Oldsmobile History Page-
Dead at 106: Oldsmobile
The last car from America's oldest car company rolls off the line Thursday in Lansing, Mich.
April 29, 2004: 11:08 AM EDT
The last Alero to come off the line Thursday in Lansing is destined for a home in the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, named for Ransom Eli Olds, who co-founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in August 1897.
The death of the Oldsmobile -- a brand with sales that have dropped steadily in recent years -- marks the end of an era in American automaking. Olds says it was the first company to mass-produce cars -- not Ford -- and that it pioneered the use of chrome and automatic transmissions in American cars.
"Oldsmobile production has remained unprofitable and, therefore, GM's current planning is to end production with the 2004 models," General Motors, the world's biggest automaker, said in September 2001. The last 500 Aleros produced will be painted metallic cherry red and carry special Final 500 markings. Special final edition versions of Oldsmobile's Bravada SUV and Silhouette minivan are also being offered by those Oldsmobile dealers that remain. The final edition Bravada has been a particularly hot seller, said Vince Peckens, sales manager at DeMaagd GMC, Nissan-Oldsmobile in Battle Creek, Mich.
Peckens said his dealership will keep selling Oldsmobiles until there are no more left on the lot. That will probably happen by the end of the summer, he said. There are about 1,750 Oldsmobile dealerships still in operation, said Rebecca Harris, a GM spokesperson. While the Alero will be no more, the Lansing plant will continue operating, producing the last 2004 model year Pontiac Grand Ams, a car fundamentally similar to the Alero. A new plant nearby will produce the 2005 Pontiac G6, a replacement for the Grand Am. Joined GM in '08
Oldsmobile was the second brand to become part of General Motors. The automaker, by then called Olds Motor Works, joined GM in November 1908, two months after Buick, according to General Motors historical information. Ransom E. Olds had left the company four years before that, dismayed that the company was turning toward manufacturing high-end cars in contrast to his own vision of building inexpensive cars for the masses, said Bob Casey, transportation curator for the Henry Ford Museum. He went on to found a new car company called Reo, for his initials, said Casey. That company stopped making cars in 1936 but continued for some time as a truck manufacturer.
Under Alfred P. Sloan's vision of creating a ladder of brands that would allow buyers to step up to increasingly luxurious GM cars as their wealth increased, Oldsmobile became GM's mid-market brand, said Casey. It was positioned somewhere between the high-end brands like Cadillac and Buick and the more mass-market bands Chevrolet and Pontiac. Once GM (GM: Research, Estimates) began relying more on sharing components, and virtually entire cars, among different brands, Oldsmobile began to suffer from a loss of identity, said Ken Gross, an automotive historian and columnist for Old Cars Weekly. "It was the ultimate middle child," said Gross.
Olds claims to be the first company to mass produce gasoline-powered automobiles, something that is often credited to Ford Motor Co. Ford (F: Research, Estimates) takes credit for having the first moving assembly line in 1913. According to historical information from GM, Olds' Curved Dash automobile was mass-produced in 1901. Whether or not that's true "depends on your definition of 'mass produce'," said Casey. Oldsmobile also claims to be the first to use chrome decoration on its cars. In 1926, the shiny metal plating was used on Olds radiator shells. It also claims the first cars with a fully automatic transmission, the Hydra-Matic, which debuted in 1940 models.
The 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass W-30 4-4-2 convertible muscle car was named one of the most collectible American cars by auto auction company Kruse International in 2003.
The Olds Motor Co. was incorporated in 1897 with an initial capital investment of $50,000.00! In 1897 the company produced 4 automobiles. On September 21, 1997, Oldsmobile celebrated it's 100th birthday!
The full name "Oldsmobile" was first used in 1900. Prior to that, the automobiles were known simply as "Olds", built by the Olds Motor Works of Lansing. In 1903 the Olds "Pirate" sets a World record at Daytona Beach covering 5 miles in 6.5 minutes. In 1905 two Oldsmobiles complete the first transcontinental race from New York, NY to Portland, Oregon in 44 days. In 1922 an Oldsmobile establishes another record, traveling 1000 miles in 15 hours. Cannonball Baker drives a 6 cylinder Model 30 from New York to LA in 12 � days.
