My Curbside Classic: 1993 Oldsmobile Achieva SC – Underachieva


(This ode to an old Olds comes to us by way of Tom Cangialosi)  The folks at Oldsmobile must have felt pretty good when they unleashed what they believed was a fresh, new take on the compact sedan with the Achieva.  Surely, this crisp looking automobile with its Quad 4 and 3300 V6 would push the noisy little Iron Duke-powered, dumpy looking Calais into oblivion and beat the imports all in one shot. Surely, dealers would be besieged by surges of young new car buyers flush with cash.  Well, we all know how that went.

My Achieva story begins in October 1992 when my buddy, a service manager at tiny Oldsmobile dealer in New Jersey took delivery of a Torch Red 1993 SC as his demonstrator. He picked this car over his usual Cutlass coupe for a good reason–it looked sharp. I was driving a company-owned ’89 Taurus that even with its many redeeming qualities (whitewall tires and beige paint) somehow came up short when attracting the opposite sex. A little seat time in the Achieva brought me out of my funk but with a meager income and a free fleet special assigned to me, a purchase was not forthcoming. “Don’t worry, things change,” my buddy assured me. “I’ll still have it unless some other lucky person sweeps it up!”



Fast forward four months and my employer decided to right-size me which entailed removing me from their car and employ. Stuck without wheels and much money, a friendly former coworker told me that his mother had a great car for me on the cheap. Surprisingly, it was a low mile, near mint, five-speed 1983 RX-7. It’s one of the few times the new car selection of a 55 year old nurse and a 29 year old guy matched up perfectly (albeit ten years later). With a new job four miles from home, it was a joyous summer driver with either the sunroof stowed or air conditioning blowing cold.


I took up skiing that winter and quickly discovered that the tiny Mazda was not a very good snow car. A five-hour drive to Vermont loaded with equipment and personnel was decidedly unpleasant. Things were looking good at work, so of course I decided it was time for a new car payment! Though I read Consumer Reports and steered all my friends to the Honda local lot to buy boring, reliable Accords, I somehow needed to throw caution to the wind and buy an Oldsmobile! All my father ever owned were products cut from the General’s cloth and I was an X and J car fan, so it made sense to investigate the oddly still-available Achieva sitting over at Reilly Oldsmobile. When I inquired about the head gasket issues which I’d read had affected 1992 Quad 4s, my chum assured me,“That was last year.  Don’t worry, we’re back on top here at Olds!”

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I still have the window sticker somewhere. I buried it along with my bad experiences with this car but I do remember that it listed for around $23k. A little haggling and it became $18k and change.
This was my first new car and I was hyped up over all the press surrounding the famed Quad 4.


Tested heavily in the Oldsmobile Aerotech, it gave me the newfound ability to thumb my nose at all those Toyota Celicas.  Unfortunately, they weren’t especially quick (outside the AllTrac) and when I’d wax poetic about my 175-horse powerhouse with car guy buddies, I could almost feel their laughter. Sometimes I could justify the thrashing, corn harvester-like sounds coming from under the hood as I passed slower traffic, but usually I’d end up reigning it all in in exchange for some peace and quiet.

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Getting into this coupe with its huge, heavy doors and passive seat belt system was a real treat. GM’s answer to the federally required passive seat/shoulder belts was shear genius. The entire assembly, belt, retractor and inertia lock was built into the door. For passive use, it has to remain buckled to the anchor next to the console between the front seats. Sounds nice until you open the door and are greeted with two ribbons of ten-foot-long seat belt that you must slide under, reach over, and watch thread back in to the door as you close it. Try doing it in a parking spot with another car next to you while in a trench coat, and it becomes an aggressive restraint. Leaving this Rube Goldberg setup in the passive mode on the other side is not a good way to impress the ladies either.

My ownership experience in the first two years included six trips to the dealer (one under tow) to replace defective stuff including the battery, alternator, fog lights, parking brake assembly (twice), head gasket, and front struts. The air conditioning cut out one really hot June day during the drive to a wedding. My final analysis after nearly 100,000 miles behind the wheel was that it was an under Achieva in most every ways. When it ran, it was unstoppable in deep mud and snow but that’s about all I can say in its favor. Its unique styling, muddled by indifferent quality and cheap, softly defined stampings, never set any trends; the seemingly promising drivetrain was a chatterbox; its road manners were decidedly lackluster; and it let Oldsmobile down in an important segment. I sold it to a Russian gentleman who shipped it open deck on a freighter to Helsinki and drove it to Moscow where he promptly lost all the paperwork. I think that was as much as the car deserved.