Trailhead Outtakes: Olds 88 LSS, Mazda 323, Mercedes GL 350 – Three Very Disparate Cars


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Mt Pisgah is ten minutes away, and offers dozens of splendid hiking trails, most of which converge at the top for terrific views over the valley and to the Cascade Mountains. Most of the trails start at the various west side trail heads, but there’s also a small east side trail head, and the other day we headed there. There were three other cars there, and not the usual assortment of Subarus, for a change. In fact, it was a rather unusual collection of cars, American, Japanese and Germany, and of decidedly different vintages and formats. So how could I resist, despite the splendid views over the fields?

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The 88 LSS (Luxury Sport Sedan) was one of the many typical GM attempts to remake their traditional sedans like the 88 into an import-fighter. Throw in some leather buckets, borrow a console from the previous generation Bonneville SSE, add some alloys and make the suspension upgrade standard, and Voila! A genuine BMW-fighter. Or not. This on is a 1996 or later, with its Aurora-style grille.

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The open sunroof allowed a different perspective into the interior. From the looks of the leather and the cracked arm rest, this car has had a lot of miles, or it reflects on the quality of the materials.

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The LSS was powered by the ubiquitous 3.8 L V6, rated at 205 hp by this time. An optional supercharged version bumped that to 225 hp.

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Not a bad looking car; just a rather confused one, in terms of its image. Most 88s were bought by the kind of older demographic Olds was trying so hard to distance themselves from.

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No questions about who’s driving this veteran Mazda GLC (323) wagon: it’s a young woman, and I’ve run into it three times in the last couple of weeks since it suddenly showed up in town.

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The stickers on the rear window confirms that without a doubt.

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This is a decently roomy little wagon, considering its 91″ wheelbase and that it has conventional RWD still.

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I like the shifter handle. These wagons were still built after the new FWD 323 generation appeared, as there was no wagon version of it.

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It did get a new front clip that looked like the new 323, so this wagon is from that second series, after 1980. These were tough little cars (like pretty much all Mazdas back in the day), and it’s not the only one of its kind still running regular duties in Eugene. When is the last time you saw one?

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Ken Kesey’s family farm is just ahead a ways in this valley, near Pleasant Hill. He and his kids used to hike up to Pisgah (on left, not in the shot) from their farm, and there’s a nice little memorial to his son that passed away in his youth, up on top. Before Ken passed away a few years back, he could be seen driving around town in a woody Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon; a fitting car for an all-American icon.

This big GL350 is a handsome hunk, as was Ken.

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It’s a diesel. Diesels really work well in these bigger SUVs, both for their effortless torque yet surprisingly good fuel economy. The economics are relatively better in this class of car, as the diesel upcharge is a smaller percentage of the total price, or even subsidized by the manufacturer. And when the total fuel consumed goes up, like in a big SUV, the efficiency gains are more significant, financially-wise.

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I haven’t driven one of these, but I did drive a somewhat similar big Audi Q7 diesel, and it really impressed me how it hustled along with that boosted 3 L turbo diesel. If I was getting a vehicle in this class, I’d likely spring for the diesel.

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It was another glorious day and hike, and the views were splendid, and not just of that Mazda 323.