Oldsmobile: History & Cars

Overview

Oldsmobile is the oldest American car make.  On 21 August 1997, the company celebrated its 100th anniversary.  The Oldsmobile Curved Dash Runabout was one of the most popular cars in the United States between 1900 and 1904.  Despite the fact that the entire factory was destroyed by fire in 1901, 2100 cars were sold in 1902, and 5000 in 1904.  Olds left his company in the same year. He started a new factory under the name Reo.

The top of the line model was the 1910 Mighty Limited.  This gigantic car was powered by a 11.5-litre, six-cylinder engine that delivered over 60bhp. 

In 1908, William Crapo Durant founded the General Motors Company.  One of Durant's best deals was the take-over of Oldsmobile.  The make was not cheap, however.  General Motors paid $17,000 in cash and $3 million in shares.  Not until after the Second World War did the sales of Oldsmobile pick up again and over 10,000 cars were sold on an annual basis.  Demand varied wildly, however.  In 1919, 39,042 cars were sold and in 1921 the number fell to 19,157.

The year 1929, became a peak year with a sales figure of 103,973 Oldsmobiles, but the following year not even half that number left the showrooms.  In 1941, the last full pre-war production year, another 230,703 Oldsmobiles were sold.  That year also saw the two millionth Oldsmobile roll off the assembly line.

When Ransom Eli Olds established the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan in 1897 he had already been experimenting with steam and gasoline automobiles for ten years. This process continued and it was not until a fire in 1901 at Olds Detroit factory from which only a one vehicle was rescued that production based upon this survivor began. It was a single-cylinder tiller-steered runabout with two-speed transmission, central chain drive, and two long fore-aft springs that also served as the chassis side-members, and was called the Oldsmobile. Its distinctive visual feature was the upswept C-shaped splashboard that earned the vehicle its sobriquet: 'Curved Dash'.

The cars were immediately popular, in part because of the relatively low price of $650, with over 400 being sold in 1901, 2500 the following year and around 4000 in 1903. Oldsmobile enthusiasts claim that this was the first volume-produced American automobile; Locomobile fans may have a different view.

Olds left his firm in 1904 and went off to make Reo motorcars, with Oldsmobile becoming part of General Motors in 1908.

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131

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Oldest car

1901

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Newest car

1997

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17

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