Until it was discontinued some years back, the Oldsmobile Ninety Eight was one of the few nameplates that had been around for my entire life and even before. Like the New Yorker and the Fleetwood Sixty Special, the Ninety Eight was one of the old-timers of the automotive world that somehow managed to stay at the top of the brand’s pecking order for virtually its entire existence.
Most people my age and younger have no clue about the naming of these cars. Once upon a time, these numbers made complete sense. As Oldsmobile moved from the 1930s into the 1940s, it replaced its letter designations with numbers. There was a 60, 70, 80 and 90 series, though the 60 and 80 were short-lived. By 1941, each series was available with either a six or an eight cylinder engine. So, there was an Oldsmobile 76 or an Oldsmobile 98. Voila – we have a name. And as an added bonus, you now understand how the Oldsmobile 88 got its name.
I have never been quite sure why this car existed. Oldsmobile was in the middle of the GM brand ladder, and its offerings tended to move both up and down depending on tastes and sales. Back in GM’s heyday, every car in the line used one of three body shells – the A body, B body or the C body. The Chevy and Pontiac were on the A shell, and the Cadillac was the reason for the C. The “regular” Olds and Buick were the B body cars. It is understandable that Buick would merit a C body model, but Oldsmobile? Somehow, Olds got one, and it was the Ninety Eight.
It is a little known fact that for their final year of production (1984) the car was no longer designated as a C body, but as a D body (even though the car was on a shorter wheelbase than the D body Cadillac). The front drive 1985 replacement would be the new C body.
I grew up in a very middle class family. All through the 1960s and 1970s, there were Oldsmobiles peppered all through both Mom’s and Dad’s sides. I can count at least a dozen family Olds models during those two decades, but all of them were either the midsize F-85/Cutlass or the bread and butter 88. Ninety Eights were for rich people. Rich midwestern German Lutherans, anyway, who had some money but saw no reason to broadcast to the world just how much. Because it was nobody’s darned business, by golly. This, in a nutshell, WAS the reason for the Ninety Eight. If you were ostentatious, there was Cadillac. If you could afford to be only moderately ostentatious, then get a Buick instead.
My mother bought a new Oldsmobile Cutlass in 1972, and I spent a lot of time in the Olds showroom that summer. 1972 was the year that Olds introduced the Ninety Eight Regency, and it was an impressive car. This is the first car that I remember as having the poofy loose-pillow velour upholstery that looked positively decadent. That upholstery style must have been a hit with Ninety Eight buyers, because it remained as a hallmark of these cars for a long, long time, right up through today’s subject car.
I have some fondness for this 1984 model because I owned one of these for a few years in the 1990s. I had been driving a 1968 Newport Custom sedan (still one of my favorite cars) when I got a call from my friend Karl. Karl’s mother had passed away, and he was looking for someone who might be interested in her car. It was a white 1984 Ninety Eight coupe with no vinyl roof and this same deep velour seating as in this car, only in brown. And the thirteen year old car had all of 54,000 miles under its belt.
My Chrysler was in need of a fuel tank repair, and although I had no desire to get rid of it, I have lived my car-ownership life with but a single rule: When you have a really nice car plop itself at your feet, purchase is mandatory. So, I followed my rule, bought the Olds and sadly sold my Chrysler to the son of a friend who was looking for a cool old car to drive.
This was not my first-ever GM car. I had owned a 1963 Cad Fleetwood for about six months in the late 1970s. Also, about a year or two earlier, I had owned a a 1985 LeSabre coupe for about three weeks. So, this was the first GM that I owned for longer than six months, and I generally liked the car.
I say generally. Shortly after purchase, I learned what a THM200-4R transmission was, and why it was such a piece of crap. An expensive piece of crap. The car also suffered from some electrical gremlins and an automatic temp control that never worked properly. Also, it never really felt like my own car, but one borrowed from an elderly aunt. But there was one thing that made it all worthwhile: that distinctive Oldsmoble Rocket V8 burble from the exhaust. There was no other engine that sounded even close to that Olds V8, even it if was only the puny 307. I had the same engine in both the LeSabre and in a later Cadillac, but something was just wrong when that sound accompanied any hood ornament other than the famous launching rocket.
Oh yes – those seats were really, really, REALLY comfortable.
We here at CC occasionally fall into the trap of giving old cars the hagiographical treatment. So here is where I depart from this path: I never liked the slope-nose look of these Oldsmobiles. From the cowl rearward, there were few cars of the era that better evoked the feel of a limousine fit for a high-ranking foreign dignitary. The skirted rear fenders made for one of the best looking butt’s ever found on a post-1960s big sedan. But that sloping front end sort of turned the car into something like a really big doorstop, particularly as the front springs sagged a bit due to age. If only the 1977-79 Olds front end could have accompanied this otherwise attractive car.
Whether we blame GM decision-makers or the CAFE fuel economy rules, it was not a good thing when this car (and the Buick Electra/Park Avenue) was shown the door at the end of the 1984 year. These were highly profitable cars for GM, and were extremely popular in the middle parts of the country. These big Oldsmobiles represented GM’s core competency, and were also among the best that the company built during an increasingly troubled period in its history. Starting in 1985, you could still get a Ninety Eight, but if we were were still following the naming rules, it was really a Ninety Six.
