Rare Rides: The Stunning 1992 Oldsmobile Silhouette, in Teal

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the stunning 1992 oldsmobile silhouette in teal

A special day has arrived here at Rare Rides. Our subject is modern, sleek, and the Cadillac of Minivans. That’s right, it’s Van Time with the Oldsmobile Silhouette.

General Motors debuted its new U-body vans for the 1990 model year. The Silhouette, Chevrolet Lumina APV, and Pontiac Trans Sport were a batch of aerodynamic and consumer-friendly replacements for the enormous rear-drive station wagons most people hated. The trio were also a follow-up to the Astro and Safari rear-drive vans, as those boxes didn’t appeal to the hundreds of thousands of households who went across the street to buy a Chrysler van instead. GM’s cutting-edge design debuted in 1986 as the Pontiac Trans Sport, and the finalized product went into production at the end of 1989.

With three doors and seating for seven, all U-bodies had plastic body panels like a Saturn to shrug off family use and rust. The Silhouette was the luxury van option from General Motors, as displayed via its refined tape stripes, deep tinted windows, and lace alloys. A high-spec interior included leather seating for seven which was removable and reconfigurable; every seat was a captain’s chair. The driver’s seat was powered, and most convenience features were electric. Rear air was also included — a feature that was far from prevalent in vans of the early Nineties.

Powering the Silhouette were three different engines dependent upon trim level. There were six-cylinders in 3.1, 3.4, or 3800 guise. Transmissions were all automatic, having either three or four forward speeds. An optional ride package added rear air shocks to level the Silhouette no matter the weight of people and cargo inside. A novel feature included with this package was an on-board air compressor.

Changes through the first-generation Silhouette were significant and included the addition of 3800 power, larger brakes with ABS, and a sunroof for 1992. A facelift occurred in 1993 that smoothed the front end and brought Trans Sport lamps to the rear. A power sliding door was added in 1994, along with built-in child seats, traction control, and a driver’s airbag.

The original Silhouette lasted through the 1996 model year, and as its successor was prepared the model’s offerings were simplified. In ’96 traction control went away, and only the 3.4-liter was available under hood. The General had learned its lesson about controversial van designs, and the Dustbusters made way for much more mainstream-looking vans in 1997. The U-body lived on in North America until 2007, when GM decided it wouldn’t sell minivans in its home market any longer. A revised U-body continues today in China, underneath the luxury Buick GL8.

Today’s 194,000-mile Silhouette 3800 is creating a buzz on Bring a Trailer at the moment, and is auctioned out of Oregon. There’s no reserve, and as of writing it’s bid to $1,302. Interested?

[Images: seller]

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2 of 47 comments
  • Man, I remember being all excited to see these debut because they were so darn futuristic. I also firmly remember the amount of laughing my Dad did @ GM for the lack of quality. Man he wasnt wrong, GM JUNK through and through.

  • JREwing JREwing on Jan 29, 2020

    This thing is pretty damn pristine for the age and mileage! Besides styling and typical GM interior quality, the major failing with the Dustbuster vans were the 3.1L V6 with the THREE speed auto. The 3-speed was terrible in my Corsica, which is easily 1000 lbs lighter; that lighter weight allowed the V6 to overcome it. No hope in the Dustbuster. The 3800 and 4-speed auto totally transform this vehicle - more torque, better mileage, and a more relaxed feel. The poor 3.1 was simply overtaxed in this application, and you heard it a LOT. I would totally take this over the 1992 Grand Caravan's 3.3L V6 and UltraDrive 4-speed auto that ate itself at 60,000 miles after 6 years of pampered elderly ownership (and about 6 months of similarly tame driving in our hands). It's an utter shame this Olds is in Oregon and I'm out of time off at work. It's seriously tempting to fly out there and roadtrip this back.

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.