In 1990 or so, a 1975 Olds Starfire was just an old beater, chuffing along with its uneven-fire 105 hp Buick V6. Even by then, they weren’t exactly common; well, they never were really common, with only 31k built. The Starfire and the very similar Buick Skyhawk were badge-engineered Chevy Monza clones, their V6 engines being the biggest difference by far. The Monza bracketed them, with its Vega four and 262 inch mini-mouse V8, which made all of 110 hp. So here it is, the star of the car show today; and why not? It’s not like there’s any left on the streets, as I know all-too well.
Posted at the Cohort by john875
My aunt owned a turquoise Starfire like this in the late 70’s. I think it was the first new car she purchased.
There was a Starfire/Monza for sale at a car lot a few blocks from my house. It’s been replaced by a Fiero.
That’s my kind of car lot. What color is the Fiero out of curiosity?
It’s silver, but it has an automatic transmission.
LOL, that’s exactly how I describe some of my cars.. It’s ________, but it’s an automatic.
It’s nice, but it isn’t worth the $9,000 he wants for it.
There’s another car dealer out by the fairgrounds that buys old cars… I noticed his place because he had a rubber-bumper MGB for sale. He had a Duster and a ’65 Fairlane at some point, but he’s always got good stuff. The last thing he had I wanted to buy was a Plymouth Cranbrook.
I think he works on them until he gets tired of them and puts them up for sale. His prices are a little high, but he has good turnover. I have to wonder if he does his own paint, because the ones I’ve looked at were always resprays over existing surface rust. Poor form.
This car accelerated the downfall of Oldsmobile that began with the debut of the Omega just two years earlier. Even as a kid, paging through the new-car issue of Motor Trend, I wondered why it looked so much like a Chevrolet Monza.
These were handsome cars – better looking than a Mustang II hatchback – but GM should have offered only the Monza and maybe the Pontiac Sunbird. But, in the wake of the Arab Oil Embargo, Buick and Oldsmobile dealers were demanding a small car to sell.
I disagree. The Starfire and later the Firenza has little to no effect on Oldsmobile as a brand. By the 1970s Oldsmobile was product centered around the Cutlass as the volume seller while the 88 and 98 did plenty business in their respective categories. What killed Olds was the inability of the marque to move on from the Cutlass after the 1988 redesign and the relative disasterous redesigns of the 88 & 98 in 1991 and 1992. By then they had alienated their core customer base and they couldn’t survive on rebadged versions of other cars. The Intrigue was a very nice vehicle as was the Alero but it wasn’t enough.
My uncle’s father owned an operated a stand alone Olds franchise from 1966-1996 when he got sick and eventually folded the franchise rather than have the family keep it going. The downsized C & H (used to be B) bodies were better received at Olds than at Cadillac for 85/86 the Toronado less so.
I agree with CraigInNC’s assessment. It’s easy to forget how ubiquitous the Cutlass was for about a decade starting in the early ’70s. In my suburban neighborhood, it seemed like every other house had a Cutlass in the driveway. Ten years later, all of those houses had Accords in the driveway.
Today, they have Camrys or BMWs.
Oldsmobile’s failure was not having anything on the lot that appealed to a Cutlass owner at trade-in time. Hard to imagine what a rude shock that must have been to someone who owned an Olds dealership. It was a steep decline.
I forgot to mention about the Ciera which was another bread and butter car for Olds. While the 4 door Cutlass faded after the unpopular fastback edition, the Ciera was quite popular in the 1980s.
I still have VHS dealer training tapes from when we cleaned out the dealership in 1996 from the late 1980s and early 1990s which tried to promote “A New Generation Of Olds” where they tried to shift away from the stable products that were their mainstay to sort of a semi performance brand (but not flashy performance like Pontiac). They came out with various models like the International Series that was supposed to target midsize import buyers. The problem is that it alienated all of the traditional buyers and never really picked up new conquest buyers. Historically Olds buyers were very loyal middle class buyers a bit more sophisticated than Chevy buyers but not flashy. They also tended to buy larger cars so with the gradual downsizing they lost a market.
The RWD G body Cutlass sedan was available until 1987, and sold fairly well in Chicago. After the roofline was formalized in 1980, they were big hits. But, the Ciera overlapped it for a few years
Every time I see a Ciera now, I can’t get the picture out of my head of poor, hapless Jerry Lundegaard and his fruitless efforts to sell Cutlass Cieras at the Olds dealership in Brainerd, Minn.
“How’s that Ciera working out for ya?”
