(first posted 4/20/2017) Oldsmobile was riding high in the late 1970s, with an excellent brand image earned from offering desirable, well-priced, upscale products with strong resale value. The mid-sized Cutlass line had become the best selling car in America for 1976, while 1977 ushered in all-new “downsized” full-size cars that featured more rational packaging and fresh, crisp styling. As part of the monumental overhaul of its big car fleet, all GM car divisions (except Cadillac) received new full-sized wagon bodies, and alone among the buff books, Road Test Magazine reviewed the repackaged Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser.
After initially being used by Oldsmobile in the 1940s, the Custom Cruiser name had reappeared in 1971 on the new full-sized wagon. All the GM big wagons shared the heavy, complicated “clamshell” tailgate, with the rear window retracting up into the roof, while the door gate retracted below the floor, in order to provide a wide, unencumbered opening. The optional 3rd row seats faced forward and were accessed by the rear side doors. Each division’s wagon also got unique sheet metal from stem-to-stern (which was a long way), and only the Olds offered rear fender skirts, in keeping with its mission as a more upscale family hauler.
For the 1977 downsizing program, the full-size wagon bodies were vastly simplified, perhaps in reaction to the overly complex ’71 – ’76 generation cars. From the cowl back, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick wagons shared all body panels and offered the same conventional rear tailgate design (opened to the side or folded down, as pioneered by Ford with the “Magic Doorgate” in the 1960s). Each division sported it own taillight lenses (the shapes were all the same), while the front clips were unique, as were instrument panels and interior trim.
General Motors was a powerhouse with a dominant market share position in the 1970s, so this sort of component sharing was a fast, easy way to reduce manufacturing costs—the brand identities for each division were still strong enough that buyers could still justify spending more for an Olds Custom Cruiser, for example, as compared to a Chevrolet Caprice Wagon. Plus, when proud buyers took home an Olds, they knew they were getting a Rocket V8 under hood…
Or maybe not. In an infamous move, GM was blithely dropping Chevrolet 350 V8s into Oldsmobiles in 1977, which ultimately resulted in a class action lawsuit. But the real damage was The General’s reaction to the negative publicity and legal hassles arising from mislabeling motors. The solution: just make all engines “GM” and swap them willy-nilly among all the divisions. Who would care, right?
Well, Road Test Magazine for one. When they reviewed the Custom Cruiser wagon in August 1977, they were happy that the loaded test car came equipped with a genuine Oldsmobile 403 V8. The engine provided exactly the sort of performance that affluent buyers would enjoy in their big wagon.
The handling of the downsized wagons was certainly well received. Updated rear suspensions coupled with the refinement found in all the new B-Bodies made the wagons surprisingly responsive for the body style.
The space utilization and the overall quality of the interior trim was also praised (with the exception of the chintzy trim pieces in the cargo area). The editors seemed strangely unmoved by the fact that the Oldsmobile’s transmission leaked puddles of fluid every time it was parked. Oh well, since they weren’t the owners, maybe they didn’t really care…
Overall, the Olds earned very high marks for roominess, comfort and performance. The test car came with a full load of optional extras, and sported a very premium (for the time and type of car) price tag of $8,775 ($36,426 adjusted).
It is interesting to note how Road Test called out the shared wagon componentry and the importance of unique divisional engines. Given that General Motors had spent decades marketing each brand as being different and special, the harsh reality of platform and engine sharing was a slap in the face to consumers. GM’s bean counters were happy, but the logic of the premium brand hierarchy and divisional pricing structure was shattered. After all, it was harder for a buyer to justify the $306 base price premium ($1,270 adjusted) for the Custom Cruiser versus the Caprice Wagon, unless there were some substantive differences like a “better” engine.
Of course, component sharing at GM would get far worse in the 1980s, with a few dated “corporate” engines and undifferentiated styling becoming the norm. That reality was particularly damaging for GM’s more upmarket divisions—there was no longer an especially compelling reason to buy a Buick, Oldsmobile or Pontiac as compared to a lower-priced Chevrolet. Many buyers became savvy to the GM clones and took their business elsewhere.
Even today, when they can get away with it, GM skimps on differentiation. For example, the spiritual successors to GM’s premium full-sized domestic wagon of the 1970s—GM’s current full-size long-wheelbase SUVs—are virtually identical except for taillights, front clips and interior trim (sounds just like the ’77 wagons…). Only now, despite offering the same bodies, engines and drivetrains, there is an extreme variance in pricing between the three brands that offer the body style. One of the SUVs pictured above starts at $49,710, one is $68,665 and one is $76,395. The extra value in the more expensive ones is clear for all to see, right? What is the saying about a sucker being born every minute?
|Base MSRP||1977 Sales||Increase vs. ’76|
|Chevrolet Impala Wagon||$5,289||65,363||59%|
|Chevrolet Caprice Wagon||$5,617||56,569||78%|
|Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser||$5,923||32,827||47%|
|Buick Estate Wagon||$5,903||25,075||23%|
|Pontiac Grand Safari||$5,772||18,304||90%|
In 1977, however, GM’s divisional brand images and price/prestige hierarchy were distinct enough to warrant modest price premiums for the Buick, Olds and Pontiac versions. No matter the division, buyers were very happy with the new downsized wagons, as sales results would attest. Though Chevrolet was the clear winner in the sales race, the Custom Cruiser was the most popular of the “upmarket” GM wagons and posted a handsome 47% increase versus the 1976 results.
Growing up in New Orleans, these downsized GM wagons were quite common. In fact, on my block there were two Custom Cruisers. Our next door neighbors had a 1977, much like the one pictured above (though theirs was Light Blue Metallic rather than Dark Blue). That Custom Cruiser had fairly minimal equipment (just body side moldings, remote mirrors, power locks, tilt, AM/FM and A/C), but was an excellent workhorse and dutifully served the family for 6 years (replaced with a Diesel Suburban). Three houses down, the family bought a fully loaded ’78 Custom Cruiser in Dark Camel Metallic with the woodgrain trim (like the Road Test car, it seemingly had every available option and it was most likely powered by the 403). Theirs even had the built-in CB radio. We all thought it was such a nice car…. These were the glory days for Oldsmobile.
In many ways, the late 1970s represented the last hurrah for the traditional full-sized American wagon. The 1980s would find these family haulers cursed with underpowered engines for their size and weight, while the interior and exterior designs were left to wither on the vine for years. GM tried one last ditch attempt at rejuvenating the segment with the “aero Shamu” wagons of the early 1990s. By that time, however, most buyers seeking utility and versatility had moved on to more practical and efficient minivans, or the “go anywhere, do anything” imagery of SUVs.
But in 1977, it was hard to do better than a Custom Cruiser for buyers wanting a big wagon.