I ran across this car one day when I saw it pull into a post office. The owner was sitting in the drivers seat while his nephew went into the building. The owner was a very pleasant older fellow who had had this car for awhile. He had owned at least one big Olds in the 1960s, and still has a soft spot for them. This is a nice low-mile car that he really enjoys. I would go into some more detail, but am sorry to say that I quickly lost the little scrap of paper that I used for some notes, so this is all I can recall from a short but enjoyable conversation.
Oldsmobile made a big splash in its advertising in the late 80s, trumpeting that “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile”. Well, this Ninety Eight WAS your father’s Oldsmobile. Maybe even your grandfather’s. Can’t you just smell the aroma of pipe smoke? It may have also been the last genuinely good big Olds that he had. There had been a time when a guy would be really proud of a new Oldsmobile, particularly if it was the big Ninety Eight. This was the last one that required no explanation or apology. If you came from a family of Oldsmobile men, this was the last car that the old guys spent the rest of their days missing. Having spent some time with one, I think I understand.
Actually to me, I think the last good big oldsmobile was the first generation Aurora as a big sports sedan.
My dad picked up a used ’72 98 Regency in 1973 when I was in 2nd grade, only a month or so before the first oil embargo (great timing). I was amazed at how plush and luxurious it was. It had the Olds 455 4bbl. At the time, he also drove a ’69 442, and yes those Olds V8s had a distinctive exhaust note, especially with dual pipes. The 98 turned out to be problematic, although probably not more so than any other barge of that era. The voltage regulator went south on a family road trip. During the next summer, the clutch fan took a dump, causing the car to overheat in stop and go traffic. From there, the problems became more frequent and expensive. By ’76, the 98 needed a valve job, and my parents traded it in for a new ’76 Olds Vista Cruiser (Cutlass station wagon), the first car we owned with a catcon.
Love these old bardges wish I had some pics of my grandmother’s 1979 Olds 98 with the 403V8. Now that was a by god Oldsmobile!
She still (now in her 70s) speaks lovingly about that car, I on the other hand can only remember vast expanses of dashboard, being barely in grade school and barely able to see out!
I figured that you would like this car. That dash in your grandmother’s car was pretty much carried through to the end of the 84 models. And it was a high dash – my kids had the same problem, even in a booster seat.
I did not mention that the biggest tradeoff was in dealing with kids and carseats. I had 3 in carseats at the time. Most of the time, the seats stayed in Mama’s Club Wagon. My 68 Newport had been wide enough to accommodate all 3 carseats across the back seat, but this Olds was not. So even this “big” car was unsuitable for going somewhere with the entire family. Also, putting carseats into the back seat of my 2 door proved to me why the family-sized 2 door car died. What a nasty contortion act.
In my world of K-Cars and other Chrysler products through the 1980’s, I admired these GM cars from afar.
I still smarted from the grave sin GM committed with the onset of the 1973 models with their fixed windows on coupes and half-way-down window mentality on sedans. Of course, all others followed, but to me, GM was the top of the heap and my idealistic bubble was burst and I landed hard. Do I still feel that way? No, but remebering these cars certainly brings it all back!
These were still very nice cars by any standard at the time, but I was keeping close tabs on the increasing popularity of the Japanese offerings, as many people were going that way and for very good reasons for which the domestic OEMs are still chasing.
Growing up, my neighbor across the street had a maroon 70 Cutlass. He babied that car, always double changed the oil, had it painted several times to keep ahead of the rust. Nice car.
Anyway when their son turned 16 in 1984 the Cutlass sprouted a set of cheap mags, and one of these 98’s appeared in their driveway as well, maroon of course. I certainly admired it less than the Cutlass, the wire wheelcovers started rattling after a few years which detracted from the air of subdued luxury. The next car they bought was a Lincoln Mark VII so I guess they didn’t admire it as much either…
Good memory on those wire wheel covers. Before I owned mine, there was an older guy across the street who had one of these, and I remember his wires rattled a bit too.
My car had the standard flat cover. It didn’t rattle, but if you were not careful putting it on, you would bend it wrong and they would fly off at the slightest bump. I finally got to the point of taking them off myself before having anything done involving wheels, and then reinstalling them at home.
See my Cutlass Supreme comments below. Suffice to say, replying here, and long before Internet shopping became in vogue, I too, had the rattly, hard to clean and keep clean, wire wheel covers, which I tried DESPERATELY to swap for ’80’s “correct” flat stainless covers. These cars wre mondo popluar out here (Honolulu) and everyone else had the same idea. That included the junkyards I went to when visiting the Mainland (at that time).
I have never been quite sure why this car existed.
Why, to eat Lincoln’s lunch, of course!
98’s (and Deuce-and-Quarter Buicks) were the car of choice among old moneyed Bay Area scions (no Toyota cracks!) because they were unpretentious, but dignified rides. The mid 60’s LS 98’s had Fleetwood-like ammenities – damn sharp cars!!
