eBay Find: 1981 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale Brougham Diesel – Those Brown Diesel Wagons Are So Yesterday


A lot is made on the web of that unicorn, the brown diesel manual wagon. Despite the fact that I know a lot of gearheads–online and in real life–who have never professed a desire for one, the auto journalists and website hosts make a big to-do about it. “Why, oh why won’t they make one?” Well, see, car companies are in the business of keeping their doors open, and that means, sad to say, a lot of black, white and gray zaftig crossovers get produced, because guys who are married kowtow to the Mrs. because that’s what people buy. But never mind! I have the NEXT BIG THING. For the ultimate in offbeat, I’m so-much-cooler-than-you folks, may I present the Sandstone Beige, Turbo Hydramatic, Astroroof Diesel Brougham Sedan?


Yes, that’s right, you heard correctly. At least one of the infamous 350 CID Diesel V8s is still out there, and presumably running. Actually, a lot of the problems with the diesel was typical inattention to maintenance, as the 1978 Delta 88 Diesel CC by BigOldChryslers suggests. Also, in 1981 several upgrades were made, including roller hydraulic valve lifters. The later diesels were not bad, but by then the engine was so maligned by the press and the buying public that its reputation never recovered.

1981 Oldsmobile-01

In 1981 Oldsmobile was still a solid choice and desirable automobile. Whether you wanted a sporty, T-top Cutlass Supreme coupe, thrifty Omega or luxo-cruiser Ninety-Eight Regency sedan, Gustafson Oldsmobile had just what you were looking for. Just don’t go for the Tru-Coat.


And the Delta 88 was the bread-and-butter model. Plush yet sensibly sized, the Delta 88 always added a touch of class over lower-tier Bs like the Impala, Caprice or Bonneville. However, I would be hard-pressed not to select a Bonneville in 1981 over this Olds, but that’s just me. The Olds was still a classy and respectable ride in ’81.


And to show that you were “comfortable” but not a show-off, the choice of a Delta 88 Royale Brougham was so much more quietly successful than a Regency or Toronado. I daresay 1981-82 was the final curtain for the full-size V8 sedan as a common family choice. Sure, sales took off in ’83 and continued on a healthy pace for several years, but after ’82 it seems most were purchased as luxury vehicles, not just the good old family sedan.


I saw this 1981 Royale Brougham on eBay several months ago. I do not recall what it sold for, but was impressed with its completeness and apparent originality, despite the clear wear to the body, paint and trim. I was also impressed with the options: Tempmatic, “gage” package (ahem, GM, it is “GAUGES!”), power windows, vinyl roof, wire wheel covers, whitewalls, and the top-tier Royale Brougham interior.


Seriously, are those thrones (ahem, don’t call them seats and do them a disservice) not rich and comfy-looking. No lumbar of course, and perhaps you wouldn’t want to drive non-stop from Chicago to Denver, but that’s what Howard Johnson is for, dontcha know?


I am guessing this is a Southwest car, judging from the faded paint and top, cracked dashpad and steering wheel, yet near-pristine upholstery and rust-free condition. But perhaps the most interesting thing about the car–aside from its diesel engine and survival of thirty-three years of use–is the factory Astroroof. For a certain vintage of GM B- or C-body, an Astroroof is the cherry on the sundae, the glaze on the creme brulee. It was a very expensive option at the time–odd to younger folks today, as seemingly everything from a Civic to an Optima have moonroofs–and more commonly seen on Cadillacs.


I can’t help but wonder if this car was a “Brass Hat” car, as it is loaded for a Delta 88. Maybe the Southwest Regional Manager ordered this car in September of ’80?

1981 Oldsmobile-12

Who knows, but one thing is for sure: This is a true Curbside Classic, and I hope whoever bought it will preserve it for future generations to see, and know that there once was a great car company named Oldsmobile, and for many years, they made some terrific cars.