1990 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency Brougham: Before The Storm…

For years–nay, decades, Oldsmobile made its bones on three primary cars: The 88, the Ninety-Eight, and the Cutlass. This secret formula of comfort, style, attainability and comfortable Midwestern middle-class prestige served them well for close to forty years. But around 1990, the party started winding down. This Regency Brougham is one of the last pre-sales-crash Oldses to be designed. A pity.

The shrunken, yet still spacious 1985 Ninety-Eight was not near as imposing as the earlier 1980-84 model, but it sold quite well, despite some quality issues on early models. But by 1987, this was a solid, comfortable car.

Ford may have mocked the mini C-bodies in their Town Car ads (and it was a great commercial), but plenty of folks liked them, especially in the Midwest.

In fact, a case could have been made that it was the Midwestern W126, as far as popularity and prestige went. The Coen Brothers’ great film Fargo was right on the money with both Jerry Lundegaard and his father-in-law Wade Gustafson driving Ninety-Eights. For many professional people in this region, a Caddy or Lincoln was seen as gauche–think Al Czervik. In Minneapolis (well, back when there were still a large contingent of happy, productive Scandihoovian folks…), this was the car to be seen in. Too bad Wade wouldn’t be seen in his for much longer, thanks to his idiot son-in-law. Oh, geez…

The compact Calais was not the hit Olds hoped it would be (though its corporate sibling, the Grand Am, sold like dollar beer at a ballgame), the Firenza was a non-starter, and the final nail in the coffin was most likely the disastrous “not your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign.

I’d loved to have sat in on that meeting: “Hey, I know! Let’s piss off our loyal customers in order to appeal to kids who wouldn’t be caught dead in an Olds showroom!” “OK.” “Sounds good.” “Let’s do it.” Yup…

All the room and ride of the pricier Electra and de Ville, and only a small step down in prestige: A winning combination, at least until the ’91 model replaced it. While the ’91 Park Avenue was svelte and downright sexy for a big Buick, the Olds lost a bit in translation, though I like them myself.

Despite the best efforts of Olds manager John Rock–who had a spine!–and new products like the Aurora and Intrigue, GM still saw fit to kill off Oldsmobile shortly after the Oughts began. This was the single biggest thing to make me start hating GM. Those idiots! I loved Oldsmobiles!

I had never owned one, but I had relatives and friends who did and I always liked them. They were a part of the landscape, especially in the Quad Cities. It was comforting to see them in traffic, and seeing new ones all shined up in front of Zimmerman in Rock Island or V.J. Neu in Davenport. And now they’re gone. But not this one!

I found this white Regency Brougham in late February of 2013. That day, a gigantic storm was on the way, and I was running a few last-minute errands (consisting primarily of booze and fatty, salty snacks) before it hit. I saw those lacy-spoke wheels and knew I had to stop, storm or no storm. This one had a little bit of rust, but was pretty solid.

These final-facelift 1989-90 Regency Broughams are my favorite of the 1985-90 generation, especially with those most excellent lacy-spoke alloy wheels.

Though I’d prefer maroon, navy blue or black, this one still looks good in white over red, and, I’m sure, is still reliable wheels for its owner. And by the bye, the other metallic-sand Regency Brougham, in as-new condition, was spied by your author at the 2015 Oldsmobile Nationals, held at the Sheraton in Brookfield, Wisconsin, convenient to Milwaukee. Loved it.

45 Replies to “1990 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency Brougham: Before The Storm…”

  1. AvatarCJinSD

    Whoever decided on using the back glass as headrests for rear seat passengers was a dolt. They should have cut the trunk opening down to the bumper for access and angled the rear window at an attractive and comfortable angle instead. Otherwise, the Buick versions of these cars drove very nicely for GM sedans while delivering comfort and economy.

    The GM-10 cars were unfortunate, but Oldsmobile still could have had a future until they started mocking their existing and past customers.

    Reply
    • AvatarJohn C.

      Are the people who design all the pickups that use the back glass as headrests dolts as well or are you jest rifting? Surely those guys could cut bed length and height.