I always liked these cars and came real close years ago to buying a 1982 ’98 Coupe. No speed demon with the 307 but it felt stronger off the line with the 307 than a Cutlass with the same engine. Could the bigger, heavier ’98 had a lower final drive ratio making the car “feel” stronger? Stronger of course being relative since we’re talking about, what, at best 150 hp?
http://www.442.com/oldsfaq/oldsfaq.htm#Table of Contents
More than most human beings would even want to know about Oldsmobile engines. (Interesting bit of trivia, the 307 only ever came with a 4brl carb, no other version.)
This car is (to me) what a real American car is all about. I LOVE IT!
The first time I heard a “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile” on the telly (I think it was the Ringo Starr and daughter ad), I knew the brand was dead. When you’re getting that desperate to try and disavow the basic truth of the brand . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What really hurt is that when the finally started putting out a semi-exciting car (the Aurora and its followups), they immediately lost the senior citizen crowd to Buick because they did away with the column shifter and bench seat. Talk about can’t win for losing . . . . .
One problem was that there was a three-year gap between the introduction of the Aurora and the introduction of the Intrigue, which was supposed to be Oldsmobile’s bread-and-butter car.
Potential customers who were “intrigued” by the Aurora, but could not afford one, found only the outdated Cutlass Supreme or the clunky Cutlass Ciera on the showroom floor. Those customers weren’t going to be interested in either the Cutlass Supreme or Cutlass Ciera.
These were great cars in their day and they hold up well today.
My daily-driver is a 77 98 with the 403. Magnaflow exhaust, no cat, K&N air cleaner and she runs beautifully.
In the summer I put the mags on and it’s like driving a luxury muscle car. Aside from installing a new headliner, the interior has held up unbelievably well. The drivetrain is almost bullet proof.
When she wears out I have every intention of finding/buying another.
These show up regularly at the Carlisle events in the car corral, and usually in very good condition. Last fall there was a mint 1983 model in a different shade of light blue, with a dark blue vinyl top. The asking price was a wildly optimistic $23,000.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE these too. Growing up in Texas in the ’80s, they were EVERYWHERE, at every supermarket, doctors’ office, and especially, church parking lots. In our own driveway was the 1983 Delta 88 Royale Brougham (previously covered on these pages, I believe) which was a slightly less formal companion to the 98. I always liked that dash, too, especially the almost-square glovebox door and square-hub steering wheel (which was only on the later models). The dash continued on all the way until 1990, I believe, in the Custom Cruiser station wagons.
My mother-in-law still has her 1992 Olds 98 and although she can’t drive anymore, we take it out every week and go on appointments or just for a spin. It looks just like showroom inside and out (except for those darn little control buttons on the steering wheel that popped off!) 🙂
In the Body Style Identification chart for 1946 Oldsmobiles, I notice that each series’ 4-door sedan had a different body style code. What was the difference between them? It looks like the 66 (body code 19) and 76/78 (body code 09) had a small, separate rear quarter window while the 98 (body code 69) did not, but what was the distinction between the 66 and 76/78 4-door sedans?
Along the same lines, all three series came as a 2-door “club sedan” (body code 07), while the 66 additionally offered a 2-door “club coupe” (body code 27). It looks like the club sedan was more of a fastback and the club coupe more of a notchback. Was that the distinction with the sedans as well? It’s hard to tell from the pictures.
In later years, GM would retain the convention of having 2-door coupes/convertibles use body codes ending in “7” and 4-door sedans use body codes ending in “9”. IINM, 69 eventually became the standard code for 4-door pillared sedans. The one code here that looks totally out of place based on my understanding of later codes is 81 for the station wagon. Later on, the codes for wagons typically ended in “5”.
I am not an expert on 1940s Oldsmobiles (is there a 1940s car that has sunken more into the mists of time?). I found a piece on Hemmings on the 46-48 Olds. The author there indicates that the 60 series was on a shorter wheelbase than was the 70 series and 90 series cars.
The 60 series Olds were “A” bodies (Chevy/Pontiac/Buick Special 40/50).
An anomaly in model names was this-
I think that the B-44 designation applied to all of the 1942 Oldsmobiles that year. I see that they did identify it as a series 90, and of course, it had the 8 cylinder engine. Great ad – clearly, if you were patriotic, you HAD to buy an Oldsmobile.
I think that many makes used martial nomenclature in these years because of the war. Pontiac, for instance, fielded the “Torpedo” line in these last days before the shutdown of civilan production. Advertising of the period frequently featured members of the armed forces as background props.Military was patriotic,cool and timely.
I have a huge amount of experience because all we used in our family’s taxi company for many years was Oldsmobiles. From about 1987-1997 when we sold the business (and the supply of card dried up) all we used were 88 Royale Broughams. But we did have two 98s.
I had one of the 98s as my daily driver for about six months. It was a 1980, maroon with maroon leather, and loaded to the gills, including sunroof, rare in those days. My job was to find the cars and I got this one in 1995 for $200 because it had been a diesel and of course, the motor toast, along with the crap-tastic THM200, a joke in a car this this. I dropped a used 307 and a rebuilt THM 350 in it for a total of $2000 and had a very nice pimp-mobile to drive.
