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      Car History: Car History Year 1997
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 13:56:08 UTC by Cars
      Cars Oldsmobile celebrated its centenary in '97 (the first American automobile manufacturer to do so) and thousands of vintage and classic Oldsmobile owners took their cars to Lansing, Michigan, to take part in the historic festivities in August. The week-long 100th birthday celebration was one of the largest automotive gatherings ever staged and, apart from all the cars, there was a whole host of commemorative merchandise on sale, plus a chance for a sneak look at some possible future models.

    Much more important than anniversaries, however, was Oldsmobile's fluctuating fortunes. Going into the 1980s, Oldsmobile were riding high in the charts and regularly grabbed the number three spot behind Ford and Chevrolet; annual production frequently topped one million units. Even as late as 1986, almost 1.2 million cars were rolling off the assembly lines, but then a catastrophic decline set in and ten years later only 363,000 new vehicles carried the Oldsmobile name. And when 250 Olds employees from the marketing and operations departments were transferred to the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit there was talk of Lansing losing its Oldsmobile factories altogether. Happily this didn't happen. Although current Oldsmobile models are produced at a number of locations in addition to the marque's hometown - in Ohio, Kansas and Georgia - the revival is underway. The credit for the turnaround must go to the ten year "Centennial Plan" worked out in 1995 under the direction of general manager John Rock. The plan was to establish a clear, positive image and identity for Olds, through a new generation of cars and a better buying and ownership experience. Part of the identity revolution came in the form of a brand new logo to replace the so-called "chicken track" Rocket badge. The new 1997 Cutlass formed part of the Centennial Plan strategy and replaced the ageing Ciera. Built on the GM "P90" front-wheel-drive platform, the Cutlass got its performance from the highly regarded 3100 V6 that delivered 160 horsepower. A couple of months later came the revamped Silhouette and the 1998 Intrigue mode! went on sale in the spring of '97 - things were looking up for the start of Oldsmobile's second century. No such problems for the folks over at Chrysler, besides which they were far too busy designing and producing fun machines like the Plymouth Prowler. If the Dodge Viper had been regarded as an outrageous project, then the Prowler was totally unbelievable. When the Prowler show car first appeared in 1993, nobody would have bet that a giant auto-maker like Chrysler would be willing to even consider putting the futuristic-looking street rod into production - let alone go ahead and do it. The story of the Prowler goes back to May 1990 and a brainstorming session at Chrysler's Pacifica Design, a small studio near San Diego, California. From that meeting, the proposal for a concept car which would combine retro styling with state-of-the-art technology quickly developed. The design team visited local hot rod shows in order to experience this automotive subculture at first hand and, in the summer of '91, work began on a full-sized glass-fiber model. Once the design was finalized, a fully operational car was put together and 9 introduced at the Detroit auto show in 1 January 1993. Reaction to the Prowler was fantastic. Judged the hit of the show by an enthusiastic automotive media, the response from the public was equally demonstrative and, within a very short space of time, Chrysler set up a study group to investigate the feasibility of manufacturing and selling the Prowler. Once a serious business plan had been worked out - which involved deciding the method of assembly and sourcing of components - the vehicle regulatory requirements had to be taken into account. It is one thing to build a single concept car for static display at shows, quite another to produce a car for use on the highway. Some of the elements of the Prowler were already in full production - the 3.5-liter, 24 valve V6 engine, for instance, came from Chrysler's full-size sedans - but many more had to be completely redeveloped. The wheelbase of the production Prowler was stretched by 1.5 inches compared to the original concept car and the body widened by three inches for engineering reasons. Practical modifications included the headlamps requiring a new design to make them street legal. The four-speed automatic transaxle was mounted in the rear to help even out the weight distribution but, in keeping with the hot rod theme, it used the AutoStick feature which let the driver shift gears without using a clutch, simply by tapping the gear lever. Some of the parts raided from other Chrysler models include the steering mechanism, front and rear springs and air conditioning and ventilation systems. The steering wheel was borrowed from the Jeep Grand Cherokee and even the interior door handles came from the Viper (which were turned upside down on the Prowler). The body was all aluminum (with steel reinforcements) and there was extensive use of aluminum, magnesium and other advanced lightweight materials throughout the Plymouth roadster. When word got out that Chrysler were serious about putting the Prowler on sale, the demand was overwhelming. Over 100,000 inquiries were received via telephone calls, letters and e-mails, with interest coming from every age and type of driver and not just the die-hard street rod enthusiast. The Prowler went into production in mid-1997 at the Conner Avenue assembly plant in Detroit, the same factory where the Dodge Viper was being built. Annual output was set for around 5,000 Prowlers and originally they were only available in purple, although yellow became available subsequently. Supply being so restricted, and with no possibility of production increasing, it is no wonder that Prowlers were soon changing hands in the open market for more than double the original $40,000 price. The retro styling theme was also in evidence at Jeep, with the new Wrangler -codenamed TJ - reverting to round headlamps. It gave the 4x4 a much more traditional look that was welcomed by aficionados. Despite its appearance, the Wrangler had completely revamped body panels (apart from the doors and tailgate) and the suspension was changed to coil springs. Capable of serious off-road work straight off the showroom floor, the Wrangler could also exceed 105mph on the freeway when equipped with the 4.0-liter in-line six cylinder unit. The other engine available was a 2.5-liter in-line four, and there was the choice of either five-speed overdrive manual or three-speed automatic transmissions. The three models in the Wrangler lineup were SE, Sport and Sahara. And while it may be something of a contradiction to talk about an aerodynamic Jeep, the new Wrangler did include a few ideas to cut down on wind noise and soft top flapping, with the windshield raked at an angle of four degrees. With Pontiac delving into their back catalog to revive the "Wide Track" and "Ram Air" designations on their Firebird and Grand Prix models, the arrival of the 173mph fifth-generation Corvette, and a limited edition 30th Anniversary Camaro Z28 SS from Chevrolet, things on the automotive front were looking pretty exciting in '97. Specification 1997 OLDSMOBILE INTRIGUE Engine V8 - All Aluminum Displacement 244 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.43 x 3.31 ins. Horsepower 250 Body styles 4 door sedan No. of seats 5 Weight (lbs) 3,967 Ibs Price $35,735 Produced 25,309 Specification 1997 PLYMOUTH PROWLER Engine V6 - All aluminum Displacement 215 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.78x3.19 ins. Horsepower 214 Body styles Roadster No. of seats 2 Weight (lbs) 2,800 Ibs Price $35,000 Produced 120 Specification 1997 DODGE VIPER Engine V10 - All Aluminum Displacement 488 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.00 x 3,88 ins. Horsepower 450 Body styles Roadster; Coupe No. of seats 2 Weight (lbs) 3,319 Ibs-3,383 Ibs Price $58,600 - $66,000 Produced c. 1,000 Specification 1997 CHEVROLET CORVETTE Engine V8 - All aluminum Displacement 346 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.90 x 3.62 ins. Horsepower 345 Body styles Coupe No. of seats 2 Weight (lbs) 3,229 Ibs Price $37,495 Produced 9.092
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