The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

28 April 2004

Gutless supreme

General Motors today unwraps a limited-edition (500 copies) Oldsmobile Alero to mark the end of America's oldest automotive nameplate. I have to wonder: why bother? The Alero, a relentlessly-average compact sedan, is the very antithesis of what Oldsmobile was in its glory days: the General's skunkworks, its experimental division, the place where high tech was put to the test before it filtered down to the rest of the GM brands. (Think "Rocket 88" or "Toronado".)

After GM decided to save a few bucks by pooling the engineering teams, rather than assigning engineers to individual marques, Oldsmobiles ceased to be distinctive and became Buicks with different trim packages. One wag posited that "Oldsmobile" was in fact an acronym: "Old, Leisurely-Driven Sedan Made Of Buick's Inferior Leftover Equipment." And when the General's attention was drawn away by the Saturn experiment, a painfully-obvious attempt to see if it was possible to sell ordinary cars with extraordinary dealer service, Olds was doomed: the only surprise is that some other GM marque, Buick or Pontiac, didn't go with it. (And Pontiac, with a lineup notably devoid of "excitement" — only the new GTO, a rebadged Holden Monaro from Australia, has any appeal to the driving enthusiast — has perhaps even less reason to live than Oldsmobile.)

This isn't the first time GM has shed brands. In the Twenties, companion makes were introduced for every division except Chevrolet. Buick's Marquette and Oldsmobile's Viking died at the beginning of the Great Depression; Cadillac's LaSalle held out until 1940. Pontiac survived, but its parent Oakland was put to sleep.

If there's still an Oldsmobile dealer near you, he has Aleros and Bravadas. The Bravada is a truck, a sport-utility vehicle that is shared with other GM divisions. Ransom Eli Olds died in 1950; I wouldn't be surprised to hear that deep within his crypt at Mount Hope Cemetery in Lansing, Michigan, the town that Oldsmobile built, Mr Olds is doing about 600 rpm.

Posted at 8:00 AM to Driver's Seat


TrackBack: 8:59 AM, 29 April 2004
» Rocketing Around the Blogosphere from Rocket Jones
Lots of life happening right now, details coming when I know more myself. In the meantime, here's a quick tour of some of the interesting (to me) things I've seen lately in the neighborhood. USS Clueless did a typically thorough......[read more]

TrackBack: 11:54 AM, 29 April 2004
» Ricer GTO? NO WAY! from Axis of Greeblie
Having seen the new 2004 GTO on Pontiac's website I must say I'm a little disappointed. Why have they turned the tag that meant MUSCLE CAR and put it on a rebadged "ricer" from Austrailia? You want to see a real GTO? A GOAT that made one man's life? .... [read more]

The automotive industry makes only slightly more sense to me than the entertainment industry.

Posted by: McGehee at 8:28 PM on 28 April 2004

Just don't try to download a Bentley.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:02 PM on 28 April 2004

Not even a Dierks Bentley?

Posted by: McGehee at 9:17 PM on 28 April 2004

I'm all for Olds biting the dust and after looking at the rebadged ricer they're calling a GTO, Pontiac can bite the dust too! Time was when the GTO moniker meant MUSCLE! AAUUGGHH!

Posted by: Greeblie at 11:53 AM on 29 April 2004