The seats were sumptuous, loose pillow leather thrones and the 307 perfectly adequate for driving around town. The extra wheelbase made for huge room, especially in the back. The problem with the 98 was all the suspension and brake parts were the same as the 88. There were at least 300 lbs more to move around, meaning this stuff wore out much more quickly than in the 88. The worst part of these cars, and the 88, too, was the automatic climate control. Getting it to work was impossible, no matter how much money you spent. For this reason, I never bought a car with it again and this precluded any 98 by definition. This was fine, because for heavy duty applications, the 88 was a better car.
Oldsmobile had a huge following in an old geezer town like Victoria. They were everywhere and for good reason; the cars were built and finished better than any GM car and certainly better than any Ford or Chrysler. They drove well, stood up and were very comfortable. I was stymied when GM went after the “youth” market with the later cars. An Oldsmobile was an old man’s car. What the heck is wrong with this? Old men are the ones who have the cash to plunk down on an expensive ride. This territory has now been lapped up by the Lexus ES350 and Toyota Avalon, which adjusted for inflation, come in at pretty much the price of a 1984 Oldsmobile 98. Not everybody wants a hard ride and “g” forces. I can’t believe how stupid GM was to push their customers to another brand. Okay, a few bought Auroras, but these cars were such quality disasters, few bought a second.
The comments about the TH200 transmission are accurate. My mom loved her ’83 Delta 88 RB, and still fondly remembers it over 20 years after selling it, BUT that transmission crapped out in the first two or three years at maybe 35,000 miles. Out of warranty and an expensive repair. Other than that the car was wonderful though, and her daily driver for 7 years until replacment with a ’91 “roundmobile” Caprice, which I think also had the 307 V8 (am I right?) but a better transmission.
If I had a new car where the transmission went out at 35,000 miles, I’d be setting it on fire in front of the dealership! With “I bought this car here!” painted on it in big letters! Or better yet, pour in a couple of cans of seafoam and circle the lot!
I think that this was part of the GM buyer’s mindset at the time. If those longtime GM buyers had taken a chance on a Ford or a Mopar and they had a tranny crap out at low mileage, they would have done just as you described. But when it was an Olds (or one of the other GM brands), they figured that it must be a fluke, or that everybody elses’ car did this now too, and their next new GM car would be better. GM buyers were very loyal people back then, and most were truly convinced that there was no better car in the entire world.
There also wasn’t an internet in those days, let alone sites such as Edmunds or The Truth About Cars. Word of defects such as this took a lot longer to filter through the public.
Plus, if I recall correctly, not every full-size GM car had the TH200 transmission, so the failures weren’t experienced by every owner of a GM full-size car.
My parents had a 1982 Delta 88 Royale Brougham with the V-8, and it had over 100,000 miles on the odometer when they traded it. The engine and the transmission never gave them any trouble.
You’re spot on there. As bad as the Metric 200 and 2004r were people didn’t seem to hold it in any way against GM.
Those transmissions were so bad that it seemed like if you looked at them funny they’d quit.
This is because GM transmissions prior the the TMH200 per practically indestructible. I do think, however, that his, and many other obvious GM quality debacles such as intake manifold gaskets, did huge damage to GM’s long term potential. The proof is their bankruptcy.
I don’t know if I would say that people didn’t hold it against GM. It was just that there were fewer alternatives in those days.
If you wanted a big, comfortable car, you had basically three choices – the GM cars, the Ford Panther cars, or the Chrysler M-body New Yorker.
In the early 1980s, the reputations of Chrysler and Ford certainly weren’t better than the reputation of GM.
The Accord and Camry were too small for most people at that time. The Taurus hadn’t yet debuted.
If your transmission failed prematurely, you got it fixed and hoped for the best, or bit the bullet and traded it on another GM car, hoping that this one would be better.
I do think, over time, this issue had a big effect in GM sales. In our Firestone shop we saw scads of irate GM customers getting new transmissions. We didn’t even bother repairing TMH200s, we just swapped out a rebuilt 350 for about $1000 in those days. Easy job and only took a couple of hours. I used to scour scrap-yards for THM350 cores and we had an excellent guy who spent his whole day rebuilding them, five days a week. We made tons of money on it. I even remember one old codger asking if we could put a Powerglide in is Buick. Of course we could but the THM350 was cheaper!
By 1990 we began seeing much, much less GM stuff, and all American stuff in general. It was replaced by Accords and Camrys but people who were tired of pumping money into their relatively new cars. We made good money on intake manifold gaskets but really, the writing was on the wall for large repair shop like ours. The overhead was just too expensive to make a living on menu items, tires and brakes. We made money on big stuff like intakes, engines and transmissions. On Hondas and Toyotas, all you ever did was brakes and oil. Even the shocks would last for 160,000 km or more. On a GM car of 1984 you’d get 50,000 km on shocks at the limit.
The THM-200 was originally designed for the Chevette and nothing larger. They had been using a stripped-down T350 (with fewer discs in the clutch packs and NO external cooler) for their smallest cars up to that time (Vega). I rebuilt five T350s in high school auto shop and I learned about every different flavor of T350 in the process!
