Oldsmobile

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Keywords: Oldsmobile
Description: Until its demise in 2004, Oldsmobile was the oldest surviving marque still producing cars in the U.S. Founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897, Olds introduced the assembly line as a vehicle assembly

Until its demise in 2004, Oldsmobile was the oldest surviving marque still producing cars in the U.S. Founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897, Olds introduced the assembly line as a vehicle assembly method; this allowed Oldsmobile to produce 425 cars in 1901. Henry Ford would later improve and receive credit for inventing the assembly line by mechanizing it later.

Until its demise in 2004, Oldsmobile was the oldest surviving marque still producing cars in the U.S. Founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897, Olds introduced the assembly line as a vehicle assembly method; this allowed Oldsmobile to produce 425 cars in 1901. Henry Ford would later improve and receive credit for inventing the assembly line by mechanizing it later.

The first model off the Olds assembly line was the Curved Dash Oldsmobile with tiller steering and a center mounted engine; it didn't look much different than a traditional buggy. The Curved Dash was produced until 1907--more than 19,000 were built, giving the Curved Dash Olds the distinction of being the first mass-produced car ever built. General Motors acquired Oldsmobile in 1908.

Another landmark vehicle for the company was the 1910 Limited Touring. At $4,600, the Limited was too pricey for most customers, and only 725 Limiteds were sold. Despite its rarity, the Limited Touring was noteworthy for beating the famous 20th Century Limited train on a run from Albany to New York, earning the Limited its name.

In 1940, Oldsmobile was the first auto manufacturer to offer a fully automatic transmission, the Hydromatic. Then in 1949, Oldsmobile introduced the Rocket engine, which was a V-8 that incorporated an overhead valve design. The Rocket engine not only set a performance standard for the brand, but also established the company logo and played a key role in defining the design direction of future Oldsmobile vehicles. Rocket-inspired taillights, towering fins and wide-mouth chrome grilles propelled Olds into the futuristic '50s.

Oldsmobile introduced the first American production turbocharged engine in 1962 in the Turbo Jetfire. However, the design, based on the 215-cubic-inch V-8, was plagued with problems and required "Turbo Rocket Fluid," a mixture of distilled water and methyl alcohol, to operate properly. When the fluid ran low, a valve would release excess pressure, cutting into performance. The end result was that most Turbo Jetfires were converted to conventional four-barrel carburetor systems by dealers before ever leaving the lot.

Towards the end of the decade Oldsmobile transitioned into the big block muscle car era with the Olds 442 and the Super Rocket, the most powerful engine offered by Oldsmobile, which could be found in Olds 88 and 98 models. The 442 began as a high-performance version of the 1964 Olds Cutlass. The 4-4-2 designation originally stood for 4-barrel carburetor, 4-speed manual transmission and 2-exhaust pipes, but when the original 330-cubic-inch powerplant was replaced with a 400-cubic-inch V-8 to become more competitive with the Pontiac GTO, the new definition became: 4-hundred CID V-8, 4-speed manual transmission, 2 exhaust pipes. In 1968, the 442 and the Cutlass became two distinct models, and the 442 received an even bigger engine in 1970--a 455-cubic-inch V-8.

In the '70s, Rocket engine's reliability and performance continued to win popularity for Oldsmobile, making it the third-best-selling brand in the U.S. behind Ford and Chevrolet. In 1977, however, a shortage of 350-cubic-inch Olds V-8s left Oldsmobile with too little supply to meet demand. Until this time, Buick, Chevrolet, Pontiac and Oldsmobile all produced their own 350 engines, but rather than turn customers away, Oldsmobile substituted Chevy 350s. Unfortunately, customers weren't told and only learned that their cars had non-Oldsmobile engines when it came time to buy replacement parts. Oldsmobile customers who thought they had purchased cars with Rocket engines were outraged, and the situation became a PR nightmare. General Motors began to put disclaimers on all of its advertising and sales brochures stating that GM vehicles "are equipped with engines produced by various GM divisions" and began referring to engines as GM Corporate engines--ending the association of engines with any particular division.

By 1985, Oldsmobile sales had reached an all-time annual high of 1,066,122, but popularity began to wane as Pontiac and Buick rejuvenated their models. As other GM models gained ground, Oldsmobile was reduced to rebadged versions of models from other divisions. The brand enjoyed one last resurgence in the mid 1990s with the innovative Aurora and Intrigue, but by the end of the decade GM had made the decision to phase out the marque. The last Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line on April 29, 2004.



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