(first posted 5/16/2013) Okay, boss, here’s the copy for the Firenza brochure (I can’t believe I went to college for this *sigh*). Corporate keeps pushing these tin cans on us—don’t they even know what the Olds brand promise is? Well, this it ain’t! These badge-engineered J-cars are worse than a one-liner joke (do you like how I worked that into the first line of the copy?):
“For those who take their fun—and budget—seriously. Fun, today, is more than a one-liner.”
“It’s people working hard at play and on the job. It’s giving that extra effort and getting full value in return.”
Yeah, a different plastic front end is what you get for all your “extra effort…”
“It’s the satisfaction of owning a fine Oldsmobile like Firenza Coupe or Sedan, or Firenza S Coupe. They are, surprisingly, the lowest priced Oldsmobiles of all.”
Like folks are *so* shopping Oldsmobile for “low price…”
“Each is stylishly Olds outside…”
Except for everything in-between the front and rear bumpers…
“… and comfortably Olds inside. Full-foam reclining bucket seats, deluxe steering wheel, side window defoggers, sport console, steel-belted tires and more—all included in a price that makes your first Oldsmobile very affordable.”
…just like every other rebadged J-car!
“Anyplace you spend time everyday should be inviting—and comfortable.”
That’s why most folks have a living room, I suspect.
“There is a special feel in a Firenza and Firenza Cruiser”
There is a special feel I got while writing that sentence…
Well there you go—that’s the best I could come up with, Boss. I’ll start on the Calais brochure this afternoon…
Maybe I’m being too harsh, but the J-cars seem to be the foam cup among the history of GM products…one good use and toss it in the trash.
However, foam cups can be quite durable with a little care and planning.
The front of these was my second favorite of the J’s with the rear being my favorite. This was a good find.
I can’t speak about these earlier cars, but I had a ’91 Sunbird that was a great car, and went on to go well over 300,000 miles without major repair. I’d love to find a gently used ’92 SE V6 with a 5-speed. Trouble is, none of these were really ever ‘gently used’.
Huh: close…but this one’s an LE with the uglier nose. V6/5speed/white interior. Rotting away in Alabama. 3.1 has spun bearing.
We can rebuild him ! We have the technology !
I don’t think that’s too harsh at all. True there are many Js still on the road but so many were sold to begin with…the odds were in their favor.
I call Firenza “exhibit A” for why Oldsmobile needed to go away.
Saturn should have never happened.
And Buick/GMC are still a giant “wait and see” for me. As long as the volume leader Chevrolet has to move aside a little to allow these marques to exist…
something Ford never really was forced to do.
Exhibit B will always be the X-body Omega. Buyers of Delta 88s and 98s must have vomited into their stetson hats when they saw the ‘new’ Omegas.
I disagree that Olds ‘needed to go away’, but I will say that the name had become a cynical badge engineering exercise to sell more GM cars to older folk. Ransom Eli would not have wanted it this way….
I think ‘foam cup’ whenever I see any late ’70s/early ’80s GM car from the front. I refer to the interchangeable plastic/urethane noses, massive painted plastic bumpers, disintegrate-o-matic gap-hiders and other pleasantries on the front of these things. Yeah, I know they had safety mandates to meet, without spending huge amounts on re-tooling, but the GM front-ends just looked so…….plastic?
Oldsmobile tried to sell them dressed up like their big cars. If they just sold them dull and basic like a Tercel they might have sold better. Well probably would have done better selling just the Chevrolet and Pontiac versions.
I think that must have been a new thing, hatchback with a lot of slope like that. Most hatch just opened up like the Civic coupe.
The hatch was kind of the real successor to the 1975-1980 H-special Skyhawk/Sunbird/Monza/Starfire, which only came in a 3 door hatch in the Buick and Oldsmobile versions.
Chevrolet and Pontiac really should have been the only ones, but these were planned in the wake of the “oil crisis” when division demanded a small car.
Isn’t it true that a Cadillac version of the J was never planned, but the division lobbied for it?
That is true, the Cimarron was never part of the original J-platform, but was lobbied for by then-Cadillac GM Edward Kennard as a way to break in the idea of a smaller Cadillac. The success of the Seville, which was adapted from the X-platform Nova but altered enough to be labeled a K-platform car, led to that thinking. The original idea floated was to have a Cadillac off of the A-body platform specifically the Buick Century. The Cimarron, which was named by Kennard directly, was supposed to get a V6 motor and be styled very conservatively, much like the Seville. With the working formula for the FWD C bodies already in place by 1980, this sort of made sense in a way. As has been said, the energy situation around that time was so fluid that GM was under the gun in a major way with CAFE. I have no idea who instigated the migration from X to J but it was made. The problem was is that the type of unit construction on the J did not allow much alteration of the body – hence why all of the various design looked the same. In a way, it was supposed to be a stop gap car, mostly to buy time as they were originally going to redo an Opel Senator to a Cadillac for around 84-85. However gas prices stabilized so that idea was pushed aside once the downsized C/E/K cars came out and the MPG figures fell in line. Of course, as we know, the European car eventually came to the US as a Catera. Had the Cimarron come out as a Buick Century-like vehicle, it probably would have been nice as the Century was popular.
Yes it was a monumental bone-faced move, but one must also realize the context in which all of this took place. The import threat was only a piece of it, and actually only a relatively small piece of it. Emissions and safety standards were not even particularly worrisome since every car sold in the US had to conform. The biggest threat was CAFE and government action. To this day, GM has never paid a corporate wide CAFE-related fine (this is different than a gas guzzler tax applied to a specific car purchase) unlike many brands like Mercedes that regularly pays fines because they refuse to sell basic cars to average out their fleet or alter their premium cars to conform. They get away with it because the US government can fine them, but little else barring international incident. GM, in the late 1970s when CAFE became effective for MY1978, was, as we all know, about 50% of the entire market. Throughout much of the post-war history GM was always working under an anti-trust threat from the government. If GM flaunted CAFE requirements the threat of repercussions would have been real and severe. A little known fact from the Congressional hearings regarding the Chrysler loan guarantee from 1980, was discussion of Chrysler CAFE standard as an ongoing manufacturer. Part of the pitch to get the loan guarantee was the release of the K-cars and their derivatives which would have ensured compliance. I do have time to offer a direct cite for this comment, but it is widely believed that by the late 70s, Chrysler has the worse corporate fuel economy of the major manufacturers. It probably comes to no surprise considering what they were selling at that time. The introduction of the Omni/Horizon, while developed by Chrysler Europe, was highly prescient at the time which single handedly brought them into compliance for MY1978 along with greater installations of Slant Sixes in RWD cars. I am sure no one really wanted to put Slant Sixes in the R bodies, despite it being a rock solid engine, but the looming shadow of Big Brother always kept you looking back.
So I looked at all of these things somewhat akin to forced errors. Ultimately we are responsible for our faults, but when we are forced to play the game under a different set of rules or what the rules are constantly changes it does make it a mite difficult.
I have often pointed out everything that you wrote when the discussion of why GM did this or that in the 70’s and 80’s. GM was under the gun more than any other manufacturer at that time. Dozens and dozens of engine and vehicle combinations that needed to be certified for all sorts of different regulations.
