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The Oldsmobile Aurora: When Oldsmobile Tried to Stand Out

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2016

In the early 1990s, Oldsmobile had become a complete afterthought in the minds of luxury car buyers -- the kind of high-end vehicle your parents drove, perhaps, or a car you'd buy only if you knew someone who worked at General Motors and therefore got a substantial discount. For everyone else, just about any luxury car brand was better.

Well aware of this reputation and acutely aware of Oldsmobile's rapidly diminishing sales, General Motors decided to do something about it. And so, they dreamed up the Aurora, the luxury sedan that would save Oldsmobile.

Work on the Aurora got started in the late 1980s, and Oldsmobile previewed the design with what has to be the worst-named concept car in history: the 1989 Oldsmobile Tube Car. I mention the Tube Car not only because of its stupid name, but also because its design really did foreshadow what was coming to the Aurora.

The Aurora went into production 6 years later, using many design features borrowed from the Tube Car -- save for, of course, the usual concept-car items that don't usually reach a dealership lot, like suicide doors and pillarless windows. There was a wraparound rear window, an aerodynamic profile and an overall design that really didn't have anything in common with anything else General Motors was making at the time. Under the hood was an impressive 250-horsepower 4.0-liter V8, and perhaps the Aurora's most distinctive quality is that it didn't carry Oldsmobile badges anywhere on its exterior. This wasn't a normal Oldsmobile -- this was something different.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out like Oldsmobile had hoped. Although sales were initially promising, they dropped off rapidly once the first buyers got their cars. More importantly, the Aurora was just a little too late: The rest of the Oldsmobile lineup was still relatively mediocre, and General Motors wasn't about to spend big money revamping it.

While the original Aurora was supposed to be redesigned in 2000 using a platform shared with Buick, Buick bailed on the project -- leaving Oldsmobile to go it alone in 2001 with a new Aurora that used an indistinct, uninspiring design. Two years later, the Oldsmobile brand was dead.

Indeed, the Aurora was Oldsmobile's last attempt at something special, and its limited success may well have been Oldsmobile's final death knell. Today, we remember the Aurora as an odd-looking 1990s car -- and as the last decent attempt to save one of GM's many historic brands.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The Oldsmobile Aurora: When Oldsmobile Tried to Stand Out - Autotrader