O L D S M O B I L E 1 8 9 6 - 2 0 0 4
Wind is an amazing event. It comes from a distance as a faint whisper, approaches unseen through the trees until it envelopes you with its will, departing into the distance. And it only lasts but a delicate moment. In it’s passing, there is a void. A void to us, like the last Oldsmobile rolling off the assembly line April 29th, 2004.
We, the Oldsmobile Club of America, are left to write the epitaph and speak the eulogy of a great tradition, heritage and legacy; founded and forged with the heart and soul, the brains and brawn of innumerous inventors, engineers, marketers, office and assembly workers. Common folks.But uncommon to a man and woman. For what they have created in Oldsmobile has been masterful. And for that we are very grateful.
We perused the online editions of the Lansing State Journal for historical facts. Typing 'OLDSMOBILE' into their website search engine returns a thousand results.
Far less than ten percent of these results were articles, with the remainder being over 800 obituary entries. Each obituary had a common thread... 'retired from Oldsmobile' or 'ex-Oldsmobile employee'. We are captivated by their stories. Their accomplishments. Their individual Oldsmobile legacy painted within the small strokes of an obituary's canvas. To name them all here would be an honor. To omit a name would be a travesty. It was through their dedication to excellence that a tremendous base of loyal, satisfied customers were developed.
Through the years, we have seen families, no, generations of Oldsmobile owners. Dedicated to a brand they had defined as unique to America, in an ubiquitous landscape of innovative automotive history. The Oldsmobile was not the rich man, nor the poor man's car. It was the brand that defined the emerging middle class of America in post-World War II. It was a statement of achievement, and once tasted, could never be forgotten. What better way to commute from the new suburbs than taking a rocket-ride in a Rocket 88? But where did Oldsmobile originate?
1864: Ransom E. Olds is born in Geneva, Ohio. His family moves to Lansing when he is 16.
1887: R.E. Olds develops a steam-powered car.
1893: Olds’ steam-powered car becomes the first American car sold abroad - but the ship sinks on the way to India and the car is lost.
1896: Olds builds a gas-powered car and starts motoring around Lansing.
1897: Olds and Lansing business people start the Olds Motor Vehicle Co. and build four cars. The Lansing-based manufacturer is the first company organized specifically to produce cars in quantity.
1899: Olds’ second company, Olds Motor Works, moves to Detroit.
1900: The Oldsmobile name is first used.
1901: Detroit plants are destroyed by fire and Olds returns to Lansing.
1905: The Curved Dash Oldsmobile is immortalized by the song “In My Merry Oldsmobile.”
1908: Oldsmobile joins the newly organized General Motors Co. as one of its first two operating divisions. The other is Buick.
1916: Oldsmobile uses the first V-8 engine.
1926: Oldsmobile develops chrome plating for mass production.
1927-29: Olds employment skyrockets to 7,000 with 12 new buildings.
1935: One millionth Olds is built.
1937: Safety transmission shared with Buick introduced.
1940: First Hydramatic four-speed automatic transmission in a production vehicle!
1942-45: Car production stops and Olds workers make 48 million rounds of ammunition, 140,000 aircraft machine guns and tank cannons.
1949: The Rocket V-8 engine is introduced.
1950: R.E. Olds dies.
1958: Olds becomes the nation’s 4th largest automaker.
1965: Employment tops 15,000 in Lansing.
1968: Hurst/Oldsmobiles roll off the assembly line and are shipped over to Demmer Tool and Die for conversion.
1978: With the dedication of a new Cutlass plant, Oldsmobile’s Lansing operations become North America’s largest passenger car assembly complex.
1979: Engine plant opens in Delta Township. GM employment tops 23,000.
1984: With the reorganization of GM, Oldsmobile becomes a sales and marketing division in the Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac Group. Oldsmobile sells more cars this year than any other year.
1992: Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac disappears as a GM name. Lansing’s factories become part of the Lansing Automotive Division, which made its home offices in the city.
1996: GM announces Olds will move to Detroit.
1997: Olds celebrates 100th anniversary.
1998: Olds moves from Lansing to Detroit. In mid-1998, Olds starts to build the Alero in Lansing.
1999: A GM vice president says the automaker could build two new assembly factories in the Lansing area.
2000: GM announces it will phase out its Oldsmobile division.
2001: Oldsmobile dealers begin receiving settlement payments from GM to avert lawsuits related to the Oldsmobile phase out.
2004: An amendment to a pending federal tax bill may give Oldsmobile dealers two years to spend their GM settlement checks before tax on the money is due.
April 29, 2004: The last Oldsmobile to be built, an Alero, rolls off the line at Lansing Car Assembly.
In the end, GM claimed that Oldsmobile was no longer a viable division, operating at a loss, while Saturn continues to operate at a loss since its inception. So answer this: where is the Saab, Saturn or Hummer loyal customer base today? Perhaps after these brands age another 50 years, GM corporate marketing will discover they have, by dumb luck, nurtured loyalties for these newer GM brands. But I know they will never create such brand recognition and loyalty as displayed by generations of Oldsmobile customers; loyalties that GM discarded callously on the roadside, like an old shoe. What a shame... what a travesty.
Some say it's the end of an era. We believe that through the Oldsmobile Club of America, it's the start of an era. Close your eyes. Tilt your head to the sky... we feel another breeze coming.
-- Karl Sup, Oldsmobile Club of Arizona member