Home » Making The Case For Grandma’s Car: 1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser vs 1993 Chrysler Concorde

Making The Case For Grandma’s Car: 1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser vs 1993 Chrysler Concorde

Sbsd 12 28 2023
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Good morning! I hope you all are weathering this dumb no-man’s-land week between Christmas and New Year’s all right. I never liked this week, at least as an adult; nobody wants to work, we’re all nursing a cookie hangover, and it’s all just cold and dark and weird. We’ll get through it together, with the help of some old cars to look at. Yesterday was all about high-mileage imports; today we turn our focus to well-kept low-mileage domestics.

A lot of you share my affection for stickshift Honda Accords, it seems; that poor Previa got absolutely creamed in the voting. And I can’t say I disagree. The Previa is pretty cool as vans go, and it’s not in terrible shape for the mileage, but come on. A manual Accord wagon, in that kind of condition? You never see those for sale. Sure, $4500 is a big ask for a car that age with that many miles, but you can pretty much rest assured that it has a good hundred thousand miles left in it.

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Even if you don’t trust it enough to drive daily, it would make a great weekend toy. A Honda station wagon, you’re saying? In the garage spot usually reserved for convertibles or Corvettes? This guy has finally lost it. But for all intents and purposes, this car is now a classic. It’s 31 years old, a clean survivor of a car that many people have fond memories of, much like the Pontiac Grand Am in Thomas’s post yesterday. That’s the very definition of a classic car. They don’t earn the title by having commemorative badges glued on at the factory, or being squirreled away in a climate-controlled vault like an overpriced bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape; they earn it by being cars that people remember using, and loving.

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Today’s contenders could be considered classics as well, by their age, but you’re more likely to remember seeing them parked in front of the drugstore or the beauty parlor, with a box of tissues in the back window. These are the sorts of cars favored by your aging parents or grandparents, depending on your age. They’re not cool, not high-performance, and not stylish, but they are pretty nice. And nice is hard to find when it comes to cheap cars. Let’s check them out.

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1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser – $1,995

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.3 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Longview, WA

Odometer reading: 148,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives “excellent,” they say

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“Wagon” must have been a dirty word around GM offices in the 1980s. Only Chevrolet used such a coarse, common name for their long-roofed A-body offerings. Buick Century wagons were Estates, Pontiac 6000 wagons were Safaris – and Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera wagons, of course, were Cruisers. But because “Cutlass Ciera Cruiser” would have been significantly longer than the row of tiny flags below the badge on the front fender, Oldsmobile dropped the “Ciera” and simply called this wagon the Cutlass Cruiser.

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Cutlass Cieras (and Cruisers) were equipped with a wide variety of engines over their long run, but this one is powered by a 3.3 liter version of Buick’s famous 90-degree V6, driving the front wheels through, of course, an overdrive automatic. It runs and drives great, according to the seller. The tires are new, but that’s about all the specifics we get about its running condition.

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It sure looks nice and clean. There’s a little wear on the carpet and upholstery, but for a 34-year-old GM interior, this is immaculate. The outside looks fine, except for a weird faded spot on the rear passenger-side door. It’s as if the clearcoat is worn off on that door. This is especially weird to me, because my wife and I once owned another old grandma-mobile, a Chrysler Fifth Avenue, with perfect shiny paint everywhere except the passenger-side rear door. It looked just like this one. I never could figure out what happened to it, and now seeing this one, I’m even more intrigued. Any guesses are welcome.

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I hesitate to call this car “cool,” but… no. I just can’t. It’s about as cool as a Yanni cassette. Or a Harbor Freight socket set. But then again, it’s a cheap, reliable car that can take you on all sorts of adventures. There’s an awful lot of room on that tailgate for bumper stickers. Hit the road and start collecting them: The Mystery Spot, Wall Drug, hell, even Dollywood. If I saw this car, festooned with all those stickers, I would consider it incredibly cool.

1993 Chrysler Concorde – $1,695

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.3 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Independence, OR

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Odometer reading: 93,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but we don’t know much more

I can almost picture the scene: A typical Chrysler customer walks into a showroom in 1993, looking to trade in their ’84 New Yorker on something a little fresher. The showroom has always been a place of comfort and familiarity: formal rooflines with landau tops, confident squared-off fascias, acres of fake wood and chrome across dashboards. But in pride of place sits this sleek, rounded “New For ’93” Chrysler Concorde, a “Cab-Forward” design signifying the dawn of a new era. And I bet I know what their first five words were: “What the hell is that?”

