automotive leaders. Olds created the principle of the assembly line in the automobile industry and founded two local automobile companies: Olds Motor Works (1897) and REO Motor Car Company (1904).

Exhibits include a significant collection of automobiles, engines, and other materials significant to the transportation history of Lansing, the region, the state and the nation. The R.E. Olds Transportation Museum and the Bates and Edmonds Engine Company offices are resources within the Lansing Stewardship Community of Motor-Cities-National Heritage Area, a cultural heritage area and affiliate of the National Parks Service.

1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham: Intermediate Luxury – Thomas Klockau @Hagerty


Once upon a time, there was a car called the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. It was popular for years—nay, decades—and found happy homes in suburbs and cities and country towns everywhere. You’d never know it today, with largely uninteresting and largely anonymous-looking crossovers making up the vast majority of new cars

But back in 1986 you could get your luxury at your friendly local Oldsmobile dealer, in large (98 Regency Brougham), medium (Cutlass Supreme Brougham), or small (Calais Supreme). For that “just right” size, look no further than the Cutlass Supreme Brougham Sedan and Coupe.

The 1978–88 Cutlass coupes are much more commonly seen, as coupes were the gotta-have-it model through most of the ’80s. The Cutlass Supreme sedan, by comparison, was kind of the wallflower. But I still really like them, perhaps a bit more than a loaded-up Brougham coupe, simply due to their scarcity.

By 1986 the success of these cars was starting to wane, but there were still plenty of people who took home a new Olds that year. The Brougham Sedan had a base price of $11,551 (about $30,850 today). They rode a 108.1-inch wheelbase, were 200.4 inches overall, had a curb weight of 3253 pounds, and 27,967 were built.

These had been largely unchanged since the 1980 model year, other than some revised taillights, grilles, colors, and fabrics. But the coupe still handily outsold the sedan. Stats on the Brougham Coupe: $11,408, 59,726 built, 108.1-inch wheelbase  and 200.0 inches long. At 3211 pounds, they were slightly lighter than their four-door sibling.

But the four doors looked a lot different from their original ’78 forebears. The ’78 A-body “Aeroback” two- and four-door models were fastbacks, not a three-box sedan. But while they looked like hatchbacks, they actually had a tiny conventional trunk lid instead. Compared to the earlier “Colonnade” 1973–77 Cutlasses, they looked a little, well … anemic? And sales were too, though the also-downsized 1978–80 Cutlass coupes sold like dollar beer at a baseball game.

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The Revolutionary 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado – Ben Branch @Silodrome


When the Oldsmobile Toronado was introduced in 1966 it would become the first front wheel drive American production car since the Cord 810/812 from almost 30 years prior in 1937.

The front wheel drive layout would be almost prophetic, with a significant swathe of production automobiles switching to it over the years after the Toronado appeared in the mid-1960s.

Fast Facts – The Oldsmobile Toronado

  • The Oldsmobile Toronado wasn’t originally intended for production, it started out as a design sketch by David North in 1962. It was a personal coupe with futuristic styling – the executives like it so much it was given the green light to enter production on the E-body platform.
  • Oldsmobile intended the Toronado as a personal luxury car to compete with the likes of the Buick Riviera, the Pontiac Grand Prix, and the Ford Thunderbird.
  • The name Toronado has no pre-defined meaning, it’s believed to be a joining of the word “Toro” (Spanish for “Bull”), and the word “Tornado” and it was first used on a 1963 Chevrolet concept car.
  • When it was released for 1966 the Oldsmobile Toronado was named Motor Trend car of the year, in won the Car Life’s Award for Engineering Excellence, and it even finished third in the European Car of the Year competition – a rare accolade for an American vehicle.

The Accidental Production Car

The Oldsmobile Toronado had stared out as a compact personal luxury car penned by Oldsmobile stylist David North in 1962. It was a design exercise rather than a production proposal, but Oldsmobile needed a competitor for cars like the Riviera, the Grand Prix, and the Thunderbird – and they believed that the Toronado design was just the ticket.

Above Video: In this episode of Jay Leno’s Garage he meets David North, the designer of the Oldsmobile Toronado, and talks about his own car – a 1966 model.

