Achieva Design Story

I was transferred from Buick One to Oldsmobile One Exterior Studio in late 1985. Olds One was a crazy studio even by Design Staff standards. One story comes to mind. Peggy Lee recorded a song called Is That All There Is? in the ’50s that was so depressing that it was pulled from many radio stations at the time because of an increase in the suicide rate. Well, some unscrupulous sculptor recorded the song on both sides of a 90-minute cassette and played it continually for weeks every day in the studio. Needless to say my morale didn’t exactly soar being tortured by that song over and over again. The Gestapo couldn’t have used a more effective brainwashing tool. Looking back on it though it’s pretty funny.

We were working on some platform for a sporty 2+2 car of some sort. I did sketches of proposals for that car and the other projects in the studio and hung them with the other wallpaper I continuously produced. In that studio at the time it was difficult to get anything on the car unless you were, well, running the studio. But Dave Holls, one of the directors, came through and sometimes actually looked at sketches. He seemed to see something in a couple of sketches that I did and asked me to do a full-sized airbrush rendering of the design, which I did.

Gary Smith's Early Achieva Concept Drawing
Gary Smith's Early Achieva Concept Drawing

At the same time, Olds Two studio was struggling coming up with a new design as a replacement for the Cutlass Calais (which would eventually be renamed Achieva). Dave looked at my airbrush and asked me to try the design again on the Calais platform, and I came up with a red rendering of a revised proposal. When the rendering was finished, someone must have liked it, because they took it out of Olds One and hung it up in Olds Two. Dave North was the Studio Chief and Ed Welburn his assistant. I remember they started to model the car but were having some trouble capturing the feeling of the rendering. I was asked to help them by drawing a 3300 section to start the body side modeling. The front and rear profiles could be taken from the full sized rendering.

Achieva Sketch

Hide the Model

Well, there were several very talented sculptors in Olds One, and the car was starting to come together. So much so-- that Dave Holls decided to hide the model in the basement and finish it down there before somebody higher up would see it and want to change something before the original design statement could be presented. The model was finished and a fiberglass styling model was made to freeze the design statement. What made the design unique was it was a shouldered design where the upper sat on the lower instead of a monocoque which was trendy at the time.

Achieva Fiberglass Model, The Red Car. It was a 2-door on one side and a 4-door on the other.

Because I suppose the rendering was red and the fiberglass model was red, it became known as the red car. It was designed in 1986, but didn’t come out until 1992. The design affected the Olds 98 and 88 that were designed after the Acheiva, but came out sooner.

Studio photos showing the fiberglass model in the background, as development progresses productionizing the design.
Dave North and Ed Welburn standing in front of the rendering.
Side view of the car shows how closely the model profile resembles the original red rendering, except for the roofline.

Achieva Upper

The Achieva was built off of the same platform as the Buick Skylark and the Pontiac Grand Am. But the Achieva lost the upper wars, so the coupe has the Grand Am upper, and the sedan had the Buick upper. The sedan looks especially bad with the Buick roof.

A production 1992 Achieva SC.

Originally posted March 2009 on Dean's Garage, link at beginning of this article.