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#5209 of 5876 In Memory of Merry Oldsmobiles
Jun 06, 2004 (8:31 am)
New York Times, June 6, 2004
In Memory of Merry Oldsmobiles
By JERRY GARRETT
The only new car my grandmother bought was a dark green 1951 Oldsmobile Series 98 Deluxe sedan with a Rocket V-8 engine. Family members proudly posed in front of it when Grandma, then 44, drove home from the dealership.
A few days later, she wrapped a telephone pole around it, when she couldn't stop it fast enough. No one was hurt, although the car was a total loss.
"It just had too much power," said Grandma, who never drove again. But for decades she encouraged family members to keep buying Oldsmobiles - 88's and 98's, Starfires and Cutlasses - because, she said, "It proved it's a strong car."
In 1951, it was strong enough to inspire Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm to immortalize Olds's amazing new V-8 engine. They arguably created rock 'n' roll in the process.
"Rocket 88" was the first hit for Sam Phillips, and the producer used money from its sales to start Sun Records, which would go on to "discover" Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, Johnny Cash and others.
" 'Rocket 88' was where it all started," Phillips would say years later. "It was the first true rock 'n' roll record - the first hit record, anyway."
This was not the first time an Oldsmobile inspired a song. Vincent Bryan wrote the lyrics of "In My Merry Oldsmobile" in 1905 to pay tribute to the toast of the fledgling American auto industry, the Curved Dash runabout from the Olds Motor Works.
Olds, formed in 1897, was, until it went out of business this spring, America's oldest automaker, and the Curved Dash was the early auto sales leader and the first vehicle to be mass produced. (Henry Ford would later automate the assembly process.)
"I don't like the smell of horses," Ransom E. Olds reportedly told those who asked him why he had started his pioneering work on horseless carriages. His first vehicle, built in 1887, was steam-powered. (Gottlieb Daimler is credited with building the first gasoline-powered car about a year earlier.)
The Curved Dash's rise was fortuitous; Olds had designed and built 11 prototypes to be produced at a new factory in Detroit. But the factory burned to the ground; only the heroic act of a foreman, who dragged a lone Curved Dash to safety, kept the company going. Olds returned to his home in Lansing, Mich., where he began reproducing the sturdy little runabout, the only car he had left.
Public demand was stoked by publicity stunts, like having Olds's associate, Roy Chapin (who later headed American Motors), drive a Curved Dash to New York City for the first auto show there, in 1901, to demonstrate the car's durability.
Olds's investors, however, would run him off in 1904. He formed Reo (named from his initials), which outsold Olds for a time; Reo would stay in business until 1975. Olds lived in Lansing until he died in 1950, but never returned to Oldsmobile. His home was later razed for construction of Interstate 496 - the Olds Freeway.
Olds would become, with Buick, the cornerstones of Billy Durant's General Motors in 1908, but no one would get around to incorporating the Oldsmobile name until 1942.
Within G.M., Olds was the "technology division." It was a pioneer in V-8 engines, as early as 1915. Chrome made its automotive debut on 1926 models. Olds offered the first automatic transmission (later named the Hydra Matic) in 1937. The Rocket V-8 made its debut in 1949.
That high-compression engine, and the 88 model in which it was installed, created a sensation. Oldsmobiles dominated Bill France's Nascar racing association in its first three seasons.
"The combination of the Oldsmobile chassis and the Rocket V-8 was unbeatable, in the hands of the right driver," France said years later.
France knew that firsthand: in 1950 he and Curtis Turner, in a Lincoln, would be beaten in the first Mexican Road Race by an Oregon lumberjack, Hershel McGriff, driving an Olds in showroom stock trim. Oldsmobile would hire Mr. McGriff to crisscross the country, making promotional appearances and racing his 88. After finishing ninth in the inaugural Southern 500 in 1950, Mr. McGriff would drive the Olds from South Carolina to Portland, arriving with 15,000 miles on the odometer.
"Those were all hard miles," Mr. McGriff, 74, and still living in Oregon, remembers. "That was one tough little coupe." The prizes he won in five years of racing set him up for life in the lumber business.
