Cohort Classic: 1969 Oldsmobile 98 – Strong, Silent, And In The Classic Tradition

For whatever reason, I keep finding myself writing various automotive recollections in lieu of delving into any technical details of my subject cars.

Such is life.

Maybe these recollections are an easy way of celebrating a car without having to do any hardcore research.  Maybe these recollections are too stout in my mind and these memories are seeking a figurative release.  Maybe these recollections are ideal for cars in which there really isn’t much else to say.  I’ve had that problem before.  At any rate, seeing this Oldsmobile 98 posted at the Cohort by Dean Edwards was too good to pass up.

Apart from the number of doors, it is a frightfully close facsimile of the 1969 Oldsmobile owned by my parent’s neighbor Orville, someone we met long ago.  Seeing it brought back all manner of auditory and olfactory memories.

To prove I have done some modicum of actual research for this CC, I was hoping to tie in Oldsmobile’s advertising tagline for 1969, whatever that may have been.

The first one I found was talking about Oldsmobile, well the 98 at least, being strong, silent, and in the classic tradition.  In a sneak-peek of the brain cramp that GM would become, their advertising for Oldsmobile wasn’t exclusively about the strong, silent, and traditional.  Oh no, that year Oldsmobile mottos were nine kinds of inconsistent.  Or maybe it was just an advertising gimmick.  Regardless, it was weird.

A horny looking Rudolph Valentino impersonator doesn’t seem to gel with the traditional and/or stereotypical Oldsmobile customer base.  It looks like the one caressing the hood of the 98 is enjoying the afterglow of Rudy’s affections while the gal in the background picture has a look of trepidation, bordering on terror, knowing she is about to be deflowered by an insatiable Rudy.  Or something like that.

Catchy, but not necessarily in a good way.

Oh, wait.  It’s nothing but a tie into the Youngmobile Thinking of 1969.  It seems the “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” campaign of the late 1980s had an equally ludicrous ancestor.  Please note the brochure to which I was referring, identical to this one yet absent the Toronado reference, was being bashful about downloading but it can be found here.

All throughout the 1969 Oldsmobile brochure there were recreations of scenes from various old movies.  Youngmobile…old movies…Oldsmobile…makes sense to me.  Not.  But it was 1969.  From the perspective of one born three years after our featured Oldsmobile, little about 1969 makes sense.  Then again, maybe that was Young(Old?)mobile’s point?

I cannot think of anything this contingent would have in common other than exaggerated facial features.  It’s a stretch to believe Cleopatra, a member of the French Foreign Legion, and a Zorro looking character would all have a heaping hankering for a new Oldsmobile.  That said, the woman up front has a remarkable resemblance to Alla, the delightful Russian lady who teaches ballet to my daughter.  But Alla drives a Camry, one equipped like the spiritual descendant of a good Oldsmobile.

At least GM didn’t use the horror movie inspired Dr. Oldsmobile throughout the entire line.  That does demonstrate some degree of cognizance about their customer base, unlike with the 98, as this was intended for the performance cars springing from Olds.  The Dr. Olds campaign stuck around through at least 1971, with the ads depicting a mustachioed doctor.  It does appear different actors portrayed the good doctor over time.

So with all this diving into weird brochures, where does Orville fit into all this?

Orville had been a small business owner, being the proprietor of the local tavern.  With the 98 being intended for those having a certain degree of social standing, it seems to be a natural fit for Orville.  Successful small business owners driving an Olds 98 made perfect sense.

When we met Orville long ago, when a 1976 Oldsmobile 98 was featured (although Orville’s was a 1975, as seen here), the general theme was about his having used that particular Olds to truck materials and equipment when he built a house in the mid- to late-1980s.  Orville was just over 80 years old at the time and was a fabulous representative of a long-ago generation, being the strong, silent, and classic tradition man, just like the 1969 Oldsmobile 98.

Well, Orville was strong and in the classic tradition.  He was not a silent person, much like his 1969 Oldsmobile, and my mother thought he yelled a lot.  However, I am of the opinion Orville was highly animated and had a voice that carried quite well.

One prime example of Orville not being silent was with his grandson Justin, who was my age.  Justin was the free-spirited type, with a perpetual smile on his face, not getting too concerned about much of anything, traits that are generally instinctual to a degree in fifteen year-old boys, but greatly amplified in Justin’s case.

While there was about two hundred feet between the houses, seeing the goings-on at Orville’s house was accomplished by standing at my parent’s kitchen sink.  That particular day, Orville needed the trash burned and thought Justin should do it.  The ’69 Oldsmobile was parked too close to the burn barrel so Orville was directing the activities.  Orville had a particular order in which he wanted tasks performed, but he was giving poor Justin too much input in too short of a time frame.

