Just like the name says, this brand is one of the oldest in America, being founded in 1897 by Ransom E. Olds. Sadly, today the car company is no more as it was shut down in 2004 by GM, the owner of the brand for most of its 107 years of history.
It actually started out as Olds Motor Company in Detroit where in 1901 the first assembly line was set up, consisting of 75 workers who struggled to make “horseless carriages” as they were called at the time. The first model was called the Curved Dash and after a little media exposure, sales started picking up.
A new plant was built in Lansing, Michigan and production shot up from 425 models in 1901 to 4000 in 1903. The name Oldsmobile never came officially, as the manufacturer referred to them as “Olds automobiles” but people called them Oldsmobiles.
The next model was the 1910 Limited Touring, a somewhat more luxurious car, with a price tag that could rival a home back then. Still, Oldsmobile managed to sell a couple of hundred models, probably also due to the car’s exposure in the event in which it won a race against a train.
The next big step for Oldsmobile came in 1937 when the four-speed semi-automatic transmission was introduced under the name “Automatic Safety Transmission”. A new, improved version, was introduced in 1940, one that was fully automatic. Then the war came and car production was replaced by arms production which even included big caliber guns and shells.
Postwar production would resume with the introduction of a new type of engine which they called “the Rocket”, a straight 8 flathead that offered a lot of power, thus making it a favorite of the racers and hot rod enthusiasts. In order to keep with their new “sporty” image, Oldsmobiles changed their design, now having a big grille in the front, reminiscent of jet fighters, also their taillights seemed to keep in with the Rocket theme.
The 60s would bring with them such noted models as the Cutlass and Toronado which would remain in production well into the 90s. These models, in addition to many others managed to bring up Oldsmobile sales during the 70s and 80s, despite the other American manufacturers having issues. The way that Oldsmobile managed to stay on top was to build car that were reliable and were regarded as having decent quality for the money.
As well as the brand sold in the 80s, when the 90s came around, Oldsmobile found itself in trouble. As other divisions of GM prospered, Oldsmobile lost its place on the market, lost its dsign and was forced to sell rebadged versions of other GM cars, such as Pontiac or Chevrolet. As time went by, Oldsmobile became a bastion for testing new concepts for GM.
The one car that was able to turn things around for the manufacturer was the Oldsmobile Aurora. This car would mark a new turn in design, but in order to achieve the whole new look, all the older models were shelved one by one and replaced with sleeker, more aerodynamic ones (Achieva, Bravada, Eighty-Eight and Silhouette).
Despite all their best efforts, Oldsmobile’s demise would finally come also due to its affiliation with GM. A loss in profit for the automotive giant meant that the Detroit brand would be quietly be laid to rest. this after their last model, an SUV called Bravada, was becoming a hit on the American market.