(first posted 7/18/2015) I’ve been thinking lately about cars I used to see every day that at some indiscernible point seemed to reach the flashpoint of invisibility overnight. This ’79 iteration of Olds’ first wave of downsized full-sizers is one such car. I remember seeing many of these cars on streets and highways everywhere. In their prime, these Ninety-Eights were the kind of upper middle class-mobiles that would have given our family’s iron oxide-challenged Plymouth Volaré an inferiority complex. In the past five years, though, I’d be hard-pressed to recall spotting more than three or four of these in the wild, in any bodystyle.
The Ninety-Eight appears to have been exempt from the GM corporate engine fiasco of 1977, the first model year for the downsized GM biggies, where unbeknownst to some tens-of-thousands of buyers of other Oldsmobile products, their cars were fitted with Chevy engines instead of with genuine Olds “Rocket” V8’s. According to my research, all 1977 – ’79 Ninety-Eights appear to have had genuine Olds V8 power – it was the Delta 88s, Custom Cruisers, and Omegas that might have been unwitting “Chevmobiles”. For 1977 and ’78, Ninety-Eights were built both at Linden Assembly in New Jersey as well as in Lansing, Michigan, with ’79 production limited exclusively to Lansing.
I’m ashamed to admit that GM’s Sloanian brand hierarchy had me all confused until my late-teens, made more embarrassing as I hail from the city which headquartered Buick for decades. Before you call for the revocation of my CC Card, look at this Ninety-Eight as supporting documentation for my misunderstanding that Olds sat above, and not below, Buick. The rusty bumper notwithstanding, isn’t this a classy-looking machine, especially in black? Those Cadillac-lite, vertical taillamps must certainly have said “money” to much of middle America.
Let’s take the Pepsi Challenge on this one. Show a kid who doesn’t seem to care about cars pictures of decent examples of coupe versions of Olds’ Ninety-Eight and Buick’s Electra 225, and ask them which car looks more expensive. (Don’t forget to show the taillights.) Without being explicitly told the Buick sat upmarket from the related Olds, I’d be willing to bet most kids would say the Olds looks more posh.
In the case of this particular car (which is sitting on those nice American Racing rims, and with aftermarket bumper guards up front the size of Kansas), I had a chance to speak with the owner’s daughter. I was exiting the local, neighborhood grocery store after work when I spotted this car in the parking lot and immediately started taking some photos. I was startled (and busted) mid-click when this nicely dressed lady carrying a couple of grocery bags said, “Hi, there!”
She was actually friendly to the stranger she had discovered photographing her ride. She told me the car was for sale, and that it was her mother’s, who didn’t need it anymore. I remembered when my own father had surrendered his driver’s license in the early 1990’s for his deteriorating eyesight, and I was able to read between the lines that selling this car was probably something of a bittersweet undertaking. She also asked me if I was interested in purchasing it. I might have asked her the price just out of curiosity, but I didn’t want to lead her on to think she might make a sale.
This particular car, as accessorized, struck me as something of a time capsule from, say, 1983, especially with that tinted bug deflector up front. The color, the rims, the bumper guards – this car was a great combination of class and badass, like a UAW retiree rocking a leather jacket, St. Christopher medal, and tinted aviators.
I haven’t seen this car again. I hope this family got a fair price for this car, and that mother and daughter are still in good health. My hope is that whoever bought it recognized they purchased something special that you can’t buy new anymore – a luxurious, 2-door, RWD, V8-powered Oldsmobile with style from here to Lansing.
All photos as taken by the author in Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Daytime shots are from Friday, June 16, 2012, with nighttime shots from Sunday, August 12, 2012.