      Reply
      • Avatarstingray65

        GM sure could have offered some variation in that “formal” roofline rather than put it on absolutely every car in their lineup except the Corvette. Why not give Olds a sportier roofline so that Lincoln wouldn’t be able to make fun of the absolute cookie-cutter lack of variation among the Olds, Buick, and Cadillac versions (as well as the A, N, etc. bodies)? In fact, why didn’t GM do what they did in 1966 and share a body that allowed FWD (Tornado and Eldorado) or RWD (Riviera) to give some more differentiation and allow some buyers a chance to get traditional V-8 and rear-drive? Why didn’t they? Because GM was run by a bunch of absolute idiots during most of the 1970s and 80s and 90s.

        Reply
        • AvatarJohn C.

          They softened it up on the Olds Ciera 2 door in 86, to no great sales effect. Seems the critics were just rifting, not really interested. Notice though when Tesla put out that wild pickup that broke with the uniform rear cab shape. Our Austrian friend had a spontaneous orgasm, or was it an Elongasum.

          Reply
      • AvatarCJinSD

        Pickups have had real headrests for a long time. Many of those notch-backs did not. Incidentally, there was a coupe version of the 88 and LeSabre built on the same wheelbase as the Ninety-Eight Regency Brougham which had an aesthetically-pleasing sloping back window. Did back seat passengers in the coupes have to lean their heads forward to stay off the glass, or could GM have avoided making these awkwardly styled sedans even without properly engineering the truck opening?

        Reply
        • AvatarJohn C.

          On the Lesabre/88 rear window. It would of course never make sense, for the lower end car with a younger buyer to have a sportier roofline. Everything must be one way, anything else is just embarrassing, so says the people that take the style tips of the hippy a little too much to heart. By the way, wouldn’t a sloped rear window on the same wheelbase with the same rear seat placement, be even more the noggin hitter?

          Reply
  2. AvatarLynnG

    Correct about John Rock, he was going to take Oldsmoble in a whole new area but GM said no. The Aurora was just the first offering off the buffet and the first generation Aurora were like nothing else in the Chevy Buick Olds showrroom. But as you said, Oldsmoble had slammed their middle America and was trying to sell Oldsmobles to people who do not drive Oldsmobles…. Like you said, quite a run Oldsmobile had with the RWD 2-door personnel lux Cutlass Supreme from the1970’s to the late 1980’s. You know a lot of low mileage examples of this generation of FWD full size GM sedan (Olds, Buick, Cadillac) are coming out of their garages as there owners age out. There inexpensive to buy, good to drive on long journeys, and parts for the most part are still available.
    Oh Tom was that Olds event at the Sheraton before or after our Grand National 2015?

    Reply
    • Avatarstingray65

      The problem with GM that Rock was trying to address is that all their divisions were selling to older middle-America types and they were offering nothing to appeal to yuppies or coastal import buyers. The Olds, Buick, and Cadillac versions of this car were all the same in looks, driving manners, and quality – yes they were pretty good cars for what they were, but did GM really need all three 3 divisions going after the exact same buyer? At least one of the “prestige” divisions needed to go after Acura, Lexus, BMW, Audi, MB, and Volvo buyers, but in typical late GM history fashion they did it in a half-assed manner and didn’t follow through, probably because they were too busy salivating over all the profits they were starting to make on the rapidly growing pickup and pickup based SUVs they were selling in the 90s. It was really sad to see what bad management did to once proud brands – Aurora was created because Oldsmobile had become poison, Geo was created because Chevrolet had become poison, Saturn was created because all the historic GM names had become poison.

      Reply
    • AvatarCarmine

      One of the other Aurora issues was that there was nothing else there if you couldn’t swing the $35,000 in 1995 sticker, what else in the Oldsmobile line up was going to appeal to you? The getting dated Cutlass? The Acheiva? The Aurora was still sharing showroom space with powder blue circa 1982 Cutlass Cieras. The only other vehicle that had a semi-unique niche in the Oldsmobile line at the time was Bravada, which was a market that Oldsmobile probably could have exploited a little more too, maybe an AWD V8 Bravada? or one with the turbocharged 4.3 from the Syclone?

      Rock should have pushed to have the Cutlass redesigned earlier and launched the Intrigue along with the Aurora in 1995 instead of 2 years later in 1997-98.

      Reply
        • AvatarCarmine

          Yup, thats why I wish it would have been launched closer to the Aurora’s launch, the Aurora styled Acheiva replacement, the Alero launched in 1999, the last year of the 1st gen Aurora.

          Reply
  3. AvatarJohn C.