The original design was for a relatively small car by American standards, so North was tasked with increasing the size to better suit the larger E-body platform which was more similarly sized to the competition.

Oldsmobile executives knew they needed a unique selling point for their car and they had had engineers experimenting with front wheel drive systems since the late 1950s. It was decided that the new Toronado would use such a system, and that no rear wheel drive version would be offered.

At the time of release the Toronado was fitted with the prodigious 425 cubic inch (7.0 liter) Rocket V8 producing 385 bhp and 475 lb ft of torque. Despite the hefty curb weight of 4,496 lbs (2,039 kgs) the car could do the 0-62 mph dash in just 9.5 seconds with a top speed of 135 mph (217 km/h).

The only transmission option was the Turbo-Hydramatic heavy-duty three-speed automatic which had been mated to a unique silent chain-drive system called Hy-Vo in order to send power to the front wheels.

Perhaps the only downside to the Toronado was the fact that in its first year of production it came with drum brakes on all four corners. Given the weight of the car these brakes tended to fade relatively quickly with heavy use – an issue that was rectified in 1967 when vented front disc brakes were offered as an option.

This cutaway illustration of the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado shows the until front wheel drive system.

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This 1974 Hurst/Olds Rounded Out One Man’s Collection of Every Year of H/O – David Conwill @Hemmings


If there is a single race known to most American drivers, it’s the Indianapolis 500. When it started in 1911, it was a laboratory where automobile manufacturers developed their products. After World War II, though the race cars had long since diverged from road cars, the Memorial Day pageantry of Indy was still America’s national showcase of automotive prowess.

That nationwide familiarity with the 500 long meant that an invitation to provide a pace car for the race was the best free advertising available to any manufacturer that wanted to promote a performance image. From 1949 to 1970, the list is loaded with Detroit’s sportiest machines: Oldsmobile 88 (with the brand-new Rocket V-8), Mercury Eight, Chrysler New Yorker (with the first-year FirePower hemi V-8), Ford Crestline, Studebaker Commander (with its nearly new OHV V-8), Dodge Royal 500 (with the new Red Ram hemi V-8), Chevrolet Bel Air (in the first year of the legendary small-block V-8), De Soto Adventurer, Pontiac Bonneville, Chrysler 300, Ford Mustang, Plymouth Sport Fury, and so on.

It was still true in 1974, when Olds introduced the latest iteration of the Hurst/Olds with the proclamation “Guess who’s leading the pack at Indy again?” The 1974 race would be the fifth time an Oldsmobile had paced the event since World War II, a streak started by the 1949 88. That new “Rocket 88” was arguably the instigator of the first postwar horsepower wars, thanks to its new OHV V-8 and relatively lightweight A-body platform. By ’74, the 88 had long since moved to the B-body platform and the A-body, now an intermediate, underpinned the Cutlass series.

At that point, nearly halfway through “The Me Decade,” street performance had been steadily diminishing since the highs hit only a couple years earlier. Even in the intermediate segment, once the stronghold of pure muscle, personal luxury had taken hold as a replacement. Nevertheless, Oldsmobile had successfully blended performance with style in the 1950s and ’60s and wanted to do it again in the ’70s — even if insurance companies, government regulators, and OPEC had put the kibosh on the high-compression, high-rpm V-8 engines of the late ’60s

Though not a fire breather, the L75 455 was still torquey and made the H/O stand out from typical cars in 1974. Early ads suggested the 455 would come standard but ultimately a 180-hp 350 became the base engine

The H/O started out in the 1968 model year, when George Hurst and Jack “Doc” Watson shoehorned an Oldsmobile Toronado 455, tuned up to 390 horsepower, into a regular 4-4-2 (replacing its engine) and treated it to special paint and graphics. The result, built for Oldsmobile in quantity by Lansing, Michigan-based Demmer Engineering, allowed General Motors to maintain the fiction that it did not permit engines in excess of in its intermediate line, while simultaneously permitting Olds dealers to sell what the public really wanted.

