Oldsmobile Aurora

When Chuck Jordan returned from General Motors’ European offices to become the automaker’s vice president of design in the late 1980s, he realized that “all the sedans on the road were dull, drab and boring. There was no character, no excitement.”

Secretly, Jordan set one of GM’s advanced design studios to work on a sedan that had character and excitement. The car was designed and a full-scale model was created. Jordan parked a full-scale model of the car in the hallway at GM’s headquarters, placing it so executives couldn’t avoid it as they walked past the car several times every day.

Halo car without the Oldsmobile

Designed as a halo car for the Oldsmobile brand, the Aurora’s mission also required it to distance itself from the Oldsmobile marque. Instead of the traditional rocket logo used on other Oldsmobile models of the period, the Aurora received a distinctive swirled-A logo that foretold the “launching rocket” Oldsmobile logo that would debut in 1997. The Aurora’s only labeled ties to the Oldsmobile brand were found on its engine cover and in the fine print on the audio system.

The logic behind such a bold marketing move was: First, Oldsmobile hoped to target a new demographic of buyer, one that previously would not have considered Oldsmobile. And second, it also looked to rivals for branding inspiration; Acura, for example, was built by Honda but sold as a premium brand through a separate dealer network, with few identifying links to its parent company.

Aurora's Mission

While the Aurora was sold through Oldsmobile dealers, the brand still wanted to distinguish it as a premium model that broke the perceived Oldsmobile mold. The Aurora’s aerodynamic styling produced a drag coefficient of just 0.32, and set the design benchmark for Oldsmobile’s later models, such as the Alero and the Intrigue.

While the Aurora’s primary mission was to attract luxury import buyers, its secondary mission was to draw younger buyers of all incomes into Oldsmobile dealerships. Those who could not afford an Aurora (or didn’t want a full-size sedan) could still drive away in a similarly styled Intrigue or Alero.

Engine derived from Cadillac

General Motors held little back during the Aurora’s development. It’s 4.0-liter V-8 engine, for example, was derived from Cadillac’s premium 4.6-liter Northstar V-8, which had been exclusively reserved for Cadillac models prior to the Aurora’s development. Output of the Aurora’s dual-overhead camshaft, 32-valve V-8 was rated at 250 horsepower, or better than one hp per cubic inch, and the engine was mated to a four-speed automatic transmission that featured both a “normal” and a “performance” shift mode. In performance mode, the Aurora was capable of an eight-second sprint from 0-60 MPH, yet still delivered fuel economy of 26 MPG highway and 17 MPG city.

American Reliability

In its initial Aurora brochure, Oldsmobile noted that the same 4.0-liter V-8 engine used in the Aurora had broken a 25,000-kilometer (15,500-mile) speed and endurance record previously held by Mercedes. At a time when many buyers still questioned the quality of American cars, Oldsmobile also pointed out that the Aurora’s first tuneup wasn’t needed until 100,000 miles, and that the car could be driven without any coolant (at reduced speeds) as far as 50 miles, thanks to sensors that would alternately shut down four of the car’s eight cylinders to reduce engine temperatures. As further evidence of the Aurora V-8's durability, Oldsmobile touted the fact that the engine contained 556 fewer parts than Lexus’s 4.0-liter V-8, yet it delivered the same 250hp and 260-lbs.ft. of torque.

Good Vibrations and Seamless fit

A rigid and strong chassis structure was a design goal from both a ride quality and a safety perspective, and the Aurora’s engineers exceeded the car’s targets to the point that GM’s existing test equipment proved insufficient to crush the Aurora’s body. A 1997 Aurora brochure stated that, “The roof structure withstood more than 8,000 pounds of force in a crush-resistance test – far exceeding the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard for passenger cars – before the test equipment simply gave out.”

Aurora designers wanted a smooth, flowing line where the Aurora's roof attached to the rear quarter panel. But engineers didn't want to use conventional welding to join the two pieces--that would require putting a big hole in the frame for the welder to reach through, weakening the rigid structure. Instead, the engineers suggested a new manufacturing process they had already been tinkering with. They devised a way for robots to spray molten silicon bronze smoothly into the roof seam. To make sure the tricky technique was worked out by Aurora's launch, the Orion plant pioneered it in 1992 on other Olds and Buick cars.

Luxurious Tech

Technology and amenities were also selling points for the Aurora. The standard features list was a lengthy one, including dual-zone automatic climate control, a trip computer, anti-lock brakes, traction control, a “dimensional” audio system, solar control glass, a remote-linked driver’s seat position memory, genuine burl walnut trim, magnetic variable-ratio power steering and dual front airbags.

In its debut year of 1995, Oldsmobile managed to sell nearly 46,000 Aurora sedans, but the car’s ambitious base price of $34,360 hampered second-year sales. While considerably less than the $43,500 commanded by a Mercedes-Benz E320 (a reported development benchmark for the Aurora), it was still a stretch from the Acura TL’s $29,950 base price. In the final year of the Aurora’s first generation, 1999, Oldsmobile would sell less than 19,000 units.

