There's an old story about how the Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight got its name. We'll state up front that we don't know if it's true or not. But, it's a good one so we thought we'd share it as one of those "for whatever it's worth" tales. When Oldsmobile executives were making a decision about the company's new top of the line model for 1941, it had been commented that the new car would be as perfect as mankind could make it. Knowing that nothing mankind does is perfect, someone else commented, "Well, at least 98 percent perfect." And there you have it.
Over the years, the Ninety-Eight carried the torch as Oldsmobile's finest proudly. There were even times in its history where it truly challenged sister division Cadillac when it came to luxury features, prestige, and comfort. The first such occurrence was with the introduction of the Ninety-Eight Luxury Sedan in 1965. Available only as a four door pillared hardtop, the door glass wasn't framed but there was a "B" post between the front and rear glass. The Luxury Sedan's most noteworthy feature were the rear seat accommodations. Included were rear seat assist handles, map cases, illuminated vanity with storage for tissues, center fold-down arm rest, luxurious cloth upholstery, and more.
With each new body style, the Ninety-Eight took on more of an aura of class and distinction. In 1972, Oldsmobile celebrated its 75th Anniversary with a special Limited Edition Ninety-Eight, the Regency. Available only as a four door hardtop model, the Regency featured a special interior best compared to fine furniture. The pillowed cushions and seat backs were upholstered in limousine-quality velour, and was available in Black or Covert Gold. Embroidery appeared on the front and rear center arm rests, and zippered pouches were located on the front seat backs. Another elegant touch was the electric timepiece mounted on the instrument panel. Its golden-colored facing was specially designed by Tiffany's, and bore the Tiffany name upon it.
The exterior of the Regency was finished in a special Tiffany Gold Metallic paint, that matched the face of the interior timepiece. Regency script appeared on the roof sail panels, and a vinyl roof was provided as part of the special package, available in black, white, or Covert Gold.
Every Regency owner received a registered gift from Tiffany's: a sterling silver key ring with special Regency keys. Each key ring was registered at Tiffany's, and if ever lost, could be dropped in any mail box and returned postage paid to Tiffany's, which would in turn forward them to the owner of record in its registry. The Regency was so popular, it became a regular model for the 1973 model year. A restyle for 1975 gave the Ninety-Eight rectangular headlamps, rear quarter sail windows, and an elegant new look that easily could have passed for a Cadillac, and without question more than a few of Cadillac's "most loyal owners in the industry" drove new Oldsmobiles home during this time.
The Ninety-Eight was down sized with the rest of the full size GM line for 1977, but remained a popular model. A new Regency Brougham trim option was introduced in 1982 and provided even more luxurious amenities. For 1985, the Ninety-Eight was down sized again and became a front wheel drive car. For 1987, a new Touring Sedan was introduced mid-year to compete with the luxury imports. The Touring Sedan featured front bucket seats with 6-way power adjustment, plus power headrests, Lumbar support, and more. Between the seats was a console with floor shift. Perforated leather covered the seats and genuine wood adorned the instrument panel and console. The Touring Sedan featured Oldsmobile's FE3 suspension, giving it a very firm ride and superb handling characteristics for an American luxury sedan.
Just in time for its 50th anniversary, a redesign for 1991 made the car look heavy and dated, and Oldsmobile's desire to promote its new 1995 Aurora model as the top of the line offering ended the Ninety-Eight's run as Oldsmobile's flagship model after 1996. And thus began the slide of Oldsmobile into obscurity.
General Motors would later discontinue Oldsmobile, and the last car to bear the Oldsmobile name, an Alero, would roll off the line in 2004, closing the history books on Oldsmobile Division and the Ninety-Eight. Each car bearing the Ninety-Eight name was among the finest money could buy at the time, and at times truly challenged models priced much higher. Thanks, Oldsmobile, you were a fine ride, and owning a Ninety-Eight was always a source of pride for its owners.
Above: 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency parked in front of Tiffany & Co.
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