A was all of 13 when the Chevymobile engine “scandal” broke. I understand it less now than I did then. GM had been sharing drivetrain components for decades before it. You had to look no further than across the showroom to a Cutlass or the Omega to find a Chevy I6 engine. Hell, the Omega was a Nova short of some trim.
There was a rather famous fire at the GM Hydra-Matic plant in 1953. Suddenly, Chevy Powerglide transmissions were in Pontiacs and Buick Dynaflows were in Cadillacs and Oldmobiles.
The issue just wasn’t anything new.
Differentiation in engines didn’t matter so much earlier because the rest of the cars were quite different by brand. Chevys were plain, Olds were plush with lots of features, and solid. However once the difference between the bodies came down to nothing but the logos on the tail lights, and everyone offered the same AM-FM/Auto/Air/PS/PB features and plush interiors, the engines were the only justification left to buyers to justify paying more for an Olds than for a Chevy.
Remove that final rationalization point, and Olds buyers suddenly felt foolish for having paid extra for their ‘Chevys’. So all the GM divisions found themselves blatantly in competition with themselves as buyers would cross-shop among the GM brands based on price. From that point onward, with no exclusive features to justify charging more, Olds and Buick Prices had to start coming down, and the quality-down-to-keep-costs-down spiral accelerated.
I’m a bit familiar with Chevy and Olds at the time. We had ’77 and ’79 Delta 88s and a ’78 Caprice in the driveway during my high school years. I drove the Caprice to school for a while. I personally owned ’73, ’76, and ’82 Oldsmobiles.
What I don’t get is what went wrong for GM this time around? I mean wow, the 350 Olds engine had been in Cadillac’s Seville since 1975 – GM’s second highest priced car behind only the Cadillac 75 limousine.
I don’t recall GM ever being accused of purposely trying to hide the origination of the Chevy engines. My best guess is that some lawyers picked up on a few complaints, and saw that one of the most popular car brands in the U.S. had weak disclosure regarding this issue.
And, 1977 was kind of a slow news year. Media had a hard time finding headlines even back then.
I think it was all about disclosure. In the case of the Seville, everyone knew that Cadillac didn’t make a 350 V8. Everyone also knew that the 350 Seville was using an engine in a configuration unique to Cadillac, even if the basic guts were manufactured by another Division.
But Olds *did* make a 350, so when you bought a new Olds with a 350 and found later that the engine was out of a Chevy (which was generally considered an inferior design to that of the Olds) the buyer would feel cheated. (Had Olds or Buick engines gone into Chevys, the PR result might have been different.) Had GM said “Making 4 versions of a 350 V8 is stupid and we are stopping this. From here on out we will use only a single 350 manufactured by GM Powertrain to be used in all cars.” Ford and Chrysler had done this for years, but not GM, which had continued Division-specific engines. A move to common engines was just one more step in turning 1950s GM into 1990s GM, and GM muffed the execution.
It is an interesting fine line. As a car person, count me in the camp that would not have appreciated a Chevy 350 in my ’76 Cutlass if that had been the case.
Conversely, I have my doubts that the average Seville buyer had the foggiest idea about the history of its engine.
The convergence of Oldsmobile’s fan base, disclosure and probably an increasingly aggressive legal environment regarding consumer products seemed to come to a head under the Old’s B-body front clip.
On the whole 350 debacle, I wouldn’t have minded ending up with a LM1 Chevy 350 in place of the Olds 350. The LM1 was one of the strongest everyday engines of that era, and certainly was more lively than the 350 Olds. On top of that, 1977 was the first year for windowed main’s on the Olds engines. Olds V8’s are certainly one of my favourite engines, and I have owned several. That said, the SBC is really one of the all time best V8 engines period.
Here’s what the (very beautifully designed) 1977 brochure promised 88 / 98 buyers:
“NEW ENGINE DESIGN
Using new designs and modern casting techniques, each Rocket V8 has achieved significant savings in weight. The line-up is new, too, with a new 403 CID V8 offering our largest displacement.
And we’ve improved their performance, too. A new thermal control in the air intake improves operation when the engines are running cold; a divided-well carburetor aids operation in hot weather.”
(Elsewhere in the brochure, it identifies both engine options, 350 and 403, as being Rocket V8s).
I suppose GM could insist that they get to decide what is or isn’t a Rocket engine, and decide that a SBC 350 can now be a Rocket too. But unless the Chevy 350 also provided those new features – the revamped air intake thermal control, the divided-well carburetor, and a new design that weighs less than the previous engine, the buyers have a right to cry foul. I’m not up on the year-to-year technical changes on the Chevy 350 – was it lighter in ’77 than either the previous Chevy or previous Olds 350? Did the Chevy engine also get a new divided-well carb and thermal control in ’77?
Admittedly, I can see how some hard-core Olds buyers might have felt cheated, but even back then, every brochure had some fine print on it saying something like “specifications subject to change”.
Please forgive me, but did someone just put “period” at the end of a sentence to make it fact about the Chev 350. I’m very much an amateur in comparison, but weren’t the Olds engines higher quality?
The weight savings were the windowed main blocks. Basically they removed a bunch of the cast iron that supported the main bearings. Not good at all.
The dual well carbs were also used on Chevrolet V8’s. Not sure what was new about the thermal control valve on the breather. All this is just a bunch of marketing hype anyway.
I did use “period” at the end of the sentence to drive the point home. While Olds blocks were always supposed to be more durable because of the higher nickel content, that doesn’t make it an inherently superior design to the SBC. While it’s easy to hate the SBC because of its excessive use, I think anyone would be hard pressed to argue it was not one of the best American V8 designs of the century. FWIW, I have personally had better lngevity out of my SBC than Olds V8s. My personal highest mile engine is was the 250K mile on my old 350 Chev which didn’t burn any oil when I sold it and had never been opened up.
I had posted this some time ago on a Seville thread, but thought it was a good fit to put it up here again on this particular discussion thread.
My ’79 Seville’s sticker with Oldsmobile engine disclaimer paragraph…
(if not showing large, the image should blow up to read it better)
In the March 15, 1977 NYTimes article on the engine swapping, there were a couple of interesting data points:
The genesis of the lawsuit came from a Chicago Oldsmobile buyer, who upon taking his Delta 88 in for service, was informed that he didn’t have an Oldsmobile engine, but rather a Chevrolet 350 V8. Apparently, the engine was “badged” as a Rocket V8, even though it wasn’t. Quite rightly, the Delta 88 buyer was outraged, as he had paid for and been led to believe his car was 100% Oldsmobile.
GM’s reaction was oozing with big company myopia. GM President Pete Estes was quoted on the issue, and he seemed genuinely mystified by the customer complaints. In his mind (and by GM’s cost accounting methods), Oldsmobile had “bought” the engines from Chevrolet, so they “belonged” to Olds. Thus, since the Oldsmobile Division “owned” the engines, they could be branded and sold as Oldsmobile engines. The fact that GM had spent decades and millions upon millions of dollars working to convince consumers that the products from “upmarket” divisions were “better,” seemed lost on the company leadership. Why worry about customer perceptions when management could make life easier and more profitable for the corporation?
