1995-1999 Oldsmobile Aurora
This week has taken on a bit of a General Motors theme; Anthony Cagle started off by honoring the Chevy Nomad, I waxed ecstatic about the GMC Syclone and Typhoon, I perhaps unfairly castigated an old Oldsmobile-centric video, and even the Stutz Blackhawk Cookie the Dog's Owner featured yesterday was based on a Pontiac Grand Prix. Since Mochi Mochi's post for tomorrow also has a GM angle, I figure we should just go with it.
When GM shut down Oldsmobile in 2004, I thought it was a crying shame. Not only was GM ending Olds' proud run of 107 consecutive years of car production, but after a fallow late 1980s and early 1990s, Olds finally seemed to be getting its act together.
The division that had put out the 442, the Toronado, the F-85, the 88, the Cutlass, and the Rocket V-8 had by the early 1990s become a junk drawer for assorted character-less brand-engineered versions of General Motors cars. With Buick and Cadillac oriented towards the luxury car buyer, Pontiac oriented towards the performance market, Chevrolet as the value leader, and Saturn as the import fighter, Oldsmobile was left without a market, a purpose, or a unique car of its own. The once-proud name had become irrelevant.
The debut of the Aurora in 1995 didn't save Oldsmobile and didn't clearly define the marque's role. Still, Aurora served as Oldsmobile's one last shining moment of relevance, the brand's final truly unique world-class car. Too late? Perhaps, but at least Oldsmobile had one last highlight.
The Aurora was about as unique as a mid-1990s General Motors car could be. The Aurora was built on the brand new G-body platform that also served as the basis for Buick Riviera and Park Avenue; this platform was renowned for being incredibly strong and stiff for the time. Power came from a revised 4.0-liter version of Cadillac's impressive 32-valve DOHC Northstar V-8, GM's most modern and technically advanced powerplant. The net result was a rock-solid luxury sports sedan, motivated by 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque--impressive numbers even today, and world-class for the time. The Aurora was instantly one of the most capable cars in the GM lineup.
The look was also unique--sleek, muscular, and completely different than its contemporaries. Okay, its big-brother similarity to the Saturn SL2 rankles a bit, but to these retro-weary eyes, the Aurora looks bold, strong, and, above all, original. On the other hand, my wife thinks it looks like an insect. So there's that. ...
I got some Aurora seat time about a decade ago at the launch of another Oldsmobile, and my impression is of a uniquely American sports sedan. It wasn't as light on its feet or as agile as a BMW 5-series, for example, but it was solid, powerful, and direct. Big, fast, quiet, and comfortable on the freeway, the Aurora felt bulky but eager in the twisties--like a sophisticated modern sports sedan with Olds 442 muscle car genetic material spliced in. It was certainly light-years ahead of most domestic sports sedans of the time.
In an unlikely development, the Aurora name became a well-known one around the motorsports world. Aurora engines were completely dominant at the Indianapolis 500 and in the Indy Racing League after that series split from CART in the late 1990s. The Aurora also made the base for a successful sports racing car that won its class in the 1996 24 Hours of Daytona.
Sure, the Aurora didn't save Oldsmobile, but there is a silver lining. Now that Olds is dead and Olds resale values plummet, a used Aurora represents a fantastic budget purchase. Kelly Blue Book estimates that a 1997 Aurora in excellent condition with 80,000 miles could be had for right around $4,000. That's a deal, folks.
The first ad is hilariously quasi-pretentious--I love the idea of an Aurora being assembled in spacedock just like the USS Enterprise. And the guy laying on the couch drifting slowly through space? Pure genius. I'm not sure why that image isn't iconic, but it should be--sort of a 1990s ennui-filled Gen-X answer to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. When he touches the car and gets rebirthed into the Star Child ... I mean, the driver of the Aurora ... it's a fantastic moment. When he sits in the Aurora, still drifting in space, I'm surprised the Aurora doesn't go into warp. You know, like a Rocket or a Starfire might.
The second ad is an excellent example of why the Aurora never really captured the popular imagination. GM just produced a fantastic sports sedan, a uniquely American car finally capable of competing with the best from overseas, and the ad department spends most of the commercial talking about the headlight covers? The Aurora was expensive, it looked different, and wasn't at all what the American consumer expected. It needed explanation, and so the throwaway line "You can imagine how advanced the rest of the car is," just didn't cut it.
These photos all come from Flickr user gorbidog's photostream; he has a lot of great images of the Aurora.