By on July 8, 2015

00 - 2003 Oldsmobile Aurora Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

Here at Down On the Junkyard HQ, we’re all about American automotive history. We’ve seen one of the last of the GM J-bodies, evidence of how Ronald Reagan saved Ford from recall-induced bankruptcy, and Shelby-ized French Chryslers. Today we’ll be looking at one of the many cars that didn’t save Oldsmobile, a final-year-of-production Olds Aurora that I spotted last week in a Denver-area yard.
05 - 2003 Oldsmobile Aurora Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

This was one of three Auroras in the same yard, and I chose it because it was sold at a time when Olds shoppers knew that the marque was doomed. You could get a V6 Aurora in 2001 and 2002, but the ’03s all had the Northstar-based 4.0-liter V8 engine.

03 - 2003 Oldsmobile Aurora Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

The guys from Car and Driver entered an Aurora in the first-ever 24 Hours of LeMons race, and “won” the People’s Curse award for their trouble.

08 - 2003 Oldsmobile Aurora Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

This one looked pretty clean but had been rear-ended and wasn’t worth fixing. Now it will donate parts to nicer second-gen Auroras. The case can be made that Oldsmobile is the most important marque in American music, but that didn’t stop GM from swinging the axe after 106 years.


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73 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 2003 Oldsmobile Aurora...”


  • avatar
    redliner

    Ah the Aurora… The original four door coup, which turned into a the less original four door plush-mobile in the second generation.

  • avatar
    Sam Hell Jr

    Always thought these looked cool for reasons I can’t quite pin down. One of those cars you can pick out in the dark just by its lights. Though I’m told the real gem of the fin de siecle Oldsmobiles was the Eighty-Eight.

    Either the Aurora got a nicer grade of leather or somebody spent a lot on conditioner for this car. The 90s GM leather I remember looked like a map of Norway after a couple of years.

  • avatar
    banerjba

    It was a very decent car and very expensive in Canada. I actually rode in a Pittsburgh cab that was a first year gen 1 Aurora – I think GM gave them one to test for durability. Cabbie said the car was excellent quality and very good to drive. I can attest to the good ride. The second gen version was even better looking. Not sure why GM bothered with these – they knew in the 1990s that Olds was dead.

  • avatar
    swester

    Ah, yes, the sort of car that would send chills down your spine when it was the only choice left in the full-size lineup at the airport car rental lot.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Sort of tried to be ’66 Toronado Part deux, it just did not quite make it.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    There’s a Saab 9-5 deja-vu in that dash. The interior doesn’t look bad at all.

    The rear end of the first gen was far more distinctive.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I was always turned off by the “unique interior” filled with Saab bits.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Would you prefer them in a Saab?

        I never understood the big lower split-grilles, though I won’t deny they were ahead of their time.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Yes I would! I don’t want my super-American Olds looking all Saab-y inside. I was never that pleased with Saab interiors anyway, save for the seat design and headrests. The rest of the stuff in there was forgettable.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        I cannot spot Saab bits in that dash. However, the overall shape, layout and vents location remind me what I see in the 9-5, and hence my comment.

        Holden did use some Saab bits in their interiors (maybe just 2). The cup holders on the VY and VZ Commodore are the fold downs from the 9-5.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          That’s fair enough. Upon looking piece-to-piece, I don’t see any either. Very similar shape!

          http://static.cargurus.com/images/site/2008/07/22/23/21/2002_saab_9-5_aero-pic-40641.jpeg

          Also, I never liked in Saabs how the “panels” of buttons were very much added on to the dash, and in a different color. That looks very downmarket to me.

          In wood tone, it’s even more egregious. This is a hot mess.
          http://saabworld.net/attachments/f9/9459d1364819173-show-your-saab-9-5-dash-saab-9-5-light-walnut-dash.jpg

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    When it worked, that car was a thing of beauty. Visibility was surprisingly good. The seats were very comfortable – I think they pulled them out of the Cadillac Deville. But – it’s an Aurora – it’s all about power and putting it down. Everyone had to try the I-69/I-75 interchange with the hammer down – from the time the guy at Victor George showed us how to do it on a test drive (it had the first generation of the nannies). The Northstar V8 rumbled and ran …. until it stopped. Every single thing possible went wrong with my parents’ Aurora: Lost a cylinder, manifold, door leaks, broken automatic chairs, broken rear window seal, bad fuel injectors – all in 30,000 miles. It’s like they hired Junior Johnson to build it: 500 miles of man-meets-machine joy then a complete breakdown.

