Oldsmobile History Post-GM

Oldsmobile Under General Motors

After R.E. Olds' departure, Oldsmobile struggled, and in 1908 it was swallowed up by the new General Motors (GM) conglomerate.

General Motors (GM) was formed in 1908 as a holding company for Buick. William Crapo "Billy" Durant was the company owner at the time. Durant, a high-school dropout, had made his fortune building horse-drawn carriages, and in fact he hated cars–he thought they were noisy, smelly, and dangerous. Nevertheless, the giant company he built would dominate the American auto industry for decades.

GM Buying Spree

Under Billy Durant's leadership, General Motors Company was founded on September 16, 1908. That year the Buick Motor Company, then Oldsmobile, were bought out by the growing GM. During GM's early years, Durant went on a shopping spree for automobile manufacturers. That buy-out of 30 other companies (automakers, supplier firms, and even an electric company) came to an end in 1910. Durant had spent so much money that he was unable to hold his position, because banks were unsure of the company's financial stability.

Oldsmobile anecdotes tell us that Durant designed his first Oldsmobile model in 1909; by simply:

'driving a Buick to the Olds plant, ordering it cut apart length wise and crosswise, having the pieces laid on the ground a few inches from each other and proudly announcing the Model 20' (one of the first examples of platform sharing that became GM's most notable business model)

6,575 Oldsmobiles sold that year 5,325 were Model 20s. The Model 20 has been said to have effectively replaced the Curved Dash.  Along with high production came high employment as the Olds plant doubled in size with more than 1000 workers.

In 1909, General Motors had purchased a half interest in Oakland Motor Car Co. (Later to be known as Pontiac) When Oakland's founder passed away the following summer, General Motors took little time to gain full control of the company.

Durant short on capital to buy Ford

That same year, Cadillac, AC Spark Plug, and Rapid Motor Vehicle Company (predecessor of GMC Truck) of Pontiac, Michigan, were integrated into the GM family as well. Fortunately for the Ford Motor Company, William Durant was denied a "buy-out loan" of $9.5 million by his bankers.

Over the next two decades, GM developed the General Motors Truck Company (later known as GMC), Chevrolet Motor Company of Michigan, General Motors Export Company, and General Motors of Canada.

William Crapo Durant
1925 General Motors Advertisements
Rapid Motor Vehicle Co stock certificate
1909 Oldsmobile Model 20 from Olds Brochure

Oldsmobile Canadian Operations

General Motors Canada, began as a partnership with Sam McLauglin in Oshawa, Ontario. The carriage maker began producing cars in 1908 in conjunction with Buick, and the cars were known as McLaughlin-Buick’s.

While GM grew in the U.S. and William Durant assembled his empire, Canadian versions of the cars started to appear in domestic manufacturing facilities. Chevrolet (started in Canada in 1915) was tied in with McLauglin when it became part of GM in 1918.

In 1920, the building of Oldsmobiles in Canada got underway (picture below shows Olds plant construction in 1919), and Pontiacs were first built in Oshawa in 1926. GM Canada built Cadillacs from 1923 to 1936 and LaSalles from 1927 to 1935.

1918 McLaughlin Carriage Co Oshawa
1910 McLaughlin Carriage Works Oshawa
1919 GM Oshawa Oldsmobile Plant construction

Oldsmobile & Early V-8 Engines

For its 1916 models, Oldsmobile and its Lansing plant would have another breakthrough in the automotive industry. Creating its first V-8 engine (Cadillac brought out its V-8 for 1915 models), and by the 1920s, Oldsmobile’s six- and eight-cylinder models sat solidly in the middle of GM’s lineup – less expensive than Buick or Cadillac, but still well ahead of Chevrolet.

Oldsmobile's V-8, was introduced to the public August of 1915 in the 1916 Olds Model 44. V-8 engines continued to be available on Oldsmobile cars through 1923.

A second V-8 engine with a slightly smaller displacement became available in 1921 and was offered in the Model 47. That second V-8 had an aluminum block, and was known as the light-eight. In 1923, the decision was made to end V-8 production and it would be six years before Oldsmobile's third V-8 would be offered in the Viking.

1916 Oldsmobile V-8
1916 Oldsmobile V-8
1916 Oldsmobile V-8
1916 Oldsmobile Model 44 Roadster

Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic Transmission

An Industry First

In 1940 the company was still called Olds Motor Works. (The name was officially changed to the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors on January 1, 1942.)

It was Oldsmobile that stood alone in the industry with the first fully automatic transmission available for 1940. In recent years others had come close but all prior systems required manual clutching at some point in the shifting process (competing transmissions only automated the forward gears).

Besides that, Oldsmobile’s Hydramatic transmission, complete with four forward gears, was available on all of their models for a mere $57. It was a great success for the brand. The option eventually filtered to other brands, including Cadillac. 

Meeting the needs of the physically impaired

After the industry halted production for the duration of World War II, Oldsmobile became the first maker to offer a car to meet the needs of the physically impaired with the introduction of the Valiant program. The Hydra-Matic transmission was a centerpiece of the Valiant program under which specially equipped cars were made available to disabled veterans returning from World War II.

1946 Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic Ad
1941 Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic Ad
1942 Oldsmobile Ad