30 Replies to “1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Diesel: In Defense of the Olds 350 Diesel V8”

  1. AvatarEquipmentJunkie

    I knew of lots of people who owned 5.7 GM diesels. It seemed like those who were mechanically inclined and were fastidious about maintenance had good luck with them. The second generation engines were especially good as long as expectations were properly managed. I even had a co-worker that resurrected his Dad’s ’82 Olds 88 as a daily driver a few years ago. The inability to find replacement injector nozzles for it eventually forced its retirement.

    I once heard a quote about either the 5.7- or 6.2-liter GM diesels that always made me chuckle:
    “Driving a 5.7 (or 6.2) GM diesel is like walking around with an un-pinned grenade in your pocket…you know it’s going to really hurt, but you don’t know when!”

    • AvatarEquipmentJunkie

      Mike Batch Kirouac (AKA BigOldChryslers), I forgot to compliment you on your fine article. I learned a lot. I’ve been a loyal supporter of Dr. Rudolph Diesel’s offspring over the years. I had very little specific knowledge of the 5.7 GM diesels since I was under 10 when they were first introduced. However, I can still identify the house where my father and I spied our very first Olds Delta 88 diesel.

  2. AvatarDave

    A neighbor was a manager at Stanadyne in Windsor CT where they made the fuel injection pumps. He bought a new diesel Chevy Caprice Classic sedan in the early 1980s. I recall he bought it to tow a small camper too! Although I think he discovered quickly that was not a great idea.

  3. Avatardejal

    “If only GM had installed a proper fuel filter, made some of the second-gen improvements up front, and taken the time to properly train their dealership mechanics in servicing the engine.”

    If my aunt had a package, she’d be my uncle.

    Remember this is GM you are talking about. The GM from way back when. I’d like to think the “New” GM would have done what you suggest, but even now it’s not a lock they would. The fact that the mechanics didn’t work for GM still gives the impression that it was GMs fault if you trusted the mechanic. Especially dealer mechanics as they represented the GM technical expertise even if not GM employees. Remember Mr. Goodwrench?

    In that era they did a similar thing to the Fiero. Worked the bugs out, made a lot of improvements then canceled it.

  4. Avatarrnc

    I don’t remember my dad’s 83 98′ Diesel having a lot of problems and he actually kept for a long while. It was however his last GM car. The car before that was his first Caddy, I was too young to remember what was wrong with it, but I hated riding in it, you could just feel anger and not realize that it wasn’t directed at you (like army Col. anger). Anyways the dealer took back the Caddy and gave him the 98′ in return. Everything after that was Towncars and Navigators.

  5. AvatarCJinSD

    Those Popular Mechanics owner surveys from forty years ago are interesting reading. Typical Detroit cars had very unhappy owners at the time. The manufacturers were having a very hard time meeting emissions standards while reducing fuel consumption. The result was cars that stumbled when you tried to accelerate, had hot starting or cold staring issues, and that ran on or ‘dieseled’ when shut off. On top of that, efforts to reduce NOx emissions and tall gearing chosen for the EPA dyno test meant that real world fuel economy was disappointing too. The result was that it was pretty normal for over 30% of the buyers of some popular cars to immediately regret their decision and say so in the PM surveys. The Oldsmobile Diesel was the domestic exception. People were so happy with the running qualities and efficiency that they didn’t complain about fit and finish or pretty much anything else. They loved their new cars.

    Then the other shoe fell. GM had already unleashed the 2300/Durabuilt 140 on their customers at this point. It probably wouldn’t have been a bad idea for Olds diesel buyers to take a wait and see approach. This defense sounds more like an act of apologism. If you didn’t think engines that need their engineering completed by owners in the field were a good thing before, you probably don’t have a higher opinion of the 350 diesel now than before reading this piece.