The Cimarron was an 11th hour idea added to the J-car program, if Cadillac had had more time to “Seville-it-up” before it came out, it might have been a different story. I think they should of at least offered the Cimarron in coupe and convertible versions, if you had to use the J-body, might as well take advantage of the different body styles.
I always thought that if politicians really wanted to reduce fuel consumption, they’d simply raise the national gas tax from 18.4¢/gal (in addition to state & local excise taxes which vary widely). Of course that would be political suicide, so they’d rather fool about with CAFE so they can manipulate the public backstage by limiting supply. This seems crazy, but it makes sense when I perceive that voters, on one hand, tell pollsters they want “energy independence,” but act differently in the showroom. “Buyers are Liars” is not restricted to real estate.
Super find. I don’t remember seeing many of the hatchback even when it was new. This one looks like it could be perfect again with just a little body work.
And a whole lot of engine work (it sounded like it was on its last legs when the owner drove off).
Despite what the brochure says, can anyone have been surprised that this was the lowest priced Oldsmobile of all? My response is that I would be afraid to see the Olds priced lower than this one.
There was once a secretary in my office who drove one of these, a fastback in a higher trim level. I never heard her complain about it, but it always seemed to me to be generic early 80s GM – was there really any reason to prefer the Olds over the Buick or Pontiac or Chevy? Pick the front end or wheels you prefer, or the place that cuts you the best deal. Sort of like the cheap store-brand ice cream – it comes in 3 flavors, but none is really very good.
Actually, the J-cars came in 5 craptastic flavors. They were:
-Soaring Mint Skyhawk
Also, would the N-bodies count as another “Flavor Of J-Car”?
The Cutlass Moped Supreme was dropped from consideration…..
Did you know “cheap store-brand ice cream” is actually made by the big labels in the same building alongside the other? 😉 True.
Loads of snark first thing in the morning…
I have a buddy who works in the auto body repair industry, back in the day I asked him if the price premium was worth it (Buick & Olds vs. Chevy & Pontiac) and he unequivocally said yes.
I was in a lot of these J-cars back then, I can say that the Buick version we discussed a few weeks ago here was a nicer car than the Chevy or Pontiac version. I’d have to believe the same applies here. Part of the reason why I don’t have much to say about the Olds (except that I want one), is that there weren’t many around. Entry level cars for Olds were still more money than a mid level Cavalier. And Olds, like Mercury, really lost their “youth appeal” with the end of the 1970’s. Actually, Olds HAD youth appeal; Mercury, not so much…
Regardless, the cheapest car of any line is always the worst. But I’d still be interested in a little dinghy like this. Economical, with a big hatchback? Just right for me at this stage of life…
I wonder how these – all J-bodies – compared to our 1981 Reliant as far as reliability/driveability? I know my Father-in-law liked our K-Car enough to buy one of his own, and he owned three of them throughout the 80’s, of course, in more luxurious trim(!) than our stripper!
I sold our K-Car in 1988 when a 1980 LeBaron was given to us, so with only 65K on the Reliant (8800 miles average per year), I was curious, but never drove a J-body in any guise. I hated GM back then, so they were off my radar.
Hey Zackman! That’s a good question. Both cars had very long shelf lives; and seemed ubiquitous on our roads (at least in the mid-west) for a great period of time. The K car stayed largely family car oriented, where the hotter versions of the J body could be pretty racy. Both had a large amount of “all things to all people” with coupe, sedan and wagon variants. The only body style the K didn’t have was the hatch, but K variations (our beloved EEKs) took care of that.
For me, it’s a toss up. I was in the same frame of mind WRT to GM during this time, the 80’s being the Roger & Me era, and then the Saturn project (which IMO took valuable resources from small car development and Lordstown). Ford’s idea of quality being Job One was more like Job Three. Which threw me into the arms of Chrysler…
Some of the early K’s were less than perfect, along with early J’s. As they wore on, they were refined and got better. But largely between the two it’s a tie, as far as I know. I’d give the advantage to the K car only because Mopar figured out problems and implemented fixes faster…
I lived with my 84 Cavalier Convertible for 9 years, i much prefer the 3 i had with my $450. Marc Cross LeBaron 1986 model. It was still Styling in luxury.
Most everything worked, Comfy car. Much Nicer Than a J car.
You sit Up higher , straiter in the K car. The Cavalier felt like You were in a pod designed To a Severely LOW price point… the k, was trying to b a full to mid sized car proud of its chrysler heritage, a big deal to me at the time.
Yet I still see a lot of J cars, and I lived With the repairs necessary for 9 years , Well 8, until I stopped Fixing Things , They just added up too fast. I got 500 in trade on a 93 Mazda MX6 ,6 years old with 133 miles on it…4500
Well remember that the K-car was kind of a Volare/Aspen/Valiant/Dart replacement, which is a notch above the Vega/Monza replacement that the J-cars were.
“I have a buddy who works in the auto body repair industry, back in the day I asked him if the price premium was worth it (Buick & Olds vs. Chevy & Pontiac) and he unequivocally said yes.”
That’s a question you have to qualify before answering. Underneath, the cars were virtually identical – same engines, suspension bits, etc., dialed up and down for the various trim levels offered under each brand.
What you got for your extra $$ was effectively more sound deadening (and its attendant performance-robbing weight), slightly higher grade interior materials, different styling cues and “brand cachet.”
That’s not exclusive to GM or even the domestics. The whole reason Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti came into being is that those Japanese makes wants to sell a premium car and they did not believe American public would buy a Toyota for $60K, so Lexus was born. Except for the ultra sedans, LS400/Q45, etc. Most of the Acura, Infiniti, Lexus are parts bin cars with varying degrees of alterations to make them different. It was widely believed when the Japanese premium brands first debuted, that at least with Lexus and Infiniti, they completely badge engineered several versions of cars so that the new dealers would have something more to sell than 1 4 door sedan.
I’ll also point out that the Dealer Service side of the equation is important, too (and Acura/Lexus/Infiniti I believe all tried to offer a better experience in this area).
You can’t simply charge more for something without adding some sort of value to justify the added cost (well, actually, you can, but only for a limited time before you end up killing your brand).
“You can’t simply charge more for something without adding some sort of value to justify the added cost (well, actually, you can, but only for a limited time before you end up killing your brand).”
“So, what exactly are you trying to say here? Huh?!?!”
The 1982 Cadillac Cimarron and the 1977 Lincoln Versailles
Until MY2006, they sold all of the US Lexus cars, and some more even, in Japan under Toyota. So why not in the US? It was a marketing ploy.
What was wrong with the Toyota dealership experience that required them to set up a separate network? They seemed to do just find selling the same things in Japan and elsewhere.
Infiniti actually suffered for this for a long time. The Q45 was never terribly popular, but the other models were panned at various points. It brand almost died until the 00s when Carlos Ghosen tried to shift the brand identity somewhat, but Infiniti sales have always been the weakest of the Japanese premium brands.
