In the early 20th Century, thousands of car companies were formed in the United States. Most of them came and went quickly, but about 20 brands existed in the immediate postwar period gradually dropping to today’s handful. Ten years ago, the final Oldsmobiles were built, and a 100 year old name joined the likes of Plymouth, DeSoto and Studebaker. There are certainly similarities to many of these endings, but with Olds, one thing seems a bit different.
In the past decade, Mercury, Pontiac and Saturn have followed Olds into oblivion, and like the demise of Kaiser, Edsel and the countless others followed a typical pattern. In most of these cases, several years of declining sales were followed by a quick corporate decision to kill the brand and then a short production run of new models designed to leave the dealers and the parent company with as few left over cars as possible.
In Contrast to this GM sent Olds out with at least a little bit of style. After several years of gloomy speculation, they announced in December of 2000 that Olds would be phased out, but gradually, and the last 500 cars of each line would be special commemorative editions.
First to go was the Intrigue. Production of these ended in June 2002 at the end of that model year. The V6 powered Aurora also ended with the 2002 models, but about 7000 V8 powered cars were made through March of 2003. Like the second-generation Aurora, the third-generation Bravada SUV actually went on sale after the announcement to discontinue the brand.
Assembly of the 2004 models ended in January of that year, with the final 500 making up nearly a quarter of total production. The Silhouette (The Cadillac of Minivans) had been around longer than anything else in the lineup, but lasted nearly to the end, with the last one built in March of 2004.
Fittingly, this left the Lansing-built Alero as the very last Oldsmobile, with the final one coming off the line April 29th 2004. After being signed by the plant employees, it was immediately placed on display at the nearby R E Olds Transportation Museum.
The final 500s were each painted dark cherry metallic with gray or tan interiors that included special embroidered logos in the seatbacks. The same logos were used as emblems on the front fenders and decklid or hatch. Most of them came with special wheels, and sedans included unique door sill plates and floormats.
In the last year I’ve seen eight of the final 500s equally split between a couple of shows and daily drivers. An Alero, Aurora and Silhouette have each eluded me in traffic, but this Bravada was actually curbside when I spotted it. I don’t suspect that these are going to be high end collectables any more than Corvette Pace Cars or the “last convertible” Eldorados, so it’s nice to see them being driven, especially since many seem to be in the hands of enthusiasts rather than ending up at the back of the sales lot with the rest of the orphans.