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Oldsmobile Silhouette
97-00 Oldsmobile Silhouette
Manufacturer General Motors
Production August 1, 1989–March 31, 2004
Successor Buick Terraza
Platform U-body

The Oldsmobile Silhouette and its siblings, the Pontiac Trans Sport (later the Montana) and Chevrolet Lumina APV (later the Venture), were a trio of minivans that débuted in late 1989 as 1990 models. Upon the demise of the Oldsmobile division in 2004, it was replaced by the newly designed Buick Terraza the following year, in 2005.

The first generation Silhouette was prominently featured in the 1995 film Get Shorty where it was repeatedly referred to as "The Cadillac of minivans". GM's attempt of releasing their first FWD minivans in 1990 pursued the company to create one of the very-first luxury minivans, however, at the same time, Chrysler released the Town & Country minivan.

BackgroundEdit

General Motors first attempt at producing a minivan to compete with the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, the rear wheel drive, truck-based Chevrolet Astro and its twin, the GMC Safari failed to make a noticeable dent in Chrysler's near monopoly of the minivan market in the 1980s, so this second attempt was made. The Oldsmobile Silhouette and its sibling models, while more successful than the Astro/Safari duo in terms of market share, had significant perceived flaws, primarily centered around its unconventional styling that ultimately limited its appeal and sales.

Original conceptEdit

First shown to the public in 1986, the Pontiac Trans Sport concept car was well received. It featured futuristic styling, individually removable bucket seats with built-in stereo speakers, a gull-wing rear passenger door and extensive use of glass including a glass-paneled roof as well as many other "dream car" features.

Based on the warm reception the concept vehicle received, the Pontiac Trans Sport was approved for production, but as is often the case, the styling and features showcased on the concept did not make the translation to the mass-produced edition.The gullwing door was deemed too expensive to produce and would probably have impacted overhead doors in suburban garages. The glass roof was too heavy and expensive, so the resultant production vehicle made-do with high-gloss black painted panels for the roof to suggest the glass canopy of the concept.

Chevrolet and Oldsmobile were also given production vehicles based on the Trans Sport to cover the widest range of customers. It was intended that the Lumina APV would be the value-priced version, The Trans Sport would net the more "sport & style" oriented buyers, and the Silhouette would be the minivan for the premium, luxury market.

First generation (1990–1996)Edit

First generation
1st Oldsmobile Silhouette
Production 1990–1996
Assembly Tarrytown, New York, United States
Body style(s) 3-door minivan
Layout FF layout
Engine(s) 3.1 L V6
3.4 L V6
3.8 L V6
Transmission(s) 3-speed 4T60-E automatic
4-speed 4T60-E automatic
Wheelbase 109.8 in (2789 mm)
Length 1990–93: 194.2 in (4933 mm)
1994–96: 194.7 in (4945 mm)
Width 1990–93: 73.9 in (1877 mm)
Height 1990–91: 65.2 in (1656 mm)
1992–96: 65.7 in (1669 mm)
Curb weight 3,599 lb (1,632 kg)—3,899 lb (1,769 kg)
Related Pontiac Trans Sport
Chevrolet Lumina APV

The very first 1990 Oldsmobile Silhouette rolled off the assembly line on August 1, 1989. Assembled in General Motors' now-shuttered Tarrytown, New York assembly facility, these U platform vans consisted of a galvanized steel space frame wrapped in composite plastic body panels that were impervious to rust and minor dents and dings, a manufacturing technique developed on the Pontiac Fiero and also used extensively on General Motors' Saturn line of vehicles.

The Silhouette was available with seating for seven, with the five lightweight (34 lb (15 kg)) rear seats being individually reconfigurable and removable. In 1994 built-in child seats were added to the option list, which provided the ability to switch two of the rear seats between adult and child seating with the pull of a seat-mounted tab.

Included with the level ride package, which utilized a compressor and air-pressurized rear shock absorbers to maintain vehicle height regardless of load, was a control panel and air hose kit that allowed the vehicle to be used to inflate tires, air mattresses, sporting equipment and such.

In 1994, a remote-controlled power sliding door feature was added, a General Motors innovation.

For the 1994 and 1995 model years, traction control was available with the 3800 engine option.

The first generation Silhouette was not available in Canada.

EnginesEdit

  • 1990–1995 LG6 3.1 (191 cu in (3.1 L)) V6
  • 1992–1995 3800 (231 cu in (3.8 L)) V6 (optional)
  • 1996 LA1 3400 (207 cu in (3.4 L)) V6

Modest sales successEdit

The design of these minivans was controversial. At the time that the Oldsmobile Silhouette and its siblings were conceived, no one had tried to market a stylish or sporty minivan, and GM felt that this represented a potentially large market segment. They styled these minivans to be lower and sleeker than the competing brands. The extremely large, long and sloped windshield and the resultant long distance to the base of the windshield when sitting in the drivers seat made for a disconcerting driving experience until a person could adjust to the "different" proportions. Automotive magazines christened the new minivans "dustbusters" after a household appliance with a similar profile.