The second generation of the Aurora, which debuted in February 2000 for the 2001 model year, was originally supposed to take Oldsmobile even further to the luxury side of the scale (creating more room for additional models within the brand), but economic realities caused GM to downsize its total product offerings. While the second-generation Aurora still retained the 4.0-liter V-8 atop the range, it also debuted a 3.5-liter V-6 variant of the engine (for 2001 and 2002 only), good for an output of 215 horsepower.

Manufacturing Hurdles

The car was complicated to build, so Orion plant manager Tim Sprecher started to work the bugs out of several new processes years before manufacturing began. Because Aurora's engine is too big and complex to lower into the body, Sprecher and his team created "stop stations," where chassis came up to meet the sheet-metal bodies. Teams of five operators worked at their own pace to bolt the assemblies together.

There was a rotating group of 50 hourly workers and Aurora's engineers. In a three-year collaboration, they made 80% of the major changes in how Aurora is put together before it left the engineering center, avoiding costly changes in the plant. "In the past, the engineers would drop off the designs at the front door and say, 'O.K., now you build it,'" Sprecher says. "And sometimes, we couldn't."

To help Aurora through its final stages, Olds formed its first "launch team," headed by Bob Romero, then the unit's head of strategic marketing. This group coordinated the efforts of marketing, public relations, engineering, manufacturing, and dealers. Its efforts included a $20 million dealer training program and a $30 million ad campaign.

Falling Sales Numbers

The lower-priced Aurora (V6 3.5L variant) may have helped boost Oldsmobile’s falling sales, but 10 months after the second-generation Aurora’s debut (and seven months after its second appearance as an Indianapolis 500 pace car), General Motors announced plans to shutter its oldest division in the coming years. Perhaps equally damaging, the 2nd generation Aurora never managed to feel as “special” as its predecessor, perhaps due to styling that was no longer quite as innovative, but prevalent throughout the Oldsmobile lineup.

Brief Aurora Timeline to Release

February, 1988
GM and Olds start considering a successor to Toronado Coupe.
Autumn, 1988
Designer Bud Chandler sketches first drawing which becomes starting point for Aurora styling.
July, 1989
Aurora gets corporate green light to begin development of Aurora and sister car Buick Riviera.
January, 1990
1 Year suspension of engineering work on Aurora to save GM money.
Early 1992
Second stop of spending on Aurora for 6 months, delaying tool and die work.
September, 1992
John Rock (Olds Chief) wins approval to continue project from GM North America Strategy board.
October, 1992
Rumors circulate that GM plans to kill Olds Division.
August, 1993
GM Lake Orion Michigan plant starts pilot production of Aurora. Special processes needed for Aurora have already been applied to production of cars such as Olds Ninety Eight.
April-May, 1994
Auroras begin arriving to dealer showrooms.

Aurora Gallery

  • 1995 Aurora
  • 1995 Aurora
  • 1995 Aurora
  • 1995 Aurora
  • 1995 Aurora Engine
  • 1997 Aurora interior
  • 1997 Aurora rear seats
  • 1995 Aurora Dual Zone Climate Control
  • 1994 Aurora Advertisement
  • 1995 Aurora Ad (Coke bottle design)
  • Aurora Poster
  • 1995 Aurora Interior
  • 1997 Aurora
  • Aurora Aftermarket Body Kit
  • 1997 Aurora Pace Car
  • 1997 Aurora Pace Car Interior
  • Consumer Reports Aurora Review
  • Aurora Press Release
  • Aurora V8 Pace Car Ad
  • Aurora V8 Engines
  • 2001 Aurora
  • 2001 Aurora
  • Final 500 Aurora
  • 2001 Aurora Interior
  • 2001 Aurora Pace Car
  • 1997 Shelby Aurora Can-Am Prototype
  • 1997 Shelby Aurora Can-Am Prototype
  • 1997 Shelby Aurora Can-Am Prototype
  • Aurora GTS-1 650 hp version of engine was used by GM racing division initially for Indy Racing League and IMSA competition starting in 1995 with the GM-supported Aurora GTS-1 racing program

Production: 1995-2003
Generations: 2

Platform: G-body
Related Cars: Riviera, Park Ave., LeSabre, Seville/Deville, Bonneville

Predecessor: Oldsmobile Toronado, 98
Successor: Buick Lucerne, Cadillac DTS


Aurora Yearbook

1995 Oldsmobile Aurora1995

1995 Oldsmobile Aurora1995

1996 Oldsmobile Aurora1996

1997 Oldsmobile Aurora1997

1998 Oldsmobile Aurora1998

1999 Oldsmobile Aurora1999

2001 Oldsmobile Aurora2001

2001 Oldsmobile Aurora Interior2001

2002 Oldsmobile Aurora2002

2003 Oldsmobile Aurora Steel Blue2003 in Steel Blue

2003 Oldsmobile Aurora Bordeaux Red2003 in Bordeaux Red

Oldsmobile Aurora Tube Car Concept FrontAurora/Tube Car Concept

Oldsmobile Aurora Tube Car Concept RearAurora/Tube Car Concept