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Oldsmobile was America's oldest surviving nameplateBy Richard A. Wright
In 1887, Ransom E. Olds drove a horseless carriage he had built, an experimental steam-powered vehicle, one block in Lansing. He thereby joined such other early automotive pioneers as Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz in Germany, Louis Renault, Rene Panhard, Emile Lavassor and the Peugeot brothers in France, and Frank and Charles Duryea, Charles King, Elwood Haynes, David Dunbar Buick and Henry Ford, all of whom were working on vehicles they called by various names. For the most part, they worked in ignorance of each other.
That first automobile was steam-powered and Olds was coming to the view that the relatively new internal-combustion gasoline engine was the way to go, even though he worked for his father's steam engine manufacturing company in Lansing.
Eventually he produced a gasoline-powered vehicle that seated four persons and could do 18 miles an hour on level ground. On August 21, 1897, Olds, and a group of investors formed the Olds Motor Works in Lansing.
But the first Olds plant was built not in Lansing, but in Detroit, on East Jefferson near the Belle Isle Bridge. While the plant was being built, Olds' engineering people designed and built 11 pilot models, including several sizes of cars and a couple of electrics.
Among them was a small, light horseless carriage with a single-cylinder, water-cooled four-cycle engine at the rear. Its most distinctive feature was its curved dashboard. The little Curved Dash Olds was a favorite in the plant, but it was not widely known to the public and was not much of a factor in the company's sales. It was considered a "mascot" or a "toy."
But in March, 1901, fire destroyed most of the Olds Motor Works plant and the only car that was saved was the Curved Dash Olds. Olds decided to rebuilt immediately and to put all the firm's production resources into the little Curved Dash Olds, the "Merry Oldsmobile" of musical fame.
It was a momentous decision, because it committed Olds to production of a small, relatively inexpensive car, the first "high-volume" model. Proving the adage that it's an ill wind that blows no good, the fire had a positive effect -- news of the fire made thousands of people aware of the car. Inquiries and orders began arriving, some accompanied by cash payments.
One of the ways auto makers drew attention to their vehicles in those early days was to take trips in them. No one had driven from Detroit to New York, so Olds commissioned a young associate, Roy D. Chapin, to drive a Curved Dash Olds to New York for an appearance at the 1901 New York Auto Show.
Chapin left Detroit on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1901. He went 278 miles through Ontario to Niagara Falls, an amazing performance.
On Friday he encountered heavy rains between Syracuse and Albany. The muddy roads were nearly impassable, so Chapin inquired about driving on the level and well-finished roads along the Erie canal used by mules to pull barges.
He was told he would be jailed if he used it. Fifteen minutes later, he pulled the little Olds onto the all-weather road that stretched along the canal to the horizon.
On Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, only blocks from the Waldorf-Astoria, he swerved to avoid hitting a man who stepped in front of the Olds. The car hit the curb and deformed a wheel. Chapin bent it back as best he could and drove on.
Roy Chapin, who would later head the Hudson Motor Car Co. and whose son, Roy Jr., would head American Motors Corp., had completed the longest automobile trip that had been made in this country up until that time. Ransom Olds was waiting in the lobby of the hotel to greet him, but Chapin -- covered with grease and dust -- was ordered by the doorman to use the service entrance at the rear of the hotel.
The publicity boomed interest and soon Olds had so many orders that he sought an outside source for engines. Henry M. Leland, head of Leland and Faulconer Co., foremost machine shop in the Midwest, agreed to build 2,000 engines for Olds, the first large component order by an auto maker to an outside supplier.
Olds then ordered 2,000 transmissions from a smaller machine shop owned by John and Horace Dodge. Olds announced he would produce and sell 4,000 automobiles the following year, which was equal to the total production in the United States the preceding year.
Olds planned to mass-produce cars, to put the world on affordable wheels. In a few years, Henry Ford would do just that, working on the foundation laid by Ransom E. Olds.
Oldsmobile created the FIRST assembly line, and with the production of the Curved Dash, Oldsmobile became the first mass producer of gasoline cars. The Curved Dash became the most popular car in the United States soon after its introduction.
Early ads boasted that the $600 Curved Dash "ran 40 miles on one gallon of gasoline." Olds sought to convince people still wary of automobiles that the Curved Dash was thriftier, safer, faster, more controllable and more modern than a horse. The U.S. Post Office purchased Oldsmobiles for use as its first mail "trucks."
Though the term "Oldsmobile" was not officially granted a trademark until 1902, earlier ads touted the name. After a dispute with investors, Olds quit the company in January, 1904 and moved back to Lansing, where he launched a new company. Because the Detroit firm owned the Oldsmobile name, Olds put his initials, R.E.O., on his new car. In 1905, 864 Reo cars were built, compared with 6,500 Oldsmobiles. But by 1908, Reo production was 4,105, compared with 1,055 Oldsmobiles.
Later that year, Oldsmobile was acquired by William Durant and became part of the new General Motors Durant was building. Reo remained an independent and continued to build automobiles until 1936. Truck production continued until 1957, when Reo became a division of White Trucks, then was teamed with Diamond T and operated as Diamond Reo truck division. Sold in 1971, it went bankrupt and ceased truck production in 1974.
Meanwhile, Oldsmobile was integrated into the General Motors empire and gradually emerged as an upscale sporty and experimental car.
Production was curtailed during World War I and Olds Motor Works built 2,100 mobile aircraft kitchens for the military.
After the war, Oldsmobile moved upscale with its Model 46 "Thoroughbred" seven-passenger touring car powered by the "heavy" Northway V-8. And Oldsmobile became GM's experimental car line.
In 1926, Oldsmobile was the first to introduce chrome-plated trim, an important styling asset first used on the radiator shell. In 1934, Oldsmobile introduced "Knee Action" independent front suspension and hy
The Service Manual states that the tranny will need 11 quarts after a pan drain, 12.6 quarts after an overhaul, and 15.0 quarts if the tranny is dry. Interestingly, my Service Manual (2002) doesn't have the procedure in it, but it was in the 2001 SM. I might just buy the Transmission Unit Repair Manual because the filter change is a bit hazy in the 2001 SM, and nonexistent in mine.I personally feel like if you drain the pan and change the filter, that's good enough. You'd have changed 11 of the 15 quarts. If you do this every 50,000 (or maybe 30,000) instead of the recommended 100,000, then I personally think it would be ok. I've always followed the recommended time, and always just drained the pan and filter and I've also never had a problem. But I can understand if this isn't for everyone. You can never be too cautious.