Happy Friday! Today on Museum Bites we’re continuing our ramble through the R. E. Olds Museum in Lansing, Michigan. Dedicated to the life and works of automobile pioneer, Ransom Eli Olds (1864-1950) and Oldsmobile, the R. E. Olds Museum contains over 60 vintage vehicles from 1886 to 2003. This week we’ll test drive a few cars from the latter half the 20th century, starting with the souped-up hot rods of the 1950s.
1953 Oldsmobile Deluxe 88: Go Greased Lightning!
Muscle cars, drag racing, and stock car races were all the rage during the 1950s and the engineers at Oldsmobile were more than willing to accommodate the public’s need for more power under the hood. The Rocket V-8 engine introduced in 1949 put the hot in hot rod and gave Oldsmobile a huge advantage at the track. Victories on the race course caused sales to skyrocket and Oldsmobile’s motto became “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” The Deluxe 88 on display at the R. E. Olds Museum has a 165 horsepower engine and weighs in at 1.8 tons. This chrome-finned tank of a car was the lightest of Oldsmobile’s offerings at the time. The Deluxe 88’s flashy detailing and turquoise tint must have been quite a site burning up the quarter mile. Greased lightning! Go greased lightning!
1972 Vista Cruiser Wagon: The Family Truckster
The 1970s ushered in Pong, shag carpeting, and the Brady Bunch. Paneling filled our basements and the design team at Oldsmobile thought it would class up our cars too. The 1972 Vista Cruiser Wagon on display at the R. E. Olds Museum looks like a sleeker version of the family truckster in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983).
Whether you’re driving to the local bowling alley or cross-country to Wally World, the Vista’s 390 horsepower engine, dual hood scoops, power front disc brakes and “simulated wood veneer” added not only “style” but muscle to any holiday road trip! Check out this cautionary tale of Clark Griswold attempting to trade in his Vista Cruiser.
1981 Oldsmobile Omega 2-door Coupe: A Wheezy Box on Wheels
Pacman, techno pop and shoulder pads were all the rage in the 1980s and boxy sedans, like the Oldsmobile Omega rolled through the streets. I was thrilled to find one of these beauties on display at the R. E. Olds Museum. I took my first driving lessons in the mighty Omega. Despite its boring, dad-car vibe, I appreciated the Omega’s compact build. It was easy to drive and more importantly, parallel park. My parents were excited to have a more fuel-efficient car in the garage although for some reason the tank was always hovering near empty after my trips to the “library”.
The Oldsmobile Omega came in both 4 and 6 cylinder models, had front wheel drive, rack-and-pinion steering, and reached a top speed of 103 mph. I was amused to read Oldsmobile promos touting the Omega’s roomy interior and “new aerodynamic styling”. The Omega I drove was a wheezy, brown box on wheels (see photo on right) that had a tendency to stall every time I rounded a corner. It’s no wonder Oldsmobile sales began to suffer in the 1980s. Foreign imports gradually made inroads into the US market and despite Oldsmobile’s efforts to make more fuel-efficient cars parent company, General Motors discontinued the line in 2004. Oldsmobile was the oldest continuously operating automobile manufacturer in the US at the time.
Controversial GM Facts: In 1996 General Motors began manufacturing and leasing the EV1 Electric Car. This low maintenance, fuel-efficient vehicle had a 137 horsepower engine, reached a top speed of 80 mph, and could travel 70 to 90 miles on a single charge. When the leases came due, GM refused to sell the EV1s. Instead, they collected and destroyed them. Why? Documentary filmmaker Chris Paine asked the same question. Click on this trailer from his documentary film, Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) to learn more.
That wraps up our tour of the R. E. Olds Museum. Wherever your travels take you this holiday weekend, drive safe and see you next week!