Top 10 Obscure Special Editions and Forgotten Limited-Run Models: Oldsmobile Edition, Part I

oldsmobile delta 88 royale crown landau 4

Is it any wonder the wheels started to come off Oldsmobile in the 1980s? While all of GM’s brands were guilty of expanding their reaches and cannibalizing each other – witness Chevrolet’s luxurious Caprice and Buick’s sporty GSX – Oldsmobile never seemed to have as clearly defined an image as the others. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Oldsmobile instalment of this series is marked with a melange of Oldsmobiles of all different flavors.

cutty_supreme 1990 oldsmobile cutlass supreme quad 4

Cutlass Supreme Quad 4

Years produced: 1990-91

Total production: ?

The 2.3, double overhead cam, four-valve, four-cylinder engine known as the Quad 4 was developed by Oldsmobile. It debuted on the Cutlass Calais for 1988 and would go on to be used in all of GM’s N-Body compacts and the closely related L-Body Chevrolet Beretta, while later variants would also feature in the J-Body Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire and “P-90” Chevy Malibu of 1997. A forgotten application of the Quad 4 was in the W-Body Pontiac Grand Prix and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.

oldsmobile cutlass supreme quad 4 13

In the Grand Prix, it was treated merely as a base engine and was saddled with a three-speed automatic transmission; no manual was available. It was introduced in 1990 but discontinued after 1991. In 1990, the Quad 4 engine also appeared in the Cutlass Supreme in two states of tune. The base Cutlass Supreme came standard with a five-speed manual transmission and a Quad 4 engine with 180 hp at 6200 rpm and 160 ft-lbs of torque at 5200 rpm. For an extra $325, you could opt for a three-speed automatic transmission but then you received a Quad 4 with only 160 hp and 155 ft-lbs of torque.

oldsmobile cutlass supreme quad 4 7

The Quad 4 was an odd choice for a fairly large intermediate sedan and coupe, being both high-revving and noisy. However, Oldsmobile did not position their still quite new four-cylinder as a penalty box offering: although the 3.1 V6 was the most expensive engine in the Cutlass Supreme range, the Quad 4 was available with the International Series package. So equipped, a Cutlass Supreme received the firmer FE3 suspension, power front buckets, rear bucket seats and 215/60R16 tires on alloy wheels.

oldsmobile cutlass supreme quad 4 4

For 1991, the Cutlass Supreme received GM’s new 3.4 “Twin Dual Cam” V6, available with a five-speed manual transmission. The Quad 4, consequently, was de-emphasized. Its manual offering was dropped, leaving just the lower output version with a three-speed auto, and you could no longer specify a four-cylinder International Series. It seems most buyers chose the optional 3.1 V6 which had superior low-end torque and refinement to the Quad 4. As a result, the Quad 4 disappeared from the Cutlass Supreme lineup after 1991 and a four-cylinder would never appear again in a GM W-Body.

(Photos courtesy of CarDomain users cutty_supreme, jumpin_juggalo_5, and cutty1990)

1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale Crown Landau

Delta 88 Royale Crown Landau

Years produced: 1976

Total production: 4,360

The 1970s were not a great time for visibility. Opera windows were in vogue, leaving big blind spots aft of many vehicles’ B-pillars. To compound this, it became more fashionable to offer new roof treatments with even poorer visibility. The 1978 Ford Thunderbird Diamond Jubilee blanked out the rearmost side windows of the Thunderbird. Oldsmobile had done this first, however, with its obtusely-named Delta 88 Royale Crown Landau of 1976.

oldsmobile delta 88 1976 royale crown landau 1

It combined three garish and trendy design features of the era: the aforementioned blind spot; a padded vinyl roof; and a stainless steel “landau bar”, also seen on cars like the AMC Hornet AMX. There was also a stand-up hood ornament and color-keyed wheels, similar to those found on the Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon. While that intermediate was a quasi-sporty offering, the Royale Crown Landau was anything but. Total cost of the package was $598; a regular Delta 88 Royale coupe listed for $5,146. For comparison, a base Ninety-Eight coupe coupe listed for $6,271. The Royale Crown Landau allowed B-Body Olds buyers a little extra distinctiveness without going the whole hog and buying a C-Body Ninety-Eight.

oldsmobile delta 88 1976 royale crown landau 2

Interestingly, the roof modifications were performed by a certain outfit named Hurst, the same company that produced the extremely desirable Hurst/Olds Cutlasses of the late 1960s and 1970s. For all intents and purposes, this luxo Landau was the Hurst/Olds for 1976.

