1996-1998 Oldsmobile LSS: The Last of Your Father’s Oldsmobiles
1996 Oldsmobile LSS
Things were starting to look up for Oldsmobile in the mid-90’s. New models were on their way that promised to change the public’s perception ofthe company as one of GM’s sleepiest divisions. Changes to Olds’s mainstays like the Eight-Eight line of cars based on the H chassis (shared by Buick and Pontiac) would bridge current product to the new saviours coming down the road. When the Eighty-Eight Royale family of cars were redesigned in 1992, the new full-sized body was free of excessive chrome and had what could pass for “European” inspired lines. This was during a time when American car makers seemed to interpret European style as a quick application of blackout trim and maybe a special badge or two. For Oldsmobile, the LSS option on a Eighty-Eight usually meant a sport tuned suspension and more powerful engine options with typical Oldsmobile restraint.
After 1995, the LSS trim level became a separate model that in many ways ushered in the concept of a modern sports sedan as a viable product at Oldsmobile. LSS stood for Luxury Sport Sedan and was intended to lure those in the market for European sedans like BMW’s 5 Series or the Audi A6. Although the Oldsmobile was a bit larger than those cars, it was nearly as fun to drive despite being front wheel drive, a rare trait in a sports sedan of this size. At about $26k, the LSS was not cheap, but it undercut most of its competition (save for the perpetually discounted Chrysler LH cars).
The heart of the LSS was its supercharged engine. Early LSS cars (as a trim option not separate model) had some variation of the standard V6, then got the transverse mounted Supercharged 3800 Series I in 1995. With 225 hp, the 3.8 L engine was enough to move the 3,500+lb. car with some haste. 1996 brought about the introduction of the Series II 3800 with 240hp, changing the LSS to more the performance car capable of keeping up with most of its competition. Although not a BMW beater,
the LSS did manage to seat 5 comfortably and return close to 30 mpg, something that a 5 Series could not do (the gas mileage part that is).
The independent strut type suspension was tuned to handle about as well as any of GM’s big front drivers. Ford seemed to be the only major US manufacturer who stuck with rear wheel drive in its big cars, but had nothing quite like the LSS. Chrysler’s LH cars were similar, if not a bit sportier looking, but part of the Oldsmobile’s appeal was it’s subdued styling. With 16in wheels
similar to the new Aurora
, the LSS looked very much the part of a big sports sedan without the added on tackieness of its sister car the Pontiac Bonneville. It also had its share of trick technology, like self leveling suspension and a auto-dimming mirror system. Generally, the LSS (like other Oldsmobiles) had fewer available options than most competitors.
The Aurora influence was a little more obvious inside. For starters, the LSS had a center floor mounter shifter, something not seen in many full-sized Oldsmobiles, or any big GM cars of the period. Leather sport seats were clearly inspired by the Aurora. Like any luxury car, all the expected amenities were there. The 88/LSS was the last of Oldsmobiles to offer 6 passenger seating. Some cars had CD/tape decks for transitional audiophiles but more significant technology came in the form of the optional GuideStar navigational system, a kind of precursor to OnStar with turn by turn navigation from a dash mounted screen.
Eventually the Aurora would carry the torch as Oldsmobile’s import fighter in the sport sedan market, but the two products would overlap for a few years offering buyers a glimpse of the best of the old and new all at once. At one point in the LSS development, the classic Oldsmobile logo with the rocket in a vertical square was replaced by the new oval-shaped corporate symbol, marking the transition to a new invigorated company. Despite being a successful model from a critical perspective, the sales numbers were below projections. Oldsmobile dealers themselves probably could account for some of that. The typical Olds buyer was still older than most of GM’s other divisions, and a new crop of modern cars might have confused the traditional clientel.
Oldsmobile’s initial transition to modern and hip was painful and protracted. Younger buyers went straight to Chevrolet or Pontiac where Brian Seeger or Bruce Springsteen music playing over the PA was expected. Beside,s anyone in the market for the snob appeal of a BMW or Audi would not be taken by the Heartland references that Oldsmobiles seemed to conjure up. Also with transition in the air, poor sales for an outgoing model can be par for the course when its known that an all new car will make it obsolete soon. GM doomed the LSS successor by announcing just one year after the end of the LSS in 1999, that it would axe the Oldsmobile Division, even as it had a few hits on its hands, including the Aurora, the car that eventually replaced the LSS.
1996 Oldsmobile LSS