Pulp Fiction has to be one my favorite movies of all-time. It’s not for everybody, and I certainly don’t recommend it for family viewing, as it has an MPAA rating of “R” (for violence, drug use, and a few other things). I had rented the VHS tape from Blockbuster Video maybe only a couple of years after its initial release, and was watching on the family VCR in the living room with a friend. Continuing a trend that had started some years before, my parents, and particularly my dad, had an eerie, uncanny ability to walk into the living room to see what we kids were watching during the most uncomfortable scenes while this could happen. In the case of Pulp Fiction, it was the pawn shop scene, and that’s all I’ll say about that. I may still be traumatized by the sound of the rattan chair in the living room creaking with the sound of my dad settling down into it immediately before the start of one of this movie’s most nightmarish sequences. (Why, Dad, why couldn’t you just stay in your study with your books and nice thoughts and let us have our movie?)
Other than that one scene, this film, which I consider one of Quentin Tarantino’s finest, is usually a nonstop riot fest, especially when I’m able to watch it with others who can quote all of its lines right along with me as we view. I can’t wait to get back to doing things like this, especially after last year. There’s one scene where the main characters, Jules Winnfield (played by Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) are going somewhere in a ’74 Chevy Nova, as they discuss some of the little, nuanced differences between life in Europe and in the United States. The topic of McDonald’s fast food restaurant comes up, and Vega informs Winnfield that in Paris, a Quarter Pounder With Cheese is called a “Royale With Cheese” due in part to that country’s use of the metric system. It is an unexpected moment of truth that makes total and complete sense the first time you hear it.
It was these two minutes of sight and sound that have probably forever changed the context with which I experience the word “royale”. Enter our subject car. I grew up in an era when an extra “e” was added to the end of otherwise familiar words to give them an extra aura of luxury or higher status. I’ll cite “olde” and “grande” (though grandé is a legit Spanish word that means “big”, which early Ford Mustang product planners didn’t seem to care about) as the only two examples I can think of right now. Even the great Dionne Warwick went through a period in the ’70s where she added an “e” to the end of her surname. (I’m a fan of Ms. Warwick and her enduring musical legacy, but I still do not understand why she did this.)
The upscale Royale trim level of the Delta 88 had arrived for model year ’69, so by the time our featured ’81 was new, “88 Royale” was a familiar sounding combination of letters and numbers to many with even only a passing level of interest in North American cars. When I saw this dark red beauty parked by a gas station while I was returning from the beach, I had the thought that it was ironic that a car like this was parked across the street from a gas station, rather than actually at one of its pumps. The ’81 Delta 88 Royale coupe had a starting weight of around 3,500 pounds, and only the top-shelf Olds 307 with 140-hp which was optional that year for all but the Delta wagons really seemed up to the task of getting it around. Seriously, did anyone order one new with the standard, 110-horse 3.8L V6? Or the 260-cubic inch V8 with only 105 horsepower? So help you if you ended up with the loud, stanky Diesel 350 with the same 105-hp rating.
There was also a Delta 88 Royale Brougham also offered for ’81, but I couldn’t find a production breakout among the two-doors between those and the regular Royales that year. About 41,700 Delta 88 Royale coupes found buyers that year. The four-door Deltas were the most popular body style, selling about 115,000 units. By contrast, there were roughly 45,000 total coupes of all kinds and 19,000 Custom Cruiser wagons. I would have thought there were fewer two-doors of this vintage sold, as I honestly can’t remember the last time I would have seen one prior to this spotting last month. I will point out that the placement of the “Royale” badge on the C-pillar is highly suspect and a little too high up, but I’m giving this car the benefit of the doubt.
The other thing that struck me about this Delta 88 coupe was its size, especially in comparison to many of the cars around it. It is big and juicy (like a Royale With Cheese) and also like that sandwich, loaded with lots of stuff inside. I offer the above shot as Exhibit A of why interiors of puffy, pillowy velour definitely had and have their appeal, both then and now. Look at how the sunlight is hitting the driver’s seat, and what a comfortable place that lounger must be from which to pilot this big Oldsmobile. This is the kind of car in which you crank up the air conditioning in the summer months and waft and wallow around the streets in luxury as if in a giant, chrome-plated icebox – one powered by an actual Olds 307 Rocket V8, if you’re lucky. If you’re going to get something like only 16 mph combined (thank you, fueleconomy.gov) on a good day, spend a few extra miles-per-gallon to put on the air. Doing otherwise would be like eating a 1,050-calorie
Quarter Pounder Royale With Cheese without the bun. Why even bother? To paraphrase Jules Winnfield, that is a tasty burger. You might as well enjoy the whole thing.
Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, May 22, 2021.