The Japanese dealer arrangement was not like the US one during the ’80s. There were dealers that specialized in various models. You went to a Toyota Store, a Toyopet Store, a Crown Store, etc depending on what you wanted. While they could have done the same thing here, I suspect the result would have been confusion. What do you mean you don’t have the model I’m looking for or don’t service the model I’m driving?
That’s not really comparable to what GM did with the J-cars. The Acura Integra, for example, was based on the Civic platform, but it wasn’t simply a Honda Civic with a different grille and taillights, along with a few extra pounds of sound-deadening material. The Intergra was not a badge-engineered version of the Civic.
The J-cars weren’t bad by the time GM got the bugs worked out of them. The problem was that they went on for far too long without any major changes, while Honda and Toyota were aggressively coming out with new models every four years. Plus, the Olds and Buick versions really didn’t fit in with the overall image of the parent brand. Most people went to their Chevrolet or Pontiac dealers for cars of this size. Olds and Buick were supposed to be the upmarket divisions, so they really should have left the economy market to Chevrolet and Pontiac.
I was always impressed by the steady improvement in most Japanese cars during this period. As well as new body designs, there always seemed to be actual technical improvement as well. And that’s as it should be: a car is a machine, the new one should work better than the old. A continual striving toward improved functionality, rather than just continuing presence in a given market segment.
Could GM actually recognize areas that needed improvement in their product? Or were they too constrained/straitjacketed by the “Must maximize shareholder profits before all else” mantra? I get the impression GM was really floundering during this period, simply responding to Washington mandates under duress, knee-jerk fashion, rather than having any sort of long-term business plan.
The whole reason Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti came into being is that those Japanese makes wants to sell a premium car and they did not believe American public would buy a Toyota for $60K, so Lexus was born.
That’s a tad simplistic, and doesn’t really paint an accurate picture. They clearly saw that by creating a premium brand and channel, they would be able to compete effectively against the other premium competition: MBZ, BMW, Audi, Cadillac, etc. Those brands certainly weren’t selling econoboxes at the time, in the US. By creating new brands, and offerring a premium dealer experience, they would be able to sell them effectively to status-conscious Americans.
FWIW, I think Toyota could have sold its LS as a Toyota in the US fairly well, given its innate qualities at the time. Hyundai is going down that road with the Genesis. But creating a second brand offered much more potential, which Toyota exploited fully, and Acura did for some time. It was a logical and smart move.
The fact that Toyota sold luxury models at home is because of the long history of doing so, unlike in the US. The same goes for Mercedes, which sold stripper models in the home market.
I should also point out that at least three of Lexus car lines (LS, GS and IS) are completely unique to Lexus, and are not “badge engineered”.
Was the Acura Integra, Infinity G20 and Lexus ES250 really not considered “econo-boxes”. Cadillac, Mercedes, Lincoln, BMW…none of them really sold anything in that “lower” class at the time.
It would’ve been different if you could walk down the street to the Nissan dealer and buy your Q45 without the Infiniti badges for $10K less, which was the game the domestics were playing – but in all but a few cases, you couldn’t. What the Asian makes did was more akin to what GM did with the Holden Monaro/Pontiac GTO, or Commodore/Pontiac G8.
“The whole reason Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti came into being is that those Japanese makes wants to sell a premium car and they did not believe American public would buy a Toyota for $60K, so Lexus was born.”
In the case of the Lexus LS, that’s definitely not true. That was a clean sheet design, and Toyota benchmarked the Germans in developing it.
For the Acura/ Honda Legend, that’s not quite true. The Legend was a relatively new and large (for Honda) design, and the US got its first one not long after the Japanese did. The Acura branding was invented for us, though.
Branding in the US was different because of GM. The Sloan model of tiered brands forced everyone else to adapt to it, including Ford and Chrysler. While the Japanese were under the same pressures to conform to those branding expectations or die as had been everyone else, it’s not accurate to imply that the branding effort was akin to what GM did with the J- or X-cars. It’s not as if they were selling Honda Integras alongside the Acura versions.
I did mention that the flagship models were unique designs. You can afford to design a flagship model when you can charge enough to cover everything. What I did say was that in addition to these flagship models, the new dealerships were also stocked with more plebian models that were not clean sheet designs, and in some cases like the original Lexus ES250, being very close to a carbon copy of the Camry. I have seen a lot of switching around of engines, transmissions, various mechanical and body parts between a lot of Toyota/Lexii, Nissan/Infiniti, mostly mechanical on the Honda/Acuras, over the years. Nissan got dangerously close to losing Infiniti in the late 90s early 00s the Nissan Cefiro is sold as a Nissan Maxima in the US and as an Infiniti I30 that shares virtually everything including fenders, doors, trunk lid and perhaps even the hood.
The Infiniti QX4 was another one of those exceptions… a Pathfinder in all but name and nose. The hulking QX56 (Nissan Armada) was another.
Come to think of it, Infiniti has always played more fast-and-loose in this regard than Acura or Lexus. But I’ll forgive them, because G37 Coupe.
Actually, I think that Olds lost their youth appeal when they dropped the rear-drive Cutlass in the late ’80s. I was in my twenties then, and it seemed like everybody my age, once they had gotten a real job and got married and had to ditch the Camaro or Mustang because the wife hated that car, bought a Cutlass Supreme two-door. The Cutlass Calais and Cutlass Ciera front-drivers were strictly for old folks, and when the Supreme went front-drive in the late ’80s, it seems like it got lumped in with the others and faded fast.
It’s too bad because I liked the front-driver Cutlass because of its clean lines and its very airy greenhouse. There was hardly any blind spots from the driver’s seat–something you can hardly say today.
As for the Firenza, AFIK it never did anything to penetrate the youth market for Olds. It was simply a cheap heap to anchor the bottom of the Olds lineup, and it probably did more damage to their reputation than it ever helped the bottom line.
I grew up in rock solid Midwestern Big 3 loving country and I cannot remember ever seeing more than one or two of these in the flesh my whole life.
In fact, I’m positive I’ve seen more Mercury Lynx and X-car Oldsmobile Omegas in my life. Were the Firenza’s available with the FE3 suspension package? That might have made it halfway interesting…
Yes they were but it was rare. The typical buyer demographic for Olds at the time was not conducive for small car sales. Olds was a big car blue collar company and if could only afford a small car, you bought Chevrolet. If you wanted a small car by choice you bought import.
To me, J-bodies seem Mostly Harmless, though I don’t know how reliable they were. Only thing that puzzled me at the time of introduction was that they weren’t much lighter than the Citation.
I had an ’82 Cavalier Type 10 hatch, purchased used with around 80K, which I had to park at around 120K, but not because of mechanical issues (too many speeding tickets!). Despite the heavy modding I did to the car, the only real mechanical issue I has was that the smog pump seized at around 100K. I disconnected it, put on a shorter accessory drive belt and called it good.
I like it, as an artifact. Seems there’s barely enough front end space to fit the headlights. Also, six different optional wheel treatments, on the cheapest car in the store! Is this great country or what?
