The cars we loved.
When the old GM was trying to make an import fighter, it usually wound up turning one of it’s cookie cutter cars into a blackout trim, decal and wheel package. The long history of that kind of thinking did not endure younger more affluent buyers to any of GM higher end products. For Oldsmobile the turnaround started with the Aurora, truly a revolutionary car for GM. To a lesser extent, Oldsmobile hoped that it could do the same thing in the mid-sized sedan segment with it’s new Cutlass Supreme replacement the Intrigue.
A lot of effort was made in promoting the Intrigue. In an early example of “car in film” marketing, the Intrigue scored a co-starring role in the first X-Files film. The black car summed up Oldsmobile’s hope to inspire its namesake mysterious image. Although in the film the Intrigue was treated like a disposable rental car. The Intrigue was inspired by the 1995 Antares concept car, which itself was inspired by the Aurora. The Intrigue was an honest attempt by Oldsmobile grow its share of the five passenger sedan market. A category that was increasingly becoming Japanese and European dominated. The general thinking was that if the Aurora was too much car for you, then the smaller Intrigue with much of the same handling prowess was available for thousands less.
It was easy for the Intrigue to stand out from its platform mates (Pontaic Grand Prix, Buick Century, Chevy Impala and Monte Carlo), because it offered some level of performance with restrained looks. The Grand Prix had become so over styled with ribs and gills while the Impala, Century and Monte Carlo were either luxurious and bland looking or sporty and crude (you can mix and match names). The Intrigue had its share of near misses with audaciousness. In 2000, a tarted up version of the Intrigue called the OSV toured the auto show circuit. The dark red car was shown with factory supplied ground effects and large 17 inch rims on low profile tires. The attractive concept made the Oldsmobile look very Pontiac but with more stylistic restraint. The OSV body kit was never officially sold by Oldsmobile, but a few third-party sources offered similar packages. Oldsmobile wanted buyers to think of the Intrigue as an American styled car with European tuning. The Intrigue came closer to that claim than any other W-body car.
Like all W-bodied cars it came in varieties that were loaded to rental car ready. In keeping with it’s sportier, yet refined mission, the top GLS model was available with a 215 hp 3.5L DOHC six cylinder engine. Based on the famous Cadillac Northstar V8, it got the nickname “Shortstar”, due to its reduced displacement. It was the most powerful standard engine available in any W-body car, giving the Intrigue real bragging rights that should have belonged to Pontiac. Combined with one of the available sport packages, the Intrigue would come loaded with a 140 mph speedometer (although the car itself could only reach a speed limited 128 mph). The Autobahn package also came with larger brakes and H rated tires.
The interior may have been the car’s weak point. With three to four trim levels available, the version you choose influenced the quality of the interior more than the outward appearance. For the most part they looked like most other Oldsmobile (or GM) interiors. Big buttons and cheap looking plastic surfaces were combined with leather and fake wood grain on up-level GLS models. Base and GL models were the worst offenders, often with mono chromatic doors and maybe a two-tone dash setup. The overall effect was rental car like. GM never seemed to get interiors right outside of Cadillac until it started taking cues from its German and Australian subsidies. By then it was too late for Oldsmobile.
The Intrigue and Aurora represented Oldsmobile on the path to corporate redemption, but it was too little too late. Even if the Intrigue outsold the Honda Accord, it might not have been enough to shore off the tremendous losses the company had accumulated and the eroded market share prompted by lukewarm products like the Bravada and Alero. As such, the Intrigue was the first casualty in the plan to phase out Oldsmobile. The last Intrigues rolled out of the Kansas City factory in 2002, two years before Oldsmobile officially called it quits. The final 500 cars were “Collectors Editions” with unique paint, classic styled emblems and 17 inch chrome wheels that looked like those from the Aurora. Although not related in any direct way, the Intrigue’s spirit lives on in the current Buick Regal. A real European sourced car with American tuning.