(first posted 4/11/2014) As one who barely remembers the 1970s, all accounts have it as a never-ending barrage of weird, bizarre, and tacky. It always sounds like the frat party where everyone arrives gung-ho and full of vim and vinegar, consuming mass quantities of beverage both warm and chilled, then disperses quicker than a fart in a hurricane after somebody barfs on the keg.
Which brings us to our earth toned ’72 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale Convertible. Twenty-three characters (not counting “convertible”) to describe this buggy does seem rather apropos for this longest, lowest, and widest of Oldsmobile ragtops.
Relax; this is neither a hard core love- nor snark-fest. However, what I am about to submit may likely make your head spin like Wonder Woman. Let me explain myself first.
For what it is, this Delta 88 does make sense in a 1970s macramé, polyester, and lava lamp sort of way. The world was a different place in 1972 and this Oldsmobile is a reflection of its time.
Pretty much since the beginning, Oldsmobile had had a ragtop available for discerning buyers. For the real diehards, fond of when most cars were open topped (like a lot of garments in the ’70s), a convertible graced the lineup to provide that wind in your hair, sunburn on your scalp, and bugs in your teeth thrill. It was that way in 1923…
…and it was still that way in 1948. Though the bodies might have changed, the basic concept was the same–provide something stylish in which the owner can pop the top like the pull-tab on a beer can. What a grand way to be seen by all the unfortunate folks in their boring sedans and wagons.
So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that with the introduction of their even bigger boned B-bodies in 1971, Oldsmobile would still have their traditional convertible. Despite the convertible market having dwindled over time, down to 3,900 for 1972, Oldsmobile was still answering the call of its buyers.
Wearing pretty much the same wheelbases as the previous generation, these B’s were fluffier in most every other regard. It was pre-OPEC fuel crisis and one could purchase their new Oldsmobile with a 7.4 liter (455 cubic inch) engine underneath that hood. Of course a buyer could still get the “economy” 5.7 liter (350 cubic inch) V8 mill that was standard equipment on the Delta 88, and many did, but it just didn’t have the right cachet for a convertible. Neither engine was overly stressed, as this Oldsmobile weighs only 4,200 pounds–for comparison, that is about 110 pounds less than a new Acura RLX hybrid.
These big B’s are certainly divisive machines; searching the rapidly expanding CC archives has revealed both a deadly sin and a jubilant admission of ownership. As for your author, he’s only briefly driven one, a ’74 Delta 88 sedan while in high school many moons ago. Its buttery smoothness quickly illuminated why a 350 paired to a Turbo Hydramatic is such a popular power train combination.
The basic premise of this Oldsmobile is pretty straightforward. It was form over function, plain and simple. There is no reason to compromise when you want to look good and arrive in style. This car said you were doing well and felt little reason to be ashamed of your success.
However, this Oldsmobile was far from being a song of a single note. I submit to you that this humble Oldsmobile is monumentally deceptive; in reality, it was the most versatile Oldsmobile of any size made in 1972. I will now pause for your head to stop spinning–or for your astonishment to subside after reading such a seemingly bizarre statement.
This car fulfills the desire of those who like to cruise around topless. It was fun in the sun and oodles of good times with the sun shining on your noggin. Driving with all the windows down in any steel roofed car can’t even begin to duplicate the experience of riding in a convertible. To recreate the experience in any other Oldsmobile Delta 88 that year would require either a cutting torch or a saws-all.
One of the many things this Oldsmobile does not have in common with more contemporary convertibles, such as a Ford Mustang or Toyota Solara, is that it has a fully functional backseat allowing it to be used by the whole family at once. Have a few progeny? No problem. Place them in the back; at 70 mph, you will never hear any complaints from them. The backseat is big enough that you could even do the same with your in-laws or parents.
These days, so many people think they need a pickup to pull even the smallest utility trailer. With this Oldsmobile, there is simply no need for a pickup when you can go to most any farm and home store to obtain a receiver hitch. By bolting it up to the full frame of this Oldsmobile, you could pull just about anything you need–even with the base 350. Doubtful? I’ve seen it done. Don’t attempt this with any contemporary car (now I remember the reason most people are getting pickups to pull trailers).
This Oldsmobile elevates practicality to an entirely new dimension. So many will disparage this poor car, relegating it to “big old barge” status. As one who has alternated living near both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers his entire life, I can tell you that is the highest of compliments.
River boat barges do a lot of work and are quite efficient in how they go about it. You really cannot overload one, similar to how it would be very tough to overburden the 455 likely found in our barge-colored Delta 88. Environmentalists should love this car as it’s an existing resource with fuel mileage not much worse than most new 3/4 ton pickups. Admit it; you would look a lot more debonair driving this Oldsmobile than an F-250.
This Oldsmobile is 1970s to its core. It is the Kojak of convertibles–suave and dashing, with nothing on top and working diligently to make the world a sunnier place. Who loves you, baby?