(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.
That was a well equipped car for 1998 – I would not have expected so many standard features.
About that engine – girl years that 3800 V6 was the staple of the GM Holden sedans sold here in Australia. Everyone I ever drove seemed quite rough with a particular vibration when changing – from second to third as I recall. Perhaps it did not mate well with the auto used here? They did sell the supercharged version here for a short time, but most who wanted extra performance bought a V8.
’90’s Holden especially the Commodore, Statesman and Caprice were very elegant and powerful in comparison with the more simplier and weaker euro siblings Opel/Vauxhall Senator and Omega.
I really like the ’90’s GM models. Especially this 88 LSS. Their body proportions and design is so unique in comparison with the european cars of that era. They are still fancy and have head turning effects especially in Europe where they are rare.
I could do one of these with the supercharger. I saw one of these on the road a few weeks ago, it was the Aurora wheels that made me notice it, because otherwise, these 88s were kind of like background noise in the midwest. I always found the LeSabre and Bonneville so much more attractive, each in a different way.
A buddy of mine, and then roomate, had one of these for a number of years. His was supercharged and a later model – that was a really cool and surprisingly fast car. Especially with the blower, then 3.8 had enough torque to do utterly ridiculous things all the time. Nice and comfortable inside and the exterior styling was pretty cool to boot.
Fun car. It was a great complement to his 1970 442.
I would give up my Sable in a heartbeat for one of these. Comfortable, fast and under everyone’s radar.
Oldsmobile was supposed to make European style sedans out of what was basically American style platforms. The LSS was probably Olds’s concept of what European style should be. My supercharged 95 Riviera (with a stiff body structure) was very powerful and on icy roads difficult to get moving without traction control.
I love finding window stickers in cars in the junkyard, I snag one every time I see one, the last one I got was a 1980 Riviera window sticker and owners manual in a fairly trashed, but pretty loaded up Riviera at the UPick. I always though the “Aurora style” front end on these was kinda forced, it didn’t mash well with the rest of the body, I liked the front end these came out with in 1991 more. I liked the “Wall of Buttons” dash too.
+1 I love finding the old window stickers and owners manuals from junkyard cars just before their trip to China. My last window sticker and owners manual find was from a 1990 Olds 88, clearly a pristine grandma car with all the paperwork in the glovebox, but unloved and dumped, probably for some minor malady.
Fun fact: this generation of Olds 88 was the first car (in the US?) to offer GPS!
These pseudo-Aurora facelift models are handsome cars. In a lot of ways, they’re the best example of the Oldsmobile brand in that era (as opposed to some of the dreck in the showrooms at the time).
I don’t mean to knock the Aurora–a stunning car in its own right–but the Aurora was definitely stepping on Cadillac’s toes. I know that the Aurora was supposed to be a euro-fighter, while the Seville was more traditional-American… but wasn’t the Seville STS doing the same job?
The American vs European style was supposed to make Buick and Oldsmobile distinctly different cars whereas in the 80’s they both made much the same thing. The Cadillac Seville was more or less a European style Cadillac from the very beginning. The 80-85 Seville was probably less European and more avant garde than anything. The 95 Aurora’s styling was very different from other GM cars, but a sports sedan it really was not.
I forgot about the Guidestar navigational screen option, I remember that Avis, or Hertz(or whoever) had some of these LSS’s as rentals with the nav system.
The Aurora replaced the 98 and Toronado all in one, but with greater sporting intentions, the Seville was a more expensive car with the bigger 295-300hp 4.6 Northstar compared to the less expensive 250hp 4.0 “Aurora” Northstar, so they weren’t in exact same category.
the handing of H-Body is disappointing indeed, no matter how the suspension was tuned. especially evidenced by strut bar, despite that the integrity is still far from great. I cant imagine one without it. my 95 LeSabre handles awfully comparing to Mark VIII, and when i put mk8 to garage and start to drive LeSabre in Michigan winter, it’s not rare for me to understeer after spoiled by making a turn at 50mph on ramp in MK8. even once my sunglasses on dashboard flew out from the windows in the LeSabre.
for early Aurora, i do think differently. Driving at 135mph near Willow Run, i was passed by a ’94-’95 Tbird and then an Olds Aurora roaring by much faster than both us and changing lanes at the same time without hitting brake. the body integrity must be very impressive to handle like that at a speed quite higher than 135.
My 95 Riviera (same body as the Aurora), at the first oil change at the deal, settled on three lift points, two held up the front end (heavy end) and one held the rear. The fourth lift was lower down and the Riv’s body did not sag to that point. This was discovered when the service guy bumped into the lift point and it moved away.
i think for pillarless vehicles that’s impressive, both Aurora and Riviera. but since i got a LeSabre i prefer to try a rwd for summer time. if i live in non-rust belt, i think a Riviera or Aurora is enough for me.