    Still, through the soft-focused lense of memory, I’m always going to love that Oldsmobile.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      You’re talking to a guy with fond memories of his dad’s 1992 (?) Cutlass and its futuristic digital gauges.

      But yeah, that Northstar … Was there a less reliable mainstream American engine in the 90s? The 2.7L Chrysler V6?

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Wow, that was one clean Aurora prior to the crash. What a pity…

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Is all that plastic in the interior recyclable? China could make a lot of Zoomer Zuppies out of that.

  • avatar
    WhiskeyRiver

    I drove one of these a few years ago. A local car dealer had a nice 4 yr old well kept 60k example on his lot and my daughter was needing an affordable car. The dealer agreed to let me take it to my personal mechanic 12 miles away for a pre-purchase inspection.

    My first impression of the car was that it had a really nice interior. The drivers seat wasn’t nearly as comfortable as it looked. The engine wasn’t nearly as powerful as the 250HP rating inferred although it made the right kind of muted noise during heavy acceleration . The air conditioner was lacking. The sound system was just OK. Fit and finish wasn’t great either. The ride across rough pavement was terrible.

    5 miles into the trip it started misfiring. A couple of miles later the CEL popped on. About a mile from the shop every warning light on the dash popped on. And then it died a stinky anti-freeze leaking death. Head gasket.

    I found out later that the head bolts on those engines are famous for pulling out of the block with little to no notice. The baby Northstar suffered the same maladies as it’s big brother.

    My overall impression of the car before it started behaving badly was not very good.

    Gm needlessly killed off the brand because of perceived market saturation of the same platforms between all their divisions when, in fact, they were just building crap cars nobody really wanted.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      60k is a really early death, even for a N* car. The warranty on the powertrain was 5yr/60k, IIRC so even GM expected them to last that long.

      They also usually fail through exsanguination not spectacularly so there might have been something more going on with the example you drove beyond usual Northstar flaws.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Pearl white and V8 is, of course, the correct specification for an Aurora. Dark purple metallic is also acceptable. Green is not acceptable.

    I’ve never seen one fitted with sat nav though. I bet that was a ridiculously expensive option. The screen is also too low down for easy view by the driver. Afterthoughts!

    I really always did like these, gen 1 and gen 2. One of those cars that when it was new, you had no idea who made it. I can recall as a child being confused by the gen 1’s lack of badging, and the “A” Olds logo. But even by the time I was in high school, the gen 1’s were worn out and falling to pieces, and the burgeoning message board lifestyle told me they were avoids.

    The 2003 Aurora 4.0 was $34,725 per cars.com. Let’s compare!

    SLS: $45,535
    CTS: $30,000
    ES300: $31,725
    GS300: $37,725
    A6 3.0 FWD: $35,850
    S80 2.9: $36,455
    RL: $43,150
    Park Avenue: $34,600

    In conclusion, the RL was kinda too expensive, and the ES or GS seem like better value compared to the Aurora – or even a CTS. And they’re certainly more reliable, and worth more than the $1,500 you’ll get for the Aurora today.

    Edit: And I can’t believe it cost the same as the Park Avenue, a larger car with a more prestigious name (and at that time, badge too).

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Since I like talking about Oldsmobiles, we can do TWO Rare Ebay Finds today.

    First, step back in time, and back a little more. The end of an era, as it were – this beautiful 1990 Custom Cruiser 9-passenger wagon. In excellent condition, and brown! Love the wheels and the brougham hood ornament, and tweed.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Oldsmobile-Custom-Cruiser-9-Passenger-Wagon-/171843912462?forcerrptr=true&hash=item2802b2030e&item=171843912462

    Then go forwards, to an Olds in remarkable condition, and the same color as this Aurora, and also from a final year of production. A much beauty 92 Toronado Trofeo, with boudoir red interiors! Cleanest I’ve seen in a long while. You could have it in 1992 for $27,295.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Oldsmobile-Toronado-2dr-Coupe-Tr-/331598904953?forcerrptr=true&hash=item4d34d5be79&item=331598904953

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      That Toro Trofeo is a buy so long as the price remains realistic (currently 33 bucks)

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I want a Trofeo so bad.

