Curbside Classic: 1984 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency Brougham – Exclusivity

Many strive for exclusivity, whether in terms of housing, personal belongings, memberships, or otherwise.  Possessing something that not everyone else has can provide the object with a certain amount of extra value, even if not intrinsically so.  “Where did you get that?”  “Never mind.  I got the last one… but you’re free to envy mine!”  If everyone else has the same thing you have, even if it’s great, does that decrease its value?  Perhaps it shouldn’t… but it’s true that many of us would prefer things that make us feel special in some way.  A membership to Chicago’s Standard Club, the site of our featured car, could be considered one of those finer things.

The Standard Club is a private social club that operates with the intent of implementing positive societal change, the members of which are persons who are centers of influence here in the Chicagoland area.  And it’s super fancy.  In fact, when I used to walk past this building twice a day between work and my Red Line train during the work week, sometimes my pinkies would extend involuntarily.

Though I’ve never been inside the SC, I have previously been to dinner at the nearby, similar Union League Club, which is one block west, having been invited by business associates.  Not to sound ungrateful, but that was a long evening.  Thank goodness I had a bunch of ones in my wallet that night for each time I had use the restroom, to pay the bathroom towel guy.  Tipping a restroom attendant is just something a kid from a car-building factory town (that isn’t Detroit) would never have to do, even on an occasional basis.

I loved that the SC was the background against which I spotted and photographed our featured car.  By the fall of ’83, it was no longer a secret that smaller, FWD versions of GM’s C-Bodies were waiting in the wings for ’85.  Buyers didn’t seem to panic about the impending disappearance of the biggies, because overall Ninety-Eight sales for ’84 were down by a whopping 36% that year, dropping to just 77,000 from 120,000 in ’83.  (Sales did rebound handily with the downsized ’85s, with 169,500 sold.)

Even if Buick ostensibly sat just above Oldsmobile in the (by-then obsolete) GM prestige hierarchy, in my opinion, Oldsmobiles had styling that seemed a bit more ornate to me than that featured on the pride of Flint.  For example, the vertical, outboard taillamps on pretty much all Ninety-Eights I can recall always seemed a bit “Cadillac-lite”, but not at all in a bad way.  The solid, amber side marker lights up front were my clue as to the model year of this example.

This burgundy beauty is an example of mass-produced, “exclusive” luxury (it’s a Regency Brougham – which ultimately was the most popular submodel that year, with 42,000 sold) aimed squarely at the upper-middle-class (is there a such thing as the “lower-upper-class” outside of perhaps the nouveau riche?), in front of a private social club that requires a paid membership.  The irony of this was as delicious as a glass of port wine that shares the color of this landship.

“Port” could also describe the area of curbside real estate where this Olds was docked while waiting for valet.  I feel that time has been kind to the styling of these cars, though, and given the thinning of their ranks by the time I had taken these pictures almost three years ago, this Ninety-Eight Regency still had undeniable stature and class – even in comparison to the modern Cadillac XTS parked behind it.

Little was truly exclusive to the Oldsmobile brand by the mid-’80s, following the elimination of separate engineering departments among the GM brands in the Roger Smith era, and the consolidation that resulted in the BOP (Buick-Olds-Pontiac) Group.  However, as late as ’84, power for one of these Ninety-Eights still came from an Olds-sourced 307 with 140 horsepower.  Regardless, I still lament the passage of what had once been the sales juggernaut that was Oldsmobile on a semi-regular basis.  Cars like this one, while not the bread and butter that were most of the Cutlass lines throughout the ’80s, had quietly provided consistent sales support to Lansing.

Come to think of it, the more I look at this Ninety-Eight, the more I like it.  What would a middle-income desk jockey like me want with bespoke luxury, anyway?  While tailored shirts are nice to have (I own exactly one custom-made shirt, which I’ve worn less than ten times), I’ll buy my work clothes from the sale racks at Macy’s or Sears, thank you very much.  I can certainly live without “craft” anything.  I feel that while it’s important to work to realize some of my aspirations now, I must sometimes simply make the best of what I have at present and just save some dreams for later.  Ownership of this mothership, the very automotive incarnation of mainstream luxury, would definitely have been something to aspire to when new – exclusivity be darned.

Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015.

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