Curbside Classic: 1985 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale – Last Call for the Lansing B-Body Coupe

Poor Oldsmobile. During the 1980s it went from volume champion to being essentially the Cutlass Division of GM, thus finishing the decade in a real bind. What went wrong? Was it the loss of divisional independence caused by the newly formed B-O-C Group? The omnipresence of front-wheel drive? Increased, and increasingly intense, competition? In any case, only one thing is certain: In the late summer of 1985, the last medium-priced, B-body Delta 88s came off the line–perhaps bringing with it much of the last of Oldsmobile’s upper-middle class clientele.

The first newly downsized full-size Oldsmobiles–including the last of the “big” Delta 88s and equally trimmer Ninety-Eights–debuted in 1977.

The zaftig 1971-76 cruisers (above) were now a thing of the past. Sales of their attractive, crisply styled replacements, riding atop the former A-body chassis, took off. In 1977, Oldsmobile set a production record, albeit on the strength of Cutlasses.

Despite being much smaller than the ’76s, the ’77 Royales had more interior room and trunk space–and would you believe the standard engine was not a V8? Yes, it’s true. A 231 cu in V6 came standard, but  260, 300 and 400 cu in V8s were available. Also available was a 5.7-liter V8 Diesel, but the less said about that one, the better.

By 1984, the 88 hadn’t changed much, save for new rooflines and more aerodynamic sheetmetal introduced for 1980. Despite the smoother styling, it was clearly an Oldsmobile that delivered all the size and creature comforts you’d expect.

The 1985 lineup was a bit odd. The all-new, front-wheel drive Ninety-Eights were smaller outside than the bread-and-butter 88s. While they were indeed very luxurious, and more space-and fuel-efficient than the ’84 Ninety-Eights and ’85 88s, they were nonetheless perceived as less car for more money.

Although the new FWD Ninety-Eight outsold the 1984 model (sales more than doubled, in fact), I would not be surprised if many traditional Ninety-Eight customers opted instead for the top-of-the line Delta 88 Luxury Sedan that featured last year’s Ninety-Eight interior. After all, there were plenty of Oldsmobile buyers who still subscribed to the 1950s-1960s idea that bigger is better.

So was there a Brougham version? But of course! Although the new 1985-only Luxury Sedan was now top dog, the Royale Brougham was not lacking for power options, chrome, and velour by the square foot. The Luxury Sedan, along with all Broughams, inherited the grille form the 1980 Ninety-Eight.

Even the standard Royale got the wide chrome rocker moldings, belt reveal and wheel opening moldings. The Royale coupe even got opera lamps! The cool two-color taillamps carried over from the 1984 version.

Back in April I visited my aunt and uncle in Iowa City, to go to dinner and check out the first Sycamore car show of the year. Dave and I stopped at the local Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealer to check out the Challengers. Dave actually worked there in the mid-’80s, but like me, car sales were not for him (during his time there he sold one car, an Omni), and he moved on to greener pastures.

As we arrived, I noticed a B-body Olds among the new Rams and 300s. Upon closer inspection, I realized this car was a gem: no rust, nice paint and apparently original. In winter, Iowa City does not use salt but sand on its roads, which might account for the fine condition of this Royale.

Keep in mind this is the standard Royale, and not a Brougham or LS. It’s still pretty nice, huh? No, there’s no lateral support or lumbar adjustment, but this car is for cruising in, not for driving a la Bob Bondurant. The blue interior was an especially nice complement to the navy blue paint and landau top.

This one looked even better with its optional chrome Super Stock wheels and dual chrome pipes–much nicer looking than the rattly wire wheel covers that probably 98.5% of these cars came with.

These were great cars, tough and reliable. Oh, Oldsmobile, you left us too soon.