Used to be a great country. Besides the multiple wheel options, you had a choice of five interior colors: black, dark teal (blue), medium grey, carmine (red), and saddle (beige). And those were ‘real’ interior colors where the dash, steering wheel, and entire door panels matched, not just different color seats and door inserts. Nowadays, your lucky if there are two interior color choices (grey or beige), with those just being the soft places. Everything else is black. Likewise, whatever happened to the ‘scan’ feature on radios?
OTOH, those ‘flipper’ sunroofs weren’t so great. I’m glad they’re not around anymore.
An interesting factoid I ran across:
“Cavalier and Sunbird hold the extremely rare distinction of being available as a 2-door, a 3-door, a 4-door, a 5-door, and a convertible in the same years from 1983 to 1987!”
I guy I knew in high school had a hatch firenza it was maroon over silver with the red velour interior and the super stock gt wheels. I always loved the front end on these compared to the uglyier versions of the J and would like to own one today. My buddys had the 2.8 and a five speed, FE3 suspension and the tuned exhaust from a cavilier. It was a good performer in those days IIRC it was the third fastest car at the school behind a bubble back 5.0 capri and an S-10 with a 350 and some stiffer suspension bits.
I cannot help but notice the Firenza parked next to a certain black VW convertible and the byline…
(also note the convertible Thunderbird next to Eeyore – “retro week!”
You know I think the hatch back versions of the J-cars were the best looking of them all. Chevy had a Z24 version.
I would have liked to see a 4 door hatch J Car but that might have stolen the little sales that the X body cars had left
Regardless of the Citations troubles, the X car did kind of get squeezed a little bit at least when the J cars and the A cars came out. At least with Chevrolet. Both the J and the A were somewhat more conservative in style which was more in tune with the (albeit changing) American car buyer at the time. Now that I think of it, even if the Citation would have been perfect, I could make an argument that sales would have fallen to some degree regardless given what was available by 1985 versus middle of 1979.
these were reliable, and for the times, competitive – with the other domestics. We had, in my family – all from new, an ’82 Cavalier, 84 Escort, 84 Honda Accord.
Keep in mind the accord was much more expensive, but the cavalier was almost as nice riding (quiet, tight, good quality seats etc). The escort was nothing great, but it was reliable. The honda 4cy/stick was way smoother than the other two, but all three lasted well past 150k, and the honda rusted the fastest by far. The cavalier never really rusted, we got it past 200k on original drive train.
We have had two J-cars in personal ownership, the Z24 convertible that I have posted about and an 86 Cavalier CS wagon. Basically a low option car with nothing but a/c and an AM FM radio. We had it until about 1997 with about 250K until the trans started to slip so we parked it and donated it to the local high school auto shop. It was fully functional otherwise, they removed the transmission, had it rebuilt, and kept it around as a utility car at the school for a few years until it disappeared.
Of course here in the South, rust isn’t really an issue so cars are usually give up for mechanical reasons than body/interior. As I remember from back then, the Js were fairly reliable nothing particular stands out especially after 1983. They were pretty conventional cars, the THM125 was a good little 3 speed automatic, the 2.0 OHV TBI 4 in most of the Cavaliers from 83-90 had no particular issues. Since they were small, economy cars that were usually abused by either younger drivers or people that worked them you would see them beat up after a while. I saw an 86-87 Cavalier sedan on I77 Wednesday. It appeared to be driven by someone who probably could only afford it but it wasn’t that bad.
I had a ’84 in beige and it was a great little car. At 120K miles it needed a lot of front end work and it was 10 years old, I opted to replace the car. The 1.8L still was strong.
I love the audacity of the name “Firenza.” It’s such a vanilla car; just an econobox with a splash of Brougham for flavor. They went and named it after a city in Italy, the home of Michelangelo’s David? How much sense does that make? I’ll admit I like the somewhat-clumsy “where did I put my dentures” styling. It gives the car an endearing quality, which a lot of people are attracted to, especially those who go for smaller cars.
I wonder if it was revived from the 1973 Chevrolet Firenza Can Am?
Firenza was one of those names that floated around GM for a while, getting attached to this and that, it was a Vauxhall trim level or model, a Chevrolet, a trim level on the H-body Starfire, predecessor to the Firenza, and the finally Firenza.
Oldsmobile had the same with Calais, which was the cheapo Cadillac series for years, then it was the bucket seat version of the 78 and up Cutlass Supreme, and the finally its own model.
A most excellent find indeed. I’ve been keeping an eye out for a hatchback J for too long. Now I need to find a 1982 Cavalier 1.8, so I can write that long-delayed DS 🙂
I (sort of) wish I still had my ’82, which had the 1.8l engine and 4-speed manual. I remember it would wind out to the ~5,000 RPM redline very willingly, and after a good bit of weight reduction, suspension tuning and body work (I had planned to go autocrossing), it was a hoot to drive.
Had GM limited the J bodies to just Chevy and Pontiac, would it have been so much of a DS?
Well badge-engineering across multiple brands does smack of high cynicism at corporate. The DS nature of GMs small car offerings is that it never really seemed GMs heart was in making a small car until it was far too late to stem the loss of market share and sales to its competitors.
Personally I’m glad the Cruze is doing well, I’m gonna check out the diesel model when it comes out.
I loved my 1984 Firenza, my 1994 Cavalier, but my 2005 Cobalt is a POS from day one. I would advise against purchasing GM. I personally feel that GM owes me one car, and not another GM.
Its not corporate cynicism, remember these were designed in the shadow of both the oil scares, the J-car program started around 1977, every division was screaming for a little car.
Plus GM wanted to cover its CAFE bets by spreading as many small cars around as possible.
I don’t see how the GM small car line could even be a DS. They sold well throughout their history, arguably the best thing to happen to GM since the 1980s as far as a car model. The Js and subsequent models single-handedly made Lordstown the most productive plant ever 20 million cars in 40 years and they are selling every single Cruze they can make today. I too probably would have just sold the Chevrolet and Pontiac models, but hindsight is 20/20. If gas would have been $3-4/gal in 1985 things would have been different.
It depends on which GM small car you mean. The H-body (Vega) and X-body (Citation) were both unquestionably in the DS category, leaving an extremely bad taste in the mouths of millions of first-time (and previous) GM owners.
GM needed a homerun in the small car class to stop hemorrhaging market share in the small car demographic and, unfortunately, the J-body was a single, at best. It was okay (for a GM product), but nowhere near good enough as what the Japanese were selling to overcome the incredible ill-will GM’s previous small cars had created.
Roger Smith knew it and, to his credit, at least tried to get those buyers back with the (too) ambitious Saturn project. It was a valiant (but misguided) effort that, as everyone knows, was doomed to die on the vine thanks to GM’s ingrained mentality of focusing it’s real efforts primarily on big cars.
arguably the best thing to happen to GM since the 1980s
If the J car is the best thing that happened to GM since the beginning of the eighties, you’ve just explained the demise of what was once the world’s biggest and most profitable corporation most succinctly. What more can I add?
