COAL: 1984 Oldsmobile Delta 88 – Mom’s Car

Here you go CC’ers, its even a Brougham.

If I was the me that I am now back in the early 1980s, I’d be the target demographic this car was built for.  I’m a professional, mid-career male in my 40s, I make a decent salary, married with 3 kids and I’m a homeowner in the conservative southeast.  My 1984 wife would probably be driving a Cutlass Cruiser or Country Squier wagon, or I guess we could still be young enough to be one of those upstart families willing to try out one of those them there new minivan things from the Mopar boys.

The 2019 version of this car would be a crew cab, short bed, 4X4, 1/2 ton Framarado that will never haul anything heavier than a load of mulch or tow anything bigger than a bass boat.  But I digress, and besides I own one of those Framarados anyway.

My Mom checked all of those demographic boxes (except for being a male of course) in the summer of 1982 when she was car shopping and took home a new Delta 88.

Being a kid in the wonderful 1970s, the decade of the best music, cartoons and TV shows, my parents didn’t make a lot of money.  Dad was a cop, a uniformed ground pounder in the NYPD for his entire career until he retired in 1983, and in my early life, he was the primary bread winner.  But through the ’70s, as inflation rose along with general standard and cost of living in the U.S., his decent-for-the-time policeman salary wasn’t going to cut it raising 3 kids in the metro New York area, even though we lived out on suburban Long Island, which back then was not the affluent area that it is now; it was still very blue collar where we lived.  Not long after I was born, my Mom went back to work, doing mostly clerical, part time jobs.  My Dad worked nights so he was able to stay home with me in the mornings while Mom worked until around the time I started kindergarten and then Mom went back to work full time.

When I was born, our family car was a blue 1968 Valiant 2 door sedan that my Dad bought new and for the most part, it was their only car.  My Mom did have a ’66 Rambler at one point as a second car and a ’66 Cutlass as well but I don’t know what happened to those cars or why we didn’t keep them but mainly, our car was the Valiant.  Not long after I made my appearance, so I guess it would have been in around 1974, my Dad gave the Valiant to his brother that was down on his luck at the time and he bought the used gold ’71 Satellite that I detailed in my previous COAL.  Since Mom was going back to work and would need a car of her own again, she bought a blue ’72 Montego from Hertz car sales, also in what was probably 1974.  I may actually have that backwards as to which car came when but that is not of consequence.

It looked like this, except for the colors.  I haven’t seen one in years.

She loved that Montego and I have fond recollections of riding in it.  It was a sharp looking car, dark blue with a white top and interior, and I loved the headlights and big turn signal lenses.  I remember hearing Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” and Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” when they first came out on the car radio and  going to Record World to get my first 45, Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” and then my first LP, The Allman Brothers “Brothers and Sisters” in the Montego.  She had the Montego until the winter of 1979-80, when she slid on a patch of black ice and into a fire hydrant.  Thankfully, Mom was OK but the car was totaled.  At the time, she was working full time as a secretary at a paper company about 20 miles away and needed a car fast.

The Orange Monster came into my life.

A steaming orange pile of poo.

I can usually find something to love in just about any car, but I hated this car.  In fact, hate is not a strong enough word.  Loathe?  Abhor?  Pick your adjective, it fits.

I love Sweden and her people and have been there several times.  Ghost is one of my favorite bands.  But, thanks to the Orange Monster, I will neverevereverneverever own a Volvo.

The story varies from my family members as to where the ’74 Volvo 145 came from; a used car lot, a private seller or someone we knew, no one seems to remember (or wants to)  but I think it came from Satan himself.   My brother loved “Bat Out of Hell” from Meat Loaf, maybe he was referring to our Volvo.

First of all, it was an orange station wagon.  No 7 year old boy wanted to be seen in an orange station wagon.  Orange might have been cool on a Challenger but never on a Volvo station wagon.  I had friends with Colony Parks and Vista Cruisers; those were cool station wagons.   Our next door neighbors had a bright yellow Gremlin, why couldn’t we have that instead?