Of course, this mindset would soon send GM down the tubes…
I can see the familiar Rocket 350 sticker being problematic if they did it. The article picture does not mention a sticker, and the photo isn’t very clear.
Clearly there was enough confusion in the market that GM’s approach to the Chevymobile whatever difference it was, was deemed an act of subterfuge.
It’s still interesting that the open secret of GM component sharing between divisions became a problem at this exact point.
Did they go this far?
I wish the photo was more clear, but the impression left by the article (and the lawsuit) was that the engine was in fact branded with the Oldsmobile Rocket V8 sticker. According to the article, the ’77 Delta 88 in question was taken in for routine maintenance to the Olds dealer where it had originally been sold. Allegedly, the mechanic was mystified to see that the car’s engine was actually a Chevy 350 V8 even though it was branded as an Olds Rocket. The mechanic had tried to install the right replacement parts for an Oldsmobile 350 V8 (fan belt and oil filter), but they would not fit, and that was how he realized he wasn’t dealing with a real Oldsmobile engine. The mechanic informed the customer that in reality the car had a Chevrolet motor, and the customer called a lawyer…
Very interesting how you describe the events that lead up to the lawsuit GN.
From the way you describe it, it seems rather egregious that the dealer misidentified what was under the hood in the first place. Wouldn’t the VIN at that time tell you what you would need to know? I could see this error easily leading to a disagreement between the dealership and the customer that could have went south quickly If not handled delicately (“you didn’t tell us you replaced the motor! I did no such thing! Well who is going to be responsible for the wasted labor?” etc”). If those two paries both walked away that day without a resolution, lawyer being a phone call away seems almost reasonable.
I’m assuming Oldsmobile labeled all 350’s as “rocket motors”, correct?
I wouldn’t fault the mechanic at the dealership. In those days he would have been used to looking to see only if something was a 350 or a 455, then going for the parts. There had never been a reason to check a VIN for an engine code because those guys worked on 350s and 455s all day long and could tell. And there had certainly never been a non-Olds V8 in an Oldsmobile. The mechanic was probably thrown at first look but likely figured that Olds had made some minor changes to the 350. Maybe Olds sent out bulletins that never made it out to the mechanics in the service bays, but this was just a service nightmare waiting to happen.
Great question on the VIN! I am not sure what would have been listed for the Chevy 350 in the Olds. Here is a copy of the VIN decoder for 1977–it looks like the Olds 350 was coded “R” and the Chevy 350 was coded “L”, but was not listed as being available on Oldsmobiles (GM Division Code “3”). So it was definitely a murky issue–would be interesting to see if ’77 Olds VINs actually had the “L” code 350, or if GM really cheated and just used the “R” code for all 350 V8 engines in Oldsmobiles, regardless of source…
GM claimed that dealers were notified of the substitution, but no Oldsmobile dealers in their right mind would have ever wanted to broadcast that fact to potential customers. Somehow “check out this Delta 88 with a Chevy V8” would have made for a tougher sale…
The switch would have also added to confusion in the service bays, as technicians at Olds dealerships would have had to determine if the ’77 Olds needing service was running a Chevy 350 V8 or an Olds 350 V8, each of which necessitated different parts. So the situation was ripe to become a customer service nightmare, which is exactly what happened.
That VIN decoder is dated 9/76, so I’m not surprised it doesn’t show availability of the Chevy engine, which I’ve always understood was a mid-year running substitution due to a shortage of Olds 350s caused by increased Cutlass and 88 production.
The “Rocket” name wasn’t used after 1974 – subsequent air cleaner decals read “Oldsmobile 350”, but I’m not sure if these were still being used by ’77.
Although the news article may report that the mechanic mistook the Olds engine for the Chev, I am not sure I buy that story. I don’t think too many mechanics would mistake a Olds V8 for a SBC, they don’t look all that similar. I could see maybe if the breather said “Oldsmobile 350”, he may have grabbed the wrong parts initially, but I am sure once he got under the hood Any semi-competent mechanic would have immediately notice the difference before he attempted to install the parts, especially if they worked at a GM dealership. I worked in a GM dealership, and all the mechanics there knew what engine was under the hood with a casual glance. Most even knew common part numbers.
As I understand it, they started switching engines well into the ’77 model year, hence not showing up in the above docs.
The story is that the 350 was so popular in the Cutlass, itself wildly popular, that they simply could not meet the demand.
I’m with Bill on this one: there’s no way a mechanic back then wouldn’t instantly have recognized an sbc; everyone knew what they looked like.
I’m finding the whole thing with the mechanic not knowing which engine was in the subject Oldsmobile a bit fishy too. As a 12 year old I was mostly able to look under the hood of any GM and tell you what division the engine came from. Pontiac V8’s, Oldsmobile V8’s, Buick V8’s and Chevrolet V8’s all were quite different from each other and a quick glance was all that was needed to tell them apart. The Buick V8 was the easiest to spot. It had ribbed valve covers and the distributor was located in the front like a 231 V6. The other 3 had distinct valve covers and locations of the oil dipstick and the Chevy engines generally had the air cleaner snorkel going to the left when facing the car and the Olds and Pontiac engine were facing the right.
The Seville actually used an Olds 350, but using Bendix electronic fuel injection unique to Cadillac. This configuration could be found in no other GM car.
The Chevy 350 that may have appeared in an Olds or a Buick was no different than those found in an Impala.
Sorry, not true. A base F-85, Tempest or Special was not “plush with lots of features, and solid”. They were virtually identical to a similar-trim level Chevelle. The same goes for the NOVA clones. These were all the same cars essentially, except for the usual differences. Those were a bit greater, in terms of exterior styling and interior design on the intermediates, but the NOVA cars were true badge-engineering. This had all been going on since 1964 with the intermediates, and 1971, with the 1971 Pontiac Ventura.
I think that a lot of this had to do with perception. Back in the 60’s and 70’s the different GM divisions each having their own engines was perceived as being so much superior to Ford and Chrysler that the GM faithful considered themselves devotees of their specific Marque. GM got away with Nova clones and such because everyone “knew” that they weren’t “real” Oldsmobiles. Delta 88’s and Ninety Eight’s were “real” Oldsmobiles and when the faithful found out that their faithful Rocket engine in their “real”Oldsmobile was a Chevy in drag, the reality was viewed as deception. After the long journey to Oz the wizard was not what they found.
In the day there was also frame and drive line differences too IE: Chevy was a junior Buick with it’s torque tube drive,OHV engines and “son of Dyanflow” Power Glide, Pontiac could be a junior Cadillac with it’s Flathead engines, conventional drive shafts and Hydra Matics, even though the “A” bodies were shared.
