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Why This $600 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Diesel Might Be The Single Worst Car For Sale On Facebook Marketplace

Olds Diesel 1

While David Byrne sang “You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile,” I hope to god it isn’t this one. This sad hunk of Detroit steel is a 1982 Oldsmobile 98 diesel, and it might just be the worst project car you can buy right now.

The listing for this car was dragged across the Autopian Slack channel by none other than David Tracy himself. Look, bad project cars can be fun. Jason’s Yugo is cobbled together with all the care of a drunken frat bro defenestrating a folding chair, yet it’s endearing. It has a plucky, misfit character to it that leans into its own punchline. It’s Mike Wazowski on four wheels, a vehicle that approaches its ribbing with good nature. The Oldsmobile 98 diesel? It’s not even deserving of a punchline. It was a miserably unreliable vehicle when it was new, born of bare-minimum budgets and bare-minimum efforts. Some forty years ago, this pompous, smoking, wheezing belch of a car grimly heaved itself off the assembly line in Lansing, Mich. and had the gall to call itself a flagship.

Oldsmobile Diesel 4
Photo credit: Facebook Marketplace

Sure, the 98 may have been designed by Bill Mitchell, but even the greatest artists have duds. After all, Harris Mann designed the Morris Ital. The rear end of the Ninety-Eight has no tact, it’s a clash of mismatched geometric shapes forced into each other at uncouth angles. At the front, the Ninety-Eight suffers from a bit of Ingolstadt-itis – a family face so barely modified from lesser models that it’s positively devoid of grandeur. No risks were taken, no element of intrigue was created. If you wanted a huge GM car in 1982 that wasn’t a Cadillac, you’d have likely bought a Buick Electra. The Electra had a sense of style.

Oldsmobile Diesel 2
Photo credit: Facebook Marketplace

While the styling of the Ninety-Eight is as bland as the food at Cracker Barrel, the diesel engine in this particular car is downright malevolent. The man in charge of GM during the Oldsmobile diesel V8’s development was one Thomas Murphy. While the 2 Roger 2 Smith: Cost Cutting Drift era was a bad one for GM, the Murphy era was arguably worse. See, Murphy was an accountant who’s credited for saying, “General Motors is not in the business of making cars. It is in the business of making money.” True to Murphy’s word, the bottom line always seemed more important to GM than the cars it produced from 1974 to 1980. The Oldsmobile diesel V8 is a prime example of corporate cost cutting – hastily rework a gasoline engine to run on diesel fuel in order to meet fuel economy requirements. When I say hastily, I really do mean hastily. The head bolts were unchanged from the gasoline engines, leading to head bolt failure from compression chamber pressures. Head bolt failure led to head gasket failure, which could dump coolant into the cylinders and hydrolock the engine.

Oldsmobile Diesel 7
Photo credit: Facebook Marketplace

Mind you, head bolt failure wasn’t the only way water could get into the cylinders on a diesel Oldsmobile. Diesel fuel in the late-’70s and early-’80s was rubbish stuff, often contaminated with water. The prudent way of solving this was to include a water separator, but GM was too cheap for that. It’s worth mentioning that water separation can be countered with a little ethanol, as ethanol is hydrophilic. However, anyone who put ethanol in the tank of a diesel Oldsmobile would be rewarded with ruined fuel system components. Lovely stuff. In addition, the timing chain for the fuel pump would stretch. A minor problem compared to head bolt failure and water in the fuel, but an annoying and expensive one nonetheless. So what did all this trouble get you? In this 1982 car, 105 horsepower and 205 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s noticeably less power and similar torque to the smaller 307 cubic-inch gasoline V8. While the diesel did get 27 MPG combined, 6 MPG better than the gas-powered 307 V8 model, those fuel savings would be quickly eaten by maintenance costs. Not that it matters much, this particular Ninety-Eight is said to be a non-runner.

Oldsmobile Diesel 5
Photo credit: Facebook Marketplace

Granted, it might be worth it to the right person — someone who enjoys pain — to restore a clean but non-running diesel Olds. Emphasis on clean. This 1982 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight diesel isn’t just a non-runner, it’s in horrible shape altogether. All four tires are as deflated as Tom Brady’s footballs, the rear bumper is simply missing, the tailpipe appears to be growing out of the right rear wheel well, half the exterior trim has vanished and any semblance of luxury has been tarnished by 40 years of general dirt and ass water ground into the velour seats. The rear frame horns sit all cattywampus, possibly indicative of a massive shunt in this car’s past. Well, either that or the frame simply rotted out. This is a Michigan car, and every metal panel save for the hood seems to have rust on it. This Ninety-Eight’s dashboard features more cracks than the surface of El Mirage, its wheels are mismatched, its hood is primer red, its driver’s seat is out of a different car, and its front bumper fillers are as gone as Jimmy Hoffa. The grille and glass look good, but that’s about it. I know Michigan chews cars up and spits them out like Optimus Prime at an all-you-can-eat scrapyard buffet, but this one is particularly rough.

