By on June 24, 2011


The folks in Dearborn spent many decades making Mercuries that were just slightly flashier Fords, and so the car-shopping public had no problem with a Comet that was obviously a Falcon (or Maverick), or a Marquis that was obviously an LTD (or Granada). Not so with GM, whose divisions mostly did a pretty good job of building cars that camouflaged their connections to corporate siblings… that is, until the Malaise Era. By the time Carter was President, you could buy a Chevy Nova with Buick, Pontiac, or Oldsmobile badging. I found this example of the Olds Nova at a Denver wrecking yard yesterday.

Alfred Sloan’s “a car for every pocketbook” idea, with a GM buyer progressing from Chevrolet through Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac as he climbed the ladder of success, had largely been discarded by The General’s bosses by the time this Omega hit the streets. However, a late-70s GM loyalist could have done an all-Nova pocketbook-progression sequence: Chevrolet Nova, Pontiac Ventura, Oldsmobile Omega, Buick Apollo… and then into the pinnacle of X-body success: the Nova-based Cadillac Seville.

Just like yesterday’s Malaise Era Junkyard Find, this car has the good old Buick V6. By 1979, GM had made an “even-fire” version of this engine, so Oldsmobile drivers could experience some semblance of quiet luxury.

There’s really no hiding the Nova here, but the Oldsmobile Division did the best they could on a shoestring branding budget.

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38 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Oldsmobile Omega...”


  • avatar
    jaje

    My first car as an 1980 Olds Omega. It had GM’s world beating inline 4 in it called the Iron Duke. A whole 2.5 liters and ~ 90 hp and an usable rev range from 2,000 rpms to 3,500 rpms of banshee power – engine was perfect for a tractor. It also came with the world’s best AM radio that skipped stations over bumps (precursor to shuffle), a down force factory body kit that flapped in the wind for better looks while moving over 45 mph, it also came with the factory head / hair massage option where the roof would fall down on your head and if the windows were open it would flutter in the wind, thus massaging your hair growing follicles (precursor to medicinal hair regrowth). GM was so far ahead in their world beating vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      Yeah, GM headliners in the ’80s were crap. The foam backing would rot out and disintegrate and allow the fabric to fall down. Happened to my ’85 Astro when it was about 12 yrs old. Not terribly tough to DIY fix though.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        GM headliners? How about ALL car headliners back then? They were all the same. I had to replace them in our Reliant, our E-Class and my son’s Daytona. Easy fix, though, just a real pain to avoid cracking the backing material getting it in and out of the car, though.

        Oh, yeah, don’t get me started on the late 1970′s cars, as I ranted over on “CurbsideClassic” this morning.

        • 0 avatar
          PunksloveTrumpys

          Belated reply, but neither my or any other Triumph 2000/2500 saloon headliner I’ve ever seen had ever sagged, wrinkled, fallen off or otherwise. These are British cars, which everyone perceives as being rubbish. The headliner is held on by steel rails which clip into welded brackets on each side of the roof, most durable design I’ve ever seen on any car.

          Many cars of the 1990s from my experience, however, have issues with their headlining. I’ve seen countless junkyard Audi’s and BMW’s (especially the E36) with headliners held up by staples, and most Falcon owners tell me they’ve had to get theirs repaired because it separated at the windscreen end.

          Another example of cost-cutting, as cheap glue must be cheaper than the cheapest of steel rail assemblies.

      • 0 avatar
        jaje

        My 85 Honda Prelude had no issues with the headliner (going from a GM or Dodge to a Honda in the 80′s was quite a transformation in quality and workmanship) – in fact my Dad was anti import until that Prelude – then his next car as a ’94 Accord (after this Dodge 600 and Chrysler New Yorker had lots of repairs and quality issues like the falling headliner in them too). In fact that ’85 Prelude went to 275k miles before I sold it for where it broke down on my only once in 8 years of ownership from a alternator that failed but still got me home.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        1979 Plymouth Horizon with the highest level interior – sold after 9 years with immaculate headliner.
        1971 Plymouth Scamp with higher level interior than other Valiant derivatives at the time – sold after 15 years with immaculate headliner.

        Those two were driven in hot, humid central Virginia, where BMW interiors of the past 20 years delaminate if you leave the car in the parking lot on a sunny day. I do recall that a friend had a 1983 Saab 900 Turb that was under 5 years old and had a headliner that rested on the heads of back seat passengers. Had a gruesome greasy sheen to it that haunts me to this day.

