You probably already know how I feel about GM’s N-Cars, so there’s very little I could add to this shot of a fairly rare Cutlass Calais International Series with the H.O. Quad 4. So I’m going to hand over the mike to the real expert, Barry Thiel:
I can’t even explain it, but ever since I saw my first Cutlass Calais International I have absolutely loved them, not the slightest interest in any other N-body though. Something about the boxy, super traditional body all done up as modern, with the ground effects and monochrome treatment just checks all the right boxes for me. If I ever found a nice red one, it’d be purchased, and put in my imaginary fantasy garage right next to a red Dodge Spirit R/T Turbo.
Ltd…this one’s for you.
As seen the a week ago Friday at the local Chevy dealer.
Nice, even still has the awesome color matched snow flake wheels. Aside from the looks of that headliner, it looks like it might have had an easy life. These seem to have fared somewhat better than the Calais International’s due to some people randomly preserving pretty nice ones. I don’t think I’ve seen a Calais in as even a nice a shape as the photographed Spirit since the early 90’s.
I feel the exact same way about these cars. They made the N-body work.
I remember these reaching a full 190 HP at one point. Too bad the Quad 4 was such a raucous noisy engine that GM stubbornly refused to install balance shafts until 1995.
I always thought these were cool – especially the meat cutter wheels. 190 hp is still 190 hp. Yes, they were noisy – not pretty for sure but got the job done.
On a side note, in Eugene OR for the day (partner is doing a campus tour) – what a great city – mix of big town and small town, great bike culture, beautiful old homes, and a bottomless gold mine of old cars from the past.
It is interesting how the various “badge engineered” variants of GM cars fared in the 1980s. People loved the Cavalier/Sunbird J cars, but panned the Firenza/Skyhawk. Among the N cars, Oldsmobile did well with the Calais as well as Pontiac with the Grand Am.
The hottest of the N Calais was the W41 for 1991 which used a tweaked LG0 engine that made 190hp and used a close ratio 5 speed manual. About 200 racing variants were made to qualify for IMSA and 15 were made stripped with no a/c. Ed Bennett was the lead on the team that handled all of GM’s racing programs in the 1990s.
They were rough as hell but they were screamers. The rev limit was boosted to 7400RPMs and they used a 3.94 final drive. Quarter times came in between 14.5 and 14.7 seconds. You could walk into any Olds dealer and order one basic for less than $15k delivered tax included.
The hottest Quad 4 (other than the one in the Pace car) was the Aerotech III which was supercharged. The test mule was a preproduction sedan body that ultimately became the 1990 Cutlass Supreme Sedan.
Of course the Calais was redesigned for 1992 as the Achieva. The performance version became the SCX coupe which would make a good CC if you can find one. High revving 4 cylinders are not my thing but they were all over the place at Olds as my tenure there waned in the early 90s.
These really should get more respect as the the granddaddy of the Honda/Acura Integra Type-R.
Part 1 of the video that they released to the zones to prep for the Quad 4.
Would love one from the end of production with Quad for 5 speed combo, (sadly) you could likely spank a 1987 442 with a Calais and a hot Quad 4.
I guy I worked with had a Grand Am with the Quad 4. He was old enough to still believe that there was a difference between the products of various GM divisions by that time. He swore off of Pontiacs after that car, saying that everything in it rattled and squeaked. After he dealt with the head gasket repair, it finished him off.
He thought that the 85 LeSabre his wife drove was so much better because it was a Buick. I tried to tell him it was because it was a B body, and not one of these, which would have been just as bad coming from an Olds or Buick dealer.
GM was rare in its ability to offer basically entirely different cars under one corporate umbrella, a product of its history. Most people have come to understand that would not last.
In the end, it makes me think that ultimately the carmakers are selling one car and everything is just a variant of that car. Going along with the discussion of the Lincoln MK- models in a previous post it is the way the market is today. It is simply not cost effective to offer completely unique products. To think when you buy a Lexus you aren’t really getting a warmed up Toyota, an Acura a warmed up Honda and a Lincoln a warmed up Ford is foolish today. So it is no wonder the numbers of car makes has gone down. I think today product differentiation is going to be less about about what is powering them and more about how they are presented. Given the technology and requirements that go into the basic architecture of a car, it simply cannot be expected to develop a unique powertrain for a specialty model, but whether the carmake can present the package sufficiently that the buyer feels differently. I am not sure that market consolidation is really a failure on anyone’s particular part but just a reality of the evolution of the business. Sort of how we have seen in the airline industry since deregulation.
