On this day in 2004, the last Oldsmobile comes off the assembly line at the Lansing Car Assembly plant in Michigan, signaling the end of the 106-year-old automotive brand, America’s oldest. Factory workers signed the last Oldsmobile, an Alero sedan, before the vehicle was moved to Lansing’s R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, where it went on display. The last 500 Aleros ever manufactured featured “Final 500″ emblems and were painted dark metallic cherry red.
In 1897, Ransom E. Olds (1864-1950), an Ohio-born engine maker, founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing. In 1901, the company, then known as Olds Motor Works, debuted the Curved Dash Oldsmobile, a gas-powered, open-carriage vehicle named for its curved front footboard. More than 400 of these vehicles were sold during the first year, at a price of $650 each (around $17,000 in today’s dollars). In subsequent years, sales reached into the thousands. Olds’ invention inspired a 1905 song, “In My Merry Oldsmobile,” whose chorus includes the lines: “Come away with me, Lucille/In my merry Oldsmobile/Down the road of life we’ll fly/Automobubbling, you and I.” However, by 1904, clashes between Olds and his investors caused him to sell the bulk of his stock and leave the company. He soon went on to found the REO (based on his initials) Motor Car Company, which built cars until 1936 and produced trucks until 1975.
In 1908, Oldsmobile was the second brand, after Buick, to become part of the newly established General Motors (GM). Oldsmobile became a top brand for GM and pioneered such features as chrome-plating in 1926 and, in 1940, the first fully automatic transmission for a mass-market vehicle. Oldsmobile concentrated on cars for middle-income consumers and from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, the Oldsmobile Cutlass was America’s best-selling auto. However, in the decades that followed, sales began to decline, prompting GM to announce in 2000 that it would discontinue the Oldsmobile line with the 2004 models. When the last Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line in April 2004, more than 35 million Oldsmobiles had been built during the brand’s lifetime. Along with Daimler and Peugeot, Oldsmobile was among the world’s oldest auto brands.