    The 85 generation of FWD full sizes are most interesting to me as engineering exercises. If we had too, could we match the room of a 225 inch car with only 195 inches of length. If we had too, could we give a boulevard ride with 1500 pounds less weight and an IRS to find and respond to every bump. If we had too, could we make a compact, light weight 90 degree V6 deliver power like a big block V8 .If we had too, could we give our existing buyers instead of a sneer, what they liked while meeting the new standards, written perhaps to destroy what we built and they bought. This was not what the “experts” were telling them to build, but Irv Ribicki had some balls as well.

    Reply
    • Avatarstingray65

      Yes in many ways it was an impressive engineering achievement, but 1960s GM would have made sure each division had unique styling that wouldn’t be made fun of in Lincoln ads, and probably would have offered FWD, RWD, and AWD versions with a variety of fresh motors (rather than a 20 year old OHV V-6 made by sawing two cylinders off a V-8) just to blow the minds of the competing engineers in Dearborn and Highland Park.

      Reply
      • AvatarJohn C.

        The 91 restyles got the unique bodywork you wanted, at great expense because it is much harder to do with unit construction and super tight dimensions. Sales were down even though the driving experience was only slightly diluted by rising weight.

        A more interesting alternative was the Iacocca copies at Chrysler, the New Yorker/Dynasty. They were of course compromised by the narrowness of the k based platform and the late to the party adoption of Chryslers own take on the 90 degree 3.8 V6, but poor Chrysler cannot really be expected to match GM engineering. The interesting thing is they widened out the C pillar that got rid of the awkward angle at the cost of bigger blind spots. Notice the usual critics didn’t rise up in joy, though those and the GMs are looking better and better to me all these years later.

        The Lincoln jab was funny. It also inspired our Austrian friend to do the same jab at the 59 GM roofs again with careful photography to mislead. Again his real problem wasn’t the roofs but how offensively over the top American they were.

        Reply
    • Avatargtem

      That’s a very good point as far as how the (often maligned) downsized FWDs matched or beat the old RWD C-bodies in most objective ways. I’ve got this drivetrain in my ’91 Park Avenue, and while not exactly “modern,” it doesn’t feel out of place in modern traffic whatsoever in terms of performance, and really, I PREFER it in many ways to the ubiquitous busy and/or lugging 6+spd automatics tied to 4cyls. To say nothing of ease of maintenance/repair on that old cast iron 3800.

      Reply
      • AvatarJohn C.

        I think of, for example the Pentastar in the 300 or Durango or the 3.6 in the departed Impala or Acadia , all heavy vehicles.. No shortage of high rpm horsepower but more than a little weak off the line. The current commentary suggest adding turbos but maybe some updated pushrod motors would work as well as they do in Corvettes and Camaros

        Reply
        • Avatargtem

          I’ve got the 3.6 backed up by the oft-confused 62TE in our van. Smooth motor that loves to spin, but you’re right it feels a bit soft down low, compounded by a transmission that loves to upshift and lug. I hear the 3.6 is much happier behind the longitudinal 8spd TorqFlite

          Reply
          • AvatarJohn C.

            In 2004 my brother bought the the first year Buick Rendevous Ultra with the also first year 3.6 for the family truckster. Regular Rendevous had a 3.4 60 degree pushrod V6 that he thought was fine on the local test drive. He wanted an Ultra for the extra features. He had to travel to find an Ultra and I rode along. I had him all worried that he wouldn’t like the DOHC engine that he had already agreed to buy, but he thought it was fine.

          • Avatargtem

            Wow I never even knew that the Rendezvous Ultra was a thing, or especially that it got an early variant of the 3.6L V6 (those were the absolute worst about stretching timing chains, newer ones are better but still susceptible)

          • AvatarCarmine

            The RV Ultra was added towards the end of the models run, after 2003, the original RV’s had the same 3400 from the Aztek and minvans an came in CX and CXL trim.

  4. AvatarTomko

    Loved these C Bodies. Especially the revised ones that ran on 15s. I test drove a 1987 Sedan de Ville right off the showroom floor. First Cadillac I ever drove. The driving experience was more to my taste than the 1984 6000STE I owned at the time. Later Oldsmobile had a 98 Touring Sedan that was very attractive. I also test drove one of the restyled 98s. I think it was a MY1993. It had the 3800 and I was thoroughly unimpressed. Aurora was Oldsmobile’s moon shot. But sadly GM lost interest. And even then China was driving the market and Buick one that arm wrestle.