Too much is made of the superficiality of brands now anyways. Time to move on. No one buys like that anymore – it was a bit painful when the domestics lost their mechanical identity but GM figured out that wouldn’t last long before losing market share. Perhaps that contributed to some of the decline but the business model was no longer sustainable. Just like IBM no longer dominates PCs and AT&T telephone service.
Interestingly, the Quad 4 was the last engine developed by Oldsmobile as a division although when it was given to them it was mostly done so for capacity reasons rather than it being a pure Oldsmobile product.
How about have Gary Boldwater sell it?
What an awful car did any sell?Fog lights that look cool at night yeah dummy nearly as cool as the citation for using them, Front drive with no roadholding a noisy dunger of an engine a total POS this sales clown is funny he is busy decribing new features that were old hat at the time. Thank gawd this crap never left the US.
what is with all the negative comments Kiwi?
These cars did very well in SCCA racing at the time…so the “no roadholding” comment is just as off base as the “chain drive in the transmission” one was last week.
There were not actually functional foglights on any car in the US during this time period…that goes for foreign and domestic…they were (and still are) mostly for style.
The Quad 4 wasn’t that bad of an engine. Yes it was called loud and rough, but it made great power for its displacement…and unless you have driven a car with the Quad 4 you really can’t go by what you read in magazines and the internet. I drove a Beretta GTZ quite extensively back in the day and it was fast, fun and had a pretty unique and some may say sporty sound to it… and it handled amazingly, even the magazines at the time drooled over the handling.
You have alot of unfounded negative opinions about cars you have never even seen in person. I don’t see people dumping all over the cars you post and drool over. Why not give it a rest and try to enjoy the stories…If all the little crap boxes you post about were so great in their time how come the US never got any of them?
Forget it, he’s a ——.
narrr it’s just a wank-off copy of a jappa Rover 200i no one never brought one of erm yank crappas down here no way nevar must be cos its shite cept one of erm i seen on holiday in christchurch driven by some poly wanka flipped ova in a roundabout tryina ovatake a pissed out clappa morris minorr looked like a blimey joey kangol tryina box a pacca dingoes
this is beautiful
I know, its amazing how someone who lives in a country with 7 cars and 40 sheep, knows how every car that was never even sold there drives…..
Carmine, no name calling. Best way to read Bryce is with a sense of humor 🙂
Agreed, Paul. Bryce is like our version of Jalopnik’s Super Kiwi Zorro, but more factual, less insulting, more humorous than troll-like (vice versa for SKZ), and has some interesting stories to tell (usually about his dad’s GM dealership, but still interesting).
I’d laugh if he ever posted anything funny.
The also some cultural difference here… I’ve lived in both regions and it seems to me the average Aussie or Kiwi dishes more out, takes more in return, and does more of both with a laugh – whereas in the US there’s more of a value for taking one’s self and opinions seriously.
Anyway Bryce’s opinion of American cars isn’t atypical in this part of the world – remember that this market gets very few of the cars that make you love an American brand (‘Vette, Camaro, Mustang, Cadillac, Viper etc) and instead gets the dregs (old Explorer and Taurus, Caliber, Compass, Sebring etc etc). That said, there’s a massive and highly visible enthusiasm for Detroit’s iconic models, so take the snark with a grain of salt.
Sure, the quad four wasn’t bad if you could put up with the shaking, noise, failed head gaskets, failed water pumps and cracked heads. In fact, the stellar quality of the Quad 4 meant it stayed in production for many years and is still powering fine GM cars today. These fine products contributed to making Oldsmobile the world-class brand it is today.
A friend on mine had one of these Cultass N body things. What a craptastic appliance it was, too. It seemed like a slightly tarted up Cavalier, complete with crapo-interior. But then again, it was a slightly tarted up Cavalier…..