    One of my good friends has a Jeep, a Porsche, and a mechanical engineering degree. He’ll tell you that cars aren’t bad, it’s the owners who ruin them. He also spends about two weekends a month with one of his cars taken apart in his garage. Even doing all his own labor effectively, he spends a fortune on parts and special tools. I can’t tell if he realizes that he has a hobby rather than a rebuttal of my arguments for buying a Toyota product. His teenage son’s 2018 WRX automatic needed new VVT actuators and an ECU at 13,000 miles. Fortunately for him, he’d refused the reflash that Subaru dealers recommend when you buy a WRX or STI to void your warranty. He still needed to produce proof of every service before they honored the warranty. Subaru may finally cure him of crummy cars. Seeing the car fail so early and the dealer try every avenue of escape from responsibility for what is clearly a low quality product may well convince him to buy a good car next time. If that happens, he’ll be just as mystified by people who defend shoddy products as I am.

      • AvatarCJinSD

        Porsche money might buy you an LC500 or a Land Cruiser, both of which are better than anything Porsche offers in their market spaces.

        • Avatararbuckle

          Yes, Toyota does make a better off-road SUV and a better GT coupe than Porsche. Check-and-mate, Mr. San Diego.

          However, as I’m sure you are aware, Porsche has built many thing throughout its history that are not off-road SUVs or Grand Touring cars.

          • AvatarCJinSD

            History is for books. What does Porsche make today that you’d go into debt for? They’ve got nothing I’d bother putting in my rotation for free. Automatic turbos are for automatons and video game playing onanists.

        • Avatardejal

          People have a lot more tolerance for toys.

          If you need a “I have to get to work. I have to get to XXXX. and I can’t be screwing underhood on cars all the time”, I’d take the Toyota. Better odds. For a play thing? Nope.

          • AvatarCarmine

            There must be so many unemployed people that don’t own Toyotas……..

            How does anyone else get to work?

            No wonder the economy is struggling……employees can’t get to work because of all those insanely unreliable non Toyota cars they own.

            We really need to change to Toyota Ambulances in this country, no one would ever die…….because they would all get to the hospital every time.

          • Avatardejal

            I can’t directly answer Carmine below.

            Did you want me to say “Honda, Toyota, Chevy, Chrysler, Ford, Lincoln Mercury, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Buick, etc….”? Maybe “Main stream car sold in bulk” would be better?

            I don’t even own a Toyota. I just said Toyota because that was the brand mentioned upstream from me.

            May I suggest

            Substitute Toyota for Heineken.
            You will forever look and sound like “Frank” from Blue Velvet in my mind from now on.

          • Tom KlockauTom Klockau Post author

            I think he was responding more to the permanently cranky guy. Sometimes when you reply to a comment, they pop up in a different spot. 🙂

      • AvatarCarmine

        The amazing thing really is that in the all the history of automobiles, there has never been a recorded incident of a Toyota breaking down?

        You know their dealers don’t even employ mechanics or even carry spare parts??

        Never had a recall or anything…..

        Its amazing, they just keep running, they don’t even need gas or oil……


        • Avatararbuckle

          “History is for books.”

          Classic and late model cars are a thing (just ask the guy running this website). You can’t simply handwave them away as you lug the goalposts down the field. The Macan being a trashcan doesn’t cause every 964 to turn to dust.

          And what does your friend own? Is he really spending two weekends a month DIYing a 2015 Cayenne?

          • AvatarCJinSD

            Most of my 911 time has been in 964s. That being said, they only became good when the 996 arrived. They’re damned old now too. So old that they aren’t viable transportation, which is what matters to me. There are all sorts of cars that I’ve driven or wanted to that were made before people could be elected in the US as admitted socialists. I’m concerned about what is available if I need a new car. Porsche has nothing. I’d tolerate their abysmal quality and east German engineering if they’d give me a naturally aspirated engine connected to a stick for the high five figure price I can stretch to. That ship has sailed.. I watched them descend into being a neo-classic brand with a good relationship with Michelin. At least that could be justified by their lame customer base. What they’re doing now goes beyond embarrassment. It isn’t like fucking a fat girl in the dark. Driving a new Porsche is about as desirable as fucking a fat boy in a dress. You go ahead though.