Actually, c5karl, that dealership was set in the Twin Cities, not Brainerd.
“Well, he never done this before. But seeing as it’s special circumstances and all, he says I can knock a hundred dollars off that Trucoat.”
“A New Generation of Olds” might have been the most ill-thought-out ad campaign in auto history, but it didn’t come from nowhere. Oldsmobile’s sales and demographics were already seriously weakening in the late 80s, they had already lost the baby boomers and were largely seen as a stodgy old-fashioned brand.
Prior to the “New Olds”, GM had turned the Oldsmobile brand into a Buick clone, with nearly identical products. Cheap Cutlasses/Cieras killed any “premium” image they may have held. And Olds no longer could claim to be the “technology division” with ancient Cutlass Supremes and corporate engines.
Something had to be done … It didn’t work, but they tried.
I would agree with this analysis, as well.
When I refer to Oldsmobile’s “downfall,” I don’t mean that the division’s sales immediately started plunging when this Starfire appeared. As you and others have correctly pointed out, that did not happen.
The downfall was a long process, and it started when GM forgot what Oldsmobile represented, and how its cars needed to reflect those values. Oldsmobile stood for quality and innovation wrapped up in a handsome package that was a definite step above the mass market.
The division did not stand for rebadged, mediocre Chevrolet subcompacts clothed in a pretty skin. The Starfire was driven by the panicked desire to have a small car to sell during the first fuel crunch. It was not a car that reflected Oldsmobile’s core values and real strengths. It was not a “real” Oldsmobile.
The first Omega and this Starfire were the canaries in the GM coal mine.
Unfortunately, as the 1980s progressed, too many Oldsmobiles started to resemble the Starfire in execution. It was one thing to attempt to pull the wool over customers’ eyes in the subcompact segment. It was quite another to do it in the heart of the family-car market. It was Oldsmobile’s success in that market that propelled it to the number-three spot in sales.
The execution and philosophy behind the Starfire predicted the direction of Oldsmobile’s future offerings. And we all know how the story ultimately ended…
Olds was riding high as #3 make, when the Starfire and Omaga were around. The Cutlass was #1 car line for 1976, and #2 for 1977.
Olds’ downfall started with the Diesel motors, I say.
I think this ignores how half baked just about any Oldsmobile, or GM car, was for a good 30 years, which I’d say started as early in spots as 1971 with the super cheapened out Big B’s.
Although there was stout Turbo Hydramatics and robust V8’s, those cars aren’t as well trimmed and thoughtfully assembled as what had preceded them, although one can make an exception for the well done Ninety Eight Regency for 1972.
The various assembly quality missteps followed by the “Chevy Powered Olds” fiasco, followed by the Diesel disasters, the X cars, as the competition foreign and domestic got more sophisticated hurt GM, but Oldsmobile, which was a champion of well thought out advanced engineering, particularly hard. Harder than the advanced engineering factor hurt Cadillac, because Cadillac could still peddle “pure traditional luxury.”
You can’t really point to one car at Oldsmobile without pointing to another one that was a problem. I hate saying it, but the A/G Cutlasses were just as much a problem as the not fully done W-Bodies that replaced them. When the FWD C/H cars came out, which were on paper better than a G body Cutlass Supreme in every way (albeit not really there in practice until 1988 or so). there should have been little to no overlap with the old guard cars, one year max to get the quality bugs solved.
Ford didn’t keep the Fox LTD and Taurus in production concurrently as long as GM did with the G’s. And Ford’s strategy worked comparatively better. It’s like GM didn’t have faith in having a hit with the FWD A bodies, the C/H bodies or the W bodies (and for the later they didn’t) and wanted to hedge bets. In the long run it hurt GM heavily in the sedan market.
Especially when a G body Cutlass Supreme isn’t all that much, if any, roomier, than a A Body Cutlass Ciera. Let’s not get into the fact that most any MPFI 2.8L Cutlass Ciera could dust a 3.8 “Even Fire” Cutlass Supreme, and probably had a standing chance against a 307 Cutlass.
People wax longingly about those G-Body Cutlass Supremes for reasons I can’t understand. They represent the absolute worst of Oldsmobile.
Worst about what? The G-body Cutlasses, especially the coupes, were very popular all the way until the RWD platform was discontinued in 1988. The V6s and the small V8s and diesels were nothing to write home about but the 307 350s (when available) were very popular and basically competent vehicles. That goes for the Buick Regal as well although the Grand Prix never did the volume of the others. Along with Monte Carlo actually drove sales including other models. The fact that they were raced in NASCAR only added to the image.