The T200 that came in our 1977 Impala behind the 305 was first rebuilt at 40K miles. A T350 was installed around 100K miles and lasted until the car was sold with close to 200K on it.
It was no doubt some corporate bean-counter that declared the T200 suitable for full-sized cars. No engineer in their right might would have ever agreed with that decision.
A Turbo-350 is good for 100,000 city miles if you have a large aftermarket cooler on it. This is from taxi experience. To rebuild it is five hours and two hundred bucks worth of parts. Since we paid out transmission guy $25 a hour, that total was $450. We sold them at $1000 plus tax. And power steering, brake, brake and coolant flush, tune up, sway bar links, brake service….the sky was the (Visa) limit….
My grandpa did this with a Ford product (didn’t set it on fire, just drove it around town with a sign reading, “This is a $500 (or whatever the amount was) ripoff job from ______ Ford!”). They eventually tracked him down and made him happy to shut him up. But he had a story to tell, which was even better.
Well, I’m sure they weren’t happy about it, but yeah, as jp and geeber below said, there weren’t a lot of choices in those days. I don’t remember exactly what happened with that trans, but it probably needed a rebuild. I don’t think the car had many other problems though, and overall it was just a nice car to drive. The car they had before it was a ’78 Caprice, which of course is pretty similar, but somehow the Olds seemed like a lot more car (it was a much higher trim level, for one thing.) Previous to that we had a Pinto and a Chrysler that were absolute lemons, so it wasn’t so hard to be loyal to GM.
No, the 91 Caprice just had the plain old L03 Chevrolet TBI 305, but it had the 700R-4, and the 4L60-E after 1994.
“But that sloping front end sort of turned the car into something like a really big doorstop, particularly as the front springs sagged a bit due to age.”
I never noticed that before, but you’re right, JP. I bet that corporate didn’t want the 98 to look too much like a Cadillac, with which it shares a lot of lines in the back. But the S d V had that distinctive crease that swept from the grille, up the hood, and into the doors. If you wanted a flashy front end, pony up for the Caddy.
I always attributed it to CAFE – with that front sloped down like a shovel blade, it minimized the surface area of the front end, thus a better drag coefficient. The Buick and Caddy had a bit of a slope from ’80 on, but it was never quite so pronounced. From 77-79, I thought that the Olds was the most attractive of all of the B/C bodies. From 81-85, I considered it the least attractive.
Yes, mileage is why the rectangular headlights replaced the round ones, permitting the slope-down. Late seventies Olds had the parking light underneath, in ’80 they moved out, so the hood-to-bumper is just headlight as here.
I’m not too fond of the aero restyle all the B/C bodies got for ’80. The more formal, upright rooflines and the skirted wheels on the C-cars just look stodgy and pretentious. The ’77-’79 cars were better looking pretty much across the board, especially the Chevy coupes.
My uncle still has his 1984 model identical to the champagne one in the ‘construction worker’ ad. I never thought about the transmission issues it had being because of the THM200, but it sits in his garage, parked with 98K miles on it. It’s still driveable, but, at 68 and post stroke, it’s easier for him to just drive the Mitsubishi Diamante that replaced it as the interstate cruiser.
I begrudgingly appreciate it for what it was when I was growing up: An air conditioned paradise on family fishing trips to Clear Lake. Since all of the brothers would caravan up together all of the cousins got to pick which uncle they’d ride with. Given in the late 80s that meant 3 Oldsmobiles and an Audi that might break down, I chose the largest Oldsmobile with the Purple Leather seats. I was always fascinated by the two red “light” indicators over the rear window that (I guess) would indicate when your rear light bulbs would be burned out (since they reflected in the rear view mirror).
Given most cars if they provide that info, just put it on the dash, I thought it was cool then. Now I wonder if it was a cool, but cheap “luxury” add on.
I had forgotten about the lights in the mirror thing. I thought they were cool, too.
My Olds did not have these, as it was one of the lower trimmed models. But my next car (89 Cadillac Brougham) did. These were an early use of fiber optics. They were simply a thin clear plastic fiber (with a black coating ) that started in the taillight housing and terminated in the housing over the back window. Rock simple, and cool to boot.
The Cadillac went one better and used these same fibers for the fender-mounted light indicators. 3 fibers for headlights, brights, and turn signals. It seems to me that Cadillac was using this system back to the early 70s, but I am open to correction on this.
Actually, the first car I recall seeing those in was my Dad’s 1970 Mark III. I suspect that those used the plastic fiber as well, although this is just a guess.
My uncle had a 1973 Sedan De Ville that had the fibre-optic things on the fenders, also tres cool.
He bought that car in 1975 and it was an uber-cool sled, even if the four door hard top body shook like Jello over bumps. I loved that can and as a teenager, I made him promise to sell it to me when he was done with it. Around 1985 he had it repainted and it looked great. He then sold it to a family friend and not to me! I was seriously miffed because even then I saw it as the Ultimate Sledimus Maximus. I would probably still have it!
The family friend took it to Mexico, got drunk and totaled it, by the way!
