Design Notes: 1991 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight
The new 98 for ’91
Let’s take a look at some of the steps stylists took during the model’s transformation.
From introvert to attention getter
I remember when I was young, wondering about how odd it would be to speak of Oldsmobile’s 88 and 98 models in reference to their corresponding years.
“I drive a ’98 Ninety-Eight.” Or how about, “I drive a ’97 Ninety-Eight”? Well, the awkward phrase was never a problem because the Ninety-Eight model didn’t survive past 1996. What did seem odd, however, is the extroverted design Oldsmobile bestowed their top model with for its eleventh generation.
I personally thought that Oldsmobile’s tenth-generation (the 1985 through 1990) Ninety-Eight was the best looking of its sister C-cars, Buick’s Park Avenue and Cadillac’s De Ville/Fleetwood.
It’s not that I think the 1991 Ninety-Eight is ugly or even unattractive, I just think it wasn’t a stylistic improvement over the outgoing model and betrays an apparent behind-the-scenes priority of visual distinction over best design. Regardless, the 1991 model has some very interesting design cues.
It always starts on paper, well, maybe not anymore in this digital world but back in the 1980s, hand-drawn sketches were how things were envisioned. Take, for instance, this early sketch to the right.
I don’t have any dates for the images in this post but this is apparently one of the earliest proposals (apart from the wild red drawing, at the top of the post). This car contains many elements that made it through the vetting process, including the skirted rear wheel housings, tastefully beveled tail lights, the wrap-around headlight elements, and pseudo wing-windows on the front doors (incorporated in an effort to give the appearance of a wrap-around windscreen).
This rendering to the left appears more sculpted. While it includes somewhat familiar headlights and the pseudo wing-windows, the rear fenders are more tapered and emphasized by the exposed rear wheels. To me, the black car looks similar to the yet-to-be-released, first-generation Chrysler LHS.
Below is an early clay model. It shares several traits with the 1990 Cutlass Supreme sedan. For example, the slit-style, wrap-around headlights and the rear fender’s look of being nestled into the rear bumper.
The strong shoulder at the back of the rear fender, that is characteristic of the 1991 Ninety-Eight, can already be seen on this rendition.
A couple of curiosities. Notice by this point, the C-pillar is very upright compared to the drawings and the fake wing-window isn’t indicated in any way.