Let’s not forget that the J-cars had a rather disastrous beginning, and utterly failed at their intended mission: to beat back the Honda Accord. Yes, they eventually found their niche at the bottom of the car food chain, but after their bungled intro, GM was forced forever to sell them on price, rather than any superior qualities. Which of course meant that GM lost money making them, for the most part. If it hadn’t been for CAFE, I’m sure GM wished they could just have shuttered Lordstown and throw away the key.
People that look back on the J-car favorably remember them as discounted and relatively dependable(by Detroit standards) cars that provided more room than what you could get for the same price from the Japanese. What makes them a miserable failure is what they were meant to be, which was fully competitive with the Accord. Brock Yates’ book, “The Decline and Fall of the American Auto Industry,” used the J-cars’ development as a case study. It looked at all the decisions made along the way that made it so uncompetitive with a car that was about to be replaced. It also came in too expensive to be sold in the intended volume at a profit. A few months later, the 2nd Generation Accord arrived and was obviously a class or two above the J-cars. That was in 1982. The import killer would from then on be inferior goods, but it remained in production for more than two decades. By the time it was over, the J-cars were sold on price against Civics and Corollas instead of Accords and Camrys.
Agreed, with one side-note. GM had a huge base of buyers in 1982 that would consider nothing but GM. Ford and Mopar were inferior goods to them, and Japanese were not even on the radar. GM had about a 45% market share then. This cars competitors were in other GM showrooms and were called Celebrity, Cutlass Ciera and such. These were the cars the old guys helped their newly divorced daughters buy. These were the cars older couples bought for the wife to supplement the “good” car (like a Caprice or an 88) that the husband drove. These were bought by someone thrilled to finally be able to afford a new car and had been brought up to believe that walking into a GM showroom was like walking into the promised land. The problem was that the die-hard GM buyers with any money wanted something much nicer, so (as you pointed out) these were gateway cars.
The problem was that 55% of buyers was NOT in that group. Damn few of the 55% would choose one of these, particularly after driving something Japanese. Also, that 55% skewed much younger than GM’s 45%. As time went on, more and more of the GM 45% got to spend time in someone else’s much more civilized Honda, Nissan or Toyota. Then, as time marched on, the J cars became less and less appealing to a demographic that was shrinking every year. There was NOTHING about one of these that would suck a guy in and make him think “Damn, this thing is really nice. No wonder so many people drive these.” Instead, you would think “yup, feels just like Uncle Clem’s Cutlass Ciera.”
These were like so many other cars GM put out after the 1977 B and C body cars – though they had virtually no appeal to anyone other than the GM lifers, they became fairly cheap and durable appliances – in other word, perfect used cars. Sort of the opposite of so many Ford cars of the 80s, that were so appealing in the showrooms but turned out to be head gasket munching, transmission eating, body rusting hulks.
“Which of course meant that GM lost money making them, for the most part.”
GM sold millions of them, so they probably did produce a profit at some point..
But as for GM’s reputation, you’re absolutely right — the car was a costly disaster. There’s no way that any amount of profit would offset the loss of goodwill and future business.
The 2009 bankruptcy can be traced back to cars such as this, which torpedoed their market share and killed their margins. One of the problems with the auto industry is that it can take decades for mistakes to turn into losses on the income statement. The buffoons can keep acting like buffoons because their mistakes don’t get booked in the annual report.
@PCH101: Ford and GM readily admitted in the 90s and aughts that they were consistently losing money on their small car lines, which in the case of GM was the J car line, and Ford with the Escort/Focus. The reason? Because their transaction prices were so low (necessary to keep moving them) and their costs were so high.
GM (and Ford) had to keep building these cars at a loss because of CAFE, and because they made such huge ($10k+ per unit) profits on their large SUVs, they simply saw it as a necessary cost of staying in business.
That’s why these cars were decontented and cheapened in every way possible over time, to minimize the per-unit loss. But of course, that also meant that they had to keep discounting them heavily.
The other reason GM kept doing this was because it was determined to be cheaper for them to keep as many plants running, even at a loss, as that would still be cheaper than closing plants and throwing more workers on the “GM dole” (job bank, or whatever it was called). GM’s single biggest reason it went bankrupt is because an ever smaller number of employees were supporting the idle and retired GM workers, an inverted pyramid that was doomed to fail. The last few years of GM were a desperate attempt to forestall the inevitable by keeping the plants running through discounting.
It was a death-spiral business plan, and one of the main reasons GM started to tank in 2006 after the post-Katrina gas price run-up. We saw this coming at TTAC back then, and was repeatedly brought up in the GM Death Watch series.
GM and Ford had to realize that their approach wasn’t working. In recent years, both have made a concerted effort to build viable small cars, limit their production to meet actual demand, and price them accordingly. Now their small cars are quite profitable, having learned what Honda, Toyota and Nissan figured out decades ago.
Build a competitive small car, and don’t resort to heavy discounting, and building small cars can be very profitable. Of course, GM’s legacy costs were a key factor. But ultimately, that was their own doing, because back in the 70s and 80s, when their new small cars like the J cars came out, they weren’t competitive, and GM’s small car business started its death spiral.
Don’t choke Paul, but I actually agree with most of what you said regarding legacy situation with GM. My thoughts on the mechanics of the bankruptcy and the labor factors are way too lengthy to post in a comment and involve a lot more than car design which goes beyond the scope of this website. (We agreed to keep politics and religion out of the discussion…)
It is absolutely true that most people at GM historically, and I admit that I am part of that mindset to some degree, had no real use for building small cars. We looked at them as trivial matters left to people who lived in urban areas like NYC where big cars were impractical, poor people, disaffected, and non conformists who felt that driving around in a 55hp VW Bus that could not ascend a hill without choking was appropriate. The emissions and safety regs were a drag, but everyone, including the imports, had to live with them so it was a shared pain. The killer was CAFE, it disproportionately affected GM since GM was the master builder of the American icon of cars and gasoline was the mother’s milk of freedom. It really was painful to see good popular models get cut down to “conform” you could see the pain in people’s eyes when their beloved cars were the shadows of their former selves. GM cars were always sold on style, and then grace and performance (for some models). They were objects d’art and while various complaints cropped up now and then for various things, the fact remained that most American cars always had presence. That was their #1 quality and a tour de force most of the time. Its no surprise that when we say ‘classics’ we usually refer to cars before the mid 1970s when cars were filled with unbridled optimism and were almost entirely developed and built on emotion. They embodied the American dream of individuality and success. That is why I got into the car business, yes I have a mechanical mind and an knack for understand how things work, but it was always about passion for the product. That’s why we loved people like Ed Cole, Bill Mitchell, and others like Lee Iacocca, even old Henry Ford, most of whom could be nearly unbearable to work with at times but we all knew had oil in their veins. At Oldsmobile, we loved John Rock who often showed up for work in a cowboy hat and had a John Delorean-esque personality too him.
But of course that all changed. Once when cars were designed and developed liked the Buick Riviera that is accepted as one of the best designs ever in automotive history was really a dream sequence from the fog of the English moors. Between CAFE, EPA, and all the other alphabet soup agencies we were forced to build cars on compromise, and style and flair as a secondary factor. It got worse over time as the vice grew tighter and tighter. The 1990s were a bit of a reprieve as the SUVs were somewhat of an expression of an era gone but, and also explains why trucks are now more than 50% of total light duty vehicle sales in the US because there is still a huge segment of the population that desires such vehicles. But even those are changing.