Next, there was no rumbly V8 and even at that age, I knew the difference.  Mom always got mad when I called the Volvo “the little car” even though it was a decent sized wagon.  But it was more aligned with the weird furrin cars that were starting to show up in our close knit Irish/Italian civil servant neighborhood.  It sounded like the tractors on Grandad’s farm and that wasn’t cool.  My oldest brother Jimmy had a screaming yellow big block Road Runner and it had the sound and the fury of hellfire and brimstone. Even Dad’s Plymouth had a 318 and it had the rumble.  Plus it was just ‘different’ than all of the other cars around me;  my parents and their friends all drove cars like Dodge Polaras, Chevy Impalas, big Oldsmobiles and Mercurys, even the Darts and Valiants that they drove had the big American car feel.  The Volvo was, well, a Volvo; it didn’t have the sound, look or feel of those cars that I loved so much.  Even the keys looked different than the big monster cars that surrounded me; a big double sided monster key with a black plastic head; the American cars had simple keys; one for the ignition and one for the trunk and when you started them up, it started up goodness.  Our neighbor with the Gremlin also had a maroon ’71 or 72 Ford LTD that I loved, and one day, I took a Sharpie and wrote Ford-Volvo on the Volvo’s tailgate.  I didn’t get the belt but it was close, probably the only thing that saved me was the fact that my parents hated the Volvo too.

But the main reason I hated the damn thing was because it just broke down a lot, which upset my Mom, and I didn’t like anything that upset my Mom.  I already told the story of when we tried taking it up to a rented lake cabin in New Hampshire one summer and it barely made it out of New York, needing to be towed back to the house and the Great Gold Plymouth saved the trip.  But I do remember spending a lot of time in repair shops and the local Volvo dealer getting it fixed.  If nothing else, while waiting around the shops, I got to check out the other cars being worked on.  Remember, this was long before insurance regulations keeping customers (and their kids) out of work bays.

In my Pontiac Grand Prix story, I talked about my high school gas jockey job.  We had the Volvo fixed at that same shop often and one time, not long after we got it, when it was already in the shop for something, I clearly remember wandering around to the back of the shop in a fenced-in area that I learned later was where the police would tow and impound cars, and seeing a lite blue 1968 Mercury Park Lane sedan which had obviously been towed there after a head-on collision as there was heavy front end damage and blood stains all over the seats and dash.  The windshield was also smashed and I could clearly see bloodstains with hair in them as well several fleshy bits scattered around the front seat area, which I would later determine to be either bits of skull or brain matter.  In addition to the Dukes of Hazzard, Emergency! and CHiPs were my favorite shows when I was a kid so I had already grasped the concept people getting hurt in car accidents but that was TV and now I was literally looking at the remains of a human being on a car’s front seat.  Later on in my law enforcement career, I became an expert in vehicle accident investigation, and that Mercury probably had a lot to do with me heading in that direction with my career.

Anyway,  in the summer of 1982, the clouds parted, the angels sang, and rays of sunshine shone on my car world.  My Mom landed a good job with the government and the first order of business was to get rid of the Orange Monster.  In August, we went car shopping.

To many families, buying a new car isn’t much of a big deal, but it was to us, especially my Mom.  You see, my Dad grew up poor shanty Irish in New York City and I don’t think he ever drove (legally) until he left home and joined the military.  My Mom though, was from rural upstate South Carolina and driving at an early age was just a way of life.  My maternal Grandparents were successful dairy farmers; not well-to-do, but not broke either and they did well enough that Grandad was able to keep Granny in a new Buick every few years and they had the first house in the county with air conditioning.  Anyway, Grandad was pretty tight with the Sheriff and he gave my Mom one of the ex-Sheriff’s Dept. cars, a ’57 Ford that been juiced up a little.  Here’s where it pays to be nice to your parent’s families as Mom’s sisters let me know that the Ford lasted all of a month before Grandad took it away.  Apparently, Mom was quite the hell raiser.  Later, after she graduated high school, she got a ’58 Corvette when she was at the University of South Carolina.  Again, it didn’t last long.   Then she met my Dad when he was stationed at Camp Lejeune, and to her very traditional Southern Baptist family, that was a big deal when she married my very Irish, very Catholic Father from New York City, and when the dates of my oldest brother being born didn’t quite match up with the date they got married…well, like I said, Mom was a bit of a hell raiser.   Semper Fi, Dad.

