My Curbside Classic: 2002 Oldsmobile Silhouette GLS – This Is Your Mother’s Olds

(first published 7/10/2011)     My first car was an Oldsmobile. A 1967 Delta 88, which I wrecked 6 months after I got my driver’s license.

Before you say it, yes, I admit I’m getting older. A part of getting older is looking for some of the finer luxuries of life. A little comfort is appreciated, a leather seating area is nice, and an automatic transmission is appreciated in traffic.

I used to turn up my nose at minivans. They were for families (We have no children). They were not “cool.” It was not the image I wanted to project of myself.

Oh, you foolish, foolish man.

I’m 6′ 7” tall. I would make allowances in previous cars for my height by doing such things as never buying a sunroof (cuts approximately 1.5” off the headroom), reclining the driver’s seat so my head would fit (in an ’84 Camaro), and scrunching up into a “cool” car so I could appear to be something I’m apparently not (in a 1978 Honda Civic).

In 2006 my wife and I moved to St. George, UT to take care of our mothers, both of whom were elderly. I bought a Ford F-150 with the V-6 and a 5 speed to provide for my daily transportation. Still have it. It’s nice to have a truck when it’s needed, and it has lots of room in the cab.

My mom had this 2002 Oldsmobile Silhouette GLS. It was converted to carry a power wheelchair. The lift works rather well, actually. Lifts the chair up and swings it in to the back. I would chauffeur Mom around town as she needed to go places, and became very adept in getting the chair in and out.

When Mom died in 2008, I took the Silhouette as part of my share of the estate. My wife is also in a wheelchair, so it was perfect to help her around town. But in driving it I discovered something I never would have thought possible.

I like it.

The Silhouette was first introduced in 1990 as part of a trio of minivans from GM. Its siblings were the Chevrolet Lumina and the Pontiac Trans Sport, later the Montana. GM had a foray into the minivan market earlier, with the Astro, but being built on a truck chassis and not having a lot of amenities, was not the big seller that Chevrolet expected. With the new vans, dubbed “dust-busters” because of their shape, GM finally began making some inroads on Chrysler’s virtual lock on the minivan market. With the new innovative shape, and GM exclusives such as power sliding passenger doors, the new vans began selling fairly well. GM was encouraged and made plans for a second generation of minivans with more conventional features. They based the look on the current Chrysler Town and Country. There was only one problem.

In 1997, when GM released their new design minivan, Chrysler released a totally new redesigned Town and Country.

Talk about being behind the times.

However, the GM vans turned out to be good. With the venerable LA1 3.8l 6 cylinder engine, the vans were finally powered properly.  The movie “Get Shorty” made the Silhouette famous as “the Cadillac of minivans.” And it really is.

Leather heated seats. Rear back up alarm. MPG instant/average calculation and miles to empty computer. Outside temperature and compass. Memory power seats. 4 speed automatic transmission. Rear A/C and heating controls that the driver or rear passengers can control. An air compressor built in. Think about it – a minivan that can fill up it’s own tires. All standard on the GLS model.

The last Silhouette rolled off the assembly line on March 31, 2004. Oldsmobile was dead at the point, as well. An old time marque that was killed off by corporate bean counters. Shame, really. They were just starting to bring out some interesting cars.

I truly enjoy driving this van. Legroom. Headroom. I can even wear a cowboy hat inside! Only thing I could ask for is built in GPS navigation, but my netbook and Microsoft Streets and Trips with the GPS attachment fill in just dandy. And since I’m a musician, there is plenty of room for my instruments and amplifiers inside.

Road manners are a surprise. While not up to my Z-28, it is respectable in the corners. Acceleration could be a bit better, especially on grades, but the 4 speed auto downshifts in plenty of time to keep your speed up. I’ve been averaging about 19 MPG in town and 25 MPG highway. With only 38,600 miles on this nine year old van, I plan on keeping it for a good long time.

One ouchie – the front got hit in a supermarket parking lot and the idiot put a nice dent in the front bumper and left the scene. When Paul can afford to pay his correspondents better, I’ll get it pulled out. (Ed: Bring it by; I’ll pull it out. I once “repaired” our ’92 Caravan out front in the street, and “straightened” the inner front structure with a come-along hooked to the back of my Ford after son Edward rear-ended someone. You’re not picky, I assume?)

My first car was an Oldsmobile. Looks like my last one might be, as well.