      • 0 avatar
        MattPete

        We had a 77 Toyota Corona, 84 Honda Accord, 84 Mazda 626, and an 87 Honda Accord. No headliner issues.

        I do remember seeing lots of American cars of that vintage with headliner issues.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      @jaje…
      Ah, yes, the Iron Duke. As bad as it was in your Omega, if you really want to blow your mind, consider this: it was also the base engine in the ’82 CAMARO, of all things. A friend of mine had one, with an automatic, natch…with the air on, it barely got up hills. And the sound…they tried to tune the exhaust to make it sound sporty, but it ended up sounding like a vacuum cleaner with a stuck belt. Epic fail.

      I used to waste him regularly in my ’81 (non-GTI) Rabbit.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Actually, the GM X-car badge engineering began pre-Malaise. The first Nova clone was the 1971 1/2 Pontiac Ventura II. It’s interesting that GM bothered to give the X-cars a facelift for 1979 with new grilles and trim, even though they would die in six months in favor of the new FWD Xs.

    • 0 avatar

      +1
      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/10/curbside-classics-gms-deadly-sin-3-1971-pontiac-ventura-ii/

      • 0 avatar
        MarcKyle64

        Pontiac missed the boat when they didn’t resurrect their high performance OHC Six from the Tempest and Firebird as an option for the Ventura II bodied GTO. There would have had a decent power-to-weight ratio. It could have been marketed as the affordable musclecar when Gas Crisis I happened.

      • 0 avatar
        rudiger

        The problem with the Pontiac OHC-6 was one of politics. By the time of the Ventura II, its main champion, John Z. Delorean, had moved on to Chevrolet. No one else at Pontiac much cared about the OHC-6 so, without Delorean, it was allowed to die.

        It’s a shame because, as stated, it would have been the perfect base engine for the Ventura II, maintaining an ‘all Pontiac’ drivetrain lineup, exactly the sort of differentation from its obvious Nova lineage it needed.

        Not to mention it would have been a sweet running ride, as well.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I think the problem was that it cost more to build than an OHV V8, it had the scary rubber band(actually over built and superior to what came later according to some, but being first is rough sometimes), and it weighed within 100 lbs of a 5 liter V8 with greater power potential and market acceptance. The OHC-6 also racked up high warranty costs for GM with its rapid camshaft wear and sticking hydraulic valve lash adjusters. It actually had the same combustion chamber shape and valve orientation as Pontiac’s V8s too, so it didn’t take much advantage of having more direct valve actuation or the opportunity for a crossflow configuration. GM’s insistence on hydraulic valve adjustment also meant that it had plenty of hardware between the cam lobes and the valves anyway, so in many ways it combined the worst of OHV and OHC designs without having any of their benefits. I’ve also heard that it wouldn’t fit under the hood of the lovely new 1970 Firebird, so there wasn’t much point keeping it around.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Another reason to forget about the OHC 6 was the EPA regulations that were in play at that time (and still today). Each engine had to be certified in each chassis it would appear in.

        The Chevy inline six (I6) was in a wide range of cars and trucks, relatively powerful and efficient, and fairly clean. By this time, there were no ‘upgrade’ I6 engines, the only choice was the Chevy 250. 190′s & 230′s were long gone in passenger cars. At the time, my fellow US-ians were pretty ignorant about the care and feeding of OHC engines. You could run a Chevy I6 with two quarts of oil, do that to an OHC engine, it’s toast. (Ask me how I know)

        The V6′s made some sense from a packaging standpoint, as the FWD cars were coming soon. An I6 really doesn’t fit very well in a east west setup. To certify another I6 (even as a premium motor) would have been very costly.

        To be honest, the whole big V6 and tiny V8 strategy confuses me, but I don’t think anyone really had a game plan at that time.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Holy cow! I had completely forgotten about that Poncho OHC 6! I had to clean out my memory bank for awhile, but the only thing I remember about them, was many Chevy guys wanted one real bad and they looked rather sweet under the hood, as opposed to the standard Chevy 250, of which I was a fan of. I had no recollection of reading anything bad about that motor, either, at the time.

      My great uncle bought a brand new, absolutely stripped (not even a cigarette lighter!), 4 door full size Pontiac sedan with that engine. This car almost made the Chevy Biscayne sedan look good, but still was an attractive car.

