Q: Greg, I've read your columns every week and wonder why General Motors ever dropped the Oldsmobile? I also think the Oldsmobile Cutlass was at one time a best-selling model. Why did General Motors drop Oldsmobile? Gary K., Illinois.
A: General Motors basically dropped the Olds because of declining sales numbers. That's pretty much the same reason Pontiac fell by the wayside, too. Olds, however, was first to go in 2004 following several years of trying to prop up the brand with new marketing. However, by then, Olds, Chevy and Pontiac were all sharing platforms, and if you bought a Pontiac Grand Am, it was the same as an Olds Alero and Chevy Malibu.
The Oldsmobile history, however, is full of bright spots, one of them being your comments about the Cutlass. Indeed, Cutlass was a best-selling model for several years in the Seventies, and as for muscle cars, few came close to matching the popularity and performance of a Hurst Olds 442. It is also pretty much agreed that the first ever muscle car was the 1949 Olds Rocket 88 Coupe, featuring a V8 engine that would run over 140-mph in a straight line.
Other notables include a first ever fully automatic transmission, called the Hydra-Matic all the way back in 1940; the front drive "Motor Trend Car Of The Year" Olds Toronado in 1966, winner of the first ever Daytona 500 in 1959 with Lee Petty; numerous NASCAR championships; Olds F-85 with an all aluminum 215 inch V8 from 1961 to 1963; and Olds Vista Cruiser wagons with unique skylights in 1964. There are many more Olds highlights, but it would fill a whole newspaper page.
Ransom Olds founded the company in 1897, and during its heralded 107-year history, 35.2-million cars were built. In the end, Oldsmobile was at the time the longest surviving American automobile brand.
Today, there are still many Oldsmobiles at car shows and drag races, so fans are still able to enjoy the car. As for me, I'll take a Hurst Olds 442 any day of the week, with 442 standing for "four barrel carb, four-speed transmission and two (dual) exhausts.
Thanks for your question.