Adventures In Badge Engineering: Mercury and Oldsmobile SUVs!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

As Detroit was skipping a decade or two of car R&D by concentrating on packing increasing numbers of 128-ouncer-ready cup holders and faux-wood trim into big trucks, it became necessary to make it clear to the targeted buyer demographics that these trucks really weren’t, you know, trucks. In fact, they were more about protection from street crime and potholes than anything else, which is where slapping Mercury badges on the Explorer and Oldsmobile badges on the Blazer came in.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Signal11 Signal11 on Mar 21, 2011

    You know, the only person I knew who drove a Bravada was also the one guy who could afford to drive anything he wanted. One of my best buddies back in college was a kid who came from real money. Really real money. Once, we were goofing off once in Macau and his father came to visit but had to rush back to the office Hong Kong office. Had a helicopter pick us up and immigration and customs met us on the roof of his building when we landed. Back in the states, he drove a Bravada. Other car: F-150. Son drove an Explorer with crank windows. Whenever I see a Bravada, I think of my buddy's father, who would drive miles out of his way to go to the cheaper gas station.

    • Geozinger Geozinger on Mar 21, 2011

      I worked for a very wealthy man back in the 1980's. He could buy any car he wanted, but he bought a loaded Chevy Impala every three years. When they quit making the two door coupes, he switched to the sedans. It's been often noted that Sam Walton (of Wal-Mart) drove an older pickup truck. I guess that's how the wealthy stay that way? And here, I thought I was being cheap...

  • Bryce Chessum Bryce Chessum on Mar 21, 2011

    Nobody with an IQ bigger than their shoe size would buy this crap

  • Doctor olds Doctor olds on Mar 24, 2011

    I remember a Bravada of this generation in the "experimental assembly" area in Lansing. By that time it was J,L, & N city and Olds really did not have engineering control anymore, so it was an unusual sight. They were looking at a 5.7L TPI Corvette engine in one. They wanted to give the Olds something special to distinguish it, but the rework was too much for the business case to work out. Olds sold so few Bravadas it was dropped for a year or so, if my memory serves. I love the Olds 'face' on the next generation, '96-7. That was the story of life for Olds at the time, there was no money to do much more than badge engineer low volume Bravada. GM actually was on the verge of bankruptcy in '92. The last Bravada was quite a nice vehicle and ironically, the Line 6 engine a product of the former Olds engine team who had evolved into the Line Engine Team in Lansing. Olds was even finally given a first, with the new '02 Bravada out months before TrailBlazer and Envoy. The excitement was short lived when the phase out of Olds was announced shortly thereafter. A good friend, third generation Olds dealer heard the news on the radio while out for breakfast with his wife. I remember her asking how GM could kill Olds just after they got the great new Bravada. Ron Zarrella is the answer.

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    • Doctor olds Doctor olds on Mar 25, 2011

      @ Educator Dan- I don't know about the skunkworks, but it would not surprise me. The GMC Syclone drivetrain handles that much, but I don't know if it is AWD or 4WD. I just stumbled on a YouTube Video of one on the strip a few minutes ago. GM had some big challenges with the higher HP engines developed in the late '80's. I recall a graph depicting "Shift Energy" with axes of torque and RPM. The upcoming Northstar V8 and others, including the HO Quad4 with 7,000 rpm shift point were outside the capability of any of the existing transmissions in the GM lineup. We had to design shift torque reduction algorithms in engine controls to protect them. @Geozinger-I recall those Cavaliers being built in Lansing I can't remember why, but more volume was needed than other plants could build. If seem to remember finding it odd that the Tonawanda, NY sourced 2.2L was used, rather than the Lansing Delta Township sourced 2.4L Twin Cam(Quad 4). The 2.2L was not used in any other Lansing product. Please correct me if your Lansing Cavalier is not a 2.2L!

  • Doctor olds Doctor olds on Mar 25, 2011

    Signal11- Reminds me of a trip to Nantucket Island a number of years ago with a wealthy friend. His even wealthier friend there had a new '05 GMC Envoy he kept on the island. They needed 4wd occasionally for the sand when going to the best beach for surf casting. I remarked that it was good to see an American brand vehicle. He replied that he chose it because it was the best one on the market! They had expensive Mercedes sedans, too, and could afford whatever they wanted.