Oldsmobile Make Overview
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Olds Delmont 88 1968
approx. value 1968 convertable 455 400 hp 400 hydromatic
In 2004, the final Oldsmobiles rolled off an assembly line in Lansing, Michigan, ending the 107-year run of one of the world's most popular automakers. After a long history of innovation that included the first cars produced on an assembly line (often wrongly credited to Ford) and the introduction of the first automatic transmission for automobiles (the Hydra-Matic, offered as an option for $57 in the 1930s), Oldsmobile had lost its relevance by the 1990s. Even catchy slogans like "This is not your father's Oldsmobile," rolled out in the late 1980s in an effort to attract a new generation of buyers, could not save the company. And for many Olds fans who had stuck by the automaker for decades, that slogan actually had the opposite effect, distancing them from a company they had long supported.
In 2000, General Motors announced that the Oldsmobile line would be phased out, and to soften the blow, offered "Final 500" versions of some of its vehicles, including the Intrigue, Aurora, Bravada, and Silhouette. Those names, however, might sound unfamiliar to long-time fans who remember Oldsmobile for its more well-known and in some cases legendary cars, like the Toronado, the 442, the Vista Cruiser, the Cutlass, and the venerable Olds 88, which was produced for no less than 50 years, from 1949 to 1999. And perhaps that's part of the reason Oldsmobile lost its relevance and its way in the later years of the 20th century - the cars produced by the automaker were no longer distinctive and no longer captured the imagination of auto buyers. That's a long way from the excitement Oldsmobile had generated in its first few decades.
Founded in 1897 by Ransom E. Olds, the automaker's first car was called the Curved Dash, but was probably better known at the time by the general term of the era: a "horseless buggy." In fact, it was sold as a faster and more controllable alternative to a horse. It proved extremely popular, and the Olds Motor Works, as the automaker was known at the time, became the first company to mass-produce gasoline-powered automobiles.
By 1904, Ransom Olds was gone from the company, due to what we might now call "creative differences," and by 1908, General Motors had taken over ownership of the automaker. And under GM's wing, Oldsmobile flourished. In 1918, the company produced its first "closed-top" automobile, the Model 37, and through the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, Oldsmobile continued to produce good-looking, innovative cars like the Olds 8 Touring Sedan, the 70 Dynamic Cruiser, and the Rocket 88, powered by the 135-horsepower Rocket V8 engine. The 88 name, which signified a number 8 body size with an eight-cylinder engine, continued into the 1950s with the Eighty-Eight Deluxe Sedan and similar vehicles. The 1960s and '70s, though, were perhaps the peak years of Olds' long run, with the introduction of such iconic cars as the 442, the Cutlass, and the Toronado.
By the 1970s, though, as Oldmobile began to share parts and powerplants with other GM divisions, the automaker's cars began to lose their distinction. The glory days of Rocket V8 engine and the brand-defining muscle cars of the 1960s were gone. In the 1980s, the Quad 4 engine pumped a little life into the company, though its exterior designs became squarish and unimaginative (an overall trend followed by many automakers in the '80s). By the 1990s, Oldsmobile had become a bit of a orphan within GM, lost between Chevy and Pontiac, which eventually led to the shuttering of the company. Still, classic Oldsmobiles of the 1960s and '70s remain highly prized by collectors today, and the legacy of Oldsmobile as a truly American automaker will never fade.
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