True enough, I don’t think Cadillac owners in the 1950s complained about having “lowly” Oldsmobile HydraMatics!
Oldsmobile never made the Hydra-Matic, they were just the first to use it. The transmissions came from Detroit Transmission Division (later renamed Hydra-Matic Division), and by the fifties were sold to many different customers, including a fair number of non-GM makes.
The Oldsmobiles were my favorites of the 1977-79 B and C body cars, both for their styling and for their powertrains. The 71-76 Custom Cruisers were some of the most beautiful wagons ever built but the 77 versions were leagues better in terms of quality and function.
I have long believed that GM’s engine swapping of the late 70s had been premeditated for several years. By the late 60s every version’s smaller V8 became a 350, the medium-big V8 became a 400 and the big one became a 455 (with Chevy holding out with its 454 and Cadillac being exempted from the program). I had not paid that much attention and figured that one 350 was pretty much like another, having no idea of the substantial differences between them at the time. Had GM simply announced that they were “rationalizing” their engine offerings, everyone would have accepted it (as eventually happened). But by doing it so quietly they angered a lot of customers.
I thought the ’77 Olds wagon was still pretty sharp with the Di-Noc package. It made the otherwise fairly generic body into an Olds considering its inspiration from earlier Vista-Cruiser wagons.
Totally agree. The Custom Cruiser woodgrain treatment on the ’77- ’79 models was my favorite and I felt it gave the Olds a clear familial identity from the sides.
The previous gen was better looking. These were too squarish.
LOL, that ad. 13 kids, an adult, and a dog.
edit: Whoops, looks like that’s not an ad but part of the story.
When I was a kid we had an ’83 Caprice wagon with the 305. It served us very well, getting 26 MPG on the highway on a regular basis. Granted, those were the days of the 55 MPH speed limit.
But the next car was a Lumina APV, which for all its faults was still a better family vehicle. I don’t really lament big wagons all that much.
Mmmmmmmmmm 403 V8 and Turbo Hydromatic.
To hell with the fuel economy, sign me up. Grandma had a Oldsmobile 98 sedan with that combo and it was smooth, silent, and powerful. Everything an Oldsmobile should be.
My mother had a ’79 Ninety-Eight with the combo as well and it did make for a great Oldsmobile, especially when fuel economy wasn’t a major concern.
Road Test’s comment on why the coil spring rear suspension was late coming to GM wagons is a bit weak coming from a car magazine. As far as I know, GM was quite purposeful in using leaf springs to make more room in back for the forward facing third row in the ’71–76 generation.
The rear facing third row on the ’77 was a genuine step backwards in terms of safety and comfort for third row passengers. Which is kind of odd when you consider that GM was building stretched mid-size wagons with forward facing third rows in the 1960’s.
With GM cost rationalizing platforms, it makes you wonder a bit what GM was thinking about the future of three row vehicles in the mid ’70s. The third row was gone from the GM mid-size wagons after ’77. Families were getting smaller. GM had played with smaller family vans in the ’60s. GM had to have wind of Ford’s playing with a mini-van in the ’70s. And, the Suburban was growing progressively more mainstream.
The third row was gone from the GM mid-size wagons after ’77.
Oddly though when the new FWD platform A-body (Celebrity, Pontiac 6000, Buick Century, Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera) debuted in 1982 there was a rear facing 3rd row which was something you could not get in the Cutlass Cruiser or Malibu wagon (now christened G-body) across the showroom.
Interesting point that had slipped my mind. I would guess that it is a bit easier to slip a third row into a FWD platform, especially in a design where the footwells have to be sunk into the floorpan.
The 1982 debut of the FWD A-bodies actually included only sedans and coupes (the latter which were really more like 2-door sedans, although the Olds and Buick coupes would later get their own rooflines before this generation ran its long course). The wagons didn’t arrive until 1984 and revived not only the rear-facing 3rd row seats but also those little vent windows for the third row passengers.
There was no G-body wagon across the showroom from the FWD A’s, except for a few months in late 1983 – the FWD wagons arrived late (as 1984 models) and the G wagons dropped at that point, a clean break they couldn’t manage with the coupes and sedans.
I noticed that too. GM wagons all had coil springs until 1971, when they went to leaf springs on the wagons to make room for the forward-facing third seat.
A very well presented article on the downsized Oldsmobile wagon GN. Also enjoyed Road Test’s no nonsense, well written take. I thought the Big 3 magazines were disrespectful and unfair to the domestic makers. But going so easy on the transmission leak was maybe trying too hard in the other direction, a bit strange.
Still it was like every article ever written about the downsized GM models, nothing but universal praise. The only thing that surprised me was the 1977 sales figure for Custom Cruiser at 32,827 units. Like you I remember seeing these everywhere and was thinking north of 100,000 annually. Maybe because they were around for so long with the same styling it seemed like more.
The point about the Suburban clones and their major price sweep is useful, but a little bit exaggerated as you use the Suburban LTZ and the GMC Denali as comparisons to the Luxury Escalade (guessing by the wheels). The Suburban LTZ is now called the Premier, and it starts at $67,635 with all wheel drive. The Denali AWD starts at $72,960, and the Escalade ESV Luxury starts at $85,590 with AWD. Still $18,000 difference, but a more realistic comparison.
Thanks for the clarification. I had wanted to use the Suburban as an example of the “basic” package (which is still pretty thoroughly equipped), and an “upscale” Denali and “super upscale” Escalade to make the point that GM is able to take advantage of customers willing to vastly overpay for certain models of what are essentially the same vehicle. After all, the big GM SUVs share the K2XX platform that underpins even the most humble Chevy Silverado pickup truck. Given that the Escalade (and Denali) offer nothing more than fancier trim and a few more electronic gizmos than a loaded Suburban Premier, the $5,000 to $18,000 price differential is still shockingly large. In this case, however, I can’t blame GM. All their big SUVs sell well, and for whatever reason, Escalade buyers seem to want the world to know that they paid A LOT for their ride, even if it wasn’t really worth the premium. I guess there is no better way to say you have excess “money to burn” than spending it on $1,200 jeans, $500 t-shirts or Escalades…
Exactly. The Escalade is a fashion statement, not a sign of financial acumen.
I’m not sure about the current generation, but the 2nd gen Escalade (2002-2006) had some real differences from the Suburban: You could get the big engine (6.0 instead of 5.3), an active suspension, and full-time awd (instead of 4wd). None of those were available on Suburbans or Tahoes… except the 6.0 in the final-year special edition LTZ.
To be fair, the Suburban offered the 8.1 engine on the heavy-duty 2500 series.
My guess is that rather then to create clearance for a rear seat, the leaf spring move was so that a wagon would have more robust capacity, such as to handle the weight of rear seat occupants and cargo. Cadillac did same for their commercial chassis.
