(Found In) Lone Mountain (San Francisco, California): 1958 Oldsmobile Super 88 Holiday Hardtop Coupe

IMG_3459Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or in the eye of the buyer, I guess. In the twilight zone of the late 50’s, many an automobile brings up the question of what exactly did “good taste” mean in terms of what American car shoppers wanted.

This is where the 1958 Oldsmobile enters into our consciousness. When all is said and done, can you believe that it was one of the most popular faces for ’58? Perhaps entranced by all the sparkling jewelry, we spend time with this glittery gem, figuring out if it was a ghoul or the genteel beast most middle class buyers wanted that year.

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(Found In) Civic Center (San Francisco, California): 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera Cruiser Station Wagon

IMG_3341What if I proposed to you that the Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera was the most polarizing car of the last 40 years? I’m sure you’d point out there’s plenty of other cars that deserve a bigger medal in terms of era defining cars but I have some key arguments.

Some will say that it was the car that planted the seeds of death for the Oldsmobile brand. Others will tout their ability to abuse the basic sound design of them (of course, once those pesky GM bugs got worked out of the earliest editions) for more than 2 decades and multiple hundreds of thousands of miles worth of trips that could loop the globe. The true meaning of it, as a symbol, lies somewhere down the middle of course, and I try to rectify that while looking at this indeterminable of model year well-equipped Cruiser Wagon version.

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(Found In) Civic Center (San Francisco, California): 1977 Toyota Corona Station Wagon

IMG_2305In a number of ways Toyota was the most “American” of Japanese manufacturers. Once on their feet in the U.S. market in the early 70’s, they fielded a line up not dissimilar, albeit smaller and far more efficient, than Detroit rivals.

Mainstream models came in sizes small (Corolla), medium (Corona) and large (Crown/Cressida). There was a “pony” car (Celica) to boot. That’s no different than Ford in the 1960’s minus a halo coupe once you think about it.We’ve made friends with the 3rd Generation car. Today we see what the 5th generation had to offer when you opted for the wagon version.

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(Found In) Outer Richmond (San Francisco, California): 1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Station Wagon

IMG_1435The Vista Cruiser is an interesting detour in the concept of the family hauler. General Motors always struggled a wee bit with the concept of the station wagon (and the minivan and SUV crazes that followed) compared to Ford and Chrysler.

While Ford had no problem not only selling plenty of Country Sedans and Country Squires, even their Ford wagons had a snob appeal that belied them sharing floor space with the most basic of Henry’s vehicular grandchildren.

GM tried low priced to luxury, 4 door hardtop and sporty station wagons with names like Fiesta and Nomad. Although those wagons have become collectors items in the current, they weren’t exactly prized in the past. Buick and Oldsmobile, in particular, passed the baton from their Full Sized wagons for a good half decade, relying on scenic-cruising bus inspired family haulers based on their intermediate platforms for that certain level of panache for suburban driveways. We celebrate an icon in the sunset of its years as the dog days of summer settle in.

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Dynamic Divergence: Seeing The U.S.A. Through Chevrolet

IMG_1057The Wonder Years is now on Netflix. So of course, when left to my own devices with a Netflix account (I don’t have one personally) of course I’m going to indulge in repetition of comforts. Front and Center, 3 episodes in, is the Arnold family’s 1963 Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan, Green with a White top, as they swoop back silently, in middle class white grief, back from Winne Cooper’s brother’s funeral.

It reminded me of a quote I’m paraphrasing about 1960’s Middle Class station that Oprah made once. The determining entrance point for all middle class families that had “arrived” in some sense was purchasing a Chevrolet Impala. Once upon a time, the true marker of comfort meant the largest, most luxurious Chevrolet. Between 1960 and 1965 that number went from just under half a million to more than a Million. Year after year, a sextet of tail lamps meant equal if not more than a six figure salary does today.

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(Found In) Outer Richmond (San Francisco, California): 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa Convertible

IMG_0622It’s weird to be David when your dad is Goliath. Compounding the dilemma is there’s always a series of giant killers out to strike down that object that towers over them. Here’s where we find the Chevrolet Corvair for its 6th Season, first comprehensive re-design standing in full embrace of its most appropriate mission statement.

Gone were the pretenses of being an economy machine. Gone with the wind was any pretense to really run with the pack of other jocks. The Corvair was General Motors first home grown international game player. Too bad dad was withholding of any true affection.

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(Found In) Civic Center (San Francisco, California): 1987 Ford Taurus GL Station Wagon

IMG_0412It was a revolution on wheels for the ordinary American Family Sedan. Even more so as a Station Wagon. Therein lies the miracle of the Original Ford Taurus. Long having played catch up to everyone else when it came to mainstream innovation, Ford fancied a future for mainstream buyers GM, Chrysler and a host of competitors couldn’t envision slipping into as tomorrow’s dream today.

The softening of the two and three traditional boxes that the average sedan and wagon came in softened a lot of buyer’s hearts. Far from the upright, puritan machines that had courted most American buyers since the Post-War. Stepping up to an international stage in design language, the Taurus showed that patrician pragmatic patriotic lines could only take the American car only so far into the future. Readying us for a slew of technology for the 21st Century, we have the re-imagined family truckster to look over 30 years after it flew into dealerships for its second season.

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(Found In) Civic Center (San Francisco, California): 1996 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency Elite Sedan

IMG_9789There’s been plenty said and 20/20 hindsighted about the fall of Oldsmobile and the historic brand’s demise in 2004. In reality it was a mixed storm, and an amazing bellwether of where consumer tastes had gone alongside the pursuits of ultimate profits by behemoth corporations.

In the crosshairs of being one of America’s legacy brands was the longest lasting legacy flagship, the Ninety Eight. Since 1941, the nameplate graced either the priciest or nearly most pricey proposition in the Oldsmobile showroom. By the time it was aging into being an AARP senior citizen in more ways than one, it found itself condensed down in Oldsmobile’s attempt to assert value priced luxury against the shifting tides towards international flair for fancy, while abdicating the throne to something new in Oldsmobile’s sky, the Aurora. How does one step down from such a profound legacy?

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(Found In) Park Merced (San Francisco, California): 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Coupe

IMG_9002The Oldsmobile Ninety Eight once sat in a rarefied holy trinity at the temple of General Motors opulence. The eldest and the most modest of the trio between the most Senior Buick, the now Electra 225, and the myriad of Cadillac DeVilles and Fleetwoods, the Ninety Eight negotiated for the least of your finances for the most security and the most sensible set of luxury trappings for your dollar.

Often great enough for many a generation of buyers who felt like they had “made it” the Ninety Eight was ready, willing and able to celebrate Oldsmobile’s 75th year of manufacturing automobiles with a even more goodies for customers on deck after a full redesign for 1971.

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(Found In) Mission District (San Francisco, California): 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass “S” Hardtop Coupe

IMG_8691As Oldsmobile rose to their zenith in the 1970’s, it started to do so by playing musicial chairs with the various marketing images that made for being the toast of the town image that it had fostered since the 1950’s. The Olds-multiplicity of the brand had been a constant mix of practicality, performance and posh since the end of World War II. For the Elegant Ninety Eights there were the Superlative Super 88’s. For the practical F-85 there was the swashbuckling Cutlass. For the sword of intermediates, a crowned princess Supreme started an ascent to the top of the charts like Diana, Mary and Florence starting in 1966.

The “Little Limousine” sparkled the most when it focused on a formal roof’d coupe. Where did that leave it’s athletic, buxom and liberated sister ship the Cutlass S? In a curious place as Oldsmobile never wanted to commit to one specific identity.

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