It was called “VigiLite” by GM’s Packard Electric Divsion, they were first introduced on the Corvette in 1968, and they were optional on Camaros and Chevelles, then later they filtered through the rest of the GM line, but they were mostly seen on the full size cars like Cadillacs, which made them standard for 1972-73 model year. Big Buicks like the Electra 225 and Riviera had them as an option. The smallest GM car I have ever seen with them was a FWD 80’s Buick Century. GM last offered a car with VigiLite in 1996, the large RWD Cadillac Fleetwood had external lamp monitors.
The front ones on the fenders usually indicated the condition of the low and high beam headlights and turn signal/parking lamps.
The colors were usually white or green for low beam, yellow for the parking lamps and blue or red for the high beams,
The little red “eyes” over the rear window were for the rear lamps, the would get brighter when the brakes were pressed and they would blink with the turn signals.
My current daily driver is a 1984 Ninety-Eight Regency Brougham that I got as my first car in 2005. I love those lamp monitors, especially since they are simple passive fiber optics, not the complex, error prone computerized systems that replaced them on modern cars. Unfortunately, though, lately I’ve found that it is almost impossible to find the right headlights in auto parts stores. They have models that will fit and work properly, but usually they only carry one or two of each kind, and don’t bother to stock the models with the window in the back that lights up the lamp monitors. Not a problem for the turn signals and taillights, but my low and high beam indicators no longer work properly.
By the way, here’s a picture of mine. It’s definitely a “20 footer,” and the closer you get the worse it seems, but I still love it and plan to keep it forever. It needs a repaint (and even though I hate the beige color, I’d hate the telltale signs of a color change even more), and the interior could use some work (again I hate the leather seats, but since these cars were color coded, changing them to velour would require changing the entire interior from top to bottom). Add in the broken air conditioner and speedometer and 8mpg or so fuel economy (I have no idea what could be causing that), and it will soon be left to wait in my garage until I can afford to have all of the minor problems fixed. Even in the relatively poor condition it’s in, it is a great cruiser and I love driving it. It may sound crazy that I want to keep it even with all the problems and the fact that I hate the color and interior, but for me this car doesn’t feel like its been borrowed, it is in every way my car, and I can’t imagine getting rid of it.
I picked up this ’82 a couple of years back at a local Ford dealership. The 82 year old was the original owner and had traded it in under one of those “cash for clunker” programs for a new Fuzion. It had 93k (kilometers), and just needed a bit of attention to bring it up to snuff. The original owner had taken the jute delivery floor covering and attached them to the carpet using those t-ties found on new clothing. Another one saved from the demolition derby or scrapyards.
‘Cash for Clunker’ cars were supposed to be scrapped and not resold. But then I’m not surprised, a dealer could cook the books to sell a ‘cream puff’.
This one was sold after the official government programs, and I think that Ford was offering their own incentives under a cash for clunker headline, considering how popular the original program was. The cars under the Ford program were treated as oridinary used trades, rather than having to wreck the engine, etc. I think our Canadian clunker program also stipulated that the cars had to be sent to a recycle yard, but not necessarily disabled by the dealer as in the US.
Sorry, must have hit the wrong button..
Hope this works..No luck. The server doesn’t seem to accept the photo attachment.
These are getting scarce, I always liked them, but they have to be a nice decked out 2 door model to really get my attention, they are tought to peg for real dollar amount, sometimes you can find clean ones for like 2 grand or less even, and then sometimes you get the “what are you on” prices like $20 grand for one, which is crazy.
I remember taking one of these in on trade when I sold cars, it was the plainest 98 I have ever seen, it was an 1981 base 98 sedan, no vinyl top, base wheel covers, no right hand mirror even, it sort of looked like a police package 98.
When the Olds 98 was first introduced, its price put it pretty much in between the Buick Special and Century, which I suppose made sense in a corporate price ladder sense — you could get the de-luxey big Olds for around the price of the smaller Buick. By the late forties, Oldsmobile had moved the 98 upstream to the point where it was between the Super and the Roadmaster in price, and by the late fifties, it was about even with the Roadmaster (and later Electra 225).
It’s not hard to see why the division would have done that (the divisions competed with each other pretty aggressively), but not so much why the corporation signed off on it. I imagine it had to do with the shortage of serious outside competition — even in years when they were doing well, Mercury, Dodge, and DeSoto didn’t command the kind of brand loyalty Olds and Buick did. Since B-O-P had so much of the mid-price market, I assume that anything that would get buyers into more expensive, more profitable versions of each was considered good for the corporation as a whole.
“But that sloping front end sort of turned the car into something like a really big doorstop”
The 1980 B and C bodies were reskinned for more aerodynamics and for CAFE reasons, not “to look less like a Caddy” or from a GM exec’s whim.
To me, they looked more modern than the cut and paste 77’s.
I love 98’s. I always felt “why have a Caddy, when you can have one of these.” Certainly, the Pride of Lansing. I had a “mini” 98 Regency of sorts; ’86 Oshawa-built Cutlass Supreme Brougham. A 29K white with grey “pillow velour” seats, FULL instrumentation and the HD (stabilizer bars front and rear) suspension.