      Wow, wish I studied that engine more!

      They were also painted a nice shade of bluish-green, I believe.

      • 0 avatar
        rudiger

        All the foibles that led to the quick demise of the Pontiac OHC-6 are accurate, the main ones being that it wouldn’t fit under the hood of the 1970 Firebird and the expense of hotrodding a six cylinder (any six cylinder) quickly butted up against a cheaper, smoother, and more powerful V8 that didn’t weigh that much more and fuel mileage wasn’t that much worse. Ford learned this the hard way with the short-lived, good-handling (but expensive), turbo 4 in the ’84-’86 SVO Mustang. The much cheaper and just as fast 5.0L V8 Mustang of the same period outsold it by a wide margin.

        Still, given proper marketing of the fuel mileage/performance benefits during Gas Crisis 1, the OHC-6 in the Ventura II might have worked. As proof, just look at the stellar sales of the lame, Pinto-based, 4-cylinder Mustang II. In hindsight, it was easily the worst performing Mustang ever built, but sales were stellar for its first few years, due entirely to the brief (but tramatic) gas shortage and price rise at the time.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I owned one back in the mid-late 70′s, a 66 2 dr Tempest Custom hdtp. The 230 OHC 1bbl engine was quite reliable and had decent power. Never had timing belt issues. The transmission was another matter. It had the 2 spd Tempesttorque which was aircooled with no cooling lines to the radiator. Other GM divisions Buick,Olds had versions of it.It was somewhat different than Chevy’s Powerguide. It started to slip so I replaced the fluid often, even removed it and flushed it out but then it eventually failed. I went to the junkyard and found one out of a Olds F-85 ($40!)and installed it. That ended up OK for a while starting to fail so I sold the car to someone who wanted it GTO clone? and I upgraded.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I recommend anyone who hasn’t read Paul N.’s excellent piece about the slow death of Alfred Sloan’s branding vision for GM, and by using present-day pricing, lays out exactly how GM’s five original brands could have survived and thrived – if only consistent, teutonic discipline had been exercised.

    Of course, none of Sloan’s brands had sports/muscle cars, SUVs or CUVs or hybrids, but the former could be the exception to Chevy’s price ceiling (as the Corvette and Camaro wouldn’t compete with any other GM brand); all the light, medium, and heavy-duty trucks would be under the GMC brand; and the more carlike CUVs could remain in their respective brands, as long as they stayed within those brands’ price bands.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    My first car was a ’79 Buick Skylark. Pretty much the epitome of Detroit cars that sent people running towards the imports. it had the crappy 231 V6 with a 3 on the tree which I eventually moved down to the floor. Still in school I somehow talked my dad into getting me a high mileage ’81 Olds Cutlass Supreme w/260 V8. I loved that car and still wish I had it. It always amazed me how much of a total POS that Buick was compared to the Olds. Hard to believe they were both built by the same company.

  • avatar
    DeadFlorist

    Dumb question: Was Buick really slotted above Oldsmobile on the aspirational chain, and was that constant? I seem to remember car shopping with my parents in the late 80′s and it seems like the Olds’ were a bit more lux than the Buicks (by mid-level 80′s GM standards anyway). The early 80′s Toronado specifically I remember being nicer than the contemporary Riviera.

    • 0 avatar

      Olds was the experimental division back in the 30′s, the division with the newest technology. For example, first automatic trans in 1937. Buick was the “doctor’s car”. Quality but not flashy.

      As for Cadillac, remember the scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life” where George and Mary Bailey are christening the Martini’s new house and Sam Wainright is driven up in a chauffered Cadillac, open driver’s area with a closed passenger compartment. Wainright had made a fortune in plastics and was most likely a CEO. Cadillac in those days competed with Rolls-Royce and Duesenberg and that scene is the proof.

      DeadFlorist, your question isn’t dumb at all. It merely validates the point that GM’s ladder crumbled and its six divisions of 1979 were no longer needed. It was more than just the compression of incomes brought about in the 30′s-50′s; Chevrolet started moving upscale in 1955, Cadillac had been moving downscale since WWII and in 1971 really jumped the shark. Pontiac would’ve seen the same fate as counterparts DeSoto and Edsel had not Bunkie Knudsen and John DeLorean arrived on the scene to give the brand a performance makeover. When the corporation began mixing up powertrains among the divisions in the mid-70′s is when I believe Pontiac/Buick/Olds became irrelevant. Had GM not screwed over its dealer network in the mid-50′s, resulting in restrictive franchising laws – as outlined in a GM Death Watch write-up – they probably could’ve jettisoned the “in-between” brands as well as GMC back before 2000 (I don’t think they had reason to exist after 1982 but that’s my opinion) and you’d have a much healthier Chevrolet and Cadillac today.