So back to the cars…after Dad was discharged from the Marines, my parents moved to New York, he joined the NYPD, and they settled on Long Island, which was still the sticks back then.   My parents went through several used cars before they finally bought a new car, which was the ’68 Valiant and it was bought by my Dad for the family.  Whenever we had a second car, it was always something used where we were probably the third or fourth owners and it was there for Mom to haul us kids around with while Dad was at work.  So it was a big deal when my Mom could finally afford to buy a brand new car of her own that wasn’t there primarily for family transport.  By 1982, both of my older brothers had their drivers licenses so I was the only snot nosed brat that still needed to be hauled around on a regular basis.

Like most of America at the time, and since this was going to be Mom’s Car, she was all about a Personal Luxury Coupe and really wanted a Cutlass, but she checked them all out anyway.  She hated Fords, so the Thunderbird and Cougar were out, and since those were the Foxy boxy T-Birds, who could blame her?  She looked at the Cordoba and Mirada, I remember she really liked a white with a poofy red interior Cordoba but even she was skeptical of the build quality of Mopars at the time.  Even as a Mopar guy, I will readily admit that when it came to the PLCs, GM owned the market.  She didn’t like the Monte Carlo or Grand Prix as much as the Cutlass, and the Regal was a close second.  And so it was that we visited Hays Olds, checking out all of the new Cutlass Supremes.  But since this was late summer and the ’83s hadn’t been delivered yet and with the Cutlass being such a popular car, their supply was limited (except for diesels-go figure!), but for whatever reason, they had several Delta 88 coupes on the lot to choose from.     I guess they made her a good enough deal that they upsold her into a new Delta 88 coupe.

*Edit- I found a picture of our actual car with my actual parents!   This was probably 1984 or 85.   Great parents and a great car.

Its hard to tell in the picture but ours was a 2 tone car, Light Redwood over Dark Redwood, which was really a kind of mauve over burgundy; my Dad picked the color out despite my Mom wanting a white one, but it was a rare color combination and I don’t ever remember seeing another one like it; I couldn’t even find a picture of one like it on Google. Looking over the Oldsmobile color charts from those years, it appears that that color combination was a 1982-only option. It also had the great-looking body-colored Super Stock II wheels, the GM sport mirrors, no vinyl top, and the cool “opera lamps” on the B-pillar. It was a Royale (but not a Brougham so it didn’t have the extra poofy pillowey seats, sorry CC’ers, but it did have a beautiful burgundy velour interior) It was a really sharp car and I remember it getting a lot of compliments.

Mom had the dealer add a cassette stereo.  I remember when Billy Joel’s  “An Innocent Man” cane out; she played it nonstop, along with her Bee Gees tapes.  We had never had a car with on-demand music before.  It was also the first car we had with air conditioning.   Boy did I like that, especially when we went to South Carolina every summer, but we weren’t allowed to use it in traffic, only when we were moving because Mom was worried the car would overheat.  That lasted for at least the first year or two until she realized the car wouldn’t implode with the A/C on in traffic and that automotive HVAC technology had come a long way since the ’50s.

It was a really nice car.  I remember going to the dealer to pick it up with my Mom and it was a big deal that she let me ride in the front seat on the way home.  “Eye Of The Tiger” came on the radio and I was like, yeah, new car, eye of the tiger baby.