While the doors had frameless windows, both cars had B pillars. They were not hardtops. My Aurora had some wind noise from the drivers side window, and perhaps the other windows too, which was annoying to me. My 2002 Seville was noticeably very quite with regard to wind noise.
My current car is an AWD ATS which is very good on ice, which I have encountered on trips to and from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. For summer time its handling is second to only better RWD cars.
If you need to do a big car, this is the way to do it. Simple, clean lines, low belt line, excellent visibility. Killed totally by the name on the hood. By this point, GM had managed to turn the name ‘Oldsmobile’ into consumer poison.
On one hand, I wonder if it would have helped had they changed the marque’s name to ‘Aurora’ like was being considered. One the other hand,
I think Oldsmobile’s management did it to themselves more than GM’s upper management. I have to say that I was quite disappointed that Buick was forced to drop the T-type Electra. I also found my 98 Aurora not quite up to my expectations either. Both the 95 Aurora and Riviera were early cars on the new stiff structure platform, and I think the interiors were given little thought. Both cars had quite low end plastics, which the Aurora’s wood trim did not overcome.
GM interiors were getting very un-Broughamy in the mid ninties or perhaps very anti Broughamy.
Should have merged Olds into Saturn, the new brand had cache’ with younger buyers. Could have saved a lot instead of forcing the dated Opel as the L Series. ‘Saturn Aurora’ would have been a good halo car.
That was one of the plans that was floated around, Saturns would have been sold through a hypothetical Saturn-Oldsmobile-Aurora franchise, that was originally planned around a chopping of a large number of excess Oldsmobile dealers, keeping the best ones, remodeling and updating all the stores, which still would have probably been cheaper than creating the entire stand alone Saturn network.
Saturn would have replaced all the small Oldsmobiles like the never popular Firenza, Oldsmobile would have covered the middle ground with the Cutlass, minivan, Bravada and 88, and then Aurora would have existed an “Acura-Lexus” within the brand.
Oldsmobile did get as far as offering some Saturn like features, they added a 24 hour assistance number, 30 day exchange and even attempted some one price “special edition” models of the Cutlass, 88, Acheiva and Ciera, witha a Saturn like “no haggle” price.
That sounds like a wonderful plan, if Oldsmobile hadn’t been tied to the rest of GM and had been free to go upmarket and downmarket as they pleased.
In the first pic, I’m pretty sure I see a plastic intake plenum, which would tell me it has an L36 (and would agree with the window sticker) – but further down the page I see the blower cover of an L67.
Can I assume that the second pic was from another car, just to show what could have been?
If someone actually went through all the work of swapping a supercharged drivetrain into an NA car, I’d be impressed – and confused as to why someone would go to all that trouble only to junk it later.
Regardless, these were some pretty decent cars. If I was to need a daily driver on the cheap, I’d gladly take any of the later H-bodies… even more so if the option list were long, the paint was dark colored, and there was an L67 under the hood.
For it to be the less-common LSS would just be icing on the cake. Still, regardless of make, you could expect to fly under the radar wherever you went.
The picture of the supercharged engine wasn’t from the featured car. The engine on the actual car I photographed was kind of pulled apart, but I don’t think any engine swap was performed.
I’m guessing the traditional Oldsmobile buyer(by this time nearing retirement age or actually retired) wanted a big car with a bench seat and column shifter.A worthy attempt at trying to gain a new buyer but the old sayings true,”You can sell an old man a young man’s car but you can’t sell anyone an old man’s car”
Maybe it’s my age but I quite like it despite not being a fan of big FWD cars
I remember reading that Oldsmobile doing away with the bench seat and going to across the board buckets and floor shifter on the final generation only succeeded in moving the majority of their current clientele to Buick – who hung on to the bench seat and column shifter.
That was Oldsmobile’s big problem. By the time they REALLY decided to try and appeal to someone younger than the WWII generation, nobody BUT the WWII generation was willing to be seen in them anymore.
I can’t speak for him, but I don’t think my grandfather was too keen on the “new” Oldsmobiles from about 1998-onward. He used to buy a new car every 3-4 years, but kept his ’97 Eighty-Eight up until his passing in 2003. It wasn’t an age or money issue either. I also remember twice when having work done on his Olds, he got a LeSabre and Park Avenue as loaners from the dealer. He really, really liked the Park Avenue.