It was in production for 15 years or so, and was replaced by a new family of engines that have been very successful, powerful and durable. I’m don’t know of any automobile company that continues to use the same engine for ever without making improvements, refinements and eventually redesigning it. Of course the newest family of engines use Direct Injection, something Toyota and Honda have only recently toptoed into using on some of their own production engines.
Agreed, Phil. The Quad 4, along with the Oldsmobile brand, worked hand in hand to make GM the most successful company in the world’s history. Because of such stellar products such as the N body, GM still maintains its huge historical market share and generates great dividends for its stock holders. In fact, the majority of my investment portfolio is GM stock, and I have, for many years, lived comfortably off the dividends.
Successful, profitable, Blue Chip companies like GM and its stellar products such as the Quad 4 and The N body are what have made America great!
Judging from the HP/litre figures, it seems GM went A Bridge Too Far here. Honda, while surprisingly getting less power out of their 4th-gen Prelude twincam of the same size, didn’t have the noise/vibe problem, yet I doubt Honda lost many customers on this point. I notice GM later traded power for better NVH in the Quad 4 by fiddling w/ exhaust port size. So it seems like a bad initial call by mgmt. here.
I read somewhere that Honda has a sort of Yoda-like NVH guru on their staff, able to detect subtle harmonic issues in engines. “I sense an inbalance in the Force”…
It’s pretty simple – four-cylinder engines over 2.0L tend to have NVH issues if they don’t have balance shafts – especially if they’re being revved to 7400 RPM!
One reason the Prelude engine had less power in non-VTEC form was probably that it had twin balance shafts. One of the tradeoffs of balance shafts on a four-cylinder engine is that they do consume a certain amount of power, but they make the engine a lot easier to live with, especially if it’s over 2,000cc. Under 2 liters, you can potentially get away without them, particularly with the sophistication of modern engine mount design, but once you start going to 2.3 or 2.5 liters, they make a real difference. (The Prelude Si engine was 2,259cc, while the VTEC version — which had more power than the Quad 4 — was de-stroked to 2,157cc.)
The factors that allowed GM to accumulate a 50% market share no longer apply in today’s market. No matter how well GM could build a car that level was untenable.
Little factors like WWII and the devastation of Europe and Japan where it took them 20+ years to rebuild their home market let alone export anything. Currency exchange rates historically made it prohibitive to trade in the US until the dollar was floated when Breton Woods was abandoned, something called OPEC and CAFE that forced the domestics to build cars they weren’t accustomed to and the public was not accustomed to buying and of course all of the various environmental and safety regulations that eat up a huge part of a car’s development budget now.
Given the globalization of today’s economy and the factors mentioned above, it is almost certain no company will be able to accumulate a market share approaching 25% at least in the US if not the world.
Arguing over that fact makes as much sense as arguing over an IBM PC from 1981 while you type on your Dell or MacBook.
The rules changed along time ago and for reasons that most people are not talking about.
Yet Toyota is doing exactly that…building a huge market share.
They’re doing it exactly the opposite way: Instead of Art And Color departments and planned obsolescence; instead of playing the customer for a fool…they’re offering dull-but supernaturally-reliable basic transportation…and in some cases more than basic transportation.
They’re taking the old VW act one step further…reliability while keeping their technology current.
Toyota’s market share in the US in 2012 was 14%. That is a long way from 50%. GM is no longer Toyota’s main competitor but the other 86% of the market including Honda, VW, Nissan, etc. that compete directly with it on a volume basis, plus all of the other market segments where Toyota does not compete (or competes only marginally).
That is just in the US, then you go overseas where the Korean brands have begun to flex in the Asian markets. China is the #1 growth market in the world right now and it is dominated by GM, VW and the Korean brands collectively plus home market cars. The Japanese brands have suffered in China mainly for political reasons but it is still a huge crutch.