Thanks to its origin via back-door shenanigans and immensely respectable performance, the 1968-’69 H/O is remembered as one of the top-tier muscle cars of its era, ranked by enthusiasts alongside Chevrolet COPOs, Pontiac Royal Bobcats, Holman-Moody Fords, and the unrestrained triple-carbureted and Hemi-powered machinery from Plymouth and Dodge. The advantage the Oldsmobile had over most of that specialist performance, however, was that you could get one virtually anywhere.

Oldsmobile had revived the Hurst/Olds concept for 1972, when it was invited to provide the pace car for that year’s Indy 500 (see HMM #181, September 2018) and discovered that the then-current iteration of the 4-4-2 (really just a handling-and-appearance package on the Cutlass S) wasn’t quite exciting enough for the job. That’s somewhat ironic, as the Hurst/Olds had originally been discontinued after 1969 because the massive Oldsmobile V-8 had become available as a regular production option, meaning the ’70 4-4-2 had been perfectly suited to its own pace-car duties.

The Cutlass was a hit in the ’70s and into the ’80s, surpassing the Delta 88 as the best-selling Olds for the 1975 model year and then becoming America’s best-selling car, period, for 1976 and again for 1978 to 1981. The Hurst/Olds wasn’t around that whole time, but in its periodic revivals, it served as the Cutlass line’s halo car. If Oldsmobile and the Cutlass were still around, we might even have one today on that Alpha platform shared with the Chevy Camaro and Cadillac CTS.

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The 1977 Oldsmobile 442 was Lansing’s sporty survivor from the muscle car turf wars – Jeff Koch @Hemmings


You’ll no doubt recall that 1977 wasn’t a banner year for American performance vehicles. Two hundred net horsepower seemed unobtainable in those emissions-choked, fuel-starved years, and what was the point of a dual exhaust when it had to blow through a single catalytic converter

?Most of GM’s A-bodies had given up any sporting pretension. Chevrolet quit slapping the SS name on its Chevelle/Malibu, and even the shovel-nose, aero-slick Laguna was gone by 1977. Pontiac outsourced the LeMans-based Can Am until the mold for the rear spoiler broke, and the original GTO was just a distant memory by then. Buick’s GS program had quietly fizzled out as well.

What was left in GM’s midsize A-body lineup that had an eye toward performance? The Oldsmobile 442.

Like many of GM’s muscle car names from the past (see Z28 as an example), by the mid-to-late ’70s the “442” moniker referred to a handling-and-trim bundle. Available on the Cutlass S hardtop coupe, 442 (option code W29) consisted of the FE2 handling package (stiffer springs and shocks, 1-inch front and 0.812-inch rear anti-sway bars, and steel-belted radials on 7-inch wheels; FE2 was also available separately on other higher-end Cutlass models), some additional rocker and wheelwell trim, bold graphics, and little else. With FE2, a keen mid-’70s owner could break out of the personal-luxury, sensory-deprivation-tank mold and achieve respectable handling without resorting to something as obvious as, say, a Trans Am. The 442 added a reasonable $134 to the bottom line for the Cutlass S in 1976.

The standard engine was Buick’s 105-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6, with a choice of three-speed manual, three-speed automatic, or (intriguingly) five-speed manual transmissions. Step up to the 110-hp, 260 V-8, and transmission choices dropped to the tried-and-true Turbo 350 and the five-speed. Other engine options more appropriate to something with the 442’s image and chassis capabilities were the 170-hp four-barrel 350 V-8 (mated to a Turbo 350 automatic), and the 185-horse Olds 403 backed by a Turbo 400. Olds’ 455 disappeared after 1976, so the 403 was as good as it got in ’77. Gear ratios varied between 2.41:1 and 3.08:1, depending on powertrain and what box you checked on the dealer’s order form. Car and Driver tested a 350-powered, 2.41-geared Cutlass in 1977 (a powertrain installed in about 85 percent of all Cutlasses for the year) and found an 11.9-second 0-60, an 18.4-second quarter-mile at 75.7 mph, and a 109-mph top speed. Sleepy, maybe, but stir in the standard FE2 suspension, and you get what Car and Driver called “something altogether different from the rubber-stamp supermarket car it might otherwise be taken for.” Well, maybe not with those stripes.

