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About OldsmobileOldsmobile, which built a staggering 35 million cars over 107 years, once seemed as permanent an American icon as the Empire State Building, baseball or Thanksgiving turkey. But Oldsmobile's long history didn't prevent the company from the brand wrecking yard when General Motors shut the marque down in 2004.
Ransom E. Olds founded Oldsmobile in 1897--six years before Wilber and Orville Wright flew the first airplane in Kitty Hawk, N.C. In 1901, the Olds Motor Works in Lansing, MI, built 425 cars, which was a stunning number for the day. Oldsmobile was the first volume producer of cars and was one of the top-selling brands.
The Oldsmobile Curved Dash, which was built from 1901 to 1904, was created on the first stationary automotive assembly line. Ford was the first... View more company to build cars on a moving assembly line.
Olds left the company to create the REO car company, and GM bought Oldsmobile in 1908. Two years later, Oldsmobile's 1910 Limited Touring was one of the classiest cars of its day, and the $4,600 price tag made the automobile more expensive than the average home.
In 1940, Oldsmobile introduced the first fully automatic transmission, which was called the Hydramatic and gave drivers four forward speeds. Oldsmobile stopped building cars in 1942, as the company's factories shifted production to weapons during the rest of World War II.
Oldsmobile got back to building cars less than two months after Japan surrendered in 1945. In 1949, the powerful Rocket engine was introduced. The Rocket V8 engine was a selling point for Oldsmobile cars for almost 20 years.
During the 1950s, the Oldsmobile 88 was introduced. By the late 1950s, Oldsmobile cars, such as the Super 88, embraced the rocket as a design theme, and the chrome-encrusted cars sported rear fins with "rocket exhausts".
Oldsmobile toned down the exuberant design in the 1960s, and now-famous models, such as the front-wheel-drive Toronado and the 442 sold very well. By 1970, the 442 rumbled to life with a 455-ci engine under the hood.
The Cutlass was Oldsmobile's best-selling car in the 1970s and 1980s. The Vista Cruiser station wagon, which was built from 1964 to 1977 and had attractive roof glass, also is a classic Oldsmobile model.
By the 1980s, Oldsmobile was one of the best-selling brands in the United States, with production rising to more than one million cars a year. The Ciera, which got high marks for quality and safety, was Oldsmobile's best-selling model from 1982 to 1996.
Oldsmobile's luck changed for the worse in the 1990s. Most popular Oldsmobile models were now merely rebadged versions of cars from other GM divisions. Many of the familiar, popular models vanished, including the Cutlass Supreme, the Toronado, the 98, the 88 and the Ciera.
Oldsmobile profits dropped, and GM decided to phase out the brand in late 2000. In 2001, the 2002 Bravada SUV--an ironic hit with critics and buyers--arrived in showrooms. Bravada production ended in 2004, and the last Oldsmobile car--the Alero compact--stopped rolling off the line in April 2004.
Oldsmobile's last car--an Alero sedan--is now on display at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing, MI. Oldsmobile's Lansing plant produced more than 14 million cars during the long life of the brand. View less
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