As to the Arts&Science and planned obsolescence, well the latter is an old fashioned term and the former is what drives car sales. Some people, a lot of people, in fact buy cars for other reasons than simple transportation. Good Lord if all I had to choose from was a Corolla, a minivan, or a pickup truck I would rather walk or shoot myself. Next time I am shopping with my wife I will make sure I bring up the argument about keeping it simple and dull “but it’s only a shoe…” Maybe your situation dictates your need for a Toyota Yaris and I am certainly not going to pass judgment on your situation, or any one else’s for that matter. I will say this, I have had a hell of a time over the last 40 years in the car business being a part of some of the most interesting vehicles ever produced as well as monumental changes that couldn’t have dreamed of when I started. God willing I will spend the next 20 or more years in the antique market keeping alive the memories of great vehicles gone by. But I will say this, no matter what car companies are around in the next 50 years, always always ALWAYS there should and will be a wide variety of choices for people. The US buying public has always responded to products that are exciting interesting and a reflection of their personalities. Car companies that produce vehicles that reflect the passions and the ideals of the times will do well. Those that do not, will either disappear or be cosigned to the part of the market that doesn’t care.
I’ve covered this before. I love interesting or exciting cars as much as the next guy; but to someone making no more (inflation adjusted) than in 1984…a car based on STYLE makes no SENSE.
So I pick practicality over flash. Forty years ago, I’m sure a lot of VW owners had their hearts quicken as a Corvette rolled by…but sometimes, it’s just not in the cards.
As for “planned obsolescence” – it’s a subjective term, but like one Supreme Court Justice describing obscenity, most of us can know it when we see it. This Quad 4 lump of miscast metals is part of it.
So are most of the failed automotive offerings by GM in that era. Oddly, their trucks didn’t suffer from such problems; even though the 1973-1988 trucks weren’t nearly as sturdy as those they replaced. The trend towards more flimsy, more breakable, less durable, was there even in their industrial offerings.
A Yaris is not an enthusiast’s car. What it is, is something that will get me to work tomorrow. And a year from tomorrow. And 200,000 miles down the road…actually, probably not, since this one has been abused. I’m going to sell it – and according to KBB, I should be able to recoup 2/3 of my purchase price. WHAT…Chevrolet or Oldsmobile or Cadillac…has EVER done THAT!
AGAIN, the point of my original comment was that the factors that allowed GM to get 50% of the US market are no longer present for them or any other car marker. I further stated that it is unlikely that any car marker will be able to surpass 25% of the market in the US for a number of reasons. That has nothing to do with anyone’s personal situation, that is a micro-economic condition we are talking about the macro-level here. Furthermore, it is unlikely that any one car company will be able to dominate the world market at such a level for many of the same reasons and for some very specific ones (like the political situation between China and Japan). I welcome a discussion about where the market will go in the next 20 years – but so far all I am getting are rehashed platitudes and continued discussion about whether molding falls off of 20 year old cars sitting outside in junkyards. It sounds a lot like crying over spilt milk. The car business is completely different than it was before OPEC, CAFE, NHTSA, and the EPA put a clamp on things. Cars like the 1965 Thunderbird that we all drooled over a couple of days ago are no longer possible to be built, by anyone.
I’ll politely agree. Kiwi, you have some great photos on the cohort album, and could offer a unique perspective for all us ‘Mericans on here. Instead about 99% of your comments are just all negative, and typically dump all over whoever posted the article or took the photo, or those of us commenting who bother to show an interest in the car.
I don’t know if they just don’t have this saying in New Zealand, but we have one we tell grumpy children here- “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. This is a good website full of great commenters, lets keep it that way.
Putting my psychologist hat on, a conformational bias, it sounds like a form of ‘normative social influence’ brought on by the commenter’s desire to fit in with the editor’s obvious bias against most American vehicles.
Otherwise known in layman’s terms as ‘The AM radio effect…’
Most of the comments on this site are genuine and fun to read. Some just show irrational bias, some other people just like to hear themselves talk.
That was a tragic Ricardo Montalbán impression.
I would assume that Baerry Thiel is a fan ov… DA Baears.
I was intrigued by the Quad Four when it debuted. Then one sunny afternoon I was waiting at a crosswalk when a brand-new Achieva pulled up. It had the Quad Four. That ended my interest in the Quad Four. It made my dad’s 1986 Ford Escort Pony sound like a Benz.