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The LH platform is a front-wheel-drive car, but it has a longitudinally-mounted engine; this is because it was designed to be built as rear-wheel-drive as well. It took another decade for the rear-drive version (called the LX platform) to come to fruition, but it did pretty well when it finally did appear. This Concorde is powered by the base engine, Chrysler’s 3.3 liter “minivan” V6 – not the sexiest thing, but simple and reliable. It has only 93,000 miles on the clock, so it should just be nicely broken-in.

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It does have a rebuilt title, for an unknown reason, and I imagine the dealership selling it doesn’t even know. But when a car is this cheap, it doesn’t really matter; just assess it by its condition as it sits. It looks nice and clean inside, and straight outside. It’s missing some clearcoat, but show me a car from the ’90s that isn’t.

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You don’t see a lot of first-generation LHs on the road anymore, and that’s a shame. I always thought they were handsome cars, and I especially like this green and silver two-tone color scheme. As cheap beaters go, I think this could be a pretty good one.

Sub-$2000 cars that run always require some compromise. The cool ones run badly or not at all, the known-reliable ones all have a bazillion miles on them, and the low-mileage ones, like these, tend to be boring and uncool. But if you’re just looking for a nice old car to drive, maybe boring and uncool is all right. Maybe Grandma was right after all. Which one of these will it be?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Jeff foy
Jeff foy
3 months ago

I too live in Portland. Not only did I come down firmly on the Cutlass side of the question, upon seeing the ad, I decided to make this beauty my new work truck.

A pair of roof racks, a rubber mat for the cargo compartment, some magnetic signs on the door and I’m soon the demonstrably smoothest construction guy in the metro area. Also, it gets better mileage than my current 1999 F-150.

Local Craigslist said the car was still available and only an hour up the highway into Washington. With the help of wine, my wife–a station wagon enthusiast of long standing–agreed we should ride up and check it out this coming weekend.

I then looked up the dealership reviews on yelp. I am not a yelp person. Yelp kinda sucks.

HOWEVER, the reviews for this particular car lot were a joy, a treat and a side window.

The most recent reviewer described driving up to the lot past a man sitting on the sidewalk in a lawn chair with “Rip off -icky”signs on both sides. The man was commenting on his experience with the lot. A man named Rick apparently owns the lot.

Other comments tell other stories. They share a flavor of outrage and anger.

A price sticker over a big hole in a windshield that the buyer didn’t notice until too late. A piece of black tape over a warning light on the dash. Stern warnings about the evils of Les Schwab safety checks, windows held up in position by duct tape.

The whole thing is a must read, and this is the link to the yelp page. I hope that’s an okay thing to reference, but it is pretty public domain?

https://www.yelp.com/biz/ricks-auto-sales-longview?start=10&sort_by=date_desc

Or search craigslist Portland for cutlass wagon….there it is.

It’s still an awesome looking car and I’m still going up to Longview to check it out. I’ll probably offer *ip off *icky 500-700 bucks cash, and hope there’s not sawdust in the oil pan.

I love Shitbox Showdown, the Autopian is good-soul genius, and long may it live.

I do think that a deeper dive into the lots and corners these cars are sold on and out of, might make for pretty entertaining reading. There can’t be only one *ip off *ickys out there.

I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

Also, anyone out there have a list of movies featuring used car lots, and or sales people.

I smell a sub-genre.

Xpumpx
Xpumpx
3 months ago
Reply to  Jeff foy

good luck!

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
3 months ago

Aww, that Cutlass is the same color scheme as my grandma’s, only hers wasn’t a wagon. I’ll go with that one. Those Chryslers always looked like they took their design inspiration from a slug.

lastwraith
lastwraith
3 months ago

I’ll take the Ciera over the LH. I briefly drove my in-laws’ Plymouth Grand Voyager with the 3.3 and it was solid (the trans also worked fine but always made those weird signature Chrysler trans grunts of the time), but I can’t resist the 3800 V6 in any form.

Truth be told, except for the safety standards, I’d take either of these over a modern car – less electronic garbage to break, actual exterior colors, actual interior colors and miles of soft cloth (often on nice big benches), and no GDI or turbos waiting to sabotage you at some point. And gas mileage wasn’t even that much worse.

Dwegmull
Dwegmull
3 months ago

This is a though one for me: normally, I’d picked wagon over sedan without hesitation, but I have a soft spot for the LH platform cars.
In the mid to late 90’s, I traveled many times from California to Taiwan on business. I did not travel quite often enough to fly in business class, so I spent 12~14 hours in the back of a plane. My employer had a deal with one limo driver to drive us from the airport to our hotel and he happened to drive a LH platform car (I think it was badged as a Chrysler LHS). That back seat was the most comfortable place in the world after the long flight!