Oldsmobiles helped put the Petty family on the road to racing riches, too; Lee Petty drove one to victory in the first Daytona 500, in 1959. His son Richard made his debut there in an Olds convertible.
Olds's performance image was reinforced in the 1960's by models like the turbocharged F-85; the innovative Toronado with front-wheel drive and hideaway headlights; and the 4-4-2, named for its four-on-the-floor shifter, four-barrel carburetor and twin exhaust pipes. The Hurst/Olds, with fancy aftermarket shifter, garish paint and removable T-top roof panels, was a common sight at American racetracks.
Through the 1970's and early 1980's, the popularity of the Cutlass Supreme made Olds the nation's third-best-selling brand. But in the mid-1980's, a sweeping reorganization ordered by G.M.'s chairman, Roger Smith, eviscerated the close-knit Olds "family" - a complete and self-contained company that designed, engineered and produced its own cars. Olds was folded into a new Buick-Olds-Cadillac superdivision.
Suddenly, Oldsmobiles were being built outside Lansing; the local plant was making Buicks. Olds's unique engines were even replaced by Chevy power plants. Insiders complained that Olds had lost not only its identity, but its ability to stand behind its products, address problems and develop models. By the time the reorganization was undone, the damage was irreversible.
In the 1990's, under the outspoken leadership of John D. Rock, Oldsmobile received a last chance to re-establish its identity. New models like the Achieva, Intrigue, Aurora and Alero replaced venerable names like Eighty Eight, Ninety Eight and Cutlass. The Rocket V-8 was discontinued after a 40-year run. Extreme emphasis on motorsports produced A. J. Foyt's world closed-course speed record of 257 m.p.h., plus an Indianapolis 500 victory on Olds's 100th birthday in 1997 (in a predominantly Olds field). But that would not be enough to save the brand.
"Oldsmobile never had to die," an Olds historian, Helen Earley, said. "But G.M. seemed determined to kill it."
In an interview during a vintage car race in 2001, Robert A. Lutz, vice chairman of G.M., said: "The one decision I wish hadn't been made before I got here, was the decision to fold Oldsmobile. I could have done big things with it."
Mr. Lutz, who arrived a year too late, saw in Olds the "boutique car company" he'd envisioned for Plymouth, another discontinued brand, when he was at C
#5210 of 5876 2004 Oldsmobile Alero: Not With a Bang but a Whimper
Jun 06, 2004 (8:37 am)
NEW YORK TIMES: BEHIND THE WHEEL
June 4, 2004
http://edmunds.nytimes.com/new/2004/oldsmobile/alero/100282808/ro- adtestarticle.html?articleId=102196&tid=nytimes.e.....Oldsmob- ile*
2004 Oldsmobile Alero: Not With a Bang but a Whimper
By JAMES G. COBB
OLDSMOBILE, the oldest American automaker to reach the modern era, died on April 29, 2004, after a long illness complicated by faulty prescriptions and parental neglect. It was 107.
The eldest child of the General Motors Corporation - indeed, it was born 11 years before its adoptive parent - Olds built its reputation with comfortable, stylish, technologically advanced cars for the aspiring middle class.
Olds had been on life support since December 2000, when G.M. said it would shut down the division over four years. Annual sales, which routinely topped 1 million in the mid-1980's (when Olds was the nation's No. 3 car line, after Chevrolet and Ford), had fallen to 125,897 by last year.
Oldsmobile is survived by its parent company, of Detroit, and its siblings: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC trucks, Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn.
Sometime in the Kennedy administration, my much older sister brought home a boyfriend and a 1953 Olds 98 Holiday hardtop. I, barely in grade school, tolerated the fiancÚ, but I loved his car.
By the early 60's, that bulbous Olds with its Buck Rogers overtones was already dated. But I recall that it was impeccably maintained and lavishly equipped with the accessories my thrifty father dismissed as "more things to go wrong."
Whenever possible, I would sneak into the Olds to test the power windows, activate the signal-seeking radio and marvel at the automatic headlamp dimmer. But the coolest thing may have been encased in plastic in the middle of the steering wheel: a golden planet with rings, like Saturn.