The Olds was a rock solid, anvil-like, reliable car.  We had it for 5 years and I don’t ever remember it being in the shop for anything and neither does my Mom.  She taught me how to drive in the big Olds by the time I was 12.  Remember, she grew up on the farm and most kids were driving by that age, so to her, it was no big deal but my Dad wasn’t too happy about it.  Our house had a long, narrow driveway and she would wake me up early to move cars around so she could get to work if my Dad’s or one of my brother’s cars was in the way of the Olds.  My Scout troop had a car wash fund raiser and the other suburban kids were all jealous that my Mom, who was one of the Troop Moms, was letting me drive the cars around from the car wash area and pull them into drying area.

My Dad bought a new Buick Riviera the following summer and that car brought new meaning to the word POS, so the Olds became the family car by default since the Riviera was always in the shop.  My Dad at one point tried to swap cars with my Mom but she wasn’t having any of it, she loved her Olds.  That was Mom’s Car.

Just like with my Dad’s Satellite, riding around with my Mom in the Delta 88, just taking care of daily business, just spending time with my Mother, were some of my happiest childhood memories.

But then she got a new Mom’s Car in 1987.  By then, I was only a year and a half away from getting my own license and Mom decided it was time to relive some of her hell-raising days and she bought a new Corvette.  Most teenage boys would be like, hell yeah, my Mom’s got a Vette, nice minivan that your Mom has, but I was like, NO!  I wanted the Olds for my first car.  I loved the Olds, it was Mom’s Car but it was My Car too!  Eye of the Tiger!  Plus I was making plans for that sexy bordello velour interior.

This was not what I wanted.

But nope, my oldest brother had just joined the Navy and was headed off to Officer Candidate School in Florida and needed a car after he blew up his ’75 Fury.  He got my Oldsmobile.  And he was known car killer.  I would never see the Olds again.

He replaced it with a Plymouth Sundance.  Puke.

Plus, I have never been a Corvette fan.  Sure, a ’68 427 Vette would have been cool but a white ’87?  With an automatic?  Nah.  Not my thing.  Corvettes were for creepy middle aged guys with open shirts, fake tans and gold chains.

It was 1987.  The last Buick Grand Nationals, the Darth Vader-your-car-is-ready-Grand-National.  The Car In Black.   Most importantly, the Corvette-killing-Buick Grand National.  I begged and pleaded.  No, that was a dopey teenaged boy’s car ,she said.  Well yeah, I’m a dopey teenaged boy.  No.  OK fine.

When we were at the Chevy dealer, there was a silver Monte Carlo SS with T-tops.  Please Mom, please?  No.  OK fine.

 Dad, can you trade the Riviera in and get the black K5 Blazer?  Go away son.

OK fine, I’ll live with the Corvette.

I don’t think I ever really grasped that the Oldsmobile wasn’t my car.  But listen, my Mom worked her way up to mid-level management from clerical work in the span of 20 years, plus she ran the household and put up with me, my brothers, and my Dad, and she damn well earned that Corvette, and whatever else she wanted.  She kept it pristine well into the 1990s when it was replaced by a new Eldorado.

Back to the Oldsmobile.  There is actually a story about the lead car picture, I promise, so lets get to it.

Its the Fall of 2012.  I was happily/miserably separated and recovering on one rainy Saturday morning from doing things the night before no man in his late 30s should have been doing and with who knows who I was doing them with.

Just before Halloween, Hurricane Sandy had hit New York the week before and it devastated my Mom’s house on the South Shore of Long Island.  She lived a block away from the Great South Bay in Amityville (yes, of “The Amityville Horror” fame, our house was just a few blocks east of the actual DeFeo house) and the tidal flood destroyed the entire first floor of the house.  Understandably, my Mom was very upset.  One of my brothers still lives on Long Island so he was there to help out somewhat, but his own house was damaged as well, plus he had a newborn baby at the time so he was limited on how much he could help.

I lived in Virginia 500 miles away, and I was on active duty orders at the time and scheduled to get underway for a patrol on a Cutter the week after Sandy so I wouldn’t be able to get up there to help out until close to Thanksgiving.

Mom needed a pick-me-up and what better way to say “I Love You Mom” than with a 1982 Oldsmobile Delta 88.