Justin had no trouble in realizing the Olds needed to be moved.  He hit the starter motor with gusto, that Oldsmobile 455 V8 coming to life through a rather unmuted exhaust system.  Dropping that Olds in gear, Justin stood on the throttle, spinning the rear wheels and slinging dirt and rock all over the place, all without much forward motion.

I grew up in an area that had a certain hierarchy in verbal coaching.  It was a two stage process.  For minor infractions, the Level One coaching would begin with “Jason, dammit…” and for more major infractions, Level Two would be “Dammit, Jason…”.  One immediately knew where they stood.

Orville had ramped his coaching up a notch, having four levels.  Perhaps he enjoyed the variety.  Level Three mimicked Level One with Level Four mimicking Level Two, the only difference being a reference to God before use of the word “dammit”.  Justin’s slinging crap all over creation instantaneously sent Orville to a Level Four.

More admonishment was administered and Justin again put the 98 in Drive.  Second verse same as the first.  This particular song had multiple verses with Orville maintaining a red-faced Level Four throughout.  No doubt Justin’s perpetual smile did nothing to soften Orville’s disposition.  He likely thought Justin was mocking him.

That episode confirmed what I had always heard about Orville – don’t mess with him.  I wouldn’t have anyway; I had heard the story about Orville’s interactions with two rowdy and mouthy 20-somethings one night in the tavern.  Orville had politely asked them to settle down and they refused to do so.  Things escalated and Orville proceeded to whoop the shit out of both those guys and threw them through the front door into the street.  Orville was only sixty-seven years old at the time.

Orville’s was a sedan, as seen at the top.

Another episode involving Orville’s older Olds 98 involved his wife Irene’s grandson.

Irene was a good twenty years younger than Orville.  I’m not sure of her history but she was frequently visited by her daughter who drove a white and phenomenally straight 1964 Chrysler Town & Country wagon.  At the time I could not fathom why anybody would be daily driving a ridiculous quarter-century old wagon, but we all mature.  I’d love to see that wagon again.

Irene’s daughter had a son and daughter.  The older child, Matthew, was five or six at the time.  Matthew was an exceptionally handsome child with very wide and expressive eyes, with a personality that could have easily helped him later become the southern Illinois version of Rudolph Valentino.

Hmm, maybe that Olds ad wasn’t too far off the mark.

Anyway, Matthew was full of energy and was even more successful in raising Orville’s dander than was Justin.  The most vivid example was when Orville was outside burning the trash one day.

As an aside, trash burning day at Orville’s was a mixed bag for those of us next door.  There was entertainment aplenty but it came at a cost.  It seems Matthew’s mother brought her trash to Orville and Irene’s.  Her trash included the disposable diapers dirtied by Matthew and his sister.  Ever smelled burning disposable diapers?  It smells like a combination of very good barbecue and hot vomit.  It’s really hard to describe but we were very happy when Matthew and his sister were finally potty-trained.

I digress.

My earlier exposé of Orville revealed how Matthew had built a mountain of gravel on the trunk lid of Orville’s 1976 Olds 98.  Matthew was a determined child, undeterred by the temper of his step-grandfather.  I was outside the day Matthew decided to ramp his Tonka sized plastic trucks on the ’69 Olds.  He would place them on the trunk lid and hurl them towards the rear glass, intently watching them fly through space and come back to earth.

By this point, Orville was in his late 80s and periodically using a cane.  Mentally, he was sharp as ever but age was slowing him down, much to his annoyance.  Orville walked out the back door just in time to see Matthew send a tandem axle dump truck on a mission over the C-pillar of his beloved Oldsmobile.

Matthew realized the wisdom in ceasing all activity before Orville got to him.  I was doing yard work close enough to hear him try to sweet-talk Orville down from his Level Four status.  Somehow, Matthew was successful.  A true Rudy in the making.

However, it was obvious Orville loved those kids.  He never laid a hand on them despite their behavior conflicting with his constitution.  Other than the avoided damage to some glass, Orville likely knew his Oldsmobile was none the worse for wear.

Rare is the time I have seen a 1969 Oldsmobile 98, either now or back in the day.  Despite General Motors having built over 100,000 of them, my lifetime sighting of 1959 Edsels have been more frequent.  So seeing this posted to the Cohort was terrific.

While Orville would be pushing 120 years old these days, there is a part of me who strongly suspects his Oldsmobile 98 is still out there.  The world is a better place for having had both of them.