    Reply
  5. AvatarEconomist

    I had an 1985 Buick Lesabre as my first car. I remember being glad it didn’t have one of those silly speedometers that used up the entire dashboard. I could never understand the appeal of having one gauge use up two feet of space.
    Buick, in a flash of insight that burned through the malaise, put a round (as god intended) speedometer and a giant round fuel gauge in the fake wood dash of the Lesabre. No tach or oil pressure or battery, no, but boy oh boy you knew how much fuel you had left to feed that 10 mpg 307 V8.

    Reply
  6. AvatarDan Goodman

    Showing my age and not the same era but the circa 1958 Olds was one impressive bunch of car, especially when factoring in how inexpensive they were in the early Sixties.

    Reply
  7. Avatargtem

    I’ve got the follow-up to this in Buick form, a ’91 Park Avenue I rescued from a slow death of decay for the princely sum of $400. Took a bit more work than I initially (naively) assumed it would. Junkyard ignition module and coils, transmission lines, exhaust work, valve cover and intake gaskets, front struts and rear air shocks, there’s more. I’m sitting at a total of $1000 invested into the rig currently including the purchase price of the car (all labor my own). No fault of the car, it had just been a neglected third vehicle inherited by some retirees who didn’t want to put any money into it. Rockers rotten but presentable from 10ft, the important thing is the subframe mounts are rock solid, that’s what sends these to the junkyard in salt country.

    Mine’s got the same Series I 3800 as the ’90, “Tuned Port Injection” with the cast aluminum manifold. Rated at all of 170hp, but it feels like plenty in real world driving. I love the interior of this gen, I’m amazed at how many doo-dads there are including split climate control. The 97+ cars were cost cut on the interior. It rode surprisingly poorly until I realized the rear air shocks were completely dead. New Monroe units installed with new air lines ran off to a simple T’d schrader valve, the rear end is like butter now. Once I get the new Gabriels installed ($10 a piece wholesale on rockauto) with the new Ac Delco coil springs ($20 a pair off amazon), hopefully the front will likewise start living up to the “DYNARIDE” badge on the dash.

    Reply
    • AvatarCarmine

      People do say that the 1997 and up Park Avenues were cheapened up but they received a ton of improvements, the body structure was upgraded to the same spec as the G-body Aurora. they were the tightest and most solid they ever were.

      I sold the 1997 and up ones new, they were extremely nice, they added the HUD option made the car even a bigger, they had great performance on the road, sold, quiet, great ride.

      Reply
      • Avatargtem

        IMO they tried to modernize the styling inside and out with less chrome and more of the softened/melted plastic, and that came with a dollop of crappier plastics. I like how the 91-96 interiors are closer to these 80s cars but with some improved ergonomics, and on the outside as well in my mind it’s no contest, the 91-96 Park Ave (and 92-99 Lesabre) have sharper better defined lines, they got “blobby” with their respective redos.

        My “perfect” park Ave would be a ’96 Ultra with the Supercharged Series II for a very decent 240hp/280tq (and more easily on tap as long as you start a transmission replacement fund).

        Reply
        • AvatarCarmine

          I liked that they added features like a trip computer on the Park Avenue finally for 1997, even though Cadillac and Oldsmobile had one their C-body cars in one shape or another since 1985 and that they finally got rid of that awkward quarter window on the front doors too.

          The trannys on the 3800 Supercharged cars can last, I had an 00 Grand Prix GTP that never gave me any trans issues the entire 11 years I owned it.

          Reply
  8. AvatarMrGreenMan

    That shape is what comes to mind when I think of a car. I loved my 88. GM put a stake through the heart of my Oldsmobile family. After briefly trying Chevy or two, it’s been Lincoln, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mercury, Mercury, Ford, Lincoln, Ford.

    Of course, without a new Taurus, it’s likely to be whatever make produces a land yacht with AWD…it was going to probably be Chrysler/Dodge, but I know what the French have done in the past.

    Reply
  9. AvatarDean

    Kuettner Olds in Waukesha was a good dealer. I bought a 1995 Olds LSS from them in 2003. They closed in 2005, replaced by International Autos (Mercedes/Porsche).

    Reply
  10. AvatarJohn C.

    On the Lincoln ad. Wasn’t it nice to see all those elegant couples that knew how to dress, knew how to act, and more generally knew how to live. It is a big reason we miss cars like this, from all the domestic brands. They were actually built for people like the ones in the ad.