A car is not always successful because it offers the most well rounded package, or the best particular performance, or even the cheapest but that it represents something to the owner/buyer. Some cars seem to fail for reasons entirely unknown some thrive despite and others defy justification.
The RWD G bodies, especially the 78-88, were popular because they offered traditional yet not overly large platform with various models that appealed to specific groups. Like the Monte Carlo SS, the El Camino, the Regal T-Type/GN, etc. When it comes to buying preferences, styling has always ranked near the top of the list of important car features for a domestic make buyer. The G-bodies lived through all the various subpar engine choices, diesels, emissions because in the end the car still connected with the target audience.
When the G-bodies became W-bodies in 1988, they lost the little bit of magic that carried them through. GM tried to market a car that was substantially different, if actually an improvement on paper, than the market that was the case from the late 1960s through the late 1980s. When cars try to move the market instead of following the market, they are likely to fail.
The 4 door Cutlass during the 1980s was moderately popular but most of the basic midsize sedan and wagon handling duties had been taken over by the Ciera and the Cutlass Sedan was mainly purchased by older folks.
That is a point that a lot of automotive industry observers fail to realize is that, like with everything marketing, “perception is reality.” Most people do not buy cars strictly based on objectivity, or there would be no such thing as product differentiation. Some cars, like Camrys and Corollas, probably are purchased more objectively than average, while some like Corvettes, far more subjectively.
I, ultimately, believe that is the biggest factor that caused the domestics to decline, among other things, was that their product designs became like moving targets, and the vehicles were unable to connect to their market. Corvettes remain enduringly popular, even enjoyed very robust sales during the late 70s and early 80s when the product was rather weak, because it always remained true to form. People can be very forgiving of something if they still want it, its human nature. But if you alter the DNA they will abandon something in a heartbeat.
Well, in some parts in the country, the G bodies were popular. But past 1985, when Oldsmobile was at its last peak, people were decidedly moving away from them and their relatives in taste. The old people you say bought the sedans and wagons, bought all of the models.
The G bodies didn’t have appeal to younger buyers in coastal regions of the country, which also correspondingly, were outpacing population growth compared to the center of the country. The various G bodies still tried too hard to be overtly traditional “broughams” when the rest of the country (nevermind the world) was moving on.
Maybe I have to chalk it up to generations and different cultural pockets of this Country, but the G bodies weren’t popular among people in my mothers age group (late boomers born in the late 50’s/early 60’s). They didn’t see anything desirable about a landau vinyl roof festooned coupe with a wheezy V6.
I’m guessing more 25-35 year olds in the late 80’s were more like my mother, given how Oldsmobile dropped like a stone in those 5 years. The same problem happened when the Cutlass Ciera overstayed its welcome 10 years later. Both the G-Cutlass and Ciera ended up appealing to the same customer body, a type of buyer that dies off either physically or metaphorically.
Laurence, you’re making me feel old! I am smack in the same age bracket as your mom; first two cars were Chevrolets (Vega, Cavalier). Oh, plus the ’66 Tempest 4-door I had for a year or so. Went Honda after I married, and then air- and water-cooled VWs for me and Dodge Caravans for the wife after that – Hondas got too expensive for my station in life at that time.
I simply never would have *ever* considered a large platform GM product…
The diesels certain did not help Olds or GM in the end, but was more of a symptom than a cause. Olds sales, and GMs for that matter, remained strong through the the mid 1980s because they still appealed to their markets. The diesels did more damage to peoples’ perceptions of diesels in cars, than it affected sales. Olds sales remained robust until, one by one, the cars that were designed in the 1980s began to come out and each one was not as well received as it had been before. So by the early mid 90s, Olds sales were a shadow of its self. The same goes for most of the rest of the GM marques. Oldsmobile sold as many cars in 1986 as in 1976, why? Because they were offering models that people wanted to own whether or not they were “the best” versions ever made. Then they began a slow design when the products moved away from the audience.
I disagree. Oldsmobile has best-ever years in the mid-80s. Only Chevy and Ford sold more vehicles (they had trucks).
This, believe it or not, was supposed to be GM’s version of the AMC Pacer and they were going to share the same Wankel motor. If you look at early Monzas you can see the design elements that incorporated the expected rotary engine. Later, the engine compartment and transmission tunnel were redesigned to accommodate conventional engines and a V8.
While it is not directly related to the above mentioned car, I did see a Cosworth Vega yesterday.