This split grille fascia looks ‘Pontiac’ not Olds, and showed how redundant the name was by ’96. Both Pontiac and Olds were aiming for ‘Euro’ and clashed. GM couldn’t maintain the divisional differences anymore. Why buy an LSS vs. a Bonneville?
Only to GM lifers, the brand names meant ‘traditions’, but to most buyers it was “Who cares? I want a good car.”
There were still a good amount of differences, I had and sold the 1992-1999 Bonnevilles, and they were also tuned for handling, but with a more American “musclecar from the future” vibe, with the wilder red illuminated dash and 22 way bubbly pimped spaceship seats and ribbed for everyone’s pleasure body moldings. Oldsmobile was going for the more subdued look.
“22 way bubbly pimped spaceship seats”
I bet that wasn’t the catalog description!
Totally agree about the grille on this LSS and the Pontiac/Olds relationship.
There were especially more differences in the beginning, when the Bonneville was still bedecked with body cladding and the Olds still had its more traditional nose. Both cars improved as the run went along exterior wise, but not so sure about inside. Pontiac interiors from the 90’s are dreadful, and Olds ones aren’t a lot better…
Also, this is a well-equipped car to be sure, but it baffles me how a CD player was not standard on such a car in ’96. My Lincoln Mark VIII (also a ’96) didn’t have one either, so that’s not just a GM problem. My current Crown Vic is similarly ill-equipped but it’s a lower-tier car so I’m not as surprised.
And I think that’s the same double-DIN stereo unit that my wife’s ’00 Alero used. Good old GM parts-bin strikes again! Though it’s hard to tell for sure as this one still has the lettering on the buttons, whereas all hers rubbed off, sometimes leaving you guessing as to what button you’re actually pressing!
Its a parts bin radio, but its an Oldsmobile parts bin radio, by this era Delco Electronics was producing divisional style radios, most of the radios across the divisions had unique designs that were only used by that division, the radio in my Grand Prix didn’t look anything like the radio in an Intrigue.
One answer is probably that this car was targeted to buyers who probably didn’t own CDs yet (I know my grandparents never did). But CD players weren’t standard in many late-’90s cars, as they were a good way to charge more as an added option, especially the trunk-mounted 6-disc changers. The first car anyone in my family owned with an in-dash CD player was my aunt’s 2000 Camry.
Good point on the owning CDs thing–they may have appeared in smaller, sportier cars earlier given the target audience. My parents didn’t have a CD player until I have them one for Christmas in 1997, so that speaks to your point.
Also, I now realize that I lied about the Mark VIII. It *did* have a trunk-mount changer, a 10-disc Sony. Factory unit but I’m not sure if it was standard or an option. I forgot about it as it stopped working a few months after I got the car…
A Sony factory changer? Was it Ford branded or Sony branded?
Good question. That car was totaled in 2006 and me memory is somewhat hazy on that detail. I clearly remember that some forum members at the time referred to the unit as having been manufactured by Sony, but that does seem a little suspect now, since I can’t find any reference to it online.
It was unusual in that it was 10 discs rather than 6. Also they had a high failure rate. I donated my cartridge to another forum member who lost his, then after the acccident found that found the insurance co wouldn’t give me credit for the changer without the cartridge (I am still surprised they even bothered to look).
This is one of my favorite GM cars from the mid-90’s. Would love to find a late model LSS with the L67.
My grandma bought a new one in ’99. I loved riding in that car. It was so well-equipped, comfortable, and classy without being pretentious (like the Cadillacs she shunned). It did everything right. She loved Olds exclusively for decades.
As a previous Cutlass owner, I looked at one of these LSS’s in the late 90s. I thought GM did a pretty good job with the exterior, but the inside left me cold – typical GM 90s “Rubbermaid” interior.
Bought a new 99 Chrysler LHS and loved it – about same price, much more features, and a beautiful concept car-like body. The 3.5 V6 didn’t have the torque of the 3.8 supercharged Olds, but would rev much higher, and had great mid-range passing power.
ahh yesss. Olds 88. Captain Crunch first car. I valued this 1994 olds 88. Though it did not value me. Like a tired grouchy old man, when it would get low on food-fluid/ gas it would attempt to kill me by cutting power and locking the steering wheel.
I took a blonde blue eyed bombshell named lisa who was a recovering self starver on a date in this car, she left on a bathroom trip never to comeback. Had she now learned bulemia? Or was the car ride over enough to set me free? Ahhh lisa, fondly i remember it to be Both.
The w-body, yuck, yet….yep! A 2007 monte carlo ss v8 is fun, and a 1989 cutlass coupe, intricate beauty truth be told. Yet a olds 88, and a lumina-ohh the humanity.