It doesn’t seem that coil spring suspension would have interfered with rear seat option, or dictated a different floor stamping, because none of the coil spring hardware extends rear of the axle.
It’s a hunch, but the axle area of ’71-‘8 floor stampings were probably all the same and shared throughout the “big” line.
The ’71-’76 wagons had a totally different floor stamping, as they had a longer wheelbase, and floor wells for the third row passengers. And yes, the links for a four-link coils spring rear axle very much would have interfered, as there are two on each side; low and high. It would have made the front facing rear seat impossible.
Go read up on the ’71 wagons, and you’ll find that the leaf spring was used because of the lack of intrusion. It’s easy enough to add capacity to a coil spring.
Boss Man, I had a detailed reply whipped up for this but it relies on pictures.
Is it possible to post more than one image in a reply?
One per comment. So do you have a comparable shot of a sedan?
Yes, I have six pics to underscore why I question that clearance for the third-seat would have dictated leaf-springs.
Again, I don’t know, it’s speculation.
And then some more fodder on an oddity of some ’77-‘8 continued use of the ’71-‘6 floor, but that may be getting way off topic here.
Do you know if GM’s sales or introduction literature ever stated specifically that third-seat clearance was the reason for leafs?
No big deal, it’s just curiosity because I had a lot of hand-on experience with ’em, including major surgery such as body-frame separation and swapping. That’s when I noticed some of the peculiar commonality in structural components.
I’d be very interested in reading anything in depth about development of the ’71-’78 big cars. I’d appreciate links if anyone has them.
Well, please post the best shots. Just keep adding comments.
As to the ’77s using the ’71-’76 floor pans, that sounds utterly wrong, as the ’77s were drastically downsized. You do realize that the ’77s sat on what was essentially the Colonnade mid-size frame, with only very minor changes.
It wouldn’t be in any advertising material. I distinctly remember reading about it in magazines at the time. Look at the picture you posted: you can clearly see the foot wells for the third seat just ahead of the rear axle. That area would have been impacted by the four link rear coil spring suspension.
Chevy pickups used coils on their rear suspension for years, including 3/4 ton models. and Ram uses them now. There’s no specific weight carrying advantage of leaves over coils. But the space required for each type is very different.
To clarify, I say ’71-’78 (rather than -’76) to include the FWD cars, which went on through ’78.
I know the FWDs are usually considered a whole different animal, but deep down at the level we’re now discussing they’re not so different.
Excluding the FWD twins, yes, no doubt, it’s a ’76 model year cut-off date.
Don’t bring the FWD cars into this discussion. We’re speaking specifically about the full size wagons only.
With this reply’s pic let’s look at a swiped image of a third seat.
Now lets look into the belly of the Buick beast.
Sorry, picture swipers can’t dictate camera angles. LoL
And a nicely gutted Chevrolet.
Notice the “corralled-off” area at the frame kick-up’s floor tunnel. There’s a bit of room to spare there that’s unoccupied.
Now let’s look at a couple of non-wagon coil-spring frames.
One image per post.
The frame’s not so “busy” in the third-seat area, is it?
And a coil-spring chassis with the arms and axle in place.
All of the “action” is forward of the axle.
Lower arms are well outboard. Upper arms form a Vee which is tucked in nicely. No major protrusion from the “envelope” as they say.
There are two spring pockets, but they seem not so imposing to seat placement.
And with this post let’s gander at a coil-spring car’s floor pan.
Ooops, I timed out on editing my comment
And with this post let’s gander at a coil-spring car’s floor pan. We can see the confines of the tunnel that coil-spring suspension was confined to. The floor has no intrusions into pass compartment for arms, etc. And when seen assembled, there’s still some room to squeeze things even a bit tighter in the tunnel.
With leaf-springs the front half of the leaf pack occupies the same space that lower arms would.
Upper arms are well tucked in and don’t seem to occupy space that seating needs. The Coil-spring pockets are flat and well outboard.
…and that’s why I question why the seat placement would have dictated leaf-springs.
With little trouble enthusiasts have swapped bodies around for various reasons. Such as building a tougher demolition car, or to change a FWD to RWD. So there’s no doubt that there’s very little difference between leaf, coil, and FWD pans and frames.
Let’s speculate that there was some conflict with suspension component room. Go back to the picture of the gutted Chevrolet… It appears that the “corralled-off” area could have been opened up a good bit (easily as large as the coil-spring pan’s tunnel) without crowding the passenger compartment at all.
Maybe the choice of leaf-springs was over some other concern, such as occupants being inches above suspension components in a crash situation? Fuel tank and spare tire placement?
Space for the seating itself just doesn’t look like it couldn’t have been worked around.
Jim, you answered the question perfectly and unequivocally with that shot of the rear axle and its control arm. LOOK at IT! The upper/inside control arms are exactly where the foot wells are in the wagon.
And LOOK at the shot of the inside of the foot wells of the third rear seat: if there were control arms, they would be smack in that foot area, directly in front/above of the rear axle. There would be NO foot well area at all if there were control arms there.
I hate to be a bit of a jerk, but can’t you look and see how obvious this all is? Your pictures are perfect proof. This is why they went to leaf springs.
Any further debate is a waste of time.
You almost have me having myself sold, Paul. LoL
But look again at the gutted Chevrolet and the area “boxed off” for the rear seat. If more room was needed for components it seems that all that could easily have been opened up. Certainly easier it’d seem than designing a one-off leaf-spring suspension. Put it this way, with this platform a customizer would have no problem creating a third-seat while retaining coil-spring suspension.
As to lower arms… the stolen images do not show it well, but the lower arms are definitely below the axle, forward, and well outboard. Upper arms would be approximately below passenger thighs. Don’t forget that the chassis seen being abrasive blasted is in a completely unloaded state. When loaded, normal suspension location is not in that stretched out way; arms are normally nearly horizontal. Upper arms could be in the wasted space of “the box”. Envision the “the box” installed on the convertible body seen on the rotisserie. What’s the problem?
So I’m still not sold that the third-seat clearance mandated leaf springs
BTW, I’m not debating, just a bit of CC type speculative conversation.
It’d be interesting to find an in-depth introduction narrative such as many cars have.
Again, I may be wrong on this, but speaking from my own first-hand work with these cars, I’ve seen them smashed, cut apart, body off, bare chassis, “Frankenstein” mixes grafted back together, all that. With that familiarity I’m not so quick to grab the seat room theory.
The better news is that eventually I’ll have a chance to do a side-by-side of stripped cars with magnifying glass, tape measure, and camera. We can resume then if you like. If CC doesn’t want it discussed further that’s fine too..
Jim: one last shot, since you’re being so nice about it.
