Oldsmobile was a renowned “tweener” car in the GM lineup: an Olds was not quite a Cadillac-but it was more than a Chevy in the General’s battle plan for Big Three domination.
An Olds left the GM factory as a luxury model that offered a competitive edge when it came to self-image in any suburb where the next door neighbor was named Jones and also drove a posh ride.
The typical Olds owner was older and more affluent than people who bought lesser automotive brands during a bygone era. Therefore, a typical Olds was a large-and-in-charge car that offered a large-and-in-charge reputation to its owner.
All bets were off when Olds introduced the Omega in 1973-but their misguided attempt to introduce an economy Oldsmobile was not even their worst idea. That monumental disaster would occur in 1988 when General Motors introduced their “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” ad campaign.
The legacy of a stylish and upscale brand was thrown in the nearest trash can and replaced with a direct shot at the Olds customers who made the Oldsmobile a huge success in the automotive marketplace. The traditional Olds owner had reason to be insulted by an ad where the new target buyer was more likely to be influenced by an MTV video than a car commercial in 1988.
Not surprisingly, the “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” was a catastrophic failure in a New Coke or Titanic sense.
MyStarCollectorCar has always respected the Olds brand (give or take an Omega or two) so we want to showcase some of our favorite Oldsmobile models over the years.
One model that comes to mind is the Oldsmobile Starfire produced during the early 1960s. These cars had one of the coolest names in the automotive industry and only had to reach into the GM name bin to recycle the Starfire name from the mid to late 1950s Oldsmobile lineup and make it a standalone model in 1961.
The Starfire name was an obvious tribute to the early days of the US space race when anything was thought to be possible in terms of outer space transportation. Optimism reigned supreme in May, 1961 when the United States introduced its first manned Mercury rocket orbits and squared off against the USSR’s earlier 1961 manned launch.
Suddenly the earthly sky was not the limit for the space program and Oldsmobile’s Starfire brand.
The first-generation Oldsmobile Toronado was another home for General Motors because this car was a front-wheel-drive car in a rear-wheel-drive world. The 1966 Toronado was also a big car that offered the same array of luxury features as the rest of the Olds lineup.
The Toronado was a bold new adventure for Oldsmobile and was the first front-wheel-drive car built in the US since the pre-war Cord models. The Toronado boasted two engine choices: the big block 425 and the even-bigger block 455.
The ‘66 Toronado also had a unique look that boasted hidden headlights and a racy two-door coupe fastback style that was a very cool version of a car that was long associated with a stodgy owner.
Another Olds that broke the mold on the car’s image were the 442 models built during the 1960s. The 442 name was a moving target for interpretation, but one thing was certain: these cars were built for street battles during the muscle car wars of the 1960s.
If an Olds 442 was your father’s transportation choice during the 1960s, then you had one of the fastest and coolest dads in the neighborhood.
The last MyStarCollectorCar example of the Olds legacy has to be the Olds Vista Cruiser station wagons. The station wagon was a mainstay for 1960s-era families and had a blandly practical image in the eyes of most young car guys.
Cue the Vista Cruiser with an aerodynamic front glass area on its roof that changed this station wagon into one of the coolest soccer mom rides in the world. The transformation did not go unnoticed by the Vista Cruiser’s large collection of young car guy fans who were happy to ride in their father’s Oldsmobile.
There was always something special about the Olds brand because it was such a big part of North American automotive history. Unfortunately one ill-advised ad campaign in 1988 tried to derail that proud legacy.
BY: Jim Sutherland
Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section.