I had the a/c unit rebuilt and the windows retinted and enjoyed that car immensely had when transfered from Honolulu to Cleveland in 1997, (car bought used in 1996), had it shipped to Oakland and drove it to Cleveland via Los Angeles, Phoenix, St. Louis, Norfolk and Pittsburgh. Very nice trip and car. Flowmaster 2 1/2″ duals deepened the Olds barritone some more – but – did (and still do) have C (and in this case D) body love!
Lansing’s last BOF/RWD car was an ’84 Ninety-Eight.
I love 98’s. I always felt “why have a Caddy, when you can have one of these.” Certainly, the Pride of Lansing. I had a “mini” 98 Regency of sorts; ’86 Oshawa-built Cutlass Supreme Brougham. A 29K white with grey “pillow velour” seats, FULL instrumentation and the HD (stabilizer bars front and rear)
I was the second owner. Delivered new to (now defunct) Pacific Oldsmobile in Pearl City, Hawaii the dealer that sold Olds after the legendary Aloha Motors closed it’s doors (now the site of the Hawaii Convention Center).
Four-door with the pain-in-the-ass wire wheel covers.
I had the a/c unit rebuilt and the windows retinted and enjoyed that car immensely and when transfered from Honolulu to Cleveland in 1997, (car bought used in 1996), had it shipped to Oakland and drove it to Cleveland via Los Angeles, Phoenix, St. Louis, Norfolk and Pittsburgh. Very nice trip and car. Flowmaster 2 1/2″ duals deepened the Olds barritone some more – but – did (and still do) have C (and in this case D) body love!
Lansing’s last BOF/RWD car was an ’84 Ninety-Eight.
After driving my ’82 Olds, and comparing it to the ’81 Brougham, I am hard pressed to see much difference between the two regarding space, comfort, fit and finish, etc. At least the ’81 Brougham had a decent engine, but starting in ’82, with the horrible 4.1, I would have run for the Olds or an equivalent Buick Parkie. I drove a friend’s ’84 Seville, and found that I needed to break out the rosary when trying to merge on the highway, accompanying by an worrisome deep knocking sound from the engine. I equally found that my stripper ’78 Bel Air shares too much in common with the ’82 LeSabre, such that the Bel Air, properly optioned, would be every bit as nice a car as the more expensive offerings at that time.
Cash for clunker Olds
Proud owner of a 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham sedan, from when my Dad handed over the keys in 1997 until it was stolen Thanksgiving weekend 2001. It had every option ‘cept power rear vent windows (and my father seriously considered trying to find a clean one in a junk yard to get the power vents off of.) It was white with a blue interior, wire wheel covers which rattled the whole time I owned it, 307V8, posi-trac… I called it my “Four door 442.”
My ’86 Cutlass Supreme Brougham – my “Baby Ninety-Eight” was white with grey velour “pillow” seats. One car on the “shoulda kept” list. Sold it to a very happy retired Cleveland engine plant guy. Cherry car.
My grandmother had a brown ’85 Ninety Eight Regency. Since I’m just a twentysomething now, that car influenced my idea of what an Olds was more than the rear-drive, Rocket-powered cars that preceded it. Of course, with pushbutton doorhandles, pillow top seats and wire wheel covers, it’s not like it was a complete departure from the previous model, either.
I also recall that car being a total basket case that had countless electrical problems and never ran right. It was replaced by a “simpler” ’91 Eighty Eight Royale, which was trouble-free – go figure.
Not that hard to figure – the ’85-’87 GM FWD full-size cars were of poor quality. In ’88 they got much better. This, of course, was too late for Oldsmobile, which completely shot itself in the head with the 1987 “not your father’s Oldsmobile” ad campaign, which ticked off all their old customers and didn’t attract any new ones; and that is why there is no more Oldsmobile.
I bought an ’86 98 in 1993. It was a really nice comfortable car, red on red velour, and I liked it a lot (I never cared for driving boats like the subject car and preferred the FWD models), but the car wasn’t reliable enough to keep. Ran okay but always electrical issues. I traded it in on an ’89 Riviera after 10 months.
I look at these stories for what they say about the times, not just the cars. So let’s look at the photo no. 6 of the three hard-hatted guys besides the Olds 98. Was there ever a time when men were men, and sufficiently secure of that fact to show up at the job site in a sedan car? I’ve passed by a few bidding roundups recently, and it was obvious that today’s rule is, no pickup, don’t show up.
The boxy old Olds made more practical sense, though. That broad hood made a bigger work desk for those blueprints, and unlike today’s contractor trucks, you wouldn’t need a stepladder to read them!
In good old days, a Big Car was a status symbol for adult men, while trucks were work only. Gradually started to change with the 73 Ford/Chevy truck restyles. My Grandad had Buick Electras and owned a welding shop in the 60’s.
Now these are the kind of vintage cars that make my heart go pitter-patter!!!
Despite the various issues GM cars had during this era, I still LOVE Oldsmobiles from this era.