Take a good look at the shot below, which is one of the ones you posted And also look at the shot of the inside of the wagon, of the third seat. In the wagon, the third seat sits directly above the axle. And the leg room area is directly in front of the axle. This is very clear in the picture of the interior.
Now look at the picture below of the coil spring suspension. The coil springs themselves are already massively intruding right where the seat bottom is. You see how they rise above the axle line? That would make putting a seat right above the axle housing almost impossible.
The look at those upper control arms. The go straight forward from the axle. That’s right where the leg room area is in the interior picture. There’s absolutely no place to put your feet with those upper control arms. Look at the interior picture again: you can see the axle housing perfectly clearly, but there’s nothing coming forward from the axle to get in the way. Only by using leaf springs was this possible.
If you can’t see it yet, you need to see an eye doctor, or maybe… 🙂
The real problem, Jim, is that you’re stubborn. You “guessed” wrong. I’m not guessing at all; I know this to be the fact based on what was written about these cars at the time, and it’s perfectly logical. Your pictures all prove the point.
As part of the downsizing campaign, Olds offered the blueprints to a garage where all the parts and lumber would fit in the new Custom Cruiser. The promotion was to reassure customers that interior space was not lost in the downsizing.
Gotta love it, even if a bit contrived. I’m not sure I’d find the garage that would fit in a ’71-’76 Custom Cruiser to be sturdy enough!
I was about 13 at the time of the GM engine swap debacle. As my father was an Oldsmobile man, I had him explain it to me. “If you buy an Oldsmobile, you expect and should receive a Rocket engine.”
Made no sense to me. Even at age 13, I could not figure out why General Motors made and sold a Chevrolet 350, Pontiac 350, Buick 350, and Oldsmobile 350.
Later, I finally understood the justification… how, for years, each division of GM was a semi-autonomous organization, at least on paper.
But still, as early as the 1958 models, GM corporate had the power to order all divisions to use the same frame and architecture – why couldn’t they order them to all use the same engines? I still shake my head.
But still, as early as the 1958 models, GM corporate had the power to order all divisions to use the same frame and architecture – why couldn’t they order them to all use the same engines?
They could, and they did. Especially on the smaller cars.
The main rationalizations I can come up with on the divisions have having some unique engineering and manufacturing:
*Brand image, they were masters at marketing.
*The company was so big that the divisions could afford some autonomous engineering.
*Can’t rule out the occasional side benefit of different teams looking at the same issue differently. If it turned out the Olds 350 was a bit better (which it arguably was), eventually that engineering could trickle to the other divisions.
*When you have to have several major plants producing a similar product, tooling all of them to be exactly the same may not make a lot of sense. If you see opportunities for something better in the plant tooled in 1968 vs. the plant tooled in 1964, it makes some sense to go with the improvements.
“But still, as early as the 1958 models, GM corporate had the power to order all divisions to use the same frame and architecture – why couldn’t they order them to all use the same engines? I still shake my head.”
This is the story arc of GM from the late 1950s onward. GM spent pretty much all of the 1960s and 1970s taking functions away from the 5 car divisions and centralizing them. Where Chevy and Oldsmobile had once designed, built and sold their own cars (subject to some restrictions) by the 80s they weren’t doing much other than selling them. General Motors Assembly Division had taken over every Divisional assembly plant, for example. Unfortunately, as GM’s central management gained more power they seemed to become less and less attuned to dealing with the external world.
“Unfortunately, as GM’s central management gained more power they seemed to become less and less attuned to dealing with the external world.”
JPC, I think you hit the nail on the head!!!
Fortune Magazine did a write up in 1983 on how all the GM cars were looking the same. IIRC, Roger Smith became CEO at this time and the rest is history.
I spent many years fighting with my brother in the rear facing seat of a 1978 Olds Custom Cruiser wagon.
Great times were had back there.
My Grandparents had that car until 2005. While I would never call the car really reliable (it spent a lot of time in the shop from 1978 on, and pieces would randomly fall off of the car even when new), they did get their monies worth out of it.
The gas mileage of the 403 was scary bad. I drove the wagon a bit in the final years before they sold it (mostly carting my Grandfather back and forth to the doctor) and I think at that point the car was getting like 6 MPG in the city.
At least the price gap on the SUVs is in keeping with the old Sloan ladder.
Chevy – Suburban
Buick (er, I mean GMC) – Denali
Cadillac – Escalade
With “appropriate” spread in price. As to content difference, IDK as I’m not an SUV guy.
Except that I don’t get the feeling many people who are spending $55,000 for a Suburban would ever buy an Escalade even if they became wealthy enough to. Cadillac should be selling prestige; instead they’re selling bling. And I fear that Cadillac’s management doesn’t understand the difference.
My father had one of this era. Fortunately, I only had to suffer a few trips in that third row. Even at 7-ish years old, it was pretty miserable.
I picked up a ~’82 with diesel (wait, hear me out!) at one point in time. The plan was to do a massive overbore of it, and come out with a high displacement small block gas engine. Either that, or just throw in an Olds big block, and call it a day. That never happened as (stupid me) the VIN didn’t match what was on the title. It was clearly a transcription error at some point, but not worth fighting over for a $400 car.
WE NEED A PERFORMANCE COMPARISON OF ALL THE 350s!!
Did anyone get a Nova, Omega, Ventura and Apollo with (nearly) identical specs and test them out? Or some other variant, perhaps the Malibu, Grand Am, Skylark and Cutlass?
I’d put my money on the 350 Chevy as the best performer. It may not have had the low end torque of the BOP engines, but it could breath better at high RPM. In the 1978 Michigan State Police Car test, for the 0-100 MPH test (the only acceleration test they did), the Impala 350 out performed the Buick LeSabre 350-4bbl, Ford LTD II 400-2bbl, Pontiac Catalina 400-4bbl, and the Dodge Monaco 400-4bbl. The only car that out accelerated the Impala that year was the Plymouth Fury with the 440.
That would be worth a writeup, Bill.
Count me in on the Small Block Chevy 350 as the best all around performer. There is a reason this engine outlasted the other 3 past 1980!
Could be that Chevrolet had more clout, after all it’s a Chevrolet. Chevrolet had to continue the V-8’s for the trucks too. Another reason no doubt the cost to build the Buick and Pontiac 350’s was much more than manufacturing the Chevy. I doubt that performance had anything to do with it. The Oldsmobile was able to achieve emissions standards with a carburetor clear to the 90’s since it was more efficient than the Chevy that had to go to fuel injection to pass emissions.
When I was ten my paternal grandma bought her last car A 53 Buick Special
with the last straight eight two door no dynaflow stick shift buddy
it SURE was not a Chevrolet nor Pont or Olds either But it did have 3 portholes
in each fender
GM had already adopted the Ford-originated two-way tailgate setup for its 1969-70 full-size wagons (as well as its 1969-72 intermediate wagons), with one additional innovation: a bumper cutout to place your foot when climbing into the third-row seat. So it would be more correct to say that GM reverted to such a design, rather than implying that it was offered for the first time in 1977 models. (The Road Test article also fails to mention GM’s earlier use of the design.)
