(first posted 10/25/2016) I’ve had a bit of a think since the last time I visited Oldsmobile. Don’t get me wrong, that revolting half-baked attempt at making the Malibu into a Cutlass is still nothing short of insulting, but at the end of the day…wasn’t Oldsmobile already on its deathbed by the time that it rolled around? What was the point of dumping millions of dollars on something completely new and different? That makes that pretty blue car that you see above this text all the more interesting.
Brendan Saur’s Oldsmobile Bravada article reminded me of that horrible car. If anything, the Bravada is worse in execution than that Cutlass, but when that one died it didn’t take such a storied name down with it. Moreover, as I read it, I got into thinking about what exactly killed Oldsmobile. The almost-insulting levels of badge engineering didn’t help of course. But if we take the pragmatical approach, which I seem to be doing in this article, Oldsmobile died the second that someone inside GM’s HQ decided the second they decided to change their brand image fast enough to cause whiplash. When I googled ‘Not your father’s Oldsmobile’ to research this article half of the articles that came back were those “Online Advertising” sites warning everyone who read that this was pretty much the worst way that Olds could change their focus. Yes, in our youth-venerating culture something with a name that has ‘Old’ in it may be seen as toxic, but I think that argument goes right out of the window when you remember Terry Crews bursting through a brick wall to prevent an Old Spice ad from ending.
And now, with the benefit of hindsight we can see that the campaign actually worked. Well, half of it did. It was very good at getting rid of the old people that wanted to buy Cieras, it was not so good at bringing people to replace them though. Couple that with that old GM problem of “Too many brands, not enough boldness” and on December, 2000, the inevitable was announced. Oldsmobile was going away for good. Unsurprisingly, those news came as a punch in the gut for everyone who had just gotten into a new Olds Aurora, Silhouette or the one we are taking a look today, the Alero.
As I mentioned on the Cutlass article, if I had been running Olds at the time I would have sold the Alero under the Cutlass name. I read some of you on the comments (Thank you for commenting, I appreciate your readership) that by the time the Alero came around the Cutlass name was essentially showroom poison. But after the plain water biscuit that was the final-gen Cutlass, I don’t think anyone would have noticed. I also mentioned that this was what Oldsmobile’s version of the N-body should have been from the get-go. Unfotunately the Alero Alpha concept car that inspired the Alero’s design only came around in 1997. Alas.
Anyway, back to our photographed car which was captured in Austria by T-Minor. Aleros sold in Europe were sold as Chevrolets and the American plate on the back window makes me think this particular Alero did some time in the US before jumping the pond. It’s a very nice example with lovely shiny paint and what looks to be a perfectly straight body. Without taking a look under the hood and taking into account the way cars are taxed on the old continent, it’s likely that propulsion is provided by the 140-horsepower 2.2-liter Ecotec four. A bigger 2.4-liter four and a 3.4-liter V6 were also available with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.
The interior, in sharp contrast to the distinctive exterior, was business as usual, lots of cribbing from the corporate parts bin and plastics that would become so shiny and slippery by year four that GM should have just thrown the AutoZone steering wheel cover from the dealership and called it a day. But at the end of that day, it really wouldn’t have matter if it had been bestowed with an interior so opulent that a Mercedes S600 would have looked spartan, outdragged a Corvette and rode as beautifully as a Silver Seraph while being able to keep up with a Ferrari Modena on the twisties, the baggage that came from the past couple of decades was just too big to fight against. All the cars that surrounded it were either too similar or better. Oldsmobile had long since worked itself into a position where it wasn’t superior in any meaningful way(to consumers) than any other GM brand, let alone outside competition. The Aurora was the sole standout of the bunch and even it could not prevent the death march to that fateful 2000 announcement and that ceremony four years later, where a red Alero became the final vehicle to roll out of a production line bearing the Oldsmobile name. And tragically, it seems as though very few people were really the worse for it.