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Painstakingly preserved 1998 Oldsmobile Aurora just waiting for the day when collectors start to notice the last luxury Olds – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


Despite the fairly typical Nineties styling, the Aurora held a lot of promise for Oldsmobile, and it’s easy to see that potential in this 1998 Oldsmobile Aurora for sale on Not just an original, low-mileage car in good shape, this example seems to have been detailed and serviced immediately after each time it left the garage. It’s probably outlasted multiple shop vacs and accounted for a significant percentage of leather cleaner and conditioner sales over the last 20 years. The challenge in owning a car like this, of course, will be to continue the same preservation efforts so it doesn’t become just another used Aurora by the time the collector car hobby in general starts to appreciate these cars. From the seller’s description

Leather seats, driver and passenger electric seats, driver and passenger heated seats, sunroof, electric windows and locks, memory driver’s seat. This car is a Real Beauty in spectacular condition, a True Cream Puff!! Clean, Clean, Clean. We are the second owners and have owned for 21 years. We purchased the car in November of 2000, from Martin Buick Oldsmobile in Fenton, Michigan. At the time of purchase the car had 40,261 miles and currently has 52,658 (miles may go up a little for short drives). The car has been meticulously maintained. Always garage stored, covered, and we never drove it in the Winter, snow or salt. Never driven as a daily driver. Only used for special occasions and several vacations. The engine and transmission run smooth and tight, no leaks, vibrations or fluid use. The interior is extremely clean. No stains, rips, tears, leaks or smells. Never smoked in or pets. The leather is nearly like new. The body and paint is original and in superior condition. No dents, dings, scratches or rust. The AC compressor was installed 10 years ago and the AC does need a charge. All fuel lines and brake lines are in clean, excellent condition. This Aurora runs, handles and performs like a new auto. Just received an oil-change

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Which domestic performance car from 1957 would you choose for your dream garage? – Matt Litwin @Hemmings


Let’s open the floodgates of the American performance car debate, specifically when the first regular production examples emerged from assembly plants. While many will quickly give a nod to Pontiac’s 1964 GTO, others will suggest the bar was raised in a far different era. The Stutz Bearcat from the Teens is a perfect early candidate. So, too, is Buick’s Century, introduced in 1936: It was a true midsize car that made use of the larger Roadmaster’s more-powerful straight-eight engine; it was reportedly capable of hitting 100 mph under the right conditions. Then, of course, there was the 1949 Oldsmobile 88, featuring the high-output Rocket V-8 engine that tore up drag strips and stock car circuits alike. Was Hudson’s Twin-H powerplant, nestled in the Hornet, a more suitable candidate, or, perhaps, Detroit’s explosion of elaborate fuel induction systems in 1957? Let’s pause here and review a handful of arguably-muscular options from the year in our latest edition of This or That, all of which are currently available in the Hemmings classifieds.

It’s no secret that Chrysler Corporation set the NASCAR circuit on fire in 1955 and ’56, thanks to team principals like Lee Petty and Carl Kiekhaefer, the latter of whom amassed an astounding 52 wins as team owner, along with 52 poles and 139 top-10 finishes by 11 drivers in just a combined 190 starts–a NASCAR record at the time. At the dawn of the 1957 season, Kiekhaefer and his teams were gone, but not the powerful Mopars he loved to prepare for racing, such as this 1957 Chrysler 300C. Although the upscale and freshly restyled performance model was no longer a contender on the track – it went winless in ’57 – it was a winner at the dealership when 1,918 hardtops found new buyers, bolstered by the sale of 484 convertibles. The base price for each was $4,929 and $5,359 respectively (or $46,517 and $50,575 today), but that price also netted a standard 375-hp V-8 engine, its output made possible by a pair of four-barrel carburetors. According to the scant description provided by the seller of this hardtop:

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Four cylinders, two turbos, and the world closed-course speed record: How Oldsmobile proved the Quad 4 – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


In the automakers’ standardized playbook for promoting something new, going after a record—particularly a speed record—is a time-honored tradition. Given that the world land-speed record has for decades now been pushed beyond the reach of anything remotely resembling a production car, that meant from the Sixties onward, car manufacturers and racers have turned to the closed-course speed record.