Toyota Honda and the Japanese makes got incredibly lucky in the process. Back then, their entrée into the US auto market was by small efficient cars. Of course, as such, they were unaffected by CAFE so they were never forced to alter their basic design formula to conform. While the Big 3 were scrambling to tame the big car beast the Japanese were merrily continuing cranking out small cars and being able to devote 100% of their energies on tweaking their cars over time. It wasn’t until energy stabilized and CAFE requirements stabilized that they introduced their premium cars. So in a way, they did not go to the market, the market came to them. But again, since, even to this day, the Japanese makers rely heavily on the volume of their small cars, compliance is almost automatic. It is interesting that the Europeans have gone the other way to some degree. Their cars from the 1970s to today have gotten progressively larger and more thirsty with most European makes incurring regular CAFE fines for their limited selection of models. So it would have been an interesting storyline what would have happened if OPEC and CAFE had never occurred. Imports would have either remained at the 10-15% of the US market share, or the would have been forced to play the big car game and pony up. Who knows, we might have seen Lexus come out in 1979 instead of 1989.
So it is no surprise that many old timers, especially those that were more intimately involved in development, are often bitter about the whole experience. Because many feel that the rug was pulled out from under them.
That is why I have always felt that choice in the marketplace is always a key consideration. We should always maximize the ability to allow companies the ability to offer competing products and ideas and let the consumers and the markets decide. That is an argument that I have made in discussing the GM/Chrysler bankruptcies, not so much for my sake or bias but for the sake of the consumer as a whole. Both the domestics and the imports will be better off when there are competitive choices in the marketplace. Consumers are better off because they have a wide variety to choose from to meet their needs and wants. American car design philosophy should not die, anymore than any other design, because as individuals, we all like different things. One could make an arguments that you could satisfy 99% of all practical transportation demand with about 5 kinds of cars. Sort of like how they did in in the Soviet economies, but that would be an incredibly boring experience. So we have 260+ models for sale in the US today, and that is a good thing. And should be continued.
So while my personal career in the automotive business is in its twilight, I see a good bright future for the US automaker now especially GM. The products coming out today are at least reviving emotional interest on a small scale. My 08CTSV, while designed and built under the old regime, is more like a new regime car, and an extraordinary one at that. A local friend of mine has a manual transmission version of the CTS-V and it is a truly breathtaking experience.
So I hope today’s youth who are interested in cars and are just coming into the workforce can do so with the same awe and glimmer in the eye that I did 40+ years ago. If not, it would truly be a wasted opportunity.
Craig; I appreciate your perspective and candid insights. It confirms what has been often assumed and acknowledged: GM built its business on profitable large-ish cars, and to change the corporate mindset that was so deeply ingrained would have been difficult.
In a way, it was perhaps inevitable. Companies come and go; look what happened to Kodak, and so many others. The imports came from countries where gas was always expensive, and that gave them a leg up after the energy crises. And the Japanese embraced quality and efficient production from way back. It’s just a Darwinian thing: GM evolved in circumstances that were different, and therefore hadn’t developed the qualities needed for a changed world.
I saw it coming a long time ago; perhaps sooner than most because of my European background and exposure, and perhaps because I embrace change more readily than some.
When I write GM Deadly Sins, it’s not to damn the actual cars themselves, since they inevitably had good qualities too. It’s just part of re-telling the stories behind the decision that led to such a remarkable decline. I put the blame squarely at the feet of the top management, and I’ve been involved in corporate management enough to know how easy it is to get stuck in the ways that have been successful in the past, and resist true change.
GM was dragged into a changed world, and that’s not a recipe for success.
“Ford and GM readily admitted in the 90s and aughts that they were consistently losing money on their small car lines”
I know that was a common refrain. But I’m frankly skeptical of the assertion. Keep in mind that these people were blaming “perception”, the Japanese, currency manipulation, the Clean Air Act, “perception”,CAFE, Consumer Reports, “perception”, Venus not being properly aligned with Pluto, and everything else but themselves for what ailed them. That, and there was “perception”.
Automotive accounting is somewhat opaque, but I find it difficult to believe that they could sell 10 million cars over an extended period of time using shared parts and in a number of markets, and not make money on it.
I suspect that they wanted to cry foul because they didn’t want the regulators to use positive results as an excuse to raise the standards. (I can’t completely blame them for that — hell, CARB created the ZEV rules because GM displayed the Impact pre-EV1 concept at the LA Auto Show, and the officials actually thought that it was a real car…)
That, and they didn’t really like small cars very much — those were for hippies and Europeans, not red-blooded Americans — and there wasn’t much to be gained by saying nice things about them.
Pch, while reading back issues of car mags, I’ve been amazed to see how long GM had been running its ‘come-to-Jesus’ ads – the ones along the lines of ‘we know we’ve let you down, but we’ve changed’. They appeared as long ago as the ’90s (and even ’80s IIRC). That’s given me a similarly cynical view of these statements.
Automotive accounting is somewhat opaque, but I find it difficult to believe that they could sell 10 million cars over an extended period of time using shared parts and in a number of markets, and not make money on it.
That’s the brilliance of GM.
It’s possible that GM (and Ford) might have used accounting to make their small car programs look worse (financially) than they really were, but this was a generally accepted fact of the industry (and media) during the time. And I’m not sure what benefit it would have been to GM to exaggerate losses on their small cars.
Their legacy costs were huge, and the transaction prices on small cars were very low, for the reasons mentioned above. And it was a material reason for their eventual bankruptcy, as sales of profitable trucks and SUVs evaporated after 2007.
Ford had a similar problem, and they only just snuck under the wire. In 2003 or so, my son bought a very sweet new Focus ZX3 with alloys for $8999. Today, a similarly-equipped Focus would go for 2.5 times that amount. You think Ford made a profit on that car? No way.
When you are dealing with a legacy oriented capital intensive business, like automotive, but also applies to airlines, railroads or anything else where there are a lot of sunk costs, changing times have always been a struggle. The US is unique in that companies have absorbed most of the role in managing labor, both from salaries, to benefits, to education, which is often quite different than in other industrialized countries. I will leave it at that since we will start going down the road that deviates from the intended focus of this site and bring in political opinion but for those that might be truly interested in learning backstories there is a lot to read and understand there. Globalization of trade is the business model of today, but most often the playing fields are not equal or level. A company will always be ultimately responsible for its product, but usually there are more factors to success or failure than simple sales. But again, that is offsite reading but one I encourage people to look into to truly understand business decision making in a given industry. I am sure Paul could regale us with tales of television broadcasting woes a lot of them not particularly fair and sometimes the best man doesn’t always win. Its a game, its a matter of whether you can play it competitively, but fairly to be successful and still keep your dignity.
