Oldsmobile was founded by Ransom E. Olds as the Olds Motor Vehicle Company, in 1897. The company enjoyed almost instant success. By the early 1900s, thanks to models like the Curved Dash, it was producing the best-selling cars in the U.S. at the time. The Curved Dash was also the first car to be mass-produced using an automotive assembly line. While this particular innovation is often wrongly credited to Ford, it was in fact Oldsmobile that pioneered this process.
Once Ransom Olds departed, General Motors acquired the company in 1908, rechristening it as Oldsmobile. GM steered the Oldsmobile Division toward the high-end of its vehicle hierarchy. Early models produced by GM like the Model 42 Touring Roadster were known for being sophisticated and luxurious. The company introduced its first closed top, the Model 37, in 1918. The seven-seater, V-8 powered Model 46 proved a hit during the 1920s, and Oldsmobile continued to innovate throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
Oldsmobile After World War II
In the postwar era, Oldsmobile introduced the iconic Rocket 88. The 88 was powered by a short-stroke, overhead-valve V-8, and rapidly became a favorite among automotive enthusiasts. In the 1960s, Oldsmobile introduced the sporty front-wheel drive Toronado, and in the 1970s the Oldsmobile Cutlass would become one of the most popular cars in the U.S. After an unsuccessful stab at producing diesel-powered vehicles in the late 1970s, Oldsmobile regained its footing in the 1980s, thanks in large part to the continued success of the Cutlass.
Oldsmobile sales in the U.S. peaked in 1985. At the time, Olds ranked just behind Chevrolet and Ford as the third best-selling U.S. automotive brand.
The Oldsmobile brand’s fortunes finally began to flag in the 1990s. With many Japanese manufacturers finding success through upscale imprints such as Acura and Lexus, Oldsmobile began to lose its footing in the market. GM attempted to reestablish the Oldsmobile brand as an alternative to the upscale Japanese and German imports with the introduction of the Aurora in 1995 as it shuffled the deck with its various divisions and retooled Chevrolet and Pontiac as its performance marques.
However, the auto giant’s efforts were largely unsuccessful, and many of Oldsmobile’s existing models were phased out. By December 2000, GM had officially announced that the Oldsmobile brand would be discontinued, and in April 2004, the last ever Oldsmobile -- a compact Alero -- rolled off the assembly line.
Released in 1999, the Alero was Oldsmobile’s most successful attempt to break into the compact car segment of the market. While the Alero wasn’t successful enough to reverse Oldsmobile’s fortunes, it was regarded as stylish and well-designed by automotive critics.
The full-size Oldsmobile 88 was one of the brand’s most successful and long-running models. The 10th and final generation of the 88 ran from 1992 to 1999 and was intended to be a luxury sport sedan that could compete with European brands. It was also known variously as the 88 Royal, Regency, and LSS.
The 98 was another full-size sedan produced by Oldsmobile that dated all the way back to 1941. The final generation of the 98 was released in 1991. Massively large for the time period, the 98 failed to catch on with the public and was discontinued by 1996.
At one time, the Oldsmobile Cutlass was the most popular car in the United States. The sixth and final generation of the Cutlass was unveiled in 1997 and was in fact a more upscale version of the Chevrolet Malibu. Production of the Cutlass continued until 1999, when it was replaced by the Alero.
Oldsmobile also tried its hand at cashing in on the 1990s SUV craze with the Bravada. A midsize luxury SUV, the Bravada was unveiled in 1991. The Bravada’s third and final generation holds the distinction of being the last new model issued by Oldsmobile. Note the Bravada was successful enough for Oldsmobile to keep producing it until the brand’s demise in 2004.
Popular Oldsmobile Products and Technologies
Oldsmobile was one of the most successful automotive brands in the U.S. for the better part of 100 years. The company introduced numerous automotive innovations in its time, including one of the earliest automatic transmissions, the overhead-valve V-8 in the 1930s, and the driver’s side airbag in the 1970s. Drivers today still appreciate Oldsmobiles for being a reasonable used car option.