One of The Autopian’s greatest resources is a strange, almost unnatural ability to attract talented people and convince them to do dumb things for us. One of the best examples of this is The Bishop, the mysterious Important Professional who doesn’t work in the automotive field, but has some training as a car designer, and now uses that training to imagine absurd things, just for your sick, sick pleasure. Lately, The Bishop has been doing some exciting stuff – alternate-history Tatras, re-imagined GMC motorhomes, Checker cabs that never were, that sort of thing. Fun stuff. But what if I asked him to do something, you know, not fun? Specifically, what if I asked him to imagine the sort of thing that automakers seem absolutely loathe to do: design a car specifically, and unashamedly, for old people. Yes. Old people. In fact, let’s make it an Oldsmobile, for literal olds.
Generally, carmakers see targeting a car at old people as a kiss of death, because they all crave that young, sexy money, they all want a youthful demographic to show off, even the ones that happily take money from old, rich people. It’s been this way for a while, and, really, it’s kind of absurd. Of course old people are going to want and need to drive, and they have pretty specific needs from their cars, so why not just design and build some cars that accept that and cater to them?
Instead, though, we get insecure companies like Oldsmobile, already saddled with That Name, desperately trying to remind us that they don’t build cars for your dad:
Of course, Oldsmobile is long dead now, but that doesn’t mean I can’t ask The Bishop to exhume their corpse and flog it by designing an Oldsmobile from an imaginary era where Oldsmobile openly and proudly embraced the needs of our senior drivers, gave them exactly what they want and need, as told to them by the geriatrics themselves, or, possibly, their concerned children.
So, I feed this unsexy concept to The Bishop, let him marinate and stew and eat dinner at 4:30 pm for a few weeks, and them whammo, out pops this vision of an alternate 2004, where, instead of GM killing off the Oldsmobile brand, they pivot and finally really lean in to what the brand had been all along: old people cars. With this maybe not new but now official mission, Oldsmobile gets a new lease on life and releases its proudly elderly-targeted flagship, the 2004 Oldsmobile Saffire, A Car for Life:
Here’s how The Bishop describes it:
Here’s the 2004 Oldsmobile Saffire…A Car For Life. The slogan implies safety and longevity even if it REALLY means this piece of shit will be your LAST CAR, a vehicle that will eventually be handed down to disappointed grandkids like with Dodge Darts in my generation.
First, we position the car in the same place Oldsmobile always used to be. The buyers of this car..let’s choose fictitious 75 year old Stuart and Dolores Kahn from Highland Park, IL…could easily head down to Steve Foley Cadillac in Northbrook and buy that car they want, but CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT THE GIRLS AT COFFEE AND AT TEMPLE WOULD SAY?? WE’RE NOT FANCY SCHMANCY TYPES, STU. So the Saffire gives them what they want..it looks like I traced over a concurrent DeVille/DTS and just added classic Oldsmobile nose and taillights…because that’s what it is…and honestly what the Olds 98 always was.
You know how the 2005 Mustang was designed to look like a late sixties ‘Stang? This Olds would do the same thing but instead it would echo the looks of the dull-ass 88s and Cutlass Supremes the owners had during the Reagan years..but now in a more modern car. Underwhelmed with the styling? GOOD!! If you thought it was a slick looking ride I wouldn’t be doing my job.
So, the exterior is designed to generally blend in with modern cars, there’s no need for overt peans to the olds, like doilies or Werther’s Originals stripe kits or anything like that. In fact, the real action is on the inside, starting with how one gets inside, because, as you may have seen, the act of entering or exiting a car does not get easier with age. At all. So ease of ingress and egress is paramount, to the point where The Bishop mentioned this famous experiment in automotive entries, one that was actually worked on by a former CCS classmate of The Bishop:
Remember that? Very cool, and look at how easy that access is! Of course, it’s also wildly complex and would rightly terrify any old person who has owned cars and understands deeply and powerfully that complicated shit breaks and costs a lot of money to fix. And, you know, old people are on fixed incomes, though to be absolutely honest even though I’m at the cusp of Genuinely Old myself, I’ve never been clear on just what that means.
Anyway, The Bishop has a solution:
The Olds has Lincoln Continental style center opening doors but with no pillar (like a Nissan Axxess van, among others). However, unlike Honda Elements or pickup trucks, you do NOT need to open the main door first to open the back one…that would be too confusing for oldsters. Yes, this will require a special sealing system that would electrically move in place once both doors are shut. The outside door handles together look sorta like one so if appears to some to be a coupe..so sporty!!
The front seats swivel outwards just like they did on Monte Carlos of the Pet Rock era, and getting in back with those suicide doors is a snap. The doors could electrically close like on a Rolls or Tesla, but again let’s keep it simple. Instead, the armrests or part of the door panel would pop out when the door is open to allow passengers to easily pull them closed (almost like the arm on a rowing machine) and then would pop back flush when the door is shuts.