As far as accounting and whether GM made or lost money on the Js, who knows that was handled “in another building” as they say. Although I suspect they probably did modestly. The Lordstown plant is incredibly efficient and sales of cars produced at Lordstown generally sold fairly well so there was always good revenue. Capital costs were stable as the plant did not have to be tooled frequently and Lordstown was never really idled like so many other plants so its legacy costs were less. The J development costs were pretty fully amortized by the late 1980s and since the initial platform lasted until 2005, the per unit costs were low. Sort of like how the Caprice and other B bodies kept going. The basic chassis and architecture was the same from 1977-1996. As was the Panther platform at Ford, sales dwindled by the end but I am sure Ford made good money on every Crown Vic sold by 2011.
In the early 1990s, GM lost money on North American operations but made a lot of money on overseas operations which kept them going. By 2009 the roles had reversed, GM was ok on NA operations but Europe was killing them while Asia (China) was a bright spot.
Asia is the new growth market now, one that which GM has a lot of skin in the game. It will be interesting to see how that all evolves, especially in China which is now the largest auto market. Interestingly, the Japanese are at a disadvantage now in China because, ironically, it was 100 years of political hubris that has fostered ill feelings among various populations and has definitely hurt sales. That and it seems that many Chinese buyers have developed almost an American-esque desire for flair and style in their cars which the Japanese automakers have been slow to respond to but US, German, and Korean makers seemed to have embraced.
“this was a generally accepted fact of the industry (and media) during the time”
The media just regurgitates these claims. The reporters generally don’t know a thing about finance or business, and the claims can’t be verified through with the financial statements because the information isn’t broken out in that fashion under GAAP. The companies want to create memes that the media will circulate on its behalf, and it usually works, since nobody asks the hard questions or even knows what to ask.
As a corporate bureaucrat, it’s easier to blame a segment of the business that you already dislike and aren’t particularly good at than it is to say that the entire business sucks. You can’t expect the Detroit leadership to come and admit that the whole business model is rotten to the core, and that the main problem with the business was not with their workers, their foreign competitors or with regulation, but with the simple fact that the cars weren’t very good.
And again, the last thing that a builder of gas guzzlers wants to do in an era of CAFE is to claim that small cars are profitable. Claiming that small cars are inherent losers is a defense against additional regulation that could force them to build more cars. Detroit had an oligopoly on larger cars, but faced tremendous competition for the smaller ones. Praising the concept of the small car was essentially surrendering ground to the (foreign) enemy.
Perhaps the J-cars weren’t profitable at first, but, over time, did earn money because they were in production for so long?
The basic platform didn’t change until the early 21st century, while the vehicle didn’t receive a major restyle until the 1995 model year. Meanwhile, GM was eliminating variations – the hatchback body style was killed off after 1985, followed by the entire Firenza, Skyhawk and Cimarron lines, and finally the station wagon version.
It would seem virtually impossible for a company not to make money on a vehicle platform that runs basically unchanged for well over a decade, is produced at one plant, and becomes easier to build with the elimination of several variations.
But then, I’m no expert on accounting.
They were NOT a sales success from the beginning, and GM had to revise the offering considerably before they became steady sellers. I doubt that there are any of those hapless 1.8 buzzbombs still creeping along, but who knows, miracles happen.
The Firenza name was first used by Olds for the ‘sporty’ trim level for 1978-79 Starfire. Their version of the Monza Spyder, available with 305 SBC V8.
And, these J based Oldses didn’t sell as well as Skyhawks and Sunbirds in Chicagoland. Mature drivers liked the ‘small Buicks’, and 80’s young folk loved the ‘sporty’ Pontiacs.
At least its not another damned brougham.
But wire wheel covers were available! Anyone want to guess what % of the coupes and sedans were sold with dealer installed padded roofs?
I never seen a single one.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. I remember seeing some back in LA.
There were some down here in Miami, Skyhawks too!
My first car was an 85 Cavalier Type 10 Hatchback–pre Z24..it had two-tone light blue metallic top with midnight blue on the bottom with wide moldings and a red pin strip and finished off with the performance tires and Chevy’s mid 80’s cross hatch hubcaps..and came with matching two-tone blue velour interior-it had a four speed- and every option but A/C..not a big issue in New England. Laugh if you will but I drove it up to 83k miles..sold it to a cousin who took it up to 148k then he sold it to another cousin who took up to 200k. I paid to have it rust proofed so it never rusted..it was decent car….
I always forget about the fastback J cars because they were so short lived compared to the other body styles. I also thought the Opel Ascona was a lot less crappy and when counting J-car flavors you should always remember that this was a “world” car http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GM_J_platform available as Opel, Vauxhall, Holden, Isuzu, Daewoo, and Brazilian and South African Chevrolet so these got around.
We rented an Ascona 1.6S in 1984. It was finished just like a Jetta of the day, with coarse texture but durable looking fabric seats. There were no extraneous trim pieces, artificial versions of chromed metal or wood, or wire wheel covers. It was just an honest little sedan in the German model of the time. It had an OHC engine that was considered too expensive for the US model, and it had decent struts and shocks. They were much lighter, quicker and more efficient than US models, due to the absence of bumper, safety and emissions standards in Europe. I liked the styling details more too, since it wasn’t compromised to differentiate between a bunch of increasingly meaningless brands.
My first new car was a 84 Pontiac Sunbird hatchback, two-tune brown with brown interior. Loaded except for A/C, what a nice solid car, Car Mags complained about weight but it made for a great highway ride and cruiser, It had a 2l 2-barrel carb engine(Canadian) with 4-SPD stick, quick for the time but hard to start in the winter. No major issues and no rust after 6 years and 75 miles, traded it in on a 1990 Honda, which started rusting within a year. Japanese quality at it’s finest, never again, expensive to maintain and to get parts. You could sit on the hood of the Sunbird and it wouldn’t dent. Wish I still had it today.
“Each is stylishly Olds outside…”
Except for everything in-between the front and rear bumpers…
I just spit out my coffee.
With almost identical car-for-car lineup and pricing with Buick, Oldsmobile had become irrelevant for a couple of decades already.
Living in Hawaii during part of the 80’s, there were tons of ex-rental Sunbird convertibles around. While Japanese cars did rust from the top down. J-cars disintegrated from the inside out. Grab a door handle and have the mechanism fall apart inside the door in a cloud of zinc and iron oxide dust.
The J-cars were reliable enough that they did not leave the indelible blot on GM’s reputation that the X-cars did. GM did, however, make mistakes that sullied the J-cars reputation:
One, GM initially overloaded them with standard features that drove up the base price to where they were noncompetitive in their segment. It was only after the first few months of dreadful sales figures that GM introduced decontented versions that could sell at an appropriate price point. After that, they became decent sellers, but the J-cars gained a reputation as losers in the sales game that was difficult to shake off.
Two, GM should have restricted them to only Chevrolet and Pontiac. Buick and Olds dealers didn’t know how to sell small cars and neglected them; and nobody needs to be reminded of the “Cimarron by Cadillac”.
Three, GM sold them way past their expiration date. The platform was competent for 1982, but not ten years later.
Incidentally, I made an unfair comment elsewhere about the 1.8 Chevy pushrod engine. It was certainly not sophisticated, but it was reliable and dependable like most Chevy powerplants. It might be noted, however, that Pontiac specified a Brazilian-built 1.8 OHC engine for the Sunbird. The Chevy mill was available in the Sunbird–as a credit option (another example of the brotherly love between GM divisions in those days).