          • Tom KlockauTom Klockau Post author

            Well golly, arbuckle, don’t you remember all those kids who had posters of a beige beigemist Camry in their rooms? It was a real hot ticket. Oh wait, no, that was the 911, Corvette and Countach. My mistake… 🙂

          • AvatarCJinSD

            Says the guy who writes paeans about the cars that lobbed floaters across the plate for Toyota to knock out of the park with the Camry. If a Camry is boring, what is an Oldsmobile? Excuse me. What was an Oldsmobile?

          • AvatarCarmine

            I’m actually surprised he lowered the mighty LC500( I had to google it to remember what it was-the Lexus Camaro…..they sold like 4 last year) to compare it to the toilet bug that is the Porsche 911.

            Surely someone looking at a 911 would probably be happy with a 2003 Solara or something, save the mighty LC500 for comparisons with worthy vehicles, like a Tardis, the Millennium Falcon or supersonic hovercrafts…..

          • AvatarCarmine

            What angle are you going for here CJinSD?

            Baruth Light but without the talent or humor?

            Try something else, no one is going oohhhh and ahhhh……

          • Tom KlockauTom Klockau Post author

            Carmine, I always find it interesting how much hysterical commenting can result from a car that hasn’t been built in nearly forty years. “It was him, Officer! He’s the one that ruined everything! Him and his friends and that stupid dog!”

          • AvatarArbuckle

            “if they’d give me a naturally aspirated engine connected to a stick for the high five figure price I can stretch to”

            You could buy a naturally-aspirated, stick-shift, RWD Porsche for under $100K as late as 2016. That’s hardly classic car age.

            But anyway, I have no major affinity for Porsche, whether modern or classic. I’ll just point out that you recommended your Porsche owning friend to buy “a Toyota product” and not some hardcore stick-shift sports car.

        • Avataryamahog

          What’s more amazing is that Toyota seems to be the only company who considers the ownership experience of the second, third, …, and last titled owner.

          Toyota redesigns their cars about half as often as everyone else, they have relatively few options, and their safety / production technology is usually as good as it gets but they seem last-to-market with almost everything else (the 2018 Camry is getting apple carplay this year for example).

          But in my neck of the woods, the only vehicles that last longer than 15 years are GM+Ford trucks and good Hondas and most Toyotas. It’d be great if another manufacturer were willing to compete with Toyota on quality but they’d all rather stuff their vehicles with infotainment, and tie the company’s bottom line to the willingness for banks to finance $3k sport-in-name-only packages that really offer bigger wheels and really special trim.

          • AvatarArbuckle

            I have no real quarrel with Toyotas. My issue is when people act like a Toyota is the proper substitute for everything. Not everyone has 2 decade longevity and a happy final owner as the number one item on their shopping list.
            From your prior comments here, you like high-powered motorcycles. Someone telling you to get a RAV4 instead of an R1 would just be goofy.

          • Avatarsafe as milk

            “the only vehicles that last longer than 15 years are GM+Ford trucks and good Hondas and most Toyotas.”

            the auto industry has clearly decided that only the first 10 years of ownership count. the pressure to meet cafe mpg numbers and offer awd has pushed them to now all use ridiculously complicated and expensive automatic transmissions which are sealed with “lifetime” fluid. the trans blows at 120k miles and you junk the car. end of story.

  6. AvatarDavid Schaffnit

    We had several Olds 88 with the diesel engines when I worked in Odessa, Tx. The regional mechanic that worked out of out shop kept a rebuilt engine with appropriate transmission ready to install and when one died it was a half day to get the car back on the road. One problem was the fresh air snorkel. The dealers always hooked it up but one trip through a low water crossing was all it took, with the snorkel in place to kill an engine.

  7. Avatarsafe as milk

    great article on a fascinating engine. i really like the details about what actually did fail and why. much better than the usual, ” i had no serious problems with mine.”

    there’s and aftermarket kit that allows mechanics to rebore the heads to take beefier studs for these engines. the car wizard on the tube is putting one in his ’69 caddy broughm, believe it or not.

    • AvatarCarmine

      I saw that video, it confirmed that he was an idiot, I only has suspicions earlier…….

      Though I guess doing something smart is not the way to get YouTube views I’ve learned.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.