  • avatar
    econobiker

    Nothing about the great position of the battery over the front sub-frame mount at the front fender well? This guaranteed rust and rot out from battery acid if road salt didn’t get the fender well first. Great design there GM…

    I once followed a guy cousin home who had gotten a free beater ’79 Nova for my uncle. The Nova crabbed all over the lane (and road) due to the sub-frame mount having released and pushed up through the fender well and battery tray remains at that mounting point. We had lashed/duct taped the battery to the radiator fan shroud or some such nonsense to get it to the cousins house. after a couple of sand pit whoopy-do drives, that car donated its engine and transmission to some other sad Chevy project car that my uncle was working on.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      My mom was shopping for a new car in 1978. Even as a kid, I wondered just what GM was thinking by still trying to sell these cars when the junkyards were already full of their twins. For that matter, what were the customers thinking? That they weren’t as bad as the Vegas and Monzas that had burned them before? GM had so much blind customer loyalty that they still managed to erode. Kinda like an upper control arm mount under a battery tray.

  • avatar
    ppxhbqt

    Uhmmm, no a late ’70′s buyer couldn’t have done that progression. Early ’70′s, yeah. but by the time this car was built the Pontiac was the Phoenix, not the Ventura. And as previously mentioned, the Buick was the Skylark, no longer the Apollo.

  • avatar
    catbert430

    The first car that I bought new was a 1977 Olds Omega.
    It was the same color as the junkyard find, but with the more formal roofline esconsed in the finest padded vinyl – a Brougham of a Nova in Oldsmobile drag.

    I had test-driven the 231 ci V6 and chose the 260 ci V8 instead. I was happy with it for a year, but got a company car so I offered the Omega to my Mother to replace her beloved 1970 LeMans and continued to make the monthly payments.

    I’m not sure why Mom didn’t like the Omega, but she just never liked it and we traded it on a ’79 Cutlass Supreme. The Cutlass was a real looker compared to the Omega and more comfortable as well. It had the 231 Buick V6 and I thought it was fairly gutless.

    My next Omega encounter was a 1981 Omega Brougham 2.8 V6 as a company car.

    I absolutely loved that car and was very sad to see it go when it was time for a replacement. Now that I know from conventional wisdom that it was the worst car ever built, I still make no apologies for loving it right down to its dark blue tufted velvet faux bucket seats.

  • avatar
    mr_mike

    My family owned a ’76 Omega in my formative years. Olds 260V8 with a 5-speed. I was far too young to drive it, but know that my parents would still be driving it today if it didn’t get a fatal case of the tin-worm. Attacked the body and frame, and by ’83 the holes in the gas tank were the final straw, and it was donated to a local vocational school. They liked the size, its performance, and the only non-rust issues they had in the 7 years they had it were lots of dead batteries and flat tires… but those really were more the fault to Ohio winters and the products of time than GM/Olds. I think it pains my dad to this day that he skipped the rustproofing on the car, but was assured at that point it wasn’t needed! Whoops!

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    There was some differentiation between the Novas and Omegas in these years. The biggest was that all Novas right up to 1979 carried Chevy’s 250 straight 6 with 115 HP whereas the Olds, Buick and Pontiac variants used the Buick 231 V6 which gained even fire in 1978 and freer breathing heads and new cam in 1979 for the same 115 HP rating. The 305 2BBL V8 and 350 4BBL V8 were options across the board. The Novas also only offered a blower type rear defogger whereas the upper wrung Olds offered a that or the electric grid type. Wheels were different between cars along with grilles, taillights, seat trim and configurations and Olds/Pontiac/Buick version got more fake wood trim on higher trim Brougham, LJ or Custom versions. These cars were noted for there ride and handling as the F-bodies used the same basic pieces and a suspension upgrade was a mere $45.00 away. The best one of these I ever drove was a 2 door 1977 Omega much like the pictured car with 260 automatic, bucket seats and floor shifter, A/C, gauges, uprated suspension abd Olds rally wheels. It was a decent looking car at the time, handled very well was reliable enough and the 260 made enough power and got over 20 MPG in combined driving. I remember removing the silly spark delay, bumping up the timing, ditching the pellet converter and boring out the tiny primary jets on that engine. That really woke it up and I remember it lasting well over 200K!

