Oldsmobile Almost Had Its Own Tuning Division to Make Hot Versions of Even the Silhouette Minivan
Only three high-performance Silhouettes were built before the idea of Oldsmobile Special Vehicles faded into obscurity, and one of them is for sale.
Oldsmobile was struggling for relevancy in its last years, having spent too much time as General Motors' invisible badge-engineered middle child, constantly being shouted over by the likes of Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and Pontiac. Yet it was also the heyday of tuner culture, and somehow, someone at Oldsmobile envisioned an in-house tuning arm as Olds' path to fast (and furious) salvation.
These tuner specials would be labeled OSV, which stood for Oldsmobile Special Vehicle, according to Hagerty. Oldsmobile wanted to put out a feeler for OSV before betting too much on Sport Compact Car-style glory, so they built a round of custom cars for the 1999 SEMA show. There, Oldsmobile showed off OSV concept versions of the Alero compact coupe, the Intrigue midsize sedan and best of all, the Silhouette minivan.
The Silhouette OSV was a sharp-looking van with a custom body kit and Redfire Metallic paint, complete with a small sea of slightly darker, barely noticeable Oldsmobile logos painted into the side. For a tuner-era show car, they kept it pretty subtle. Inside are three rows of Recaro bucket seats—six buckets in total. Massive 13-inch Brembo disc brakes went on with 19-inch custom RH Evolution C6 wheels to fit around them. It also featured Koni struts and springs, per the 2009 Barrett-Jackson listing for another Silhouette OSV.
Unfortunately, as Hagerty notes, it didn't get a supercharger like the Alero OSV or Intrigue OSV, but its 3.4-liter V6 engine did gain an extra 25 horsepower from a louder, more open Borla exhaust and a cold-air intake. All in all, it was good for a respectable but not SEMA-baiting 210 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, according to Barrett-Jackson. It also kept its grandma-friendly four-speed automatic transmission and a fairly standard interior besides the buckets, but to be honest, we're lucky that Oldsmobile even tried an idea this wild in the first place.
However, the Silhouette itself was emblematic of Oldsmobile's plight. It was just a bit too much like the Pontiac Montana and Chevrolet Venture minivans that GM badge-engineered alongside the Silhouette. The OSV made a valiant effort at standing out, but at the end of the day, it still looks a bit too much like a Montana with slightly different body cladding.
The OSV version is a delightfully weird piece of GM history, and best of all, you can buy one right now. One of the few 1999 Silhouette OSVs ever built is for sale now in British Columbia. It's listed here on AutoTrader.ca for $6,631 U.S. ($8,588 Canadian). It has $114,000 miles on the odometer, but this show van still shines. There's even a first-place plaque from the Oldsmobile Nationals show included in the for-sale album. The ad claims that the Silhouette OSV is one of only three ever built.
Sadly, OSV never fleshed out into a real tuner arm. The idea didn't get enough traction—and neither did late-nineties Oldsmobile. General Motors announced that it would be shutting down Oldsmobile the next year, in 2000. The marque finally ceased to be in 2004.
It's easy to see why the OSV idea failed, though. I love a good classic racing Oldsmobile or Rocket V8 as much as any weird car fan, but Oldsmobile's attempt to differentiate itself from GM's myriad other brands using a performance division of all things just didn't work. Pontiac was GM's performance-focused brand at the time, and tuner Oldsmobiles would have been, what, Pontiac Lite?
Oldsmobiles were never really considered part of the tuner scene, either, such that OSV came off as one big "hello, fellow kids" long before that meme even existed.
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