      The only things that would replace my Electra are an Olds Touring Sedan, a Trofeo, Lesabre T-type, 4.9 Eldorado, or Bonneville SSE. Maybe a clean 3.8 Imperial.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Wha? K-Car Imperial?! Nooo. Too much cheap festoonery. Olds Touring Sedan FTW.

        Oh, and the air suspension replacement parts on that Imperial are unobtanium. So you’re looking at an expensive conversion.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I doubt it is any worse than ABS repairs on the GM cars I mentioned.

          • 0 avatar
            redmondjp

            True dat – my 1988 Buick Electra T-Type had the ABS brakes with the integrated $1800 master cylinder/booster pump/accumulator/ABS unit that failed once.

            The $300 parts-car 1990 Bonneville SSE that I parted out more than paid for itself when it donated the brake unit to the Buick.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Fat Tony: You are listing my broken dreams.

        Actually those are the best GM models of the period, what I wouldn’t give for a MY92 4.9 Eldo.

        Actually the -I presume- 4.5 88 Deville did very well in the Demo Derby I attended on Monday. Heck it would have one if the engine didn’t catch fire (I can’t imagine this was a 4100 but it may have been an 86 or 87).

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        PS. As a child, I thought the early 90’s Olds Brougham trims were somehow made in association with the Salvation Army, due to their logo.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Big knock on the wagon are the one-year-wonder door-mounted seat belts.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        That makes it worth less? I hadn’t noticed them, but that was a common GM thing for a while there in the early and mid 90’s.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          Yeah, it was a pretty common “we’re too cheap to install airbags” dodge. Big problem is that door parts from 1977-89 won’t fit a ’90, and ’91+ were the whales.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        By 1990 you could tell the B-body was getting long in the tooth since they did not get the technology offered in other models such as FI, ABS and a airbag. The government agencies and folks in retirement communities who bought these were not concerned. Other 90 GM models gave you a drivers side airbag such as the F-body which had it standard. Even the S-10 Blazer had the rudementray rear ABS standard.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      More Oldsies:

      IIRC the Shortstars didn’t have the problems of the V8.
      http://www.ebay.com/itm/Oldsmobile-Aurora-Base-Sedan-4-Door-/331599318251?forcerrptr=true&hash=item4d34dc0ceb&item=331599318251

      Parade car:
      http://www.ebay.com/itm/Oldsmobile-Cutlass-Convertible-/331595170310?forcerrptr=true&hash=item4d349cc206&item=331595170310

      Closeout special:
      http://www.ebay.com/itm/Oldsmobile-Bravada-Base-Sport-Utility-4-Door-/321798921125?forcerrptr=true&hash=item4aecb5dba5&item=321798921125

      I like these, but not enough to spend any money on one:
      http://www.ebay.com/itm/Oldsmobile-Starfire-/111708752979?forcerrptr=true&hash=item1a025c4c53&item=111708752979

      CoreyDL’s dream ride:
      http://www.ebay.com/itm/Oldsmobile-Other-Regency-Brougham-Sedan-4-Door-/281741098302?forcerrptr=true&hash=item419913fd3e&item=281741098302

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    First gen Aurora was better.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      I truly agree. They messed up the 2nd generation, making it look older and less distinctive than the first one. Replacing the full-length tail lamp with a two-piece was a major blunder, one that Lincoln also did with the contemporary Continental.

  • avatar
    bkrell

    Ah the Aurora. I went with my future in-laws to test drive one back in 1996. They loved it but absolutely couldn’t stomach the $36,000 that the dealer wanted. They felt it too small for that price. They also test-drove an Infiniti I30 (waay too small) and a Lexus ES300 (didn’t think the air conditioner was cold enough). They ended up with a Lincoln Towncar instead for $31,000. But they always wished they’d gone for the Aurora. It just felt more sophisticated and techy.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      They dodged a bullet.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Was the I30 actually any smaller, in reality? The Aurora never looked all that big to me, same size as other GM3800 things, yeah?

      “It just felt more sophisticated and techy.”

      It most certainly was, especially in 1996.

      Edit: The Aurora was so much larger than the I30, wow. I can’t believe it was over 200″ long.

      Length: 189.6″ vs. 205.4″
      Width: 69.7″ vs. 74.4″

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Gen 1 Aurora was actually quite a big car but the Panther probably had larger exterior dimensions.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Oh yeah, TC wins that one.