Ugh, these cars are the nadir of GM. The stumpy look that began with the 1985 C bodies under Roger Smith’s Reign of Error. One can almost here the warning sytem blaring in the background “pull up, pull up’
The upright, formal roof, dates back to the 1976 Seville. But GM went overboard, since the fast back A bodies were rejected by the market in 1978-80. So, they figured, “Make all our cars look same! People will still buy them, based on brand loyalty.”
Unlike most cars that were controversial looking when new, I think the “formal” roof on the N-body actually looks worse and worse as the years go by.
The Quad 4 was chapter XXXVII of the book “How GM Stole Defeat From the Jaws of Victory”. I thought the engine was a hoot, though mine was the 150hp Quad 4 with balance shafts (1995). For what it was, it was quick, reasonably economical and quiet. Yes, quiet (try listening to a 2.2L S10). I could just imagine having had a 190hp version. Just dump the car before 75K miles unless you have a Swiss bank account. As an older car, run far, far away.
Again, typically for GM, the later ones were pretty good and once they had the bugs worked out, they canned it.
Refusing to put balance shafts was the first mistake but the Quad 4 was a reliability nightmare in its first five years.
Didn’t the lessons GM (eventually) learned from the Quad 4 also make it into the Ecotec 2.2L? That was a pretty stout little engine in my 2004 Grand Am, and reasonably smooth too.
So, hey, it only took them 17 years…
Let me start off by saying that in my experience, the 1st generation N-Bodies were uniformly horrible cars. Probably the worst build-quality of any GM product during that time. I’ve never seen one that didn’t have most pieces of trim broken or falling off, inside and out, a sagging/removed headliner, long faded paint, apparently broken suspension parts and a wheezy, shaking hell of an engine. Even the ones that were maintained in near museum-quality conditions by old farts with heated garages ended up looking like Mexico City taxis within a few years. GM sold tons of all variants (they were everywhere when I was a kid – especially Grand Ams) and yet by the year 2000 they were virtually extinct. Nowadays, I see them about as often as I see Fiat 124s. The Quad4 was a technological marvel, but if you wanted one without shifting gears yourself, you were stuck with the 3-speed automatic – which sucked any life and excitement right out from under the hood. Plus it had well documented reliability/NVH issues and the only alternative for the Olds’ cars was an even crappier (though slightly more robust) Iron Duke. Also, the roof looked stupid.
Now that all of that nastiness is out of the way, I do think the W40/W41 High-Output models were wicked cool and I’ve been a casual fan of them for a long, long time. 180-190HP and 7400 revs out of a naturally-aspirated four cylinder in those days was just total insanity, and being able to order one with (nearly) all the factory race car stuff from any Olds’ dealership was the icing on the cake. IMO, this was a return to glory of sorts for the 4-4-2 name. The G-Body rendition with the H.O. 307 wasn’t terrible, but it was more of a relic from the past than anything else. Despite the rampant quality issues, I feel the fact that these ones could hang with (or trounce) contemporary pony cars and most sporty imports on the street or track makes them deserving of that storied moniker. The International Series models were the next step down, trading a little performance for a (very little) comfort, but they were still pretty hardcore and I can appreciate them as well.
As usable, functional cars – overall they were abysmal… but as fast and unique toys/science experiments, they were totally badass. It seems like the Quad4 still has something of a following, but even the people who are diehards only use them as track cars or weekend playthings. There isn’t a ton of information available online about the cars that were campaigned in the IMSA and SCCA series, but it seems like they were all near stock and pretty much cleaned up in their classes – at a time when lots of very competent similar vehicles were available.
If I ever get my shit together, I’d like to dig up some info on the IMSA/SCCA cars/W41 engine program and submit an Automotive History on it. I think there’s probably a pretty interesting story there.
Oy… this thread turned ugly fast. All over a car built by a long dead brand.
That brand, and its corporate parent, burned a lot of us. While laughing all the way to the gold-pile.
Memories die hard; and we look at this plastic shill promoting a rolling joke, and say, WHISKEY-TANGO-FOXTROT – OVER?!
I have no problems with the GM cars of this era at all. They made my family a lot of money.