My ’84 Olds had the 1.8L Ponitac EFI engine, it was a good engine although now that I think back I do remember the head spliting in half. I can’t believe I forgot about that. WTF!?
The interesting part about the early J-cars was that GM was trying to match the Honda Accord, which came well-equipped even in base form and didn’t offer lots of options. The catch was that not only was the Accord well-equipped, it also wasn’t very expensive for what it offered.
GM wanted the J-cars to be well-equipped in even base form, but it also wanted to make a profit on the cars, so it priced them to reflect the high level of standard equipment. Which meant that the price of a Cavalier approached that of a Chevrolet Caprice. Even if buyers were concerned about gas mileage in 1982, they weren’t willing to pay Caprice prices for a car the size of a Cavalier – particularly buyers who frequented Chevrolet dealerships.
Yes, when the Js were developed, they were supposed to be a high content vehicle, of course they were supposed to make a profit, but the content wasn’t installed to force buyers to pay more but rather as has been said to match the value trend that the Asian brands pushed. American car buyers were weaned on the “lowest price” mentality with the ability to build a car to suit their tastes. The K cars from Chrysler tried that approach but caught a lot of flak when lots were full of SEs and Customs and no strippers.
For 1981, Accord MSRP was around $7,000 Civic about $4,500 and the Corolla around $5,300.
Caprice was about $8,200, Celebrity was the same.
An ad from a local newspaper in the summer of 1982 was advertising these prices:
Cavalier Cadet $6,387
Regular Cavalier $6,532
From March 1982
Cavalier CL List Price $8,497
Celebrity List $11,108
Citation List $8,850
The 1981 Accord had 72hp the Cavalier 88hp. Popular Mechanics tested a couple of J cars along with a Honda Accord and I believe a Ford Escort and something else.
That’s probably the most fair assessment of the J that I’ve seen in a while. There were some blunders with the marketing of the car and the car itself to be sure.
To an extent I would disagree with the notion that the J should have been C-P only, CAFE rules dictated a corporate wide fuel economy target, B-O-C were going to have to contribute. Additionally, in the late 70’s with predictions of $3/gallon gasoline a line of fuel sippers for all of the brands seemed like a good idea. At the time, GM was still invested in the numbers game and were doing what dealers demanded. Think back to the early 60’s and the introduction of the senior compacts. Why DID Oldsmobile need a compact back then? Or Buick?
Also,no one wanted to be handicapped by asking a customer to pay the gas guzzler tax on a new car back then, although it’s accepted now. We were all convinced that fuel prices were going up, up, up, especially after 1979’s fiasco.
Personally, I think that GM didn’t react quickly enough to their initial mistakes. The car was expensive, in combination with sky high interest rates, I’m amazed they sold anything. Case in point: In early 1981 I needed a car, but was turned off by the prices. I managed to find a Mercury dealer with a leftover 1980 Capri Turbo RS that was willing to make a hell of a deal just to move it off the lot. IIRC, the car was originally ~$11K USD. Some of the original J’s that were on the lot in the fall of 1981 were almost the same money. And they did not have the same level of equipment my Capri did. Like others noted, once they developed that reputation for being expensive, it was hard to shake.
GM did not accurately predict that the Accord would grow so quickly in a generation. By 1985, it was competing with the Celebrity, not the Cavalier. Not that it mattered much, as the Civic grew to be competition for the Cavalier. If you look at the evolutionary paths of the J and the Accord, by the end of the J’s run in 2006, the J’s remained roughly the same size throughout the whole period. The Accord went from a compact car to a full size in that same time.
If that had happened to the J, we’d be complaining about mission creep and bloat…
I had forgotten what a clean and simple design the J hatchback was, despite the fussy Firenza front clip. With a few styling tweaks and and a modern powetrain you could sell it today.
The Firenza badge comes from Vauxhall and was used on sporting versions of the HC series Vauxhall viva. Glueing said badge to an oldsmobile doesnt create a car worth buying like all J cars its crap
If you like the Vauxhall Firenza, do you love the Droop Snoot Firenza?
Yep but they’re kinda rare here
Sadly true (I blame OPEC).
I will never forget these cars for one reason – I met one of the big wig Olds reps from GM at the 1986 Auto Show in Boston. He was talking to my Dad about the new downsized 98 Regency and mentioned the new Firenza to me figuring I would be interested in it. I was in my 20’s but had no desire to look at the Firenza, even though the one he showed me in the show was a 2-door black decked out model with red interior. Oldsmobile figured that the parents would be in the showrooms buying Delta 88’s while the kids would want the Firenza’s. Or better yet, the parents would see the Firenza and suggest to their kids that they consider one when looking for a new car. It IS an Oldsmobile, so it must be good, right?
I just want to say that the commenting on this post both surprised me with its volume, but also with the well reasoned thought and backup data – reader input like this is one of the reasons CC is such a great site. Thanks to everyone who piped in!
I imagine this badge-engineered Kiste was Old’s volume leader in 1986 … hard to imagine that only 10 years earlier, the volume leader was a fully unique and beautiful Cutlass Supreme. This is a good illustration of the downward trajectory GM was on …
Nooo, in 1986, the Ciera was the volume model for Oldsmobile. They sold about 329K for all of MY1986 which was good for #6 of all light duty vehicles sold (including trucks). As an aside, that year the Celebrity was the #1 passenger car with 408K sold, Century was #13 with 240K sold, and Pontiac sold about 135K. So all told, for MY1986 the A-bodies came in at around 1.1 million units sold.
Something interesting to read:
Something interesting to watch:
Didnt read the comments, only skimmed through to see if I’d mentioned this before, its not only badge engineered but even the badge began at another GM division.
Firenza was GM UK’s hotrod vesion of its economy car of the early 70s The Vauxhall Viva HC with 1156cc engine, the Firenza was the coup’e model but at least the Vauxhall got the engine enlarged the 2,300 cc motor from the CF Bedford van was slotted in and they actually went quite well,
This Oldsmopile is possibly the mosr cynical piece of crap from GM I think Ive seen here, nice find.
It was also the name for the Viva replacement in Canada in 1971-72.
A complete pile that spurred a class-action suit by the owners. GM ended up taking them back and giving credit for another GM vehicle. I personally know of one case where the owners turned in their Firenza and got a Pontiac Astre.
Oy Vey! Likely turned them in Toyonda buyers for life!
I like the “line-by-line” rebuttals of the ad copy. But isn’t that the job of advertising writers? To make the ordinary seem extraordinary?
As “bad” as this is, at least the writers are talking to us in complete sentences and assuming we are somewhat intelligent individuals. They’re also discussing actual qualities and features of the car. Have you read any recent car ads? Mind-numbing, lowest-common-denominator claptrap dominates. Strange looking people saying/doing strange things. Is this cultural decline–or just cultural change?
Below: Does this sell Toyotas?
Well, DDB seemed to do okay not over sensationalizing the Beetle…