COAL: 1969 Oldsmobile Delta 88 – All Aboard the Green Bus

1969 Olds Delta 88 from Internet, similar to mine

I apologize to our readers for writing these COAL entries out of sequence – I typically just wait for the urge to hit me regarding one of these vehicles I’ve been fortunate enough to own over the years.  I got an Olds urge this weekend – so allow me to reminisce a little about the second car I ever owned as a 17 year old from circa 1973 to 74 – a “pea-soup” green 1969 Olds Delta 88.

First a little background; my previous car, a 1964 Ford Fairlane 500 four-door sedan (COAL coming), had abruptly met a street light abutment one night in an empty mall parking lot.  How does one drive into a light abutment in an empty parking lot, you ask?  Basically by tuning your radio when you should have been watching the road.  Youth…

The Ford was well pranged, so it was time to look for something new.  Neither of my parents drove – I was the sole car owner/driver in the family, so my father said he’d help out with the cost.  That was fortunate since my part-time wage from the local Borden Burger just barely paid for gas and insurance.  We decided our joint budget would max out at $1000.

About two blocks up from our house was a small AMC dealership; they typically had 10-12 cars on their used lot.  As a small dealership, the owner was also a salesman, and yes, he wore a loud sports jacket, white shoes, and seemed perpetually grouchy, even when trying to sell us a car.  Of the 12 cars, we quickly focused in on two.

Sunbeam Alpine Fastback from Internet


Gen 1 Plymouth Barracuda

I gravitated to a 1970 Sunbeam Alpine Fastback (Rapier).  I didn’t know a lot about that car, but knew Sunbeam made the Alpine and Tiger – legitimate sports cars.  And the Fastback had a jaunty look – like a 3/4th scale first gen Plymouth Barracuda – notable since the Rootes Group was then part of Chrysler.

1969 Delta 88 from Internet exactly like mine except for the vinyl roof

My father, on the other hand, went right to a clean 1969 Olds Delta 88.  To him, that was a “real car” – big, luxurious, powerful, one that made a statement about the owner – in a way only someone who had experienced the Great Depression could understand.

They were both the same price – $895, and in decent condition, though the Olds had high miles – around 98K.  The Sunbeam came with a 1.7 litre four cylinder and had a four speed manual transmission, so it would be thrifty with gas – a key consideration in the early 70’s.  The Olds on the other hand, had the Division’s largest engine – a 455 cubic inch V8 behemoth – here in low compression 2bbl form.

We had a long discussion that night, and while I preferred the Sunbeam, I knew that having my older parents climb into and out of a small 2-door coupe was going to be an issue.  I also implicitly knew the Sunbeam would be more fragile than the Olds, and I didn’t have much money for repairs.

So the next day, we walked back up and offered $800 for the Delta 88 – the owner couldn’t get his pen out fast enough to draw up the sales contract.

When I think back on that car, four things come to mind;

1)  While I liked the car, I hated the color.  I believe it was called “Meadow Green”, but it was more “pea-soup” green.  It seemed like half of all Oldsmobiles in the late sixties came in that color.  To add insult to injury, the interior was also green…

2)  That 455 was a real gem.  It wasn’t a revver, but it had earth-mover torque.  The low compression made it very smooth and it mated perfectly to the THM 400 transmission.  While mileage wasn’t great, it was dead reliable – the only thing I had to replace was a water pump at about the 110K mark.

3)  The accelerator pedal was huge.  Prior to getting my driver’s license, I rode in a lot of buses.  The gas pedal of the Olds was at least as big as the one on a GM Old Look bus.  I wear a size 12 shoe, and my foot didn’t cover the whole pedal.  Additionally, the interior was cavernous – at least in comparison to the Fairlane.  Six people fit comfortably – with more than enough elbow room.  Hence the nickname, the Green Bus…

4)  Lastly, your parents are sometimes right.  Dad nailed that one.  Later, I did some research on the Sunbeam and found it had all the typical maladies of a British car of that era: rust, dodgy electrics, and poor build quality.  It would have likely been a money pit.

1969 Delta 88 from Internet

Truth be told, the Olds was probably too much car for a 17 year old – but it went about its business competently for the year and a half I owned it, ferrying me to school and Borden Burger, and my parents to the supermarket and Sunday brunch.

I owned mostly sportier models for the next 25 years or so until my father passed.  Up until those last days, when we talked cars, it was very clear which one had impressed him the most – he would always say; “That Olds Delta 88, now that was a REAL car”…