(first posted 8/19/2014) A recent trip to a local junkyard yielded some interesting finds (which I hope to share more of), but among them was this black-on-black 1996 Oldsmobile LSS, a car that strikes a very personal note for me.
As some of you may recall, a very similar 1997 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight LS was the last car owned by my grandfather, with whom I was immensely close (the picture above is of his car in its final years. After his passing, it was inherited by my older cousin, who sadly totaled it in an accident several years later). Although his Eighty-Eight had a few more of the traditional Oldsmobile touches than the sportier LSS, it was essentially the same vehicle. I have many fond memories of riding around in that Eighty-Eight with him, and I’m fondly reminded of him every time I see one like it.
I had to chuckle when I opened the door, as I was overcome with the same familiar interior smell of my grandfather’s Olds. It’s funny how distinctive the smell of leather and plastic can be. I haven’t ridden in that car or any other Eighty-Eight in over eleven years, but it was its scent more than any sight that instantly took me back in time. Whether it was my grandfather, or just that special feel in an Oldsmobile, looking through this car was comforting.
Hence, in a field of Buick and Pontiac H-bodies, it was this lone Olds that stopped me dead in my tracks. Without its distinctive Aurora-inspired 16-inch 5-spoke wheels, it was not until I peeked inside that I knew it was an LSS. Originally just a trim package on Eighty-Eights beginning in 1992, in 1996, the LSS graduated to its own model, losing its 88 prefix and gaining some more substantial performance upgrades.
Despite now being its own model, the LSS was visually still very much an Eighty-Eight sedan. It was essentially a last-ditch effort by Olds to try to make the Eighty-Eight appeal to younger (and by that, I mean middle-aged) buyers. Aside from its unique wheels and badging, it looked no different than my grandfather’s innocuous Eighty-Eight.
Likewise, only a few changes were made to the interior in order to give it a sportier and less elderly look and feel. In place of the Eighty-Eight’s standard front bench sat attractive buckets pulled straight out of the Aurora. Rear seat passengers were also treated to different seats, mimicking the style of those in front. Running between them was a center console and floor shifter controlling the sole four-speed automatic. Later models would feature better-integrated console with extra storage.
Oddly enough for a so-called performance-oriented model, one had to pay extra for an engine that was more powerful than the standard Eighty-Eight’s “3800 Series II” with its 205 horsepower and 230 lbs-ft of torque. Thankfully, the optional engine was the latest supercharged version of the 3.8L V6.
Internally codenamed “L67”, with 240 horses and a hefty 280 lbs-ft of torque, this engine was capable of propelling this sleeper from zero to sixty in 6.9 seconds. Its quarter mile time was only 15 seconds at 94.2 miles per hour. For comparison, those times were quicker than the V8-powered Aurora, which had 20 less lbs-ft of torque and an additional 400 lbs. of weight to pull. The LSS was also quicker off the line than many import sport sedans.
Handling was another story. Although an improvement over the softer Eighty-Eight, inferior suspension tuning, steering, and structural rigidity posed no threat to brands like Acura, Audi, or Infiniti.
This particular LSS is an early production 1996 model, as evidenced by its traditional rectangular “rocket” logo. Later into ’96 production, the Eighty-Eight and LSS would gain the new “Aurora” Oldsmobile logo. I do like the black-on-black look, especially the interior. I know black has become the preferred interior color of automakers, but in 1996 it was something more exclusive and intriguing.
The original window sticker was still in the glove compartment, and I took it as a souvenir. Not that it really matters at this point in this car’s life, but as you can see it does not have the supercharged engine. With a CD player being the only option added, this particular car stickered for $26,010 in 1996. Adjusted to inflation, that comes out to just under $40K in 2014 dollars. Although well-equipped, this was a pricey vehicle.
It’s a moot point to say that the LSS didn’t make much of a splash in the marketplace. With everything from ancient Cutlasses, inexpensive Grand Am siblings, and the Accord-fighting Intrigue to both stripper and luxury minivans, a luxury SUV, and the $35,000 Aurora, I don’t think anyone knew exactly what Oldsmobile’s mission was by the late ’90s. Front-wheel drive sports sedans aren’t so hot in to collector market either these days, not even sleepers from a defunct marque like Oldsmobile.