    It would have been fun if Acura or one of the other up and coming imports hired say Tom Wolfe to display their ideal buyers in a similar on the face of it ad.

    Reply
  11. AvatarCarmine

    I never really got why people didn’t like the “This is not your fathers Oldsmobile” campaign, I think people incorrectly look at it as it if was mocking classic Oldsmobiles from the 1950’s and 60’s, I really saw it as Oldsmobile saying this is not the “140hp wheezy whites and wires 1982 98 Regency Brougham” company anymore, the problem really was, it was sort of lip service. “This is the NEW Generation of Olds” was the tagline in the commercials, but there were wood paneled whitewall Custom Cruiser, wire caps and vinyl tops a plenty in the showroom still, I mean this generation 98 WAS my friends “Fathers Oldsmobile”, he had a dark blue 98 with the FE3 suspension he bought when “the Cadillacs got bad” as he says, back in mid 80s before transferring back to a Sedan deVille in 1993.

    There were some interesting vanity projects like the Aerotech speed record cars but in the showroom they really just had the same GM hamburger with an Oldsmobile topping. The Quad 4 was sort of a big thing for Oldsmobile, it was a power dense 4 cylinder with modern DOHC tech that made more power than some V8’s at the time, it was even proposed for use in the large C and H body cars if need, but it had its own issues. Oldsmobile lobbied to have an engine program other than diesels to remain relevant in the early 80’s and it thought a power dense 4 would be a good bet in for the fuel conscious future of $3.00/gallon gas that was to come, perhaps in hindsight it should have maybe lobbied to develop a modern DOHC V6 instead and left the 4’s to Chevrolet and Pontiac.

    Oldsmobile was having a “what am I?” crisis at the time, neither fish nor fowl, trying to be a little Pontiac and a little Buick and be neither at the same time. It was a problem all the middle GM divisions had as divisional engines disappeared, Pontiac had the same problem but it was able to hide it a little better with cool sci-fi interiors.

    The 1988 GM-10/W Cutlass Supreme was a move in the right direction, it was distinct, very clean and very needed seeing it was replacing a car that came out in 1978, I don’t agree with the theory that all Oldsmobile needed to do was continue selling the RWD Cutlass to the end of time and it would have survived, but it lacked a sedan for 2 years when that was needed from the start.

    The only other “New Generation of Olds” products didn’t arrive for another 2 years, the Silhouette mini-van, which was innovative in some ways as no one had really done a luxury minivan yet other than Chrysler which was launching the Town and Country and the same time, but the Silhouette was still an “Oldsmobile topping” on the bullet train/dustbuster U vans, which were cool, but a love it or hate it design and the re-designed Toronado, which didn’t move the needle much. A re-designed 98 arrived in 1991 and an 88 in 1992, but even then, they were both still available in whites and wires and velour Buick spec trim.

    I like these 98’s though I think they are the least unique of the C-bodies, Buick had the lead on the design and they got the cool features like the clamshell hood, the slide in license plate, etc and it was still a “Buick motor in a Buick” for those that cared about that. Cadillac was able to make their C and little more special by adding in doors that wrapped into the roof and a V8 but Oldsmobile sort of got the least interesting version. So count me as an Electra/Park Avenue fan for this generation.

    Reply
    • Tom KlockauTom Klockau

      My aunt had an ’86 Park Avenue, ice blue metallic, navy vinyl top, navy velour. Really cushy Brougham-type ride and interior, but it handled very well too. I drove it several times in the late ’90s. Solid car. And despite owning that car for about fifteen years, I don’t recall a single person bitching about bonking their head on the backlight…

      Reply
      • AvatarCarmine

        We had 2 LeSabres and no one complained about that either, they did comment on how comfortable the seats in the car were…..

        Reply
        • Avatarsgeffe

          The cars to complain about would have been the Dodge Spirit, Chrysler LeBaron, and Plymouth Acclaim, for bonking noggins on backlights! They got their commodious back seats because there was no package shelf at all!

          Reply
          • AvatarCarmine

            I was looking at my own pre-downsized cars and the rear speaker/package trays aren’t much bigger than on these…..

  12. Avatardanio

    These were durable-long lasting cars, and not just because old people preserved them. I have seen and worked on many many high mileage examples. Too bad they weren’t much to write home about otherwise.

    Reply

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.