That little step cutout is clever. Did they not use it again because it was too hard to implement with 5mph bumpers? Or maybe not enough rake in the nearly vertical tailgate of the ’77? I’m not sure you could stand up like in that picture if the tailgate had less slope.
However, the difference with these 1969-70 GM 2-way tailgates was that you had to lower the window to operate that as a doorgate, whereas the Ford versions you could open them without lowering the rear window.
The 1977 GM downsized wagon could be operated as a doorgate without lowering the window.
Yes, I’m not exactly sure when Ford came up with the 3 way tailgate, but my Dad bought a new ’69 Country Squire that I’m pretty sure had it…his subsequent ’73 Ranch wagon also had it….by then my Dad had counted out GM wagons as he didn’t like their clamshell operation, as to prove the point, once GM came out with the downsized ’77’s my Dad’s next wagon purchase was a leftover ’78 Caprice Classic wagon (with a 3 way tailgate). Wagons had run their course in our family (and shortly everyone) as the ’78 was his last (started with a ’61 Rambler Classic, he also bought a ’63).
His full sized were all 6 passenger (never 8) as he used the underfloor area for storage which was of course much roomier with no seat hardware present. He tried to pack so the above floor area could be used for my younger sisters to sleep in on longer trips, so not having extra junk on top gave them more space to sleep..since we only had 6 in the family it worked out nicely (till we got old enough and started moving out of their house).
The Ramblers had 1 way tailgates, just flipped down, and manual crank rear window. There’s a picture of my twin sister and I eating some meal resting on the cranked up rear window with the tailgate down. I don’t think you could close the gate with the window up, but once the gate was down you could manually roll it up if you choose to do so. I think their replacement (a ’65 F85 wagon) also had a 1 way gate, but had a power window (maybe an option)…first power window on a car in our family.
Thanks for posting this GN! You have quite the collection of articles. I love the road tests of everyday cars. There is tons of books, articles, etc on more enthusiast oriented cars, but so little on the bread and butter cars that we all grew-up with or owned at one time. Just another reason why CC is such a great site.
Lansing native here. I remember the Oldsmobile sign! Divisional pride was quite real: My dad, grandparents and various other relatives who worked there always said they worked for Oldsmobile. Hell, even the paychecks said “Oldsmobile” until the BOC debacle beginning in 1984.
Story Olds was about a half mile from where I now live. It later became Story Chrysler and was one of the many dealers given the axe during the 2009 bankruptcy. The building was demolished in late 2015 for an apartment complex. But the old Sawyers Pontiac site is till there.
I had a 1978 98 with the 403: smooth and powerful, especially coming from a 1984 Chevette. Quite nice, although the tufted red leather interior did lend a certain bordello ambience.
Tufted seats are a requirement in a 98! ? I Wouldn’t even consider one without! ? (Make mine velour though!)
Did that sign come down in 1978 now that they didn’t necessarily have Rocket engines in them? All references to Rocket engines disappeared from Oldsmobile advertising and brochures starting in ’78, replaced with a legal blurb about how Oldsmobiles are fitted with engines and other parts that may be from other GM divisions or suppliers. I really do wonder if some GM lawyer ordered that OLDSMOBILE with ROCKET ENGINE sign to be removed…
FWIW none of the engines were exactly 350 CID.
If you do the math you find this
Chevy and Olds were mathematically the closest,
the Buick should have been called a 349, the Pontiac was nearly 355 CID.
They just fudged the numbers a bit, especially Pontiac.
I recall Buick having a 302 cid engine they decided to call a 301 because 302 is too associated with Ford
Actually that was the Pontiac 301 V8 that was introduced in 1977. The marketeers realized that this engine actually rounded out to 302 cubes but didn’t want it to be confused with the Ford 302. It was christened the 4.9 liter. The Ford 302 was also technically a 4.9 liter but rounded it up to 5.0 liters
I believe the 1990 Custom Cruiser with it’s 4bbl. Olds 5.0L (307) was the last domestic GM car with a carburetor.
Thanks GN for sharing this! Despite its lengthy production span, the Custom Cruiser is always just one of those cars I feel is in the back of people’s minds. It rarely get’s the spotlight!
What is interesting in the 1977 to 79 generation is that the B body Oldsmobile sedan bodies differed from the wagons in that the sedans had rectangular wheel openings while the wagon had round wheel openings…..When the B bodies were refreshed in 1980, the Olds sedans went to round wheel openings as well.
I think the Custom Cruiser from ’77 right to the last ones in ’92 used Chevy front fenders (which have round openings) and doors. That’s why when the sedans and coupes got wraparound side marker lamps in ’78 and ’79, the wagon stayed with the ’77 look with separate side markers. The use of Chevy/Pontiac doors in all wagons caused a bit of a problem for Buick though, because they wanted use real Buick front fenders so they’d have portholes. They appear to have mated Buick fenders to Chevy doors by using a little panel to cover the chamfer just in front of the side mirror. Trim moldings (or the woodgrain surround) covered up the slight difference in shape near the bottom. As a result, the front fender has square openings but the rear ones are round! After the ’80 facelift, Buick no longer used portholes in the LeSabre and had only suggestions of them in the Electra/Park Avenue that didn’t actually punch through the fenders, thus allowing Buick to use the Chevy/Pontiac front fenders too. (I’ve been told I’m wrong about this here, but I’m sticking with it because that’s what I see in every photo as well as occasionally IRL).
For the redesigned ’91 wagons, GM got lazy and used not only the fenders and doors but also the Caprice front clip on the Olds and Buick, changing only the grille. The Roadmaster sedan that appeared one year later did get its own front clip, headlamps, and (I think) fenders – from what I understand it fits on the wagon just fine, but for some reason Buick continued to use the Chevy front clip with a Buick grille on the wagon.
Of course the shared tail-lamp openings took away hope for a division showing much individuality there.
Previous wagons and ElCaminos show similar parts bin deep digging and “facelifts” grafted to an old body when the rest of the line changed more substantially.
We have discussed this issue before. For 1977-79 each make’s wagon used its own unique fender. The Olds and Buick wagon fenders were specific to the wagon body style only and not shared with any other division. Oldsmobile fenders are not the same as Chevrolet. The body lines are different if you look closely at the top edge of the fenders. The Buick wagons do not use Buick sedan fenders. The lower body lines are different on each, look closely and you can see the obvious difference and trim does not hide the lower creases. The Chevrolet and Pontiac wagons shared their fenders with sedans, This was because the wagon body shell used Chevrolet body lines, also used by the Chevrolet and Pontiac sedans. GM had the resources and money to make separate stampings for each fender.