For a nation obsessed with space exploration, the emblem - and the rocket that replaced it in 1959 - suggested that anyone could be an astronaut: just drive off in a Starfire, a Jetstar or an F-85.
These were cars of unlimited possibilities for an age of unrestricted optimism. For much of the postwar era, an Olds was something you dreamed of owning, just as many people today aspire to a Lexus.
In a measure of how much has changed, for Olds and Detroit, the final Olds is unlikely to rank high on any list of consumer aspirations. That car, a red Alero, rolled off the line at the end of April at the Lansing Car Assembly plant. While that car is destined for the new G.M. Heritage Center, I recently drove one much like it, an Alero GL2 sedan with a sticker of $22,450.
Arctic white with a tan cloth interior and shiny alloy wheels, it was a car much like tens of thousands in the nation's rental fleets, where its compact dimensions are generously described as midsize.
The Alero had no Rocket V-8, making do with a rather noisy 3.4-liter V-6, a pushrod design not unlike the engines that powered Oldsmobiles four decades ago. At least the transmission, a smooth four-speed automatic, and the four-wheel independent suspension were up to date.
There was no golden planet on the steering wheel, just a stylized rocket insignia that dates to Olds's 1997 centennial. But at least the Alero didn't hide its heritage, with the Oldsmobile name in block letters on the rear deck. (When the stylish Aurora arrived in 1995, it seemed ashamed of its parentage: the Olds name appeared only on the radio faceplate.)
Engineered for the mass market, the Alero is surprisingly pleasant running suburban errands. Predictable and stable, it moves out briskly and stops acceptably. The steering is a bit wooden, but fairly quick and reasonably precise. The car has pronounced understeer, a reluctance to turn, but that helps to keep inexperienced drivers out of trouble.
At highway speeds, the dead steering and vague handling do not inspire confidence. The comparably priced Volkswagen Jetta was obviously created with high-speed autobahns in mind, but the Alero seems to suffer from the lowest-common-denominator engineering that has turned many Americans away from Detroit's products.
G.M. has been working to improve its interiors, and the Alero shows belated progress. The dashboard plastic is better, not great, and the pieces seem to have been designed to disguise the glaring gaps between them.
But when you open a door, the first thing you see is a thick rubber strip, like one from a squeegee, tacked into the door sills. The seats are mushy. The back seat cupholder, which binds as it flips down from the console, must have cost about a dime.
Neither a terribly bad car nor an especially good one, the Alero's white-bread mediocrity is typical of the small to midsize cars that Detroit has churned out for years. The Alero is, in fact, a virtual twin of the Pontiac Grand Am. Both are transportation devices, cars for people who don't like cars very much.
Like Plymouth, De Soto or Packard, Olds deserved a better obituary. But the final message is clear: Oldsmobile thrived when it made rocketships for the road. It died when it offered only appliances.
INSIDE TRACK: Little orphan Alero.
#5211 of 5876 Is it possible - 30/300/3000?
Jun 06, 2004 (5:57 pm)
We've got some pretty good information in this forum about getting more out of the 4.0L Northstar. It seems to me that the engineering design of a car has to involve trade-offs between comfort, fuel economy, power, and cost. I began to wonder what trade-offs the original design engineers made in our Auroras. I began thinking about friction, and I've been wondering if we could get our cars to this level:
Fuel Economy of 30 mpg,
Power measured at the wheels of 300 hp/300 ft-lbs,
For a cost of $3000 total parts and labor.
All without ruining the smoothness, comfort, and quiet of the Princess.
Is it possible - 30/300/3000?
We're already close on highway mileage (I get 24 mpg - need another 25%), we're already close stock at 250/260 (we're talking just +20% to get to 300), and some of us are already at ~275+ hp with airbox, throttle body, and exhaust mods that come to about $1500-$2000.
Any ideas? Does anybody else want to talk about this?
Jun 06, 2004 (6:31 pm)
no, its not
Jun 07, 2004 (6:14 am)
Would be cheap to install a ~50 shot, wouldn't use fuel except when you push the button, and would get you 300hp. But it won't improve your fuel economy to 30mpg. Once you've opened the intake and exhaust up, there isn't much else you can do that is cheap. They shouldn't hurt economy except when you floor it, but they won't get you to 300hp either.
