Like David Buick and Louis Chevrolet, Ransom Olds was fated to launch a car company that left him behind on its way to becoming a leading brand.
Olds was one of the originals, starting his company in 1897. The first automaker to use mass production, he produced 425 vehicles in 1901, which made him the country’s leading car manufacturer. But in 1904, the company’s board of directors wanted to move the line toward larger, more expensive cars. Olds wanted to continue producing his small, affordable models. In the end, he left Olds Motor Vehicle company to start over. Unable to use his name on a new brand, he chose his initials instead, and Ransom Eli Olds launched the REO Motor Car Company. (For more on the auto industry’s early years, check out Post‘s new special collector’s edition, Automobiles in America!)
His old company was acquired by General Motors in 1908, which positioned the Oldsmobile as a mid-priced brand.
In the decades that followed, the company introduced several innovations in its engine and transmission design. By the 1970s, it was producing America’s best-selling car. Yet within a few years, the Oldsmobile brand had lost its popularity, and in 2004 General Motors closed the Oldsmobile line.
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The Olds Motor Works’ first model was its successful Curved Dash Runabout. It ran so well, the company claimed, that it wouldn’t frighten horses — an important consideration in the early days of the auto.
The seven-passenger Limited offered a six-cylinder engine. Oldsmobile was so confident of its performance that the car’s speedometer was capable of registering up to 100 mph. But such performance came at a cost. The $4,600 price tag would be the equivalent of $115,000 today.
Oldsmobile began manufacturing the slightly upscale Viking in 1929. The short-lived line was part of General Motors’ “companion make” strategy, intended to attract buyers who wanted to buy a little more car than an Olds but less than Buick.
The 1937 models introduced a four-speed semi-automatic transmission. A clutch pedal allowed drivers to operate in low range, shifting automatically between first and second gear, or operate in high-range, shifting between third and fourth gear speeds.
Three years later, Oldsmobile introduced its fully automatic Hydramatic transmission in its 1940 models.
Oldsmobile produced its last automobile for the duration of the war on February 5, 1942. (Four years later, it resumed production with a car that looked little changed from its pre-war styling.)
The 1948 Olds introduced the Rocket engine, a powerful V-8 that proved so popular the company kept it in production with limited changes for well over a decade.
The 1958 model was big, powerful, and generously decked with chrome.
The Toronado introduced in 1966 featured distinctive front-end styling and the first front-wheel drive on an American car in almost 30 years.
The same year the Toronado was introduced, Oldsmobile produced its Vista Cruiser with distinctive skylights above the backseats and rear compartment.
Beginning in 1961, Oldsmobile offered its mid-size Cutlass line. Though not particularly popular in its early years, later versions became best-sellers in the 1970s and ’80s.
The Post had a long association with Oldsmobile. We published some of its very first ads in 1902. In 1999, the magazine ran its last ad for the automaker, just five years before the division was shut down.
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