You are right, and the VegAstre should have also had the Wankel motor.
In 1975, I couldn’t understand why anyone would buy one of these. Now, I’d say the 75 Starfire was 10 years ahead of the times. Looks like any equivalent 1985.
Like I’ve said before, “Looks good to me now.”
Back in the day, I always preferred the Monza … styling details, powertrain options, Chevy “heritage. But now, with Oldsmobile gone, the Starfire is certainly more interesting. There’s a very clean late-’80’s Cutlass Ciera 4-door in my neighborhood with a For Sale sign ($1500). A car that I wouldn’t have noticed 25 years ago or even 2 years ago suddenly looks like a (Curbside) classic.
I had this exact same color in a 1977 Skyhawk, and a friend of mine in a 76 Grand Prix with the 350 couldn’t keep up. Great sleeper for the late 70s. Light weight with v6. Problem with the V8 Monza was the tight fit. Routine service was a nightmare.
When the were new I would have said “Badge Engineering to the EXTREME!” But now I say; “I like the Oldsmobile and Buick the best.”
The Monza was one of those rare cars where you could get the largest engine – a 350 – only in California. I drove one once and was impressed. Much more solid than a Camaro and the handling was more nimble. The quick steering, sway bars and small diameter steering worked really well with the compact body size. Of course power came on effortlessly. The dual exhaust layout in back was a crossover affair that fascinated me as a kid.
On the Olds and Buick I preferred the blackout treatment on the “grille”, which is missing on the feature car.
I always thought the 2+2s were pretty especially in profile and rear view. The front end is simple and at the same time busy. The chrome bezels around the headlights are too thick, giving a Ford EXP look. The front hood edge should have formed the top of the headlamp pod, like on a gen 3 Camaro.
IIRC this car was supposed to get round headlights and at the last minute they went square which would explain the awkwardness.
I do remember the Monza being available with a four-pot 350 in ’75 and ’76 (especailly the Town Coupe) as it was the onlyV-8 in the Chevy stable to be “clean” enough for California. A high school acquaintence’s Mom had one; this guy would bring it school and just power brake/hole shot the shit of out it. Had super tall axles and yes, heard the stories about loosening the engine mounts to get to all the plugs.
I remember seeing Starfies new in the day and thinking they were nicer alternatives to the Monza (especially with that four-spoke 442 style steering wheel). Of course, when it comes down to brass tacks, there wasn’t any difference at all especially vis-a-vis Olds-Buick (Skyhawk).
I loved this car unless it was shafting me. Unfortunately it was shafting me all the time. This car is identical (IIRC) to the 77 I owned. Dumped it when it caught on fire. Someone pointed out the humor in a starfire catching on fire. I agree now. In 1978 it was not funny.
This car may have saved the computer, trannie, and engine eating 2002 Saturn Vue from being my worst car ever. Depends on which day it is and what I am thinking about for which is worse.
I always wished I could have bought one of the chevy clones that had the Nova 4. At least it was available in the early models and for a while. That or the sbc. I learned to hate the olds v6 and, in fact, did not have another v6 between 86 and 2007 because of it and the 82 cutlass that was also junk under the hood. My S10 seems to have a very good one in the 4.3 so guess I will relinquish my soapbox.
These cars pre-dated the Fox based Mustangs, which are now revered as “four eyed pride”.
While GM copied the original Stangs to create the first F body. Ford copied GM’s “little Pony car”, and ended up overtaking the Monzas in car history.
Looks a lot like the Opel Manta/Vauxhall Cavalier of the same period.It’s done well to survive so long
mine was green. 4 speed, 231 v6, good radials, shocks and bushings, and I ate the foothills of the Smokies up…
I could have done without a view of the Starfire. Really would have liked to see the Olds Fiesta station wagon behind it, though……..
I have a couple of photos of that, I will upload them soon. I posted the Starfire because I had never seen one before – normally see either full-size, F-body, Corvettes or pickups and more recently the odd Nova (not other division versions), but lower-end cars are just not imported and usually weren’t back in the day. There were probably more Chevy Monza race cars out here (a handful) than road cars.
I was surprised that Paul didn’t pick up the 1916 Stutz Bearcat!
My buddy in High School received his Dad’s Starfire when he got his license and his dad got a new car. One night when he was coming home late he managed to spin it and hit an embankment in our neighborhood. It crunched up the RF fender and the nose was deformed. Of course Dad took the keys away the next morning. We pulled the fender off and managed to straighten it out pretty well and the nose rebounded so you could hardly tell. Once it was all back together his Dad did give him back the keys. I ended up with quite a few cuts and scratches trying to undo the bolts that held the nose to the fender.
