Curbside Classic: 1990 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency Brougham – Before The Storm

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For years–nay, decades, Oldsmobile made its bones on three primary cars: The 88, the Ninety-Eight, and the Cutlass. This secret formula of comfort, style and attainability served them well for close to forty years. But around 1990, the party had seriously hit the skids. This Regency Brougham is one of the last pre-crash Oldses to be designed.

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The shrunken Ninety-Eight (’85 CC here) was not near as imposing as the earlier 1980-84 model (CC here), but it sold quite well, despite some quality issues on early models. But by 1987, this was a solid, comfortable car.

Ford may have mocked the mini C-bodies in their Town Car ads (and it was a great commercial), but plenty of folks liked them, especially in the Midwest.


Indeed, it might well have been the Midwestern W126, as far as popularity and prestige went. The Coen Brothers’ great film Fargo was right on the money with both Jerry Lundegaard and his father-in-law Wade Gustafson driving Ninety-Eights. For many professional people in this region, a Caddy or Lincoln was seen as gauche–think Al Czervik. In Minneapolis, this was the car to be seen in. Too bad Wade wouldn’t be seen in his for much longer, thanks to his idiot son-in-law. Oh, geez…

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1985 was the last really excellent year Olds had. The CS and CS Brougham coupes still sold well, but after 1988 with the Cutlass Supreme Classic, the RWD midsizer would disappear, and with it, most of Oldsmobile’s bread and butter. The Calais was not the hit Olds hoped it would be, the Firenza was a non-starter, and the final nail in the coffin was most likely the disastrous “not your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign.

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I’d loved to have sat in on that meeting: “Hey, I know! Let’s piss off our loyal customers in order to appeal to kids who wouldn’t be caught dead in an Olds showroom!” “OK.” “Sounds good.” “Let’s do it.” Idiots.

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Despite all the trouble, and Oldsmobile’s descent into annihilation, these Ninety-Eights and their related H-body 88 cousins sold well. The treasurer of my dad’s company had an ’89 Regency Brougham (it replaced an ’86 Parisienne), and so did our neighbors two doors down. All the room and ride of the pricier Electra and de Ville, and only a small step down in prestige: A winning combination, at least until the ’91 model replaced it. While the ’91 Park Avenue was svelte and downright sexy for a big Buick, the Olds lost a bit in translation, though I like them myself (CC here).

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Despite the best efforts of Olds manager John Rock–who had a spine!–and new products like the Aurora and Intrigue, GM still saw fit to kill off Oldsmobile shortly after the Oughts began. This was the single biggest thing to make me start hating GM. Those idiots! I loved Oldsmobiles!

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I had never owned one, but I had relatives and friends who did and I always liked them. They were a part of the landscape, especially in the Quad Cities. It was comforting to see them in traffic, and seeing new ones all shined up in front of Zimmerman in Rock Island or V.J. Neu in Davenport. And now they’re gone. But not this one!

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I found this Regency Brougham in late February. That day, a gigantic storm was on the way, and I was running a few last-minute errands before it hit. I saw those lacy-spoke wheels and knew I had to stop, storm or no storm. This one had a little bit of rust, but was pretty solid.

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These final-facelift 1989-90 Regency Broughams are my favorite of the 1985-90 generation, especially with no whitewalls and these alloy wheels. Though I’d prefer maroon or navy blue, this one still looks good in white over red, and, I’m sure, is still reliable wheels for its owner.

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