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Ponchoman: My best friend’s parents had a 78 Omega 4 door with the 305 and an autobox. My friend at the time had his own car, a 1975 Ford Elite with a Windsor 351. To my buddy’s everlasting chagrin, his father would just wind up the small block in the Olds and run away from the porky Ford with no problems. And this was back in the day of the carbed smog motors!

      You mentioned the F-body front suspension, that part was true. We had absconded with the Parentmobile one evening for a bit of fun, and found we could get it to hang it’s tail out on Ohio cloverleafs with complete control. It was a blast to hoon around in. Of course he got a lot of grief when his father figured out we’d been driving his car that way. Joe had to pony up for new set of tires more than once…

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        @geozinger:
        Gotta love a ringer! I had a ’75 Olds wagon with the 455 that the smog gear failed on…so Dad had it all taken off. Unleash the beast! My brother worked at the gas station we got it inspected at, so it passed every year.

        I have no idea how many horsepower I ended up with, but it was enough to embarrass a whole range of what passed for “sporty” cars back then – Trans Ams, Mustangs, and the like, most of which had no more than 150 hp or so. But then there was a guy named Rick whose father was nuts enough to give him a ’65 Corvette…ah well, at least I tried and honor was served.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @FreedMike:

        Ha! Something about your post about the guy giving his kid a ‘Vette reminded me in the late 60′s about a schoolmate owning a 1967 427 Camaro! He had 10″ wide tires in the back, VW tires on the front. 4 speed, full-race cam; 6 mpg! That thing actually pulled the front wheels up off the pavement with three of us – I was in back – one evening in town when he floored it and dumped the clutch! What a ride that I’ll never forget!

        What was his daily driver? A Beetle!

    • 0 avatar
      lilpoindexter

      I’ve seen Nova Clones with the straight 6. I pilfered the brackets for the smog pump and power steering off a Straight 6 Apollo of 1977 vintage. I put the brackets on my 78 straight 6 truck to add power steering …I need the smog pump for CA smog checks.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    When I think back to those cars in those years the pit of my stomach goes woozy.

    1979 was such a horrific year in so many ways. I remember honestly believing that I needed to write President Carter and offer him advice because his entire administration was such a giant cluster$*@#. By the time Iran grabbed the Embassy, it was panic time across the US.

    When your car so completely represents the worse moments of the year it was assembled, you can not even escape your concerns by climbing into your car and driving off. With cars like this Omega, tooling down the road just forces you to realize that something horrible had gone wrong everywhere.

    Murilee – wasn’t inflation creating sticker shock for this POS too?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Oh, ’79 wasn’t that bad…I got my license that year. :)

      And I agree Carter was a failure, but there wasn’t much he could have done about the things that brought him down. As we know now, the president doesn’t set oil prices, and the the only way to get back at Khomeini properly was some kind of large scale military action. Unfortunately, blowing the hell out of a country that’s right next to the old Soviet Union wasn’t going to work out so well, putting it mildly.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    The 1979 Pontiac example of this X-body would be the 1st-gen Phoenix. Ahhh, I remember my High School days, cruising the streets in the “Blue Smurfer” Phoenix. Looking down upon Novas. Front shocks disconnected to give it “Hydralics”, the fake fur on the dash fluttering with the breeze from the vents, and Lords of the Underground blasting on the stereo….

  • avatar

    I have fond memories of my $100 1976 Nova.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    As with a lot of malaise era iron, it was actually easier to buy a good used one of these in 1990 or even 1995 than it was in 1980. After ten plus years, all of the crappy ones had been junked, and the ones still left on the road were the ones that had been well built and well maintained. These were one of the last runs of GM RWD cars with basically good bones, that easily accept a wide variety of powertrains and lend themselves to backyard mechanic hotrodding. And anyone who finds one should still have fun with it that way, because they aren’t worth a concours authentic restoration.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I am surprised no one wants this for a rod. It even has factory AC. Put in a Olds 305,350 or 403 or SBC. But I guess real Novas get more respect.

  • avatar
    and003

    I could easily see someone using this car as a project involving GM’s E-Rod crate engine … perhaps as a phantom 442.


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