I would argue that they didn’t laugh all the way to the gold pile, with much justification. We can argue the causes of GM’s decline, but nobody can argue that they weren’t bleeding market share and money for the better part of three decades. If GM’s leadership had any wits about them they weren’t laughing, they were crying.
Yeah but you don’t see guys on here frothing at the mouth about their bad Plymouths, Mercuries, AMCs, or Studebakers. It seems that there is a special level of hate reserved for GM.
Even the guys who say “I’ll never buy another Ford” or “I’ll never buy another Chrysler” don’t seem to get this pissed.
I think the difference is that GM was the land of “no need to compromise”. GM was the biggest and for a long, long time, consistently the best. GM had resources that every other company could hardly even conceive. Sure, Chrysler botched several launches and built a lot of bad cars. But they, particularly in the 70s and early 80s, were operating on a shoestring and everything was a compromise. GM had the wherewithal to do anything it wanted in whatever way it wanted. It botched the whole affair so badly, it is hard even now to imagine it. We should throw in some arrogance as well. When Chrysler was fighting for loan guarantees in an effort so survive, it was GM chairman Thomas Murphy who argued that they would be an affront to the free enterprise system, or something like that, until he finally shut up about the topic for political purposes.
It is, of course, sad when the mentally slow kid who lives with his unwed, disabled mother in the trailer park succumbs to a life of drugs and crime. People would feel sorry for him, but it would be hard to get angry at him, given his difficult circumstances. But when the rich, handsome kid with a great successful family and a full ride scholarship to an Ivy League school does the same thing, I think the average reaction of people would be different. Certainly an imperfect analogy, but this is how I see GM’s implosion compared with that of some other companies.
Exactly, and I’d add to that, that when they really, really wanted to get it right, they DID. The 1977 Chevrolet Impala/Caprice. The older truck models. And even their other products, such as locomotives…plenty of them going strong at 40-plus years of age.
The problem seems to be when we, as consumers, would buy what GM, in its wisdom, did not WANT us to buy. The Vega. The Chevette. The X-body Citation and clones. And this piece of stellar badge-engineering. “Oh, you want a small car? Small is CHEAP. Small is CRAPPY. Here, we’ll prove it – see you in a year. Bring approved credit, we’ll have a Ninety-Eight ready for you!” That’s contemptuous and exploitative.
And that’s why GM lost market share to Japan, Inc. Because they combined arrogance and criminally-poor build and design, with a belief that the game could be played this way forever.
It’s not every day that New Zealand causes an international incident.
Apparently, around here (MN) they couldn’t GIVE the Calais-es away. I’ve only seen three in the tin. Two were rotted, beater 4-doors. The third was a minty, silver 2-door, an ’87, with a mere 640 miles on the clock. It belonged to the local high school, where it was used for demonstrations (and the occasional brake-stand out behind the auto shop) until a few years ago. Strangely enough, it wound up there after a dealership in Minneapolis donated it to them back in ’86.
Circa 2006 I saw the car had been moved to the bus storage lot. A year later, it disappeared. I still wonder where it wound up. (The school’s longtime shop teacher, may he rest in peace, once told me he’d been required to sign an agreement with GM wherein the car was to be used for educational purposes or crushed – one or the other, nothing else. I fear that it may have been subjected to the latter.)
Not an International, but worth a mention 🙂
I absolutely love these little cars! I have owned 5 of them in my lifetime, all Quad 4 cars, 4 of them had FE3 (sport suspension), and I currently own 2. My favorite is this one http://www.cardomain.com/ride/4048833/1991-oldsmobile-cutlass-calais/
I read all of the comments, and all I kept asking myself was “I wonder how many of the commentators actually owned one of these cars?” Yes, there is NVH, that is a known issue but worth is for the horsepower. They are fun, nimble, easy to drive cars that handle quite well and get great gas mileage. It is a shame that so many will form opinions based on opinions of other people and not personal experience, most people call that ignorance.
It boggles my mind to think how the once proud Oldsmobile divison that created the gorgeous, high quality and highly innovative 1966 Toronado succumbed to building unspeakabley ugly, poor quality garbage just two decades later. Oldsmobile “died” years before GM officially axed the division.
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