Total car vehicle production:
� 2 millionth in 1941
� 20 millionth in 1978
Rocket Era 1949 - 1990
The Oldsmobile Over-Head-Valve (OHV) Rocket V-8 was first produced in 1949. Originally named for its principal designer, Charles Kettering, as "Kettering Power". Corporate GM policy disallowed that, so the powers that be, opted for "Rocket Power". The plant where these engines were built was named "The Kettering Engine Plant". The Olds OHV V-8 was the first to be produced in a sustainable quantity.
It was the second mass produced OHV V-8. In 1917 to 1919, Chevrolet produced a 265 CID OHV V-8, but production ceased. In 1955, Chevrolet introduced another, the 265 CID OHV V-8. The first Ford OHV V-8 was produced in 1954.
The first serious attempt at a commercially viable V-8 was by De Dion around 1910. Cadillac examined this design as well as the Hall-Scott aero engine, and released their vastly superior engine in September 1914. Cadillac is generally regarded as having the first successful production V-8 engine. They were also the first to introduce an inherently balanced V-8 (quartered crankshaft with integral counterweights vs. a flat 4 cylinder crank). However, none of these were OHV designs.
Oldsmobile produced an "L" head or flat head V-8 from 1916 to 1918 and from 1919 to 1921, but it was a side valve engine, not OHV. Oldsmobile also built the Viking V-8 in 1929 and 1930. A 90 degree, 81 bhp 260 CID V-8. It used a horizontal valve design with triangular type combustion chambers. The block is a mono-block casting.
Some of the early V-8 engines are of fairly unusual design, beyond the early connecting rods. I believe the 1917-18 Chevrolet Model "D" V-8 was made up of two castings, basically split down the Center line of the crank. They were identical castings that were simply bolted together. Mono-block V-8's didn't hit until much later. Ford said they were the first to make a 'low cost' mono-block V-8, with their inception in 1932. This indicates that one or some of the higher priced V-8s must have been mono-block prior to 1932.
The Rocket engine debuted in 1949. It was termed the Rocket 88 engine. This engine was big in NASCAR, in fact with the automatic (no manual trans available early on), the Rocket won 8 out of 10 races in 1950. This engine had a number of interesting features: overhead valvetrain, hydraulic lifters, oversquare bore-stroke ratio, forged crank with counterweights, aluminum pistons, full-floating wrist-pins, and a dual plane intake manifold.
In 1957 Olds released the J-2 Golden Rocket. This was a 371 inch engine with a six-pack (it only came with a six-pack) that put out 312 horses.
I guess that once Olds hooked onto the Rocket name in '49 and people associated it with Oldsmobile, they continued to use it for many years because of that association. You could say that any Olds built V-8 from 1949 up is a Rocket engine.
The word "Rocket" on the air cleaner decals was dropped in in the mid 1970's, maybe with the 1977 model year.
All Olds V-8 pushrod engines produced between 1949 and 1990 are considered "Rocket" engines. The "Rocket" designation comes from the general design of these engines, not the HP rating. Super 88's with Rocket V-8s won many races in 1949 and through the 1950's. The Rocket V-8 has been credited with starting the quest for more power and hot rodding.
You may notice different variations of Rocket on air cleaner housings. Here are some:
Golden Rocket 1957 - 1958 371 3x2
Rocket 88 1949 303
Sky Rocket 1961-1963 394
Super Rocket 1965-1967 425
4-4-2 Rocket 1967 400
Jetfire Rocket 1967 330
Starfire 1967 425 Tornado Rocket 1967 425
Ultra High Compression
The Musclecar War started when Oldsmobile introduced the first overhead valve V-8 in a relatively light body in the 1949. The war became hot when Pontiac brought out the GTO and Olds countered with the 442. As the decade of the sixties ended, more of the corporate limits were removed until they were building almost all out race cars. From 1968 to 1971, the 442 was a separate line that could be identified by it's VIN. The 1970 model year had more "trick parts" than almost any other year.
General differences among the power ratings of Rocket V-8s produced between 1949 to 1964, and 1964 to 1990 are in the manifold, carb, and air cleaner. Some small bracketry and the like is also different, of course. The distributor is slightly different in terms of either vacuum or mechanical advance, but nothing major. The main internal difference is in the pistons, with the 4-barrel hi-compression pistons having a more shallow dish than the 2-barrel ones. Heads and camshafts are pretty much the same, with W machines and 442's (hi-performance applications) using different heads and camshafts.
[ Thanks to Joe Padavano, Kevin Wong, Mike Van Auken, Cliff Feiler, Bob Barry, Greg Beaulieu, Mark Cornea, Kurt Heinrich for this information ]
Oldsmobile engines can be basically broken into the following generations:
� 1949 was the beginning of production of the Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 engine.