The first engine in these vans was a meager 3.1 L V6, that produced only 120 hp (89 kW), which was not up to the task of hauling these fairly heavy vehicles.

In 1992, the Silhouette and its siblings received the 170 hp (127 kW) 3.8 L 3800 V6 as an option, which provided better torque and acceleration, making them the most powerful as well as best handling minivans then in production.

Europe, which had grown accustomed to sleek minivans thanks to the Renault Espace, did not object to the futuristic styling, and sales were respectable, so the decision was made to retain the original styling on the Euro-version which from the 1994 model year onwards was an Oldsmobile Silhouette, transformed into a Pontiac Trans Sport by the addition of Pontiac badging and wheels. This decision by GM is the primary reason the Silhouette did not receive the nose-shortening restyle of its stablemates. Sales in Europe were good (for an American import), but did not represent enough volume to make a fourth, distinct model economically feasible.

Production of first generation Silhouettes (and Lumina APVs & Trans Sports) ended in 1996, at which time the Tarrytown, NY plant which produced them and which had been in operation since 1900, was shuttered and scheduled for demolition. The final 1996 Oldsmobile Silhouette rolled off the assembly line on May 17, 1996.[citation (source) needed]

Year to year changesEdit

1st-Oldsmobile-Silhouette

1990–1992 Oldsmobile Silhouette

  • 1990 - All new model- The Silhouette in keeping with its positioning as GM's luxury minivan offering is available with optional leather seating, a feature not available on its platform mates and available only on the Chrysler Town and Country among competing manufacturer's models.
  • 1991 - Customer complaints regarding glare reflected on the interior of the windshield from the massive expanse of dash board lead to the addition of black carpeting in lieu of the more reflective plastic used in the previous year.
  • 1992
    • Newly available for 1992 was GM's 3800 V6 engine coupled with a Hydra-Matic 4T60-E 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission.
    • The cowl-mounted fixed radio antenna was eliminated, and an integrated roof antenna was installed, sandwiched between the roof and the headliner.
    • Side view mirrors were changed to the folding type, and were enlarged to provide better rear visibility.
    • Brakes were enlarged and anti-lock brakes (ABS) were added as standard equipment.
    • A pop-up sunroof was added to the options list.
    • Steering wheel-mounted controls for the stereo system were added as an option.
93-96 Oldsmobile Silhouette

1993–1996 Oldsmobile Silhouette

  • 1993
    • The Silhouette's exterior is facelifted, sporting wrap-around turnsignal/parking lamps in front, along with standard foglamps.
    • Tail lights' design is changed from a grid to a solid red color with black "dissolves" around the edges, a style that had been used exclusively on the Pontiac Trans Sport previously.
    • A remote controlled power sliding side door was announced for 1993, but failed to actually make it into production.
    • A redesigned center console was added this year with revamped, larger climate controls, a large storage cubby and a large storage bin at its base.
  • 1994
    • In an effort to lessen the perceived distance to the base of the windshield, a ridge was added to the interior dash finishing panel.
    • A remote-controlled power sliding door became available as an option.
    • Built-in child seats for the second row became available as an option.
    • A traction control system became available as an option.
    • Rear deep-tinted windows now featured a darker tint than previously used.
    • A driver's side airbag became standard equipment.
    • A roof rack became standard on all Silhouettes and their subsequent model years, but remained optional on the Chevrolet and Pontiac.
  • 1995
    • Automatic power door locks that engaged/disengaged with the transmission shifting into or out of "park" added as a standard feature of the power door lock option package.
  • 1996
    • Final year of production. Replaced in 1997 by an all-new design carrying the same name.
    • Both 3.1 and 3.8 L V6 engines were dropped, the 3.4 L 3400 V6 engine became the only engine available.
    • Traction control dropped as an option.

Second generation (1997–2004)Edit

Second generation
2001-2004 Oldsmobile Silhouette
Production 1996–2004
Assembly Doraville, Georgia, United States
Body style(s) 3-door minivan
4-door minivan
Layout Front-engine, front-wheel drive / Four-wheel drive
Engine(s) 3.4 L V6
Transmission(s) 4-speed 4T65-E automatic
Wheelbase SWB: 112.0 in (2845 mm)
LWB: 120.0 in (3048 mm)
Length SWB: 187.4 in (4760 mm)
LWB: 201.4 in (5116 mm)
Width 72.2 in (1834 mm)
Height SWB: 67.4 in (1712 mm)
LWB: 68.1 in (1730 mm)
Curb weight 3,710 lb (1,680 kg)—3,832 lb (1,738 kg)
Related Pontiac Trans Sport
Chevrolet Venture
Pontiac Montana
Buick GL8
Opel Sintra
Vauxhall Sintra
Pontiac Aztek
Buick Rendezvous
Buick Terraza

The redesigned 1997 Silhouette was built in Doraville, Georgia. The first 1997 Silhouette rolled off the assembly line on August 6, 1996. Canadian sales began as a 1998 model. Unlike the Venture and Trans Sport/Montana, the roof rack was standard on all Silhouettes. The base model (only offered for 1997) was the only model to offer short-wheelbase and a driver side sliding door being only optional, when all the other trim levels of the Silhouette were in long-wheelbase and offered a standard driver side sliding door.