Oldsmobile Diesel 3
Photo credit: Facebook Marketplace

It’s not that I’m just a hater. I owned a crusty but trusty 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme as my first car and it was a gem. It was sturdy, durable, and surprisingly well-built for something from the Ste-Thérèse plant. However, this 1982 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight is a brown streak on GM’s underpants. All project cars come with costs far greater than their acquisition prices, but this one might cost a prospective Facebook Marketplace buyer $600 and their soul. It’s a black hole of infinite suckage, devoid of enjoyment and unworthy of redemption. Sometimes the past should stay buried.

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51 Responses

  1. My (mis)understanding is that some hotrodders like that 350 diesel block as the starting point for a high horsepower gasser build, as it is stronger in various ways than its dimensionally similar gasoline contemporaries, yet is capable of being converted to a spark-ignition gasoline engine.

    The rest of the car? Taking pictures of it next to a dungheap seems a little overdetermined. Maybe you could get a hundred for it as scrap once you’ve pulled the engine.

  2. As a kid, my neighbor had the Buick LeSabre with this engine in it. I liked the way it looked, but what a turd… we called it the “Puker”, because of the sound it made, or simply combined “Buick” with a vomiting-sound: BUUAAACK. It was super-comfy to ride in though! I also remember a bunch of the local farmers driving these early 80’s GM diesels, including one with a coal-rolling Monte Carlo. I didn’t understand why until years later I learned about something called “red-dyed diesel”.

  3. Hey, you have to admit those seats still look pretty comfy.

    I actually had to service one of these nighmares regularly back when I worked in a garage. One old-timer had a Toronado with the 350 diesel in it, and was convinced it was the greatest car ever built… right up until we told him there was water in the oil. He had it fixed (elsewhere) and never brought it back to us.

  4. Holy crap!! Thank you for posting this! I have honestly been looking for one of the early 80s Nintey-Eight diesels for years! I will actually end up buying this must to the dismay of my wallet and my wife.

    1. I don’t think anyone believes you… this is two steps beneath parts car and they should pay you $600 to get it off their property.
      But we do want pictures of the restoration process, should things get that far.

  5. Me, looking at Craigslist/FB Marketplace:

    Are you shitting me?
    Are you shitting me?
    Are you shitting me?
    Ah here we go—wait—no motor, no trans, no cats, $2k?
    Are you shitting me?


  6. I knew a hoarder who had a number of these. He would get them cheap or free from farmers who wanted a big luxury car that would run on farm diesel. He probably still has parts for them squirreled away in his garage condo for his kids to go thru when he dies in squalor.

    He had a shop that would swap in used diesel or gas motors depending on what he could get his hands on.

  7. I would absolutely love a 1982 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight, but not in diesel form. If this car were nice otherwise, I’d swap an older Olds Rocket (gas 350 or bigger) in it and call it good. I much prefer it’s looks to the boo-ick, always have.

  8. Oddly enough I have a soft spot for this particular car. Thirty years ago my first girlfriend had one. All these years later the sickly sweet smell of coolant and alluring aroma of diesel still takes me back to those simple times. Sadly and much like the car itself, the relationship was short-lived and ended in heartbreak and disappointment. This car is best left to smolder in bittersweet memories right where it sits next to that big pile of horse sh!t.

  9. You may find you asking yourself, Is this my beautiful house, is this my beautiful wife? Well if you just paid for and showed up back home with this absolute heap, the answer is “not any more they ain’t, my friend!!” ????????????????????

  10. Someone probably got my grandma’s 1973 Delta 88 for about $600 when she passed, and it had a bulletproof 455/Turbo 400 and ice cold air. This thing is literal garbage. Dude ought to be ashamed of himself for asking more than scrap price.

  11. Here in Finland there was new push of american cars in the 80’s. Due fuel prices they were all diesels. And they pretty much semented the fate of american cars here. Apart occasional hobby vehicle like old classic or new pickup, they don’t really exist. I mean the reliability was hilariously bad and they were still thirsty. I mean one dude in our small village had one these and suffered catastrophic engine failure within first month during first winter. He also noted that it was really really hard to start. I think he got Volvo 240 after that.

    I get that in US cars are meant to be thirsty but supposed to be fixed with hammer. Here the proper maintanance isn’t more than couple of tanks of gas or diesel (even with BMW) so the actual reliability isn’t bad as they are actually properly maintained. However they fuel costs are fraction of the big V8:s.

  12. LS swap…
    LS swap…
    LS swap…

    Detroit steel wheels, 4″ drop spindles, C-notch in the back.

    Oh, and just to make Torch twitch a little, replace the missing tail light with one or two of those semi-truck indicators on a stick.

    Anyone…? Anyone…? Bueller…? Bueller…?

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