As for the 1980-90 wagons, it is pretty much the same story. Chevrolet wagons shared with the sedans. Pontiac wagons shared with the sedan and were unique to Pontiac until the Parisienne was released. From then on, the Pontiac’s used Chevrolet fenders. The Oldsmobile, and Buick used wagon only fenders specific to each division. In fact the Olds and Buick had several inches in length on the Chev wagons, all of which was front overhang built into the front fenders.
I owned a Custom Cruiser and had to replace a fender from an accident. When I was shopping for used fenders, only fenders that would swap were wagon specific fenders from an Oldsmobile.
Here a bunch of pics from Google images. Look at the body lines closely and you can see they are different.
1977 Chevrolet Wagon
1977 Pontiac Wagon
1977 Olds Wagon
1977 Buick Wagon
1977 Buick Sedan
You have explained this before, at least once. 🙂
Thanks for your endless patience and willingness to share your encyclopedic knowledge. It’s appreciated.
I haven’t compared part numbers much less tried swapping fenders, and I noted that someone whom I couldn’t remember disagreed with me, and now that I know he *has* tried swapping fenders (and those Buick comparison pics are also convincing) I’ll acknowledge I was wrong. I guess it’s difficult to suspend my disbelief that if Buick *did* design wagon-specific front fenders for the ’77-’79, why on earth didn’t they make it fit flush with the Chevy/Pontiac doors near the top? (that stick-on panel that tries to hide that looks terrible IMO). And why in the world did they make the front wheel opening squarish when they new it would be used on a car that has a round rear opening? Olds at least made a wagon-unique fender that actually looked like it was intended to be used on the car it would be fitted to. The Buick wagon fender looks like some holdover part from a previous design they didn’t want to spend the money to update.
I think the round fenders on the Olds wagons make it look considerbly less attractive than the square fendered Sedans. I find the 77-79 Olds Sedans very sharp looking, while the Custom Cruisers are the least attractive (in my eyes) of the wagons. I always though the woodgrain treatment was quite unattractive too.
These cars were a revelation compared to the previous generation. My family had a 72 Buick Estate Wagon with the 455 Buick engine. A neighbor purchased the new 77 Estate Wagon and let me drive it. I cannot tell you how much better it was than our older previous generation car. Unbelievably quiet, smooth tight and better handling. The interior with the chrome bezels on the gauges and clock looked rich and upscale and acceleration even with the 350 was far superior. One year later my Dad purchased a 78 Estate Wagon with the 403. So much quicker, smoother and efficient. GM hit theses cars out of the park.
A neighbor of mine when I was growing up, had a wagon like this. A yellow one with the fake wood (and I might get kicked off here for admitting I’ve never liked fake wood on cars… oops) Anyway my parents bought a Malibu wagon at the same time, and I remember ours as not nearly as “fancy” inside as the Olds they had. They kept their wagon well into the 80’s, I was friends with their son, and it was his first car. It was rusty, dented and worn looking inside, but still miles quieter and more comfortable than the tin-can Chevettes/Toyotas/Datsuns the rest of us were driving at the time… Another friend of ours slid his Sentra off the road in the winter, and the Olds pulled it out with no problem. Oh, and he would drive many of us to school in it, why ride the bus when you could cram 6 or 8 neighbors into the old wagon?
So yeah, they were tough, truck-like dinosaurs that got terrible MPG, but felt and rode so much more substantial than the tinny little econo-boxes of the time (that usually were full of rust holes, this being Wisconsin)
Reply got tacked to the wrong thread.
Hmm, well I’m looking at that underside of the wagon with leaf springs photo and it sure looks like they are fitting around the axle pretty closely, so I’m voting that they did it for space reasons. Anyway I don’t much care, they did it.
I am impressed with those massive drums in the undercar shot though. Not so impressed that a 403 equipped Custom Cruiser mileage and quarter mile time, wow.
0-60 times generally sucked during the 70’s and 80’s. A 12-13 second car was considered very good back then and less than 10 seconds was rare and usually reserved for cars like the Corvette and F-bodies with 350 V8 or Pontiac 400 engines. My friend’s brother did have a 1977 Delta 88 Pace car coupe in black with the 403 and 3.08 rear gears and it was one of the quicker older cars I have driven and would “light em up easily.
Sorry to comment so late on the Olds-Chevy engine “swap”. I purchased a 77 Custom Cruiser w/403 ordered instead of 350 – Chevy was good engine, but :
1. Olds 350 had higher torque rating than Chevy
2. Olds 350 had higher EPA mileage rating ?? why no fuss about incorrect EPA on window stickers ??
Had my Cruiser for 2 years – great car !!
My uncle had a blue 1983 Custom Cruiser with the Chevrolet 350. This stood out among other parents’ GM B-Body wagons, Jeep Wagoneers, and Plymouth Voyagers in the school parking lot. There wasn’t any difference visually. You could tell it was him because he yelled through a megaphone to get my butt in the car. I need to start looking for one of these…
I know the Crown Victoria was the basis for the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, but it sure looks like they could have used the Custom Cruiser as an alternative.
The big difference with the Chevy, GMC and Cadillac SUV’s is standard equipment, and interiors. Not too many these days care about exterior styling, as long as it “looks like a modern SUV”. The bragging is “what’s inside”.
It was Oldsmobile hubris to make the front end clip of these redesigned full size sedans, coupes and wagons, without the Cutlass waterfall grille styling. The Cutlass was King of the Market and Oldsmobile was desired due to the success of the Cutlass. If Oldsmobile did the job better, it would have had a stronger visual tie-in with the King of the Market.
Instead, the big Oldsmobiles had a severe blunt flat rectangular front end. It wasn’t a plus. Growing up in Chicagoland, I was surrounded by Oldsmobiles. They were the most popular cars in Chicagoland. So, I clearly remember the very first moment I saw the new Oldsmobile coming around the corner on Ashland Avenue. The flat squared off front end of that vehicle was shocking. The other GM brands didn’t go to this extreme. The Cutlasses found on every street, also did not have this severe cheap appearance. The big Oldsmobiles of this year didn’t look like a rich Oldsmobile you got with their other vehicles.
So, when we discuss the loss of Oldsmobile’s appeal during the next decade, it was partly due to the standardization of body styles within GM. Once Oldsmobile lost that class action engine lawsuit, and only offered another version of what you could get at another GM brand for thousands less, the exclusivity of the Oldsmobile brand was lost, in my opinion.
I had a 77 Riviera with the Buick 350 and a 78 Estate Wagon with the 403. Both had the same red interior so from the driver’s seat, the only key difference was the hood ornament and the steering wheel. Both felt about the same as far as power goes, but I always wondered why the wagons were built on the slightly shorter wheelbase B-Body platform instead of the C-Body platform. You’d think the wagons would have used the longer wheelbase to maximize rear seat space.