Take a 1997 model, give it the front and rear fascias, bumpers, and bodyside moldings of the same car from 1995, add in the chrome grille, wheels, and interior from a different 1996 car, and sell it as a new model. Sound like a logical plan? Well, that is just what Oldsmobile did for the 1997-1998 Regency.
You see, the 1990s were a very rough time for Oldsmobile. The “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” campaign clearly backfired, failing to attract younger buyers and turning away some of Oldsmobile’s loyal older buyers. There was also mass Cutlass confusion, and in general, Olds’ models were consistently redundant and unremarkable compared to related cars from other GM brands. Buick had clearly emerged as the champion of the “premium American road car” duel against Olds, and by the mid-1990s, it was clear that sticking to the same game plan, or lack thereof was a sentence to death.
With severely eroded brand identity and value, Oldsmobile took a final stand at completely reinventing itself by unveiling the Centennial Plan. With the target on younger, import-conscious consumers, the Centennial Plan was aimed at giving Oldsmobile a clearer purpose to buyers by eliminating aged and overlapping models, streamlining its product portfolio, and introducing new vehicles that better fit the appeal Oldsmobile was going for.
These new models featured clean and elegant Aurora-inspired styling, and attempted to provide the interior, ride, and handling refinements that were drawing younger buyers mostly to Japanese and German brands.
Yet even with this defined initiative, Olds found it hard to make a clean break from the past. This struggle was made no more apparent by any car than the 1997-1998 Regency, which was basically an amalgamation of leftover parts from the previous two model years.
If the face-lifted 1996-1999 Eighty-Eight was the nicotine patch on Olds’ arm as it made strides to break old habits, the 1997-1998 Regency was a security pack of Camels.
With wide, soft, and flat leather bench seats, plenty of exterior gingerbread, white walls and even the old logos which Oldsmobile ceased using the previous year, the Regency was a clear attempt to hang onto any “traditional” buyers that might be alienated by Oldsmobile’s new marketing strategy. It was somewhat a surprise that the car didn’t bear a factory vinyl roof and wire wheel discs.
Apart from the softer seats, interiors were typical Eighty-Eight/Ninety-Eight (as the two shared the same dash and door panels). In fact, aside from a few standard features which were extra-cost options on the regular Eighty-Eight, the Regency didn’t offer much uniqueness besides its less progressive appearance and packaging.
In light of its confusing regressive nature, the 1997-1998 Regency didn’t seem to excite buyers looking for a “traditional American luxury sedan” with “understated luxury and smooth road manners”. Sales of the Regency were only 8,219 for 1997 and 7,958 for 1998, substantially less than both the Aurora and the regular Eighty-Eight, and even less than the Ninety-Eight’s final year sales in 1996. “Traditional” buyers, like my own grandfather who traded his ’92 Ninety-Eight Regency in for a ’97 Eighty-Eight LS, were either satisfied with the more contemporary Oldsmobiles, or otherwise went to Buick.
1991 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight (GM Deadly Sin)