1990 Oldsmobile Expression conceptLeaving an impression

Relative to the brand’s overall lifespan, you could say it happened over night… that is, the Oldmansmobile complex. Apart from the standouts Toronado and Cutlass Supreme, Oldsmobile’s 1990 lineup remained relatively traditional. But, after generations of symmetrical lines and tight bevels, they’d developed a new attitude which was conveyed in their expression. Pun intended.

Since an expression represents one’s thoughts and feelings, it’s a fitting name for a concept from an introverted brand that was on the verge of a makeover.

I am actually quite fond of the formal symmetry in Oldsmobile’s 1980s designs, however, the industry was moving on to rounder things. Moreover, apart from blips on the radar, the Rocket division had swung pretty far toward the leisurely end of the product spectrum. Consequently, when GM decided to slingshot from near cloning their brands to hyper-characterizing them, Oldsmobile made a clean transition.

The Expression concept foreshadowed dramatically new vehicles on the verge of release but did more than point to styling cues. It suggested a restraint and finesse their future products would generally convey.

The family… fastback, way back

Looking at the Expression’s profile, you probably think “station wagon.” Right?

1990 Oldsmobile Expression concept

Wrong. It might be time for an eye examination because what you’re looking at is not a wagon. At least, according to those who developed it.

For its January 3, 1990 introduction, in Detroit, Oldsmobile’s press release heralded their “sport sedan concept car.” Beyond that, then-assistant chief designer of Advanced 3 studio, Bud Chandler, advised, “You can’t call this car a wagon.” Though that assessment strains credulity, he explained, “It has all the comfort and storage attributes of a wagon, but it’s styled to be an expressive and uniquely-designed family sport sedan.” Got it? Sport sedan.

Dennis Burke, then-former chief designer of Advanced 3 studio and project overseer, was a bit more pragmatic, saying Expression had “the sleek styling of tomorrow’s sport sedans, but also features a host of convenience items normally associated with a more conservative station wagon.” There’s that phrase again: sport sedan.

In fact, apart from brief mention of wagon-like capabilities, the press release stuck methodically to the sport sedan label. If you’re unfamiliar with these times and why station wagons were considered toxic, cross reference “minivan” and “SUV.”

Designing the Expression

At the time, Oldsmobile’s General Manager, J. Michael Losh, said “We don’t like to design concept cars just as a frivolous exercise, but we want them to truly represent the future direction of Oldsmobile.” Usually that would be chocked up to puffery but, in hindsight, he wasn’t kidding. Subsequent Oldsmobiles indeed bore influence from this concept. Losh described a vision that was permeating the entire product line, it was referred to as “New Generation.”

Below, is the Expression’s original sketch, by Tom Peloquin of Advanced 3 studio.

1990 Oldsmobile Expression concept original sketch

Peloquin’s original vision was strong enough to carry through largely unchanged to the finished concept. On that topic, Chandler had commented, “Tom has an amazing flair for this kind of drawing and the fact that the actual car is so close to his original concept points to his talents.”

The following two sketches were labeled “early image sketches” and appear to be refinements of Peloquin’s original.

1990 Oldsmobile Expression concept early sketch

This rendition, above, explored the limits of feasibility with exaggerated wheels and a singular arch starting at the nose and reaching to the tail, broken only by the roof-mounted spoiler.
1990 Oldsmobile Expression concept early sketch

This next one seems to have better distilled Peloquin’s original intent. It also seems less fussy, shifting the detailing from the ’80s to the ’90s.

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