� 1964 represents a new generation of engines. This was the last year for the 394.
� 1990 was the last year of the two valve OHV Oldsmobile V-8s.
� 1995 represents another new generation - the Aurora DOHC V-8 - the A8.
Oldsmobile was a test car for General Motors. Many new and important technoligical advances were first intorduced to the market in Oldsmobiles.
Here are some items introduced to Oldsmobile that were First year items.
Oldsmobile starts using chrome plating.
Starts using a synchromesh transmission.
The complete Olds line changes from 6 volts to 12 volts.
Disposable spin on oil filter?
PCV system in use on all Oldsmobiles, no more down draft tubes for crankcase ventilation.
Disc brakes are an option on full size Oldsmobiles. Ultra High Voltage (UHV) system available. This was the forerunner of HEI.
First year for the windshield antenna.
First year for induction hardened valve seats in heads.
First year for a factory coolant recovery bottle.
EGR is added to Olds engines.
HEI was offered as an option in 1974 Oldsmobiles and became standard in
Catalytic Converters are added to all Olds exhaust systems.
[ Thanks to Graham Stewart, Joe Padavano others for this information ]
Indy Pace Cars
Oldsmobile automobiles have paced the Indianapolis 500 more than any other car manufacturer.
Year Car Driver Winner Comments
1949 88 Conv. Wilbur Shaw Last time he drove the Pace Car, w/Olds chief engineer Jack Wolfram riding shotgun. Same as available at dealership.
1960 Ninety-Eight Conv. Sam Hanks Last pace car delivered from dealership. Same as available at dealership.
1970 442 Conv. Roger Ward Same as available at dealership, but engine tweaked.
1972 H/O Conv. Jim Rathmann Same as available at dealership, but engine tweaked. 50 88 conv. done as parade cars.
1974 H/O Targa Jim Rathmann Targa not available, but sunroof was.
1977 Delta 88 Targa James Garner A.J. Foyt Targa not available, but sunroof was. Modified 403 w/dual exhaust.
1985 Calais Conv. James Garner Convertible not available, nor Centerline wheels, headlight cover, lowered suspension, rear spoiler w/lights or 215 hp 4 cylinder engine.
1988 Cutlass Supreme Conv. Chuck Yeager Replicas did not come from Oldsmobile, but from Cars & Concepts. Produced 50 conv. & 200 coupes for local distribution. Quad 4 Turbo not available.
1997 Aurora Johnny Rutherford No replicas planned. First FWD 4 door to pace the race.
[ Thanks to Brad Nicholson for this information ]
Oldsmobile Timeline of events-
1864: Ransom ("Ranny") Eli Olds is born to Pliny Fisk and Sarah Olds in Geneva, OH. Pliny is a blacksmith and machine shop operator.
1880: Pliny, Sarah and family move to Lansing, MI.
1883: Ransom Eli Olds goes to work at Olds & Son Foundry. The son in this instance is not R. E., but his older brother Wallace.
1885: Ransom buys his brother's interest in Olds & Son for $1,000.
1887: R. E. Olds builds his first horseless carriage. It is a 3-wheeled, steam powered vehicle.
1893: R. E. Olds becomes the first American automobile exporter. He ships a 4-wheeled, steam powered vehicle to a purchaser in India. The vehicle is never delivered as the ship sinks enroute!
1896: R. E. Olds receives a patent for a "vapor" (gasoline) engine.
1897: R. E. Olds publicly offers for sale his first gas powered vehicle. The asking price is $1,000.00. The Olds Motor Vehicle Company is formed (8/21/1897).
1900: Olds opens Detroit manufacturing facility at 1330 Jefferson Av. The name of Oldsmobile is adopted as a result of R. E. Olds running a "Name the Car" contest, which is won by his timekeeper.
1901: The United States Post Office purchases Curved Dash Oldsmobiles for use as postal delivery vehicles. Olds becomes the first automobile manufacturer to acquire vehicle components from outside suppliers. This was necessitated by the fact the Detroit manufacturing facility was destroyed by fire.
1902: Oldsmobile returns its operations to Lansing, MI.
1903: Oldsmobile takes the Tour de France.
1900 - 1903: Oldsmobile leads all American automobile manufacturers in the number of autos produced.
1904: The first Oldsmobile to have a steering wheel, instead of a tiller rod is manufactured. R. E. Olds retires from Oldsmobile.
