Good-by, Lucille

by Bill Monson


General Motors is phasing out the Oldsmobile.

The ghost of my dear departed Dad must be shaking his spectral head in dismay and disgust.

Dad was a GM man for most of his life, and the Olds 88 he bought In 1953 was probably his favorite.

At the time, he was driving a 1938 Chevy. (We Monsons got a lot of miles and years out of our GM cars!) For Dad, as for most Americans who bought the Olds, it was a step up in class. For me, it meant my first car as I got the Chevy as my graduation present from GHS.

Oldsmobile has been a distinguished name in American automobiles for over a century. The company was started by Ransom E. Olds as the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan in 1897. Worldwide, only the Daimler name Is older. That means when Oldsmobile dies, so does America's oldest automotive name.

Oldsmobile was a pioneer in using chrome-plated trim and the mass production of automatic transmissions. Dad loved the shiny trim and the Hydromatic transmission on his 88, and Mom was even fonder of the latter since it meant no more shifting for her.

I rarely got to drive the Olds. My place in the car was the back seat, right side, where I could jump out to open the door for Mom, who rode shotgun on our Sunday drives. Yes, I took Sunday drives with my family even while going to college. Hard to imagine a teenager doing that today.

The Olds was big enough that Grandma Watts could go with us. Thanks to the big bench seat and no stick shift, she could ride in front with Dad and Morn without the three of them being cramped for room. Sometimes she'd choose to ride in back with my sister Sue and me -- especially if we planned to stop for an ice cream cone at Highlanders'.

Our Olds had a good radio, and we'd head out for Lake Storey or over to KnoxvilIe, eating our cones and listening to music. Football hadn't taken over Sundays back then.

With gas about 25 cents a gallon, we'd drive until supper time and never think twice about the expenditure. Traffic was also slower and less clogged then -- even with only two-lane roads like U.S. 34 and 150 and what Grandma always called ''the hard road to Abingdon.'' My favorite spots were the hill down to the Spoon River at Maquon and the long subway under the Burlington Humps.

Oldsmobile was a thriving part of GM in the 1950s and continued to grow until its high point in 1985 -- when it built 1,168,982 vehicles. Since then, the division has been in a slow decline.

Buyers moved from mid-size cars to mini-vans and SUVs, and imports took bigger bites of the mid-size market. The division fought back by trying to shake its image as a brand for older people. Remember the slogan: ''This is not your father's Oldsmoblle''?

Well, I guess for too many Americans -- including me -- it was.

I never bought an Olds and neither did my friends.

Sales were down to just over 352,000 in 1999 and were down another 18.5 per cent this year.

Goodbye, Cutlass. So long, Toronado. Happy memorIes, 88 and 98.

Like family drives on Sunday afternoons, the Rocket Oldsmobile has come to the end of its road.

Does anybody still remember the words to the Oldsmobile Song about Lucille and the Merry Oldsmobile? ''Auto-mobiling, you and I.''


Uploaded to The Zephyr Online January 3, 2001

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