The problem is, with as many of these cars that Oldsmobile built and sold in 1982, there’s not a whole lot left, especially coupes.  A nationwide search for an ’82 Royale coupe returned nothing.  So for about a week, I looked at all of the 1980-85 Delta 88 coupes that I could find online and found this really clean beige ’84 Royale Brougham coupe in Michigan.  

Its a neat car and I fell in love with it instantly.  But wait, we have to change a few things first.  The whitewall tires went to the trash dump.  The spoke hubcaps became garage ornaments.  If Im going to pay tribute to Mom’s Car, it needs a set of proper Olds Super Stock wheels.  I also needed a pair of GM sport bullet mirrors.  I finally pulled the set off of my ’76 Grand Prix parts car that I have out back a few weeks ago.  And the amber-over-red, new-for-1984 taillights look odd so I replaced those with a set from an ’81 Delta 88 that I picked up at the Carlisle swap meet that I paid all of $5 for.

How about that dash, CC’ers?  It has the rare “Rallye” gauges and I upgraded the original stereo to a rebuilt unit with electronic guts and an AUX input.

And there it is.  Lets all enjoy all of that chocolatey, pillowy, velour goodness.  I miss cars like these.  No modern anything compares to this.

It’s oddly optioned.  It has manual windows but power locks and a power drivers seat, the Rallye gauges, only one outside mirror and it doesn’t have an overdrive transmission.  It must have been a special ordered car or maybe some kind of sales bank car.  Anyway, it was sold new in Arizona and somehow ended up in Michigan.  As you can see in the picture above, I got the original Arizona tag.

So back to Mom.  I bought the car from MI and had it shipped to VA and it was nice, really nice. Not a speck of rust anywhere on the car and you all can see how nice the interior is. It ran great and still does. It only had 70K obviously well cared-for miles on it. What a great present to my Mom, who had just turned 70 a few months earlier and was in a bad spot.

So I went on my Cutter patrol and when I came back, I went on leave for Thanksgiving up to my Mom’s. I took my kids in TBT and we trailered the Olds up. I was hoping for tears of joy and a “you’re the best son ever!” but what I got was “what am I supposed to do with this old thing?” Like I said, Mom isn’t very sentimental.

But she actually did love it, or at least the fact that I bought it for her.  She had a 2008 Corvette at the time and her husband had a GMC pickup, so she used the Olds around town quite a bit.  But in 2014, her husband had bought a new Harley Davidson and a boat at the same time and there wasn’t enough room at the house for the Oldsmobile, her Corvette, his truck and the boat and the bike so I had to go pick up the Olds.  I drove up there with my girlfriend at the time and drove the Olds back to VA where I put it in semi-DD status with the rest of my cars and it would be here for my Mom to drive when she comes to visit.

There it is, that powerhouse of a 307.  All 140 reluctant horsepower of it.  There’s an engine in there and I’m going to find it.   Again, there is no “healthy power curve” for these cars.  There is no power in these cars.  They are sloooooooooow.  Dangerously slow in modern traffic.  Passing on a 2 lane road or merging on a busy interstate requires a quick prayer and crossed fingers.

But I’m going to fix that.  If you all remember, I de-smogged my ’83 Malibu and ’77 Grand Prix and made them delightfully fast and fun to drive with great, musclecar-era spec engines that are not obnoxious and keep to the characters of the cars.  The Olds is next.   I picked up a mildly built Olds 403 from a guy with a ’79 Trans Am that I bought for peanuts from a Craigslist ad and its going to wake this Olds up from its smog-era slumber.  The Trans Am owner pulled it and swapped it for a late model LS engine and had it for sale for almost a year; seems that there isn’t a big demand for small block Oldsmobile engines, and by keeping it a small block (as opposed to going to a 400/425/455) I can keep my air conditioning and other accessories while that 403 will give me a sweet low end torque band and a real power curve that will help this Delta get up and move.