1905: R. E. Olds forms the REO Motor Vehicle Co. More REO's are sold than Oldsmobiles in 1905 and 1906.
1908: Oldsmobile becomes a part of General Motors Corporation.
1916: The V-8 engine (an L - head design) is offered by Oldsmobile.
1924: Olds makes steel wheels available as an option.
1934: Oldsmobile makes hydraulic brakes, independent front wheel suspension and the vent (cozy) wing available for the first time.
1937: Olds presents the motoring public with the "Automatic" Safety Transmission (AST). It required use of a clutch pedal to shift between the low and high ranges.
1940: The 'shiftless' Hydra-Matic transmission is introduced.
1949: The 303 c.i. Rocket V-8 is introduced. Oldsmobile leads the pack of the Indy 500 for the first time.
1950 (August 26): Ransom Eli Olds dies.
1955: The first 4 - Door Hardtop is manufactured by Oldsmobile.
1959: Lee Petty and Oldsmobile capture the checkered flag at the first running of the Daytona 500.
1966: Oldsmobile leads the industry with the introduction of a front-wheeled drive vehicle; the Toronado.
1974: The first air bag appears in an Olds Toronado.
1981: Flexible, rust-resistant body panels are used for the first time by an automobile manufacturer. The Olds Sport Omega came with front fenders formed from two resins reinforced with milled fiberglass. The fenders were painted with flexible acrylic enamel.
1987: A. J. Foyt sets closed course world speed record of 257 M.P.H. in an Oldsmobile Areotech.
1997: Oldsmobile marks its 100th anniversary.
Oldsmobile Ad Slogans-
1902 The Oldsmobile is the Best Thing on Wheels.
Nothing to watch but the road.
1909 The logical car at the logical price.
1921 Built to extend the fame of a good name.
1928 You can buy a bigger car but not a better one.
1930 Sound economy suggests Oldsmobile.
1931 This year own an Oldsmobile - the fine car of low price.
To design progressively ... to build faith ... to sell honestly ...
to serve sincerely.
1932 Outstanding General Motors values in the medium price field.
1934 Leader in style .. leader in performance.. leader in value.
1935 The car that has everything.
1937 A beauty in armor.
1938 Step ahead and be money ahead!
1939 Setting the pace - different times, different models, but always top-flight performance.
1940 - 1941 Styled to lead - built to last.
Bigger and better in everything!
1942 Fire-Power is our business - keep �em firing.
It�s quality built to last!
Proved and Improved for �42 (Hydra-matic drive).
1943 -1945 �Count on me for �43 - to help keep �em rolling!� (Olds dealers of America)
1944 You can always count on Oldsmobile (service and dealer ads).
1946 The Drive that shifts for itself!
1948 A famous �Drive� in a Famous car.
1949 Make a Date with the �88.�
1950 Oldsmobile Rockets Ahead!
Make a Date with a �Rocket 8!�
1951 Ride the �Rocket� and Save!
1953 The new ruling power of the road.
1954 There�s more than a touch of tomorrow in the Rockets of today.
1955 Oldsmobile Rockets ahead ... with flying colors!
1958 Presenting a new way of going places in the Rocket age...
1960 The most satisfying car you have ever owned!
1961 Sized right ... powered right ... priced right ...
Super 88 - the action line ... in performance and design!
1962 There�s something extra about owning an Olds.
1963 New style to invite you ... new luxury to delight you.
New style to delight you! Rocket action to excite you!
1965 Pick the Rocket to fit your pocket!
1966 Step out front in 66 ... in a Rocket action Olds!
1968 Every Olds has to make it before we mark it (GM Mark of Excellence).
Youngmobiles from Oldsmobile.
1970 The Escape Machines. Escape from the Ordinary.
1971 Oldsmobile - always a step ahead.
1972 - 1974 Not Just Another Pretty Car
1975 It�s a good Feeling to Have an Olds Around You
1976 - 1978 Can We Build One For You?
1978 In Man's Search for a New Measure of Excellence...
1979 - 1981 We�ve had one built for you.
1982 - 1983 Even Today, There�s Still Room To Do It In Style
1984 - 1986 There�s a special feel in an Oldsmobile.
1986 - 1988 Oldsmobile Quality. Feel it!
1989 - 1991 This Is The New Generation of Oldsmobile
1992 The Power of Intelligent Engineering.
1993 - 1997 It's Your Money, Demand Better
1999 - 2004 Start Something