Pregnant women crave different things when pregnant, some, love to eat me(my cereal) some crave mex-i-can food. But noo pregnant whoaman would crave a w body. It just some food you end up with somehow. My 7th wife would agree.
Belated post, I can see some exec having a fit: futuristic FUTURISTiC, or else. G. Damn it just do anything to make it look futuristic, and, yea nothings left in the budget.
”Belated post, I can see some exec having a fit: futuristic FUTURISTiC, or else. G. Damn it just do anything to make it look futuristic, and, yea nothings left in the budget.”
scat, just get…. just go… jest git jes’ go jes’get out,,,just go on go on get out.. just go on ahead and get outta here shoo’ scat in the hat in the scat hat man scat
My wife and I bought a 1995 Olds LSS new. It was the worst vehicle we have ever owned — engine computer problems, brake problems, window crank problems! All expensive repairs. Even the “LSS” emblems fell off. We have only bought Hondas since.
I had a 90 something Bonneville SSEI with the turbocharged engine, sunroof and heads-up display. It was pretty good fun.
To my eyes, this was a 1970’s AMC Ambassador for the 90’s. It all made sense on paper but not so much in the marketplace. Nice shot but a miss. Ironic since when AMC Ambassador production was winding down, Olds could do no wrong. Twenty years later, Olds was struggling to get anything right.
It’s completely true. We’ve touched on the H body here and the G/K cars (Aurora, Riviera etc). Having had the joy of owning an L67 powered 1994 Riviera, GM could still build a good car. It died in an unfortunate accident, but that Rivi gave its life and I walked away. That was in 2015 with appx 50k on the clock.
It’s interesting that I’m reading this, as I own a 1996 (last year) Olds 98 Regency Elite (C-Body chassis, with the floor pan being the same as the 1995 Cadillac Sedan DeVille) that was in great condition, from the Estate of a neighbor). It was far too good to scrap and although it had been total losses, due to a neighbor backing into it. After purchasing it, I found ALL OF THE PAPERWORK FOR THE CAR, special ordered by a retiring Delphi employee, for his bride. I needed a car as my daughter was about to start Engineering School and she wanted my Camry.
It was in great condition, despite having 145,000 miles (the point where ALL of the long-term maintenance/repairs on GM cars occur). The car’s owner, Mrs. E. Blanket had her son, a mechanic with the state, add a spoiler onto the trunk (my guess is that it’s from an Olds Toronado Troféo). I’ve been doing all of the long-term maintenance requirements, but have upgraded the suspension to the equivalent of the FE3 suspension and the exhaust to the equivalent of the Pontiac Bonneville GT. I went to 16” X 8” Cadillac aluminum wheels. It’s been an interesting time, but I love the ride of a longer wheel base car. It’s interesting that the 1991 Olds 98 Touring Sedan has many of the great pieces that I need to do the “upgrades” I want. And the suspension is the same as the shorter wheel-base H-body (Bonneville/LSS/Park Avenue). Sometimes, GM’s money saving schemes – using The same suspension on the C and H body cars) works out for the best.
All the C/H-bodies had the same 110.8″ WB. The 98 just looked longer.
Olds buyers liked lineage. They wanted to know if they were getting a Delta 88, a Ninety-Eight, or just what. This is none of those, so Olds berefted itself of its loyal customers with these, the Alero, and the Aurora. Not that these were bad cars or anything, just poor market positioning, and highly priced.
I have an LS as part if my “minimum 20-year-old” fleet. Mechanics love the 3800 V-6 for its mechanical accessibility and the car is way less floaty than Oldsmobiles from previous eras. It does understeer on curvy roads, and sweepers need a deft hand to keep it on the apex. The transmission is geared for 30mpg on a flat highway which means you want to set it in 3rd gear around town or up a long grade, as it wants to live at 1500 rpm, and there isnt much more than 80 of the 205 horses on tap at such low revolutions. Despite the engine’s reputation for durability, it has one major design fault: a tendency to hydrolock with cylinders full of coolant from a leaky port in the upper intake plenum that deteriorates over time. Any nice example you see in a junkyard likely met its end that way. Mercedes Streeter of Jalopnik experienced this kind of catastrophe recently on a highway, and her car was (presumably) a write-off; I almost lost my low mileage ’98 in a similar incident but learned from her bad luck– my mechanic saved the engine in a the nick of time before it imploaded. Despite all this, I am fond of my “88”. I even installed a 1952 repro “V-2” rocket emblem on the trunklid, just for fun.
Removed the stock emblem, refinished the vertcal panel and installed a repro Rocket 88 badge from Fusick.