There is a certain website out there that is trying, desperately, incessantly, to bash successful GM cars. Why is anyone’s guess. But despite popularity, despite corresponding sales figures, it doesn’t matter for these guys. Bitter, angry people make for bitter, angry car posts. So in my own way, I’ve been trying to counterpoint these surly rants. Today’s subject is the redesigned 1985 front wheel drive C-body GM cars: De Ville/Fleetwood, Electra, and of course the Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight.
“Oh ho, aha!” some folks may rant: “They were shrunken, stupid, unreliable maaaan! No one bought them!” Big talk from persons who only got brand new cars when they conned them out of their employer. But I digress. The simple, plain truth is despite a completely new look, smaller dimensions in nearly every area, and a major change from V8 and rear wheel drive to V6 and front wheel drive, these newly minted GM lux cars sold well.
1984 Ninety-Eights were the last of the 1977-style original downsized models, albeit heavily restyled in 1980. As the Gm-Hatenscreed GmbH schtick goes, this was the uber Olds. Should have sold gangbusters, because the ’85 was such a bomb. Now, keep in mind I like all these cars. Love them, as a matter of fact. But the plain truth is that sales were slowly but surely going down. From the pretzel logic a certain website projects on a regular basis, ’84 sales should have logically been gangbusters, and have tanked in ’85. But lo! Per my copy of Setting the Pace: Oldsmobile’s First 100 Years, the plain truth is clear as glass. 1984 production amounted to 7,855 Regency coupes, 26,919 Regency sedans, and 42,059 Regency Brougham sedans. Not bad for a top of the line car, certainly, but things would rapidly be ticking upwards.
1985 saw 4,737 Regency coupes, 43,696 Regency sedans, 9,703 Regency Brougham coupes and 111,299, the crowd favorite, Regency Brougham sedans!
For model year ’86, with no benefit of an extra-long model year, production was 803 Regency coupes, 23,717 Regency sedans, 5,007 Regency Brougham coupes and 95,045 Regency Brougham sedans. Yep, not bad. So, despite the attempts of some, for whatever reason, to bash these cars, they sold. They were fresh and modern. And despite the reduced size, they still had a lot of the great GM luxocruiser feel.
I can vouch for this firsthand. My Aunt Candy had the Buick equivalent, a silver-blue metallic 1986 Electra Park Avenue sedan. With navy vinyl roof and matching navy velour floating-pillow seating, it was a plush cruiser.
With its 3800 V6, it had plenty of power, thanks to the lower curb weight and dimensions. I drove that Park Avenue several times in the late 1990s, and it was a pleasure to drive. It may have had a much reduced footprint compared to the 1980-84 models, but the room inside was impressive.
At the time, I was driving a 1991 Volvo 940SE Turbo. It was my dad’s old company car, and a plush Scandihoovian ride. The Buick actually reminded me of the Volvo, due to the room, remarkable glass area, and nimble handling. Aunt Candy’s Park Avenue was almost like a Broughamified Volvo 740 or 940.
That 3800 V6 was smooth, and always ready to step up to the plate. Although I never drove it in the snow, I have heard tell of remarkable traction on these C-bodies by others who drove them in all kinds of inclement weather.
Although I liked the smooth, clean looks of the 1985-90 Buick Electras, I kind of had a preference for the Ninety-Eight. They just seemed a little more traditional, with a little more chrome, poofier seats and more woodgrain trim bits.
As a kid in my Midwestern city, I recall seeing many of these cars. Heck, two of our neighbors had one. Phil and Luray Kendall, on the other side of our next-door neighbors, the Ohlweilers, traded their triple navy blue 1984 Regency Brougham for a gunmetal gray 1988-89 Ninety-Eight Regency Brougham with dove gray interior.
And our other neighbor, caddy corner from our house, the Presslys, also had a 1989-90 Ninety-Eight, also in gunmetal gray. They were a popular choice. Plush, comfortable, reliable. But not as ostentatious as a Park Avenue, Sedan de Ville or FWD Fleetwood.
Our featured car today, a 1986 Ninety-Eight Regency sedan, was spotted by yours truly back in July 2016 on the electronic bay.
I rather liked the tan on tan color combo (Light Driftwood, according to the 1986 Oldsmobile brochure) and the overall excellent condition of this particular car. As a standard Ninety-Eight Regency, its interior, although plenty plush, is not quite as Broughamtastic as the Regency Brougham sedan, which outsold it four to one.
Although the 1985-90 Ninety-Eights are similar in appearance, it is pretty simple to tell what year you’re dealing with. The coupes were only available 1985-87. 1985-86 have quad sealed-beam headlamps, but the ’86 has a color-keyed center section in the grille; ’85s are all chrome. 1987s gained composite headlamps and a more streamlined grille, and ’88 was much the same. 1989 had another new grille, and the badging went from cursive to a more straightforward font.
While it is true that more differentiation in appearance between the Olds, Buick and Cadillac versions would have helped, the plain truth is these cars sold. While RWD is almost a novelty in 2018-19, back in 1985-86 front wheel drive on big cars was new and interesting, especially in the Midwest, where winter-weather traction was very interesting to buyers.
Even in 1990, the final year for this body style, 17,914 Regencys, 38,915 Regency Broughams, and 5,566 Touring Sedans were built. Not bad for a car that had not drastically changed since its early 1984 introduction as an ’85. But as is the case with many online sources, certain folks of a certain temperament don’t let the facts get in the way of their windmill-tilting angst. Until next time, ladies and germs, keep calm and Brougham on!