        218.9″ x 76.7″

        • 0 avatar
          bkrell

          Yeah the I30 felt like it was about the same size as a modern Honda Civic. I liked the Lexus but I still felt it had cheap touches like the little orange stickers on the door latches indicating the door was unlocked. That just didn’t seem very luxurious to me. It contrast, the first gen Aurora was like a spaceship. Before the age of nav and infotainment, I certainly judged how cool a car was by the number of buttons and switches on the dash. My own mother was rockin’ a new Bonneville at the time and the Aurora certainly put it to shame.

          But yeah, that Towncar was huge. I had the privilege of running it at 80-85 mph on the Indian Nation Turnpike in eastern Oklahoma. What a drive!

      • 0 avatar
        Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

        What kept domestic luxury cars competitive with the imports was the fact you got a bigger car for the same price. The Aurora was priced like a Lexus ES but sized like an LS. That was a great value proposition.

        In hindsight, if your goal in the 90’s was to keep your car forever, you were nuts to choose anything other than an Acura or Lexus. But now that the quality gap of the German, American, or British luxury car has almost caught up to the Japanese, this time it’s different. /s

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    This car is aging pretty well. Well, _visually_ it’s aging well. Mechanically you’re asking for a world of hurt, though if they’ve survived this long it’s possible you have a good example of the breed.

    If you must have American front-drive luxury (eg, because the Panther’s anemic engine, clompy ride, creepy winter handling and poor packaging turn you off) then the 300M is a better car in every way, except perhaps dash design.

    Mind you, the contemporary Acura TL and Lexus ES were better choices still, which is why they don’t sell Oldsmobiles any more.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “then the 300M is a better car in every way, except perhaps dash design.”

      You talk about a “world of hurt” and then recommend a Chrysler product? Have you ever owned an LH car? The 3.5l holds together okay (although changing the timing belt is a chore) but everything else on it will fail regularly enough and be enough of a hassle to fix that you’ll be begging for a Town Car or Park Avenue.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      Re: LH cars. My 96 Concorde LXi was constantly problematic. One day, it lost both its trans and engine.

      First, trans went into Limp Home. I stopped at a buddys shop and he threw it on the computer. “Incorrect gear ratio, gear 3. Incorrect gear ratio, gear 4.” So, I went through town and eased it on home, driving slow, hazards on, got passed by everything. When I slowed to pull into the driveway, the oil light came on, followed by a series of progressively larger “bang”‘s from under the hood until it stopped and never ran again. I checked the oil, it was full.

      Ive heard that the second gen 3.5L was better, and I almost bought a wrecked 300M at an insurance auction for a drivetrain swap, but decided against it. I called a Chrysler-specific junkyard and offered them the Concorde. They said they had half a dozen there that were in the same shape, and the only things customers were interested in were powertrain components, of course mine couldnt offer those. He offered $50 IF I brought it to him. I ended up giving the car away to a scrap guy for free after tweakers stole the aluminum wheels, catalitic converters, aluminum intake manifold, etc. Ive since come across 300Ms with bad engines for cheap, and given my luck with that car, if I had invested in a swap, I bet it wouldve died like the first one.

      I drove a first gen Aurora and given the choice between it or any Chrysler LH, my choice would be the Olds. Its stupid fast, it looks like a space ship, and to be honest, Id argue it is of higher quality overall.

      The Olds Id really like would be an Alero coupe with the Quad 4 and Getrag 5 speed. I find the Alero to be one of the best looking cars of its era.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    I never really liked this version, cheapened and femmed up in the hopes to appeal to women. Look no further than the gen1/gen2 shifter to see just how far they swung the pendulum.

  • avatar
    rpm773

    A car of those lines, that color, and that vintage looks particularly miserable sitting in a junkyard.

    I always thought the 2nd gen aurora looked a lot smaller than the 1st generation…And not nearly as radical-looking as it had acquired the Alero and Intrigue as stable mates.

  • avatar
    jmiller417

    IIRC, this generation was originally designed to be the replacement for the LSS, but it became the Aurora when Buick killed the Riv. That’s why it downsized.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Have driven many of these in both V6 and V8 trim levels. The V8 was quicker than the previous 1995-199 version due to less weight and making the 3.71 final drive std on that engine. The V6 models used the 3.29 axle tied to the 4T65 trans axle and were pretty peppy overall. Most owners we sold one of these to have had pretty decent luck with there cars with the occasional 01-02 Northstar leak issues at higher mileage and window regulators and wheels bearings often needed replacement. These were smooth quiet riding fully equipped sedans and 2003 versions of the NS V8 were the best because GM updated the head bolt problem and from then on the NS engine was pretty decent.

