I had the car a little over a week now and as promised, I wanna keep Oppo updated on whats happening over here in the land of Fish&Chips and public surveillance, home of the Queen and my Aurora. Before I start writing semi regularly about my upcoming plans and experiences with the car, I would like to explain a bit of the history behind the Aurora and Oldsmobile at the time, like I did with my Lincoln (more updates soon I hope...). This will help me putting the car into context and maybe help you understand why I just had to have one them.
By now I had plenty of time to get familiar with my new Olds. While I still didn’t have a chance to actually start the engine and see how it runs, let alone drive it (I’d like to avoid that until I have drained the ancient fuel and changed the serpentine belts and pulleys), I believe you can still feel why the Aurora was such a special car for Oldsmobile when it was introduced over 20 years ago back in 1994, a time when many things which are pretty ordinary nowadays were still quite special for an American main stream car manufacturer. Things like build quality or competitive engineering. Urgh.
As many of you should know, Oldsmobile was down on their luck in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Sales numbers plummeted from about a million cars in the mid-80s to under 400.000 in 1992. The Aurora was supposed to finally change that: reverse the trend, increase sales numbers and rebuild Oldsmobile’s reputation for affordable, quality entry level luxury cars slotted between super-conservative Buick, and even more super-conservative, but upmarket (and therefore much more expensive) Cadillac.
To reach this goal, General Motors decided to build a new, euro-inspired sports luxury sedan to compete against other reputable cars like the Acura Legend, Lexus ES and Chrysler’s brand new LH sedans, with an extremely modern, sleek and highly distinctive aero design that was based on Oldsmobile’s 1989 Tube Car concept which would define Oldsmobile’s design language until the end.
After years of research and development, the car went on sale in January 1994. To symbolize the significance of the new Aurora and provide a clean break from the past, the car featured no badges or logos that would indicate that this is in fact an Oldsmobile, with the exception of small Oldsmobile lettering on the engine cover and radio.
GM decided to use Cadillac’s then brand new, state of the art Northstar V8 engine which, until then, was exclusively engineered for Cadillac’s new generation of luxury cars, however downsized from 4.6l in the Seville, Deville and Allante to 4.0l in the Aurora, just to make sure the company’s hierarchy of makes wouldn’t be disturbed too much by Oldsmobile’s new halo car. Even Clarkson was impressed by the Northstar, if not by the rest of the car that came with it. The all aluminium, DOHC 32 Valve V8 delivered a competitive 250hp and was, at least technologically, way ahead of the old Series I 3800 pushrod V6 (still an incredible engine) used in Oldsmobile’s other large cars. In fact, the Aurora’s V8 was as technologically advanced as it could get in the early Nineties, not only for an engine coming from an American manufacturer, but compared to anything from its German and Japanese rivals as well.
Not just the engine was prove that General Motors was genuinely trying to build a world class luxury sedan. Inside its driver centered interior, you could feel it as well. In the tactile quality of its switch gear for example, and the lack of it for the buttons on the radio, one of the few parts taken from GM’s parts bin. While controls for seats, lights and even the A/C controls right above the radio have a solid, damped feel to them, the radio buttons wobble like they were about to fall off, feeling as cheap as a Chinese Happy Meal Transformers toy rip-off. The contrast of quality between these otherwise very similar parts is astonishing. There are many other little details like the polished metal seat belt buckles (something you definitely won’t find in a 5-series or Lexus GS) or the soft closing (real) wood ash tray lids that show that Oldsmobile was serious about perceived quality, and wanted to prove that it too could build an excellent, quality vehicle in the competitive entry level luxury market.
As we all know, it wasn’t meant to be though. GM shut down Oldsmobile after disappointing sales numbers in 2004. The Aurora would get a slightly downsized second generation that was originally supposed the successor of the smaller Oldsmobile LSS and ended production in March 28th 2003 with the special edition Final 500 models.
For me personally, the first generation Aurora stands for Oldsmobile’s genuine attempt at changing their ways of developing and building a true world class car for the better, to change the public’s perception of Oldsmobile (Their slogan: Not your father’s Oldsmobile) and save the company from its impending doom. And while things may not have worked out in the end (making the car only more significant in Oldsmobile and GM history), I still believe the Aurora is a remarkable car with beautiful and distinctive Nineties Aero styling and a future as a proper GM Classic.
Schaefft is the author of this blog post and founder of nothing. He’s currently living in the north east of the UK , owns an old Oldsmobile, Lincoln and BMW and believes that everything that is written on the internet is true, especially Tavarish’s articles on Jalopnik about how owning a cheap luxury car for the price of a potato is the only way of living. It took him way too long to write this article so you better read it to the end or else...