The Original Luxury Minivan Looked Like a Vacuum

Is it a luxury minivan, or is it a vacuum? That’s right — the original luxury minivan looked remarkably like a handheld vacuum. This quirky vehicle’s designers apparently thought that adding pinstriping and decals would cover up its quirkiness. Unfortunately, nothing they did could hide its resemblance to an oversized hand vac. Not only is the Oldsmobile Silhouette odd-looking, but it’s also incredibly rare. 

When the Silhouette debuted in 1990, it had a few higher-end features that other minivans of the period lacked. After all, it was part of the luxury brand Oldsmobile. So of course it would include innovative features like the first power-sliding side door. Unfortunately, those luxury features couldn’t overcome the Silhouette’s reputation for having a whole host of problems, along with its odd appearance. The 1996 model year was its last.

Highlights of the Oldsmobile Silhouette

This luxury minivan featured an electronic key fob, leather seats, a built-in convertible child’s car seat, ceiling-mounted power door opener and lock buttons, a fan speed control in the rear, and a massive dashboard. And that power-sliding door? Well, it played a song when it closed as a warning to children! 

According to car reviewer Doug DeMuro in Autotrader, one of the Silhouette’s most unusual features was the relatively new third brake light. Unlike nearly every other vehicle, the Silhouette sported a third brake light that wasn’t placed between and above the other two. Instead, it was below the rear window and well below the other two brake lights. The two regular brake lights wrapped around both sides of the rear window. The third brake light was completely inconspicuous by comparison.

Other odd features of this early luxury minivan include side windows that opened enough to vent a bit of air and unique triangular windows on the sides in front.

Why this ‘dustbuster’ minivan failed

A beige Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan sits parked on a street in April 2001
A beige Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan sits parked on a street in April 2001 | Darren McCollester/Newsmakers

The Oldsmobile Silhouette was seriously underpowered. It debuted with the GM 3100 V6 and a mere 120 hp and finally increased to the GM 3400 V6 with approximately 170 hp for its last couple of model years. However, even 170 hp was an abysmal amount of power for a family-sized minivan. 

The polarizing “dustbuster” look of this minivan also contributed to problems with engine access. That’s because nearly half the engine was tucked beneath the windshield. This made them incredibly difficult to repair.

According to Jalopnik, their questionable build quality and an ongoing litany of problems also left buyers seriously disappointed. One reason these quirky dustbuster minivans might be so hard to find now is that their build quality was so poor that many simply fell apart. 

Why luxury family SUVs have replaced luxury minivans

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Deciding whether you need a minivan or SUV is a matter of your budget, needs, and lifestyle. According to  U.S. News, minivans rank higher in budget-friendliness, number of passengers, roominess, comfort, family-friendly features, and cargo capacity. If you have a growing family, a comfortable, spacious, and family-friendly minivan is probably your best option.

On the other hand, SUVs offer a slight edge in safety, a more enjoyable driving experience, better performance off-road and in inclement weather, and greatly increased towing capacity. Still undecided or need something in the middle? Consider a three-row crossover SUV. Crossovers combine many of the benefits of minivans and SUVs.

Because they have cachet and offer the same level of luxury as minivans, SUVs and crossovers are consumers’ choice these days. The best part is that none of them looks like a vacuum.