Having failed twice to capture a significant portion of the domestic minivan market from Chrysler, General Motors brought out an entirely new U platform series of minivans, theoretically based on the lessons learned from its previous mis-steps. Still stinging from the criticism of the "dustbuster" minivans, the new Silhouette would be completely conventional in all respects. The vehicle would be of steel unibody construction, and styling would be as conservative as possible. The previous generation was a little too large for comfortably navigating European streets, so this new range of models would be narrower and slightly smaller than was the norm for the United States in order to produce a single range of minivans that GM hoped would fill the needs of both the North American and European markets.

During the development of this generation of the U-body minivan, General Motors extensively benchmarked the then current Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager and in the case of the Silhouette in particular, the Chrysler Town and Country. The resultant vehicles bore an uncanny resemblance to the immensely successful trio of Chrysler minivans, which during this era accounted for over 50% of domestic minivan sales. Unfortunately for GM, the Chrysler vehicles they were using as their yardstick were replaced in 1996 by a completely new generation of minivans from Chrysler, which (somewhat ironically for GM) featured a significantly sleeker and more stylish design than their predecessors. The Chrysler minivans also included a host of innovative features and clever packaging ideas that were not available on any other minivan on the market. General Motors ended up with a nice enough vehicle in the end, but one that was positioned to compete against a vehicle that had already been succeeded.

Two different wheelbase lengths were offered as well as dual sliding doors. Silhouettes, in keeping with their luxury positioning, offered many features as standard that were optional on competing makes and on its platform mates. In 1998, it became one of the first vehicles on the market to offer a VCR with overhead retractable LCD screen for back seat viewing, which has since become a "must-have" option for families with children. For 2001, the Silhouette received a minor facelift that expanded the grille openings, and made them all-chrome.

Trim levelsEdit

  • base - 1997
  • GL - 1997–2004
  • GLS - 1997–2004
  • GS - 1998–1999
  • Premiere - 1998–2004

EngineEdit

3.4 L LA1 3400 (207 cu in (3.4 L)) V6

Safety criticismEdit

1997 Pontiac Trans Sport SE IIHS

The 1997 Pontiac Trans Sport crash-tested by the IIHS

A crash test video of the 1997 Trans Sport/Montana (sister van of the Silhouette) has received some criticism due to extreme damage to the vehicle in the 40 mph (64 km/h) crash test. The minivan received a "Poor" rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Some comments made by the IIHS after the first test in 1997 were:

  • Major Collapse of the occupant compartment left little survival space for the driver.
  • Extreme steering wheel movement snapped the dummy's head backward.
  • The unnatural position of the dummy's left foot indicates that an occupant's left leg would have been seriously injured in a real-world crash of this severity.
  • The forces on the left lower leg were so high that the dummy's metal foot broke off at the ankle.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the van 4 stars for driver protection and 3 stars for passenger protection in the 35 mph (56 km/h) frontal impact test. In the side impact test, it received 5 stars for front passenger protection, and 5 stars rear passenger protection.

However, the safety issues of the Montana were addressed with the newer Montana SV6, which earned the highest rating of "Good" given by the Insurance Institute in the frontal offset crash test.

Mixed sales successEdit

The Silhouette and its platform mates achieved slightly better sales than their avant-garde predecessors, but also failed to capture a significant share of the market. The Silhouette was a close competitor in many of the categories deemed of importance, but was a winner in no categories, the minivan market had become significantly more crowded with competing products that proved to be more desirable and throughout its production it was widely considered a second-tier competitor, certainly competent but not a stand-out in any category.

The Silhouette remained in production until the 2004 model year with minimal changes. The Oldsmobile division of General Motors was shut down and no Oldsmobiles were produced after the 2004 model year. The final Oldsmobile Silhouette rolled off the assembly line on March 31, 2004.

The spiritual successor to the Oldsmobile Silhouette within the General Motors lineup is the Buick Terraza (2005-2007), which was built on an updated version of the U platform and occupied the luxury minivan slot previously occupied by the Silhouette. Due to poor sales of all the third-generation GM minivans, GM decided to exit the minivan market all together. The Buick Terraza and Saturn Relay ended production after the 2007 model year and the Chevrolet Uplander ended production in the United States after the 2008 model year. However, production of the Uplander continued on for one more year (along with the Pontiac Montana SV6) in Mexico and Canada due to slightly better sales in those countries. Had the Oldsmobile division not been discontinued it would be likely that the Silhouette would have been kept for the third generation of the GM minivans.

ReferencesEdit

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