In researching my article on Oldsmobiles at the Scottsdale auctions, I was stuck by how many variations Olds offered in the sixties. Brock Yates mentioned in his 1968 C/D article featured on CC that the U.S. makers’ number of models proliferated, but their sales didn’t. This is basically true, but a closer snapshot look is revealing.
I don’t think anyone played the model game more prolifically than Oldsmobile. With the addition of the Toronado for 1966, Oldsmobile had three basic body shells. However, if you count all the models and body styles available, they had 39 choices. And they didn’t even offer a full size station wagon! (I think I’m counting correctly, I could be wrong. The 4-4-2 was technically not a separate series, but some sources list it as a model. It’s 34 if you don’t count 4-4-2. On the other hand, Olds lists 6 and 8 cylinder F-85’s separately, so if you counted 4-4-2’s and 6 and 8 F-85’s, it’s 47)
Other medium price brands also had large numbers in 1966, such as Pontiac with two bodies and 34 models (GTO is a separate series), Dodge with three bodies and 36 models and Mercury with two bodies and 32 models, though they all had full size wagons. Chevrolet had 48 models, but that was across five bodies.
In the last ten years, Oldsmobile had added two bodies and 26 models since 1956. For all the extra choices they offered buyers, sales only rose 19%, and they dropped a place in U.S. sales rankings. Going forward, though, Oldsmobile was exceptionally successful and adding cars seemed to have helped them. They would add more basic bodies, but the total number of models would decrease.
Oldsmobile’s methods worked great until the late eighties, when they seemed to lose relevance in the market almost overnight. 1985 was Olds’ all time high water mark: 1.165 million cars and beating out Ford for the number two spot. It took 88 years of work to get there and 19 more years to work their way out of business.
1956: one body, 13 models, 485k, 5th place
1966: three bodies, 39 models, 578k, 6th place
1976: five bodies, 36 models, 891k, 3rd place
1986: seven bodies, 33 models, 1,050k, 3rd place
1996: seven bodies (including an SUV and a minivan), 13 models, 331k, 10th place (4th within GM; also behind Toyota, Honda and Nissan which were 3rd, 4th, 5th respectively; sales less than the 386k 1976 Cutlass 2-doors sold)
2006: zero bodies, 0 models (last car sold in 2004)
R.I.P. Oldsmobile, you had a heck of a run!
(I’m considering 88 and 98 to share a body shell throughout. Olds and some other brands divided their models by engine cylinder count. I combined engines within a model for comparison purposes.)
I’d love to hear what you feel Oldsmobile did right and wrong and what led to their sudden downfall.
Photos taken from oldcarbrochures.com, a very cool and useful website. There I also ran across this GM publication, which has more information than you’d probably ever want to know about the 1966 Toronado.