The blue sedan is just about exactly identical to the 1981 model that WAS my late father-in-law’s last Oldsmobile — and his last car. When he bought it new, it was a diesel. Three years later it was the car that brought my daughter home from the hospital, because the two cars I had at the time were an ’80 Firebird and a ’66 Corvair, neither of which handled child seats and other baby accoutrements very well. A few years later the diesel engine developed some expensive noises, as they say — but he liked the car so much that he kept it and installed a used gas engine. He was still driving it up until just before he passed away in 1996. By that time Old Blue, as it had come to be called, was on its third engine and second transmission, or maybe it was the other way around. My mother-in-law kept it for a little while and then sold it to a neighbor before she moved to Virginia. The photo below is from about that time. For all I know Old Blue is still running out there.
Those seats looked very inviting. I want them to replace the seat I’m currently sitting in, which has lost most of its foam. My bum would be in nirvana.
I gotta say those seats were none too comfortable on long trips, especially as I got older. Even new my Uncle, then in his 40s had to buy one of those office chair support thingies to give back support on long drives. It was more comfortable to take your seatbelt off and fall asleep on them like a couch in the pre-mandatory seatbelt era.
They’re dreadful on long trips now, even on my 29 year old back. That’s the greatest thing about the demise of broughams, lumbar support. There’s nothing comfortable about sitting upright in these things for 6 hours past the age of 18…
Actually the seats weren’t too bad if you raised the power seat about as high as it would go. The lower model 88s without power seats were horrible in long trips because you say too close to the floor with your legs splayed out. Same for all the B Bodies of the era. It gave like five miles of headroom, though!
About a year ago, I looked at a 82 Olds 98 coupe, with the pillowy seats. The car was in mint condition, less than 30K on the clock. Probably never seen rain or snow, except for sitting at the used car dealer for months. The asking price on the window sticker was $ 3,995.
It was a Sunday when I stopped to look at the car, so I didn’t talk to a salesman or get to drive the car. I did not really need another car, had no place to garage it, so I never really seriously thought about buying the car. I saw it when I drove past the lot for at least 3 or 4 months before it was sold.
The Olds did not evoke the passion from me that would have resulted in my purchasing it, whether needing it or not. But it was a beauty, and probably made someone very happy.
My wife grew up in a trade-every-year family, and her dad (a retired US Army Command Sergeant Major) loved 98s in the 70s, when 98s were, shall we say, majestic. She tells the story of his having traded a car after a month because it got a scratch on the bumper from someone having backed into it with a bumper hitch, and of falling asleep on those pillow-top seats. Then he traded it on a 1980 Buick Century (the “little limousine”, as they called it), and then died of a heart attack a few months later. The Century stayed around for well over a decade, and was never quite the same.
Nice Car,Nice Article… The rocket tells it all..
About 10 years ago a red 98 regency brougham caught my eye. It was a diesel. I like diesels. I learned it would be up for sale soon. One day I noticed it parked at an implement dealer with a for sale sign in the window. I stopped for a better look and discussed the car with the owner. it was a 1983 98 Regency Brougham with about 130k or so on it. It had a GM Goodwrench 350DX crate motor to replace the factory engine. The car had age appropriate wear, but nothing was trashed, broken, ripped. It was a car that had been in the family a while and they took care of it. I bought it for $850 or $900 I think and fell in love with it. i took that thing anywhere and everywhere. Plenty of room & comfort for me, my wife, our two, then three small boys.
The car drove GREAT! Solid feel, smooth, quite. It was great highway cruiser at 70-75 mph all while getting between 28 to around 32 mpg. I really enjoyed the fiber optic light indicators that others talked about in this section. it also had a thermometer in the driver’s side mount mirror. I wish the fluorescent pillar lights worked. I remember seeing those working back in the 80’s when these cars were new, but mine never did work.
The injector pump failed on me once. I removed it, had it rebuilt, and re-installed it. I thought it was worth it.
There became other issues with the climate control & inoperative actuators, Brakes, power window issues and some other electrical issues that forced me to sideline the car. I still own it, I do not want to get rid of it. In fact I bought 2 more 98 regency sedans that were on the way to the scrapper because I like them so much.
I would like to experience a 98 Regency Coupe.
Some guys love muscle cars. Some love sports cars. I like big sedans. I have a soft spot for Mercedes Benz W126 sedans, too.
Is anybody else curious as to what the 98 Regency would have looked like if GM switched it back to rear wheel drive in the 90’s making it similar to 1991-1996 Roadmaster or 1993-1996 Fleetwood. I see a Fleetwood of that vintage and I start imagining that basic body, but with Oldsmobile-style vertical tail lamps, different hood contours, different grille.
I see a nice full size luxury sedan.
OK one more thing about these 98’s.
As a kid in my late teens growing up around Chicago, I really liked these cars when they were new. They caught my eye on the street. Especially ones that seemed “non-standard” if you will. I recall periodically seeing dark blue HARDTOP 98 regency’s in downtown Chicago with about 2 to 4 VHF & UHF antennas on the trunk and maybe a small 2″ (800 MHZ I guess..something very new at the time) mounted toward the rear of the roof. I seem to recall them having municipal “M” plates like the police vehicles and some may have even had a state government plate of some kind. They definitely were not in livery service.
Does anyone else recall seeing 98 regencies like this around Chicago back then?
My daily driver is a 1977 Oldsmobile 98 with th 403 cui. It is still running strong and without major problems. It is still getting a decent gas milage even for german condidions.