Farewell To The First New Car I Ever Purchased

The 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue

Last night I said goodbye to the first new car I ever bought, a 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue GL sedan. Almost exactly twelve years ago my then fiancé (now wife) and I went shopping to replace her well-used Ford Bronco and wound up with this Olds, which served as her daily driver until it was replaced last week.

So much has changed since the Olds came into the family. It’s not surprising that the dealership from which we bought the car, Bellevue Cadillac Oldsmobile, is no longer in business. What I didn’t expect back then was that the Oldsmobile brand wouldn’t last either. GM made no secrets of the fact that the Intrigue was going to lead Oldsmobile’s fight to recapture market share from imports like Toyota, Honda, and even more upscale Acura and Lexus. Thanks to GM’s strategic ADD and need for instant gratification, though, this plan was dead even before the Civic-targeted Alero and Lexus ES-level Aurora hit the market. And though I almost cringe to say this…when the old white boys club of GM named a woman as the president of the Oldsmobile division, just about everyone knew entire brand was dead-car-walking.

In my humble opinion, the Intrigue always struck me as a mixed bag. I wrote in a 1999 owner’s report published by Edmunds that I felt the Intrigue was one of the best-looking cars to come out of GM in years — muscular without resorting to tacky styling gimmicks and add-ons to which GM was prone. The tried-and-true pushrod 3.8L V6 engine might have only put out 195 horses, but I found it torquey enough to push the car from naught-to-sixty in just over seven seconds. While the steering’s heavy feel was obviously by design to trick drivers into thinking the car was sporty, I enjoyed its very direct, not too numb, and strong on-center nature. Given the factory optional “Autobahn Package”, which added uprated 16-inch tires and a larger stabilizer bar, handling proved great for a front-driver.

It didn’t take long for me to be struck by the ghastly build quality. I noted in the Edmunds report that my wife’s car had experienced many of the same foibles as their long-term tester, including sagging kick panels, several NVH sins and interior panel gaps that were as uneven as rural highway pavement. If memory serves, I wrote something to the extent of “my wife and I plan to drive the wheels off this car, but I’m concerned that will happen sooner rather than later.”

To be quite honest, I’m damn surprised that twelve years later the car still runs. Chalk much of it up to the fact that when I signed the title last night to its new owners, it only had 80,461 miles on the odometer. Thanks to the low miles and regular servicing, the car’s only major break-down was due to a simple leaking OEM battery at less than two years old. Other than that the issues have been limited to common GM issues: replacing the leaking plastic intake manifold, swapping out three out of four window regulators after they snapped, changing the bad vent blend door, and turning or fitting new front rotors at double the rate of any other vehicle we have ever owned.

At the end of the day, the Intrigue was a good and very reliable car that could have been the basis of a truly great car given some investment on GM’s part in engineering out some of the rough edges. Maybe even with those extra hours and bucks in development, Camry might have still required fewer hours to fix failed parts. A Maxima would have been more fun to drive. An Accord would certainly have brought more money, although when I advertised the Intrigue for $2500 on Craigslist, I was surprised when it took less than five hours for someone to come and buy this Jade Green sedan with only 80,461 miles.

I can’t say that I’m sad to see it go, but maybe that’s just because looking at the Intrigue through the backup camera from the heated/ventilated seats of my wife’s new Hyundai Genesis makes it look like an outdated appliance. It worked…actually far longer than I expected, but like so many American cars of the day, the sum of its cheaply-engineered parts-bin components failed to establish a true emotional connection with even a nostalgic gearhead like me.

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