I never understood the allure of this car. Looks kinda like a watermelon seed with wheels. To say it looks out of place in a show with those classic machines is to understate to the extreme.
Thank you, sir. Finally, someone agrees with me. There have been a lot of positive things said today about the looks of this car, but I am just not seeing it. I always found these to be an odd combo of angularity and swoopiness, and that sagging beltline just looked wrong. These never attracted me in the least when they were new, and I still don’t care for their looks. The Mustang II fastback was never a particular favorite of mine, but I consider it better looking than these.
The 1975 Olds Starfire and Buick Skyhawk really need to be upgraded (downgraded?) to ‘Deadly Sin’ status. For the first time in GM history, you had cars marketed from upscale, higher priced divisions that were virtually indistinguishable from the cheaper Chevy version. Besides the grilles (the Olds got a split while the Buick had an eggcrate), even the V6 that was exclusive to the Olds and Buick would become available in the Chevy two years later, supplanting the lame, optional V8 (except the rare 5.7).
Other than that, all three were all exactly the same (except for price). Even the otherwise identical Pontiac Sunfire at least had a distinctive front and rear end treatment (although the Astre and Vega sure looked alike). Likewise, the 1973 Olds Omega and Buick Apollo were more disinguishable from the Nova.
Whoever made the decision on the Starfire and Skyhawk, thinking the more well-off schlubs who bought from GM’s upper tier divisions could be convinced to joyfully cough up more money for absolutely nothing other than an Olds or Buick nameplate (was Roger Smith around when this idea was conceived and approved?) really started GM down the path of ruin.
Well, these were literally brought to market less than a year after Oil Crisis One.
GM was taking heat for not making enough small cars, and these were out just in time.
But, higher sticker prices and mandatory unleaded gas hurt 1975 model year sales, adding to the recession, leading to Ford losing to Carter.
One thing I haven’t mentioned about my V8 4-speed Monza 2+2 is that it turned out to be quite well adapted for a trip on the still largely unpaved Alaska Highway in 1978. The shape of the body around the headlights made it easy to tape clear vinyl over them to prevent their breakage from flying rocks, and the windshield sloped enough that rocks tended to glance off it and leave just a little mark, if any. It had enough power to make good use of what passing stretches there were.
When we returned from the trip I washed probably forty pounds of accumulated dirt off the car – most of it from the insides of the wheel cutouts. Then I took it for a ride, and the wheels still felt unbalanced. I returned home, removed one of the wheels, and found a couple of pounds of globby dirt on the inside of the wheel. After removing and washing all the wheels the balance was restored and I was happy.
I have one of these sitting in storage- a ’77 2+2 with a factory 305 small block and the flimsy Turbo 200 “METRIC” tranny. The urethane nose is shot and the left front fender crunched, so I’m replacing all of them with fiberglass reproductions, along with a low-profile cowl induction hood.
Don’t know if I’d have guessed it in 1990, but I’ve always had what is likely an unhealthy fascination with these H-Body cars. If my wife would be seen it, I’d happily cruise around in a Sunbird today. Of course, I’ve never driven or even sat in one. That’d probably cure me.
I think the Sunbird looked best, with its mini-Firebird nose.
They kinda drive like a smaller and slightly cheaper 2nd gen F-body, the seating position is low and you sit with your legs straight out infront of you.
The Buick at least got its own divisional engine.
But, Buick dealers hated these like the Opels they were forced to sell. My parents had a 75 Skyhawk as a 2nd car. Took it to dealer one time to get new spare tire air pump [whatever]. They were like wtf? Why don’t you have a V8 Buick?
While BOP dealers were dismissive of small cars, many new Celicas and Accords were sold. And we know how well that worked out. Buick is alive today thanks to China.
The oddest thing about the featured car is that it appears to be RHD. Did they actually sell these downunder? Or did some lover of American stuff go to the trouble to have it converted for driving on the left?
I noticed that too, I think it was converted, the wipers are still in the same position, they would be reversed on a RHD car normally.
It looks to have a Victoria license plate too.
I don’t believe they were sold here. This one must have been privately imported, and not recently either as the RHD conversion is not required for cars more than 25 years old.
I’ve never thought this before, but looking at the front of this one…it looks like Jar Jar Binks.
The Starfire replies: ‘How wude’.
Have just uploaded a rear view of this car to the Cohort