Over two years ago, the last Oldsmobile rolled down the assembly line of the old Lansing plant. It was a burgundy Alero sedan, perhaps a shell of the most famous Oldsmobiles built down the same line. The medium-sized sports sedan represented a marque that once stood for automobiles that were bold and powerful. It was the brand that gave you the Rocket V8 and the Hydra-Matic transmission; among many of the innovations Oldsmobile gave the world.
An Oldsmobile symbolized what was good about cars built in the good ol’ USA. They were cars that sported affordable luxury graced with touches that appealed to everyone. In the good ol’ days, you can tell the difference between driving a Chevrolet Bel Air and an Oldsmobile 88. You can also sense a special air when you revved up that 455 cubic inch V8 underneath that Cutlass 442 when hunting for Mustangs, Road Runners and Chevelles.
Though the Alero had front wheel drive, the smallish Olds would thank its distant cousin, the Toronado, for bringing the driveline to North American manufacturing.
This brand has personal significance for me, as Oldsmobile has been my first car and a symbol of luxury for my family. The Blooms had a 1940 Oldsmobile Series 76 when they came across from Cincinnati to Los Angeles. That was the car Mom learned to drive in on the streets of the Fairfax District. They replaced it with a 1950 Series 88. The first Rocket V8 in our family.
After I was born, Mom drove me home in a 1955 Ninety-Eight Starfire Convertible. Mom bought it used in 1958 and it was gorgeous! The car was a white monochrome paint job with matching white convertible roof and a two-tone leather white and blue ensemble interior. Not many kids can say they were born in such beauty. Perhaps it was a calling for my future.
In 1972, Dad bought out a lease on a relatively new Ninety-Eight Luxury Sedan. When Dad split, Mom got the car. It suited us fine. In Boy Scouts, while some of the male scouting dads trotted out their old trucks and camper shells, Mom raised the rear end of the Ninety-Eight, had stronger shocks installed and was able to carry seven fully-loaded backpacks in that huge trunk! No joke! It also carried four Boy Scouts in the backseat.
Mom’s stroke in 1979 left the Ninety-Eight to my devices. The “cruise missile,” aptly named for its Rocket 455 V8 and the ability to pile in a lot of guys inside of it, became an old lurching monster that took up space at Reseda High’s stadium parking lot. By then, the radiator loved to overheat and a bad tire installation started to rot the lug bolts on one wheel. The huge 235/80R15 whitewall tires became too expensive to replace.
On one fateful January night in 1983, the Ninety-Eight met its ultimate demise. The electrical system simply failed to an unrepairable state.
The love affair with Oldsmobile did not stop there. When I began renting cars instead of owning them, I had plenty of Oldsmobiles to tool around in. To this date, I have driven an additional 25 Oldsmobiles in my life. This included the Cutlass Supreme coupe with Nevada tags that I trotted from Concord, California to Bremerton, Washington in 1995 to consummate a relationship…that failed.
Somehow, an Oldsmobile became a factor in a life event. At least three of them were involved with trips for Gen-X Bears. One such Achieva sedan, filled with local Gen-X Bear folk from State College, Pennsylvania, made contact with a bird that got sucked into the opening of an alloy wheel. Somewhere in central Pennsylvania, the story is being retold for the millionth-plus time.
Though it has been two years since the close of a great American automobile brand, other domestic and foreign automobiles, SUVs and minivans are trying to do what they can to give you as much of the Oldsmobile legacy now lost in time. Oldsmobile was the benchmark in the middle-priced field for decades. However, it seems that this market has lost to the pressures of the foreign car market, especially those who build in North America. Also lost is the idea that Middle America has to search high and low for a car comparable to an Oldsmobile. As in the end, middle-market brands had to resort to reinvent themselves just to grab a piece of the consumer pool in the automobile market.
What are left are the memories. Anyone who owned an Oldsmobile still remembers their ownership experience, good or bad. This is why the brand remains a legend in American automobiles. There can be no substitute to an Oldsmobile. Not in our lifetime.