Jun 07, 2004 (6:17 am)
The 2001+ TB is very different from the 1995-99. I'm not sure what you are considering the torque plate to be. However, they all have a coupling that attaches the throttle body to the intake manifold. The 2001+ also has a water jacket between the TB and the manifold.
#5215 of 5876 rocket3_50
Jun 07, 2004 (7:39 am)
A comment on highway gas mileage. On a long trip to California my 98 Aurora got an average of 29+ MPG. I only needed the air conditioning intermittently and I cruised at 70 MPH or less. I knew that I would be using side roads with 60 MPH speed limits from time to time, so I figured that 60 would not seem so slow if I limited my interstate speed to 70. My engine ran at 2100-2200 RPMs at 70. At times the trip computer said the average MPG was 30. And I put the transmission in normal mode (not power mode).
Your highway mileage is so dependent on speed, wind (with you or against you), and terrain (are you climbing or going down hill), that saying you want 30 MPG is somewhat meaningless.
Jun 07, 2004 (9:21 am)
OK, so, I hear the objection that chasing 30 mpg is imprecise and that it's dependent on other situational factors. Ok, I hear and accept. And I hear the conclusion that 30/300/3000 is not possible, at that price. Ok, I hear and accept. But still, what do you think would be possible? The trade off that immediately comes to mind is, of course, spend more money. Do you think 30/300/4000 would be possible under some favorable conditions? Consider that we have one report of 29+ mpg under favorable conditions, and that some of us are already at 275+ hp. I live in NASCAR country, and one commonly understood principle in that group is included in the pair of questions, "How fast do you want to go?" - "How much money do you have?" - implying a trade off similar to what I'd like to explore with our cars.
As a group we already know how to make the 4.0L breathe better and make available horsepowers up around 275 hp - just on improved air flow alone. However, there are other improvements (more expensive) to air flow that none of us have tried yet. Or, can we reduce friction and increase compression to get just 25 more hp, and at the same time increase fuel economy? As I have read in the hot rod magazines, reducing friction and increasing compression both generally have the effect of increasing fuel economy. How much? - I don't know. Do you think we can get to 30/300/4000? I don't like $4000 as much as $3000, but I believe that we can generate ideas that will bring us a little closer to 30/300/3000 than we are already. If we don't get there, so what?
#5217 of 5876 rocket3_50
Jun 07, 2004 (10:07 am)
I should have said that my aurora had the 3.48:1 axle ratio since it did not have the autobahn package. I have since traded the aurora for a 275 hp Seville (SLS) which has a 3.11:1 axle ratio. I think that the SLS gets better highway mileage than the aurora, but as yet I have not taken it on a long trip.
If you want better highway MPG, then running the engine slower helps. Any engine mods are likely to cost a lot to get much power.
Jun 07, 2004 (10:33 am)
Then sure, you might be able to do it. As mentioned, the 3.11 axle will help a lot with mileage when cruising.
Some aero work might help too, heck you could shave the mirrors and doorhandles. And trimming the weight can't hurt, though it won't impact level cruising mpg much at all.
To get more power, stroke or bore the engine, and you could try raising the compression as you said. 300hp would be fairly easy on the 4.0 if you didn't care so much about torque, but to keep low-end torque (you'd need it big time with a 3.11 or lower), you're gonna need more displacement.
One expensive way to improve airflow is a turbo or supercharger. This will definitely bump airflow into the engine, and increase power. A turbo, especially one with a wastegate, shouldn't have too much impact on mileage either, at least when you are easy on the gas.
You are talking mega modification and mega money at this point, though. It might be cheaper and easier to drop an SLS/Eldo/Deville powertrain in and work to bump that 275 up to 300 via exhaust and intake work. You'd manage close to 30 mpg with that, I'd bet.
I don't believe the Shelby Series 1 could manage 30 mpg while cruising, and it is much lighter, smaller, and made 320hp from the 4.0. Plus, it had a 6-speed giving it some gearing advantage.