I remember hearing the big monster Oldsmobiles of the ’60s and ’70s, the Delmont 88s and the 98s and the Toronados, with the sound their big engines made through dual exhaust pipes, the Oldsmobiles all had a sound all of their own; authoritative but not obnoxious like a musclecar (unless it actually was a 442 of course)  Buicks, Pontiacs and Chryslers were like that too, they all seemed to have their own distinctive sound.  Chevys and Fords were just too generic-sounding; even today at car shows and old car gatherings, I can still tell a Mopar or Buick/Olds/Pontiac by their distinctive sounds.

Can’t do that with a Toyota or a Honda.

Before I install the engine though, I need to decide on a transmission and I haven’t made up my mind if I want to keep it simple with a TH350 or a beefed up TH200R4  (or maybe a 700) so I can have an overdrive gear for all of the highway driving that I do; either way, the Metric TH200 has to go and I’m surprised it lasted this long.A Coastie buddy of mine, who is also a big car guy with a ’68 Camaro and a ’66 El Camino, retired in the Louisville area.  Every summer the Street Rod Nationals are held there and he’s been after me to come out so finally in 2015, I drove the Olds out.  I had just upgraded it to R134 air conditioning, and coupled with that gorgeous interior, made it the perfect road trip car.  Its too bad I fat fingered this picture because it would have made good shot of the car at the Nationals (and of course it was the only one I took of the car at the show) as I think the timeless GM B-Body lines hold their own against the classic street rods.

And in classic LT Dan fashion, once again harkening back to my 2012 Great Skivvies Run from the Carlisle car show, I had a tire blowout near the VA/WV state line, but thanks to the air conditioning, I got to keep my shorts on and I bought those BFG Radials that are in all of the pictures mounted then after buying them at the show.

I must have pissed off the Tire Gods somewhere.  I had another blowout in the Olds along I-64 on the way home from work one day later that year, but this time, the tire disintegrated and put a nice gash in the bottom of the quarter panel.  I was able to pull it out and most of it is covered by the trim panel.

To date, the Delta has been a good, reliable member of society.  I have only had to replace the water pump and I rebuilt the E-Q-Jet carb.  Otherwise, its been a great car and it just turned 90K miles on it last summer.  Despite the frightening lack of power, its a pleasure to drive.  Its so quiet, its like a tomb.  Look at the pictures and you can see the panel gaps are all pretty uniform.  There are no squeaks or rattles.  When GM wanted to, they could really screw together a good car.  The seats are like sitting in my living room recliner.  It handles reasonably well but “on rails” is far from an accurate description, but look, that’s not the character of the car; its a  cruiser not a bruiser.  Yes, I know it can be built.  We’ll see.  But it does need an engine with a proper Oldsmobile rumble and torque.

The trunk is epic.  I wish we still made cars like these.

A mild tragedy hit the Olds last summer, literally.  I live on a country 2 lane road and a farmer that lives about a mile up the road stopped in front of me to turn left into his driveway.  Since I actually pay attention when I drive, I observed his brake lights and turn signals and stopped behind him as he waited for some cars to pass in the opposite direction before turning into his driveway.

The logging truck barreling down the road behind me did not and struck the left rear bumper of the Olds at about 30 mph at the time of impact.  The damage was significant but repairable.  Again, crumple zones are nice but there’s a lot to be said for a real perimeter frame too, since, had this been a modern FWD pile of crap, it would have been totaled.  The car is currently being repaired by the shop that painted my ’69 Charger and it will make a full recovery.  The frame itself is OK but the quarter panel buckled somewhat and is binding against the frame and the trunk lid wont close.  The rear bumper also took some damage but it is all being repaired from a parts car that the shop owner found.   Im considering painting the car two tone like my Mom’s old car, leaving the beige as the top coat with gold as the bottom color.  Thoughts?

And once the Oldsmobile is done, they will get started on my faded red 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix.

So my Mom comes a couple of times a year and spends a couple of weeks with me and the grandkids, driving the Olds just like back in the ’80s.  She’s in her mid 70s now and is still quite the hell-raiser.  She’s even talking about getting another Corvette to replace the decked out Impala sedan she’s driving now and I wouldn’t put it past her, but I’m keeping the Olds.