Curbside Classic: 1978 Oldsmobile Omega – Grandma’s BMW

(first posted 1/20/2012)     I know this is a Grandma’s car. The give-away is the baby seat in the front. Someone’s grandma or great-aunt kept this Omega garaged for most of its life, and its now been passed on, just like her genes. The baby will grow up remembering riding in great-grandma’s Olds. At the rate this Omega is aging, it might serve another generation yet. The family Olds. Of course, I’m speculating, but then what else can I say about this car.

The X-bodies were the grandaddies of GM’s hard-core badge-engineering efforts, starting with the 1971 Pontiac Ventura (CC here). Olds got in on the action too, in 1973. Now that’s a really rare bird; haven’t seen on of those, yet. Probably because they didn’t sell well. In 1973, everyone was still agog with heavy metal, and Olds was making hay with that gig. I wonder how badly Olds really wanted this very lightly re-decorated Chevy Nova in the family stable at all, at least until the energy crisis hit.

The X-bodies were revamped for 1975, essentially receiving the same treatment the ’71 Camaro got a couple years earlier: a new front subframe with improved suspension and steering, grafted on to a re-skinned rear three-quarters. And like the Camaro, the X cars suddenly became just about the best handling thing in its genre.

Yes, GM really blew the ’75 restyle of these cars, inasmuch as Ford was (once again) more in touch with America’s love of superficiality over substance by dropping the divine ever-so Mercedes-like Granada/Monarch in so many welcoming arms. Never mind that that the Granada sat on the last remnants of the old Falcon chassis, and handled like pretty much all Fords of the seventies. Yes, in comparison to the Granada, the GM X cars really did come off a bit like the BMWs they were presumably trying to emulate. At least they weren’t faking it nearly as much. That was left for Pontiac to take up within a few years.

Granny’s Omega sedan here may not have benefited fully from the X-bodies potential, but with the optional suspension upgrade, it was a remarkably decent handling car, especially on smooth pavement. I speak from Nova experience, but they’re all the same under the badges anyway.

Almost. The Omega and Buick Skylark did have the Buick 231 V6 as their standard engine, with all of 105 hp. But a five-speed stick was optional, with the V6, at least by 1978. More grunt desired? Only one choice, depending on where you lived: the Chevy 305 V8 in the 49 states, and the 350 four-barrel in CA (and high altitude areas).

If Omegas aren’t exactly common in your home town, it may be because they were always the sales laggard of the X-Bunch. Odd, given how well the Olds Cutlass was selling at the time. Between 1975 and 1979, the Omega sold between 40k and 64k per year, pittances in GM-scale. The Buick Skylark was the darling of the the three Nova-clones, with the Pontiac Ventura/Phoenix running number two. No wonder I was so excited to see it. Seriously! I’m not kidding!

I somewhat like this car, and its buddies. Probably because of my Granada-loathing, as well as that Nova with the handling package I drove at a job sometimes. Flat: it just cornered unlike almost every other American car back then. Well, it was a Camaro under the skin.

Space utilization was a perennial sore spot with American rwd cars back then, and the X cars didn’t deviate much from that malady. The front was reasonably adequate; the back so-so. The fwd X cars soon to come would change that equation forever, along with a few other ones.

And this Omega isn’t a bad looking car either, considering the times, as always. The grille is a bit generic, but it carries its proud long hood fairly well, in relation to the rest of the car. It really does have just a bit of BMW-esque stature to it. That and a healthy dash of Opel Kapitan. But that means nothing to Americans. OK, time to quit before I go off the deep end. Grandma’s BMW indeed; sure beats Grandpa’s “Mercedes”.