1980 oldsmobile 442

442 W-30 (1980)

Years produced: 1980

Total production: 886

The 442 package was available continuously from 1964 until 1980, re-appearing from 1985 to 1987 and then making a cameo appearance from 1990-91 on a Cutlass Calais. So, what makes this 1980 442 so noteworthy? Its four-barrel 350 cubic-inch V8 doesn’t seem especially interesting unless you consider the historical context. Namely, if you wanted a GM intermediate in 1980 with a V8 bigger than 305 cubic inches, this was it.

1980 oldsmobile 442 3

The ’80 442 was also noteworthy because it represented an improvement in performance over the previous year’s 442. This was virtually unheard of in 1980, a year when Ford and Pontiac, for example, introduced weaker V8 engines in their so-called performance models. The ’78-79 442 had been little more than a trim and suspension package, adding lurid decals, FE2 suspension but no extra performance. It was also based, inexplicably, on the Aeroback Salon body. In 1979, Oldsmobile offered a Hurst/Olds, based on the notchback coupe body of the Cutlass Supreme/Calais, that packed a 350 cubic-inch V8. For 1980 and minus the Hurst shifter, the ’79 Hurst/Olds became the 442.

1980 oldsmobile 442 1980Olds442

The 1980 Cutlass Supreme and Calais received a restyled front fascia with quad headlights, matching the newly introduced notchback sedan’s front styling. This was a one-year-only nose for the coupes as 1981 would bring the distinctive, sloping grille that would remain for the rest of the coupe’s run.

1980 oldsmobile 442 2

The 1980 442 was offered only in a pair of two-tone color schemes: black/gold and white/gold, much the same as the ’79 Hurst/Olds. Unlike previous years’ 442s, the 1980 model’s 4-bbl 350 was exclusive to the 442 and pumped out 170 hp and 275 ft-lbs of torque; the only transmission was the Turbo-Hydramatic 350 auto. All 442s came with bucket seats (power optional), floor-shifter, 2.73 rear axle and FE2 rallye suspension. Because of emissions standards, the 442 was not offered in California.

1980 oldsmobile 442 w30

The 442 W-30 Appearance and Handling Package, as it was officially named, added $1,425 to the price of a Cutlass Calais, the base MSRP of which was $6,715. After a small production run of just 886 442s in 1980, some of which received t-tops, the name was retired and did not return until 1985.

1977 oldsmobile toronado xsr print ad

Toronado XSR

Years produced: 1977

Total production: 1

It is generally wise to make sure your product works and is saleable before you start advertising it in magazines and promotional material. Alas, Oldsmobile – or rather, American Sunroof Corporation, who were contracted to modify the Toronado – experienced last minute issues engineering the powered, glass t-tops that were the signature feature of the limited edition XSR.

oldsmobile toronado xsr

The XSR was developed to maintain interest in the aging Toronado, this generation of which had debuted in 1971. By 1977, with the arrival of the downsized Delta 88 and Ninety-Eight, the Toronado was looking oversized, overstuffed and overdue for replacement. GM had also discontinued its convertibles in anticipation of rumored rollover standards and a coupe with power t-tops was seen as a novel feature and a desirable substitute for an open-top car.

1977 oldsmobile toronado xsr 4

Although 2,000 units were planned, only one XSR was produced – the prototype– and the project was shelved. Toronado shoppers were instead left with the XS, which featured an ordinary glass sunroof and also the XSR’s hot-bent-wire, wraparound rear window. The XS was priced around $3k higher than a regular Toronado; the XSR was intended to be an extra $450 more on top of that.