Oldskool
Oldskool
3 months ago

Wagon all day! As long as you keep it out of the salt and keep the trailing arm mounts from rusting apart from the floorpan, these cars will go forever. I’ve had several 440T4s with over 300k and never had a problem with any of them. 3300 is a baby 3800 and those go forever. These cars shared parts with so many other GMs that they are still easy to maintain. And 1989 is part of what I call the golden era. Reliability of fuel injection, but not over the top computer control. Just enough for engine reliability and nothing more. By 1987, GM pretty much had the bugs worked out of these. And a bonus for 1989, you got rear shoulder belts, but not the door mounted seat belts. 1989 also switched to nylon fuel line, but hadn’t yet switched to the brittle plastic and aluminum coolant fitting in the intake manifold. It was all good. I have a couple 89s in my driveway. A Celebrity with 311k that runs perfect, and a Cutlass Cruiser just like this which has never seen snow, and I take to shows. To the right crowd these are cool.

Last edited 3 months ago by Oldskool
Timothy Swanson
Timothy Swanson
3 months ago

A Buick 3.3 is better than any of the 2.8 derivatives, and the 4 speed of that era is durable. Growing up, we had a pair of full sized cars with the 3800 and that transmission, and they were bulletproof. We put 360k on one, and the other would have lasted if my sister hadn’t wrecked it somewhere north of 150k.

Stephen Walter Gossin
Stephen Walter Gossin
3 months ago

Concorde all the way! That thing rules!

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
3 months ago

I’m fond of the LH cars, but oddly enough I’ve been on a late-80s/early 90s Oldsmobile kick lately. (This would sound weird anywhere else but Autopian.) Turns out that some badge-engineered cars are better than others, and by this late stage Oldsmobile tended to have some nice-quality interior fittings, superior to Buick and, depending on the car & trim level, Cadillac.

GM had also worked out their transmissions by 1988, and of course the 3800 engine came out at that time. I’m much more partial to the H-body cars (88 Royale and Touring Sedan), but I would take this Cutlass Cruiser in a heartbeat.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
3 months ago

The Olds for me. That Chrysler has a rebuilt title. And looking at the front of the car and how the hood seems lower on the driver side than on the passenger side tells me it has been POORLY REBUILT.

It’s clear the Chrysler was in a major front end collision and then just slapped back together without having stuff properly straightened. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has alignment issues and other problems. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the “low mileage” was due to the odometer/dash being swapped from another wrecked vehicle.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago

Also Buy here, pay here place. I imagine the miles will entice someone not quite smart enough to know what that Salvage title actually means and it will be back on the lot for the same money 6-8 month later for another sucker to try to deal with.

Not The Ford 289
Not The Ford 289
3 months ago

I’m going to go with the Chrysler because, 1. It’s cheaper than hell and 2. My grandma lives in Independence, OR, so she could go pick it up for me!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
3 months ago

From the look of the Wagons passenger door I would wager it was a workman’s car and there was a magnetic sign on that door for a long time. The drivers side maybe it got stolen. But either of these two would be a deal but extra space wagon for me.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
3 months ago

That Concorde literally was my Grandparents’ car. Grandpa’s last one in a long line of Chryslers. They had leather and the alloy wheels on it, but same green color. Good looking car in its day.

Nostalgia aside, I’d probably pick the wagon because its a wagon.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
3 months ago

Wagon for the win today.
And doors that have clear coat damage you say? Usually the result of an atomic fart shortly after exiting the shitbox, IRRC…..

Mike F.
Mike F.
3 months ago

Wagon, no question about it. I don’t see many of those big ol’ cars around here anymore, and I love it when I do. Plus, I grew up riding around in the back of a Vista Cruiser (which was far more cool than the Cutlass) so there’s that tenuous nostalgic link.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
3 months ago

My theory on the side door is tied to the new tires. The car probably sat in storage for a long time with some junk leaning on it and abrading the finish. The tires might be making it safer, but the rest of the rubber should get checked out as well.

As for the Concorde, I had a co-worker buy one of those used at a very low price. Shortly after, a bunch of us hopped in and noticed the headliner had stains all over it. As we joked and speculated about what liquid projectiles might has caused it, I, sitting in the back, noticed the tops of my shoes were muddy. I reached under the seat in front of me and found the frame all rotted and muddy. When we got out, I noticed the original dealer decal on the back. Baton Rouge…

I explained to the proud new owner that buying a Louisiana car six months after Hurricane Katrina was not the screaming deal he thought it was.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
3 months ago

Know a LOT of poor souls that learned the lesson of Hurricane cars the hard way.
No Cajun cars for me, ever.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
3 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

A lot of cars got shipped to auctions here in Canada. I’m not sure how the titling works, but it appears to have been easier. There was a big wave of them after the last splash in Houston too.

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