Which was just what the team behind Oldsmobile’s Quad4 decided to pursue, albeit with a much-modified 900-hp version of the dual overhead-camshaft four-cylinder and a sleek racing body designed by Ed Welburn and refined by aerodynamicist Max Schenkel. Dubbed Aerotech, it’d be piloted by A.J. Foyt. Foyt had previously set the record in 1974 at Talladega and had racing experience in the March 84C chassis on which the Aerotech was based, so he made perfect sense as the driver to reclaim the record from Mercedes-Benz. The Sam Posey-narrated video below goes into detail how GM’s engineers and staff prepared for the record and went about capturing it in August of 1987.

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Best of B-O-P: Hemmings staffers pick their favorites from Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac – @Hemmings


Oldsmobile and Pontiac are history. Buick, which has been hugely popular in China, currently sells only bean-shaped, badge-engineered sport-utility vehicles in North America—one of which is manufactured exclusively in China. All of the new Buick trucklets have model names as forgettable as their styling would suggest and none are badged with “Buick” emblems. This isn’t an attempt to eventually wipe the slate clean of all things Buick, assures GM—the company that in the last two decades has shuttered Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, Saab, and Hummer. Instead, we’re told, the Tri-Shield logo that appears on all new Buicks is recognizable enough to stand alone, thus making the name “Buick” redundant. Yes, we hear it too. The sound of David Dunbar rolling in his grave.As bleak as the future looks, the historic, collectible vehicles of Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac, are alive and well thanks to the efforts of passionate enthusiasts—several of whom work for Hemmings. Recently, we went around the virtual room (the offices in Bennington, Vermont, are still closed and we’re all working remotely) to determine which B-O-P vehicles from the last 100-plus years intrigue us the most. It was tough to narrow it down, but here’s what we came up with.

1910 Buick Model 10

Early in its history, Buick was in a tight race for the number-one slot in the domestic auto industry, spearheaded by its Model 10. Introduced in 1908, it used an 88-inch-wheelbase chassis that cradled a four-cylinder engine and two-speed planetary transmission. Noted for its ease of control, the model’s standard equipment included acetylene headlamps, oil-burning side and taillamps, and a bulb horn, all at a very attractive $900 price tag. Buick built 4,002 Model 10s in ’08, which climbed to 8,100 a year later when its wheelbase was lengthened to 92 inches, coupled with the expansion from one to three body styles. Bolstered by its success in race trim, along with improved cooling by changing from a gear-driven water pump to a centrifugal type, the Model 10 reached its popularity zenith in 1910 when an impressive 11,000 units were built—more than a third of Buick’s staggering 30,525- unit output for the year. That was enough to catapult the Flint-based company to first place in the industry. —Matthew Litwin

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At nearly 300,000 miles, this 1967 Cutlass Supreme convertible is still driven daily by its original owner -Thomas A. DeMauro @Hemmings


Imagine the level of commitment required to retain the only new car you’ve ever purchased as your primary transportation for the rest of your life.

Connie Milburn of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada, is doing just that with her 1967 Cutlass Supreme convertible, which she named “Black Beauty.”She tells Hemmings, “I’m just an average product from the small provincial farming community of Edson, Alberta. While growing up on the farm with my parents [Ruby and Orlando Thompson] and my brother [Orley], I learned how to do many things at a young age. Dad taught us how to drive a tractor as soon as our feet could reach the pedals.

He reasoned that since we didn’t have a telephone, if anything happened to him or Mom, my brother or I would have to go get help.”By 1962, Connie was in her early 20s and a flight attendant for Trans Canada airlines, the predecessor to Air Canada. She decided to take a three-month sabbatical in Europe and recalls, “My parents were driving me to the airport when we passed Edmonton Motors and I saw a 1962 F-85 convertible in the showroom.

I said, ‘Dad, I just saw a car I love’ and he replied, ‘Are we taking you to the airport or the car dealer?’ I said, ‘The airport,’ but I still couldn’t get that Oldsmobile out of mind. I told myself I’d own one by the time I was 30.”

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