1977 oldsmobile toronado xsr 2

An extra $3k for a striking rear window – albeit one that seemed an awkward fit for the Toronado’s conservative body – seemed to be a steep asking price. However, if you were a Toronado buyer spending the extra cash, an extra $450 for power t-tops seemed reasonable. It was a shame ASC couldn’t get them to work effectively; the t-tops were supposed to slide in toward the centerline and stack over each other.

The prototype is still on the road and was even featured in the June 2003 issue of Collectible Automobile. ASC showcased it for several years and eventually sold it to a private buyer; it changed hands a few times over the years and was eventually restored. A few Cadillac Eldorados were also modified by ASC with power t-tops but production plans for these were also shelved.

1978 oldsmobile toronado xs

As for the Toronado XS, 5,166 units were produced over 1977-78, or just under 9% of total production volume for the final two years of the big Toronado.

1964 oldsmobile jetstar I

Jetstar I

Years produced: 1964-65

Total production: 22,636

Try to make sense of this. Oldsmobile had a full-sized, “personal” coupe known as the Starfire. The problem was it wasn’t selling to their expectations. So, they decided to launch a lower-priced companion in 1964 and dubbed it the Jetstar I. But they also decided that year to launch that year a full-size Oldsmobile called the Jetstar 88 which, although related, was the cheapest of the 88 range that included the Delta 88 and Dynamic 88. Confused yet? Well, how do you think the buyers felt? Perhaps this explains why the Jetstar I was short-lived.

1964 oldsmobile jetstar ad 2

Maybe Oldsmobile was trying to establish “Jetstar” as their name for the budget model of that particular series (interestingly, Australia has a budget airline called Jetstar). But the Jetstar I was caught in a confusing morass of Oldsmobile names that included the similarly-titled Jetstar 88, Jetfire, Starfire… You get the picture. Also complicating things was the increasing popularity of the smaller Oldsmobiles including the hot-selling, up-sized F-85/Cutlass of 1964. Furthermore, personal luxury and muscle offerings were gravitating towards the intermediate segment.

1964 oldsmobile jetstar ad

A Jetstar I still gave you the bucket seats and console of the Starfire. Most importantly, the Jetstar I retained the Starfire 394 cubic-inch V8 with 345 hp and 430 ft-lbs, also used in the Ninety-Eight Custom Sports Coupe. To keep the price down, the bucket seats were trimmed in vinyl and power steering, power brakes and an automatic transmission were all options. If you added those options, you were within spitting distance of a Starfire as it cost just $150 more.

1965 oldsmobile jetstar I

For 1965, the Jetstar I, along with the rest of the full-size Oldsmobiles, received beautiful, coke-bottle curves at the hips and more distinctive rear-end styling. Greater visual differentiation was employed between the Starfire and Jetstar I: the former received thicker chrome mouldings, while the latter had large, non-functional vents aft of the front wheels. The big news was adjacent to those vents: under the hood, there was a new 425 cubic-inch V8 in a tune exclusive to Starfire and Jetstar I models with 370 hp and 470 ft-lbs of torque, 10 more horses than the V8 in the Ninety-Eight. There was even a floor-mounted four-speed manual which like the Turbo Hydra-Matic was an extra-cost option; a three-speed manual remained standard.

oldsmobile-jetstar-i-1965

Despite all these improvements, sales were less than half of 1964’s volumes: just 6,552 were sold. The Jetstar I line wouldn’t return for 1966 and that year would be the Starfire’s last. To take over the personal luxury slot, Oldsmobile debuted the achingly beautiful Toronado in 1966. Oldsmobile also offered plusher Cutlasses, a response to the market’s shift towards intermediates that would bring the mid-price brand extraordinary success the following decade. The sporty full-size coupe would soon be extinct.


Oldsmobile advertising used to ask, “Can we build one for you?”. Well, for those who wanted distinctive rooflines and windows or a little extra performance, they produced these five models, two of which were more powerful than their related Pontiacs and one with detailing more ritzy than that of a Cadillac.

In the next instalment, we will look at five more Oldsmobiles with very different missions.

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass 4-4-2

Curbside Classic: 1992 Oldsmobile Touring Sedan

Curbside Classic: 1964 & 1965 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight

Curbside Classic: 1958 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88