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    My second 1998 Aurora just turned 105,000 miles with no major problems in 17 years. And, it looks like a brand new spaceship!
    I just purchased a 2003 Final 500 Aurora and will update the TTAC after I get it home from Indiana.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    It’s nice to see that this car, unlike several that are on DOTJ, actually has some major parts removed (and presumably used on surviving cars) before it feeds a crusher.

  • avatar
    MWolf

    Yanno, I liked the first gen Auroras better. I still like these, but not as well. The Aurora was supposed to “replace” the Toronado, and they were cool cars. But the problematic Northstar derived engine was a bad idea. Even in Caddies, they lost oil, had the awful head bolt issue, and were an absolute nightmare to work on should you want to fix -anything- on your own. They were awesome engines when they worked, but God help you if they didn’t.

    I do have an ’88 Toronado Trofeo. Was my first car, never sold it. All the goodies short of thr built in phone. It’s outlasted four other vehicles.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    The first generation Aurora was an amazing car. It was built on a platform shared with the Riviera, which contributed to its demise when the Riviera was killed off after the ’99 model year.

    These second-gen Auroras, however, were a shameless piece of GM marketing cynicism. The car was really meant to be the 88. Knowing the handwriting was on the wall for Olds anyway, someone at GM figured out that they could extract more dollars from the last blindly loyal Olds customers by slapping an Aurora badge on it and pricing it within spitting distance of Cadillac Deville/DTS levels.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      You’re overstating it a bit there.

      As I stated above, the 2003 Aurora 4.0 was $34,725 per cars.com.
      The 2003 DeVille was $44,400 for the standard, or $49,150 for the DHS or DTS.

      That’s not spitting distance, it’s $10,000 – $15,000.

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        I’m pretty sure I saw this at the 2001 Philly Auto Show; the Aurora and the Deville on the show floor stickered at $38K and $41K respectively. That was probably a fully optioned Olds and a base Caddy (just looked up the Deville, 2001 base msrp was 40,995), but still . . .

  • avatar
    MWolf

    Yeah, GM only has themselves to blame for the demise of the Oldsmobile brand. Bad marketing, products that didn’t attract any new buyers or retain any loyal ones, killing off the nameplates that DID interest anyone. Oh yeah, things like the Acheiva.

    They might have gotten rid of Olds to focus on other things that made more money, but the only reason for that was how badly they ruined Olds in it’s last decade or so. It was the same for Pontiac. Except Pontiac tried toward the end…a little.

    • 0 avatar
      Exfordtech

      Naming everything a type of Cutlass in the ’80s didn’t help either. Ciera, Supreme, Calais, and God knows what else. Just because it was the most popular U.S. car in the late ’70s didn’t mean slapping the name on subpar products would turn them into world beaters. The more I think about how GM squandered market position and engineering talent a part of me would have preferred liquidation.

  • avatar
    MWolf

    That was part of that awful marketing I was talking about. God forbid different models have different names! It’s not even that the cars were bad at that point (for American 80’s cars). They were rock solid with the right engine.

    We can’t leave out the Bravada. First gen looked exactly like a Chevy Blazer someone fixed up with an Olds grille and wheels.

  • avatar
    jayzwhiterabbit

    It is ironic that GM was giving Oldsmobile their best designs when all the while Oldsmobile was doomed. The Intrigue was the best W car out of the whole bunch of them. The handling was out of this world. But GM wouldn’t give it a real motor or a high quality interior, a pattern that was all too familiar in the old GM.

    Oldsmobiles may have been for older people at the end, but in the sixties and seventies they were making millions of cars. The Cutlass far outsold the Camry and Accord who dominate now. It’s very sad that Oldsmobile had to die since it was inundated with new technologies in days past. It was a glorious division in it’s day.

    Chevy should have gotten the exteriors and interiors of the last Oldsmobiles. They would have sold a hell of a lot more of them than the turd Lumina.

  • avatar
    diamondjimbrady

    My 2001 3.5L is still kickin it! Also quite fun to drive still…

    http://i.imgur.com/YaMtUFK.jpg
    http://i.imgur.com/lTWnqTF.png
    http://i.imgur.com/VGHvgVd.png
    http://i.imgur.com/aSz0R4f.jpg

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