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How Oldsmobile Cars Work


Oldsmobile Silhouette and Oldsmobile Aurora
The Oldsmobile Aurora was all new in 1995 and endured until Oldsmobile's final years. The 2001 model is shown here.

As a minivan, Oldsmobile’s front-drive Silhouette should have sold like crazy, but it, too, failed to live up to expectations. Befitting an Olds, this was a more luxurious version of the new plastic-paneled "GM200" design used for the Pontiac Trans Sport and Chevy Lumina APV.

The Olds cost the most at an initial $17,195, but came with the novel seven-passenger seating package that was optional for the others, with light, easily ­movable middle- and third-row buckets. There was even a hint of "grand touring" in an available FE3 handling package.

But the 3.1-liter V-6 was a thrashy plodder, and the shared "anteater" styling proved a real turnoff for many buyers. Standard ABS and a 3.8-liter V-6 option didn't turn them on for 1992, nor did a unique power-sliding right-rear door as a new '94 extra.

Thus, after finding slightly more than 28,000 buyers for debut 1990, Silhouette settled into the 17,000-26,000 range through mid-decade -- not great when Plymouth and Dodge each sold more than 200,000 minivans a year. There was nothing to do but start over, and Olds would with a new all-steel 1997 replacement bearing a more conventional shape.

Announcing a bold course for future Oldsmobiles was the all-new 1995 Aurora, the most exciting car from Lansing in 20 years. Originally planned as the next Toronado, it was built on the same new G-body platform as Buick's latest Riviera coupe, but ambitiously targeted upscale sports sedans with unique four-door styling, state-of-the-art V-8 power, a taut front-drive chassis, and loads of luxury, all for less than $32,000 to start.

Aurora's engine wasn't brand-new, being a smaller-bore 4.0-liter version of Cadillac's two-year-old "Northstar" 4.6. But it was a sweet, strong contemporary V-8 with 250 bhp, so despite fair heft (nearly two tons at the curb), Aurora clocked 0-60 mph at a brisk 8.2 seconds in Consumer Guide® tests.

A computer-controlled four-speed auto­­­matic was the only transmission. Options were limited to power moonroof, cloth upholstery (a no-cost alternative to stan­­dard leather), heated front seats, and an "Autobahn" package with firm shocks, high-speed tires, and slightly tighter final gearing.

As the first of a new generation for GM's most-troubled division, Aurora naturally drew lots of media interest, and Olds confidently sent out pre-production examples for press drives more than a year before sales began.

Initial verdicts were generally quite positive. Enthused Motor Trend: "The new Aurora has us believing miracles can still happen." Car and Driver called it a "combination of value and sophistication that will make an ideal birthright for the new Oldsmobile," while Consumer Guide®'s Auto '95 termed Aurora a "huge step in a new and better direction for Oldsmobile. It's competitive with Japanese and European sedans that cost thousands more."

How odd, then, that Aurora wore a stylized "A" logo but almost no Olds identification, perhaps a tacit admission of how tarnished the old Rocket badge had become. Then again, Aurora was intended to stand somewhat above the rest of the line as a more exclusive "halo" car.

Indeed, the model was sold by only two-thirds of Olds dealers, those who met rigid new divisional standards for everything from showroom display to technical proficiency in the service department. Of course, that was only right for an image-building flagship, and it paid off with strong debut model-year sales of close to 48,000, tops among premium sedans.

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