If that’s not enough, The Bishop has also considered the issues when the person is inside the car and needs help moving around, help that the usual “oh shit” handles can not provide:
There’s a grab handle the runs all the up the A pillar, down the roof, and up to the C pillar…but it’s designed to blend into the headliner so it doesn’t seem like an invalid add-on. Plus, there’s HUGE cutouts to add a full width bar over the rear seat for taking hanging wardrobe. Note that the side windows offer optional pivoting vent windows, a favorite and likely deal closer for old people everywhere….and David Tracy. [Editor’s Note: David is, in fact, a future old person, if that helps – JT]
So, we have tactfully-hidden full-interior grab rails, which seems like it would be very useful, and The Bishop is just getting started helping old people settle into their car. I think this take on driver seat positioning is incredibly smart and would likely be great for a lot of elderly drivers:
What about getting the seat, wheel, and mirrors set? That’s ALWAYS a huge pain for old people and they NEVER get it right. How about you start with a knob you turn to your height…let’s say it’s five foot seven….and the system moves everything to what is generally considered correct for that height of a person. Even the interior rear view mirror would be power so it can adjust to your setting. Sure, you can fine tune it, but at LEAST it will get you within hailing distance. There would be memory buttons of course, and there is a sharpie and alcohol wipes in the owner’s portfolio for you write on your name.
The dashboard and instrument cluster is another point where there is plenty of room for optimization for older people, starting with big, clear typography, and The Bishop has carefully considered it all:
If I need to explain anything about the controls then, again, I haven’t done my job. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in the last sixty years; even the good old pull out headlight switch is there. The gas gauge is even set to the GM standards of staying at full forever and then dropping like a stone quickly like every car they used to make. I kid. I did put the fuel gauge WAY over so that Dolores (or whoever is in the passenger seat) cannot see it and raise hell if it drops below about half a tank on trips (“Goddammit Dolores, there’s a light that comes on when it’s time to get gas!!”).
Turn signal arrows are big, plus you can see the hood mounted turn indicator repeaters in the outside rendering. You would also have that already-used feature of the signal ticking changing to TICK TICK TICK or cancelling after 60 seconds of so.
Note the available floor pedal that could be used to switch on high beams like in days of yore, or switched to be able to change radio stations or wipe the wipers while pressed…keep both hands on the wheel, Stu!! You can switch readings to metric, too, but what the fuck did we win WWII for???
A column shift because of course…not a ‘stick’ like my grandma would say (apparently an auto selector on the floor constituted a stick shift).
Of course, radio is important to older drivers, not just for nostalgic music reasons, but also to receive nonstop propaganda from talk radio about whatever end of the political spectrum they need to currently fear or hate. Controls and display design is especially important here, as these are removed further from the main driving controls and the all-important windshield.
Here’s the radio and climate control thermostat which look like…a car radio and a home thermostat. Simple. I really don’t know if it should have anything more than a single disc CD player… Stuart will forget which ones are in there and how to get them out…so just leave Dolores’s Barbra in the player and then put Hot August Night in the glove box for when Stu wants to rock out….that Bose system makes it sound like Neil Diamond is RIGHT THERE IN THE CAR.
Those climate buttons, by the way, are like the size of Tic Tac box…they’re fucking huge. Sure, there would be navi/multi-disc/Bluetooth/touchscreen options to replace this center stack, but I think they would be about as popular as an optional rear wing and Brembo brakes on this thing.
I also gave The Bishop a specific request, one that I think would be useful and also deeply unsexy: find a way to integrate supplemental oxygen tanks, and The Bishop delivered:
Where to place oxygen tanks in the passenger compartment? NOWHERE! There’s an optional oxygen concentrator in the trunk with outlets where the ashtray usually is, and also behind the armrest in back. You can make it all the way to Florida without a bunch of tanks!
Even better! Build the oxygen system right into the car! They can carry their walking-around tanks in the trunk, and not have to worry about dealing with tanks when in the car, because the car has it all integrated.
And, finally, the Saffire has one last old-folks-friendly party trick: the retractable Rascal carrier:
“How about those ugly scooter carriers I see on the backs of cars? Oldsmobile could offer an electric fold away platform that would slide under the rear bumper. It would go to ground level to allow you to drive right up onto the platform and then raise/strap it down, OR you could place heavy items on it to be lifted to trunk level for you to slide them in. Remote buttons on a key fob would control the platform.”
Look how clever! It can carry a scooter or help lift heavy things to get them into the trunk! Two important old-folk needs handled by one system! I’m not exactly sure how the retraction mechanism works, but that’s for GM’s fictional engineers to figure out! They figured out the 90° fan belt in the Corvair, they can sure as hell figure out this.
I’m impressed by the imaginary Oldsmobile Saffire, and I’m now convinced that this sort of pivot would have made more sense for Oldsmobile than just killing the brand. I mean, this is still a very untapped market, and it feels like leaving money on the table to just ignore it. Some carmaker is going to come out with a car that directly addresses the needs of older drivers, not just with luxury or status, but with the actual, unglamorous but practical answering of specific old-people needs.
Whoever does so will have a whole market to themselves, and be the go-to choice of 45 year old kids convincing their 78-year old parents what the last car they should buy will be.
After all, I bet everyone reading this is in the pry-the-keys-out-of-my-dead-hands school of thought, right? We’re just thinking ahead.