By on January 20, 2016

06 - 1982 Buick LeSabre Diesel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

Ah, the disastrous GM diesel V-8 cars of the 1978-85 model years, equipped with failure-prone engines that scared generations of Americans away from diesel cars. Nowadays, of course, diesels work just fine (except when they don’t), but it’s good to see the occasional reminder of these miserable GM cars in the junkyard as part of our American automotive heritage. Only problem is, just about all of these cars were crushed or had gasoline-engine swaps decades ago (I recall helping my uncle drop a Chevy 307 into a very clean Olds 88, around 1988 or so).

Here’s an extremely rare example that I found in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service yard last week.
00 - 1982 Buick LeSabre Diesel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

With gas prices out of control thanks to events far away, the cheapness and fuel efficiency of the diesel engine seemed appealing to many Americans who might have dismissed it as a stinky, clattery, hard-to-start Freightliner powerplant just a few years earlier. A big 350-cubic-inch diesel V-8 making 205 lbs-ft of torque would make a B-body LeSabre get out of its own way reasonably well, too.

02 - 1982 Buick LeSabre Diesel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

Sadly, The General made a sturdier version of the 350 engine block to deal with the higher compression ratios of a diesel engine, but then he thought he’d save a buck by using the same cylinder-head bolts and bolt pattern as the regular gas 350. This allowed the diesel engines to be built using much of the same machinery as their gasoline brethren … but also encouraged head gaskets to fail early and often. Many did.

17 - 1982 Buick LeSabre Diesel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

There were other problems with the Olds diesels, but it was all the blown head gaskets on eight-month-old cars that really did the damage to GM’s already-battered image.

03 - 1982 Buick LeSabre Diesel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

Could this be the actual mileage, or is it really 118,053 or 218,053? The car seems too nice for the latter figure.

There they go, Elmer!

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79 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1981 Buick LeSabre Diesel...”


  • avatar
    Boff

    Danggg…that car is a dead ringer for a company car my dad had back in the day, except for the diesel engine (ours had a “gutless” gas V-8). It was our first car with an FM stereo deck…

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      My friend’s Dad had one with a V6. It was almost like a mock-up of a car. It looked impressive sitting in the driveway on its traditional Buick 5-spoke road wheels, but it was faster behind a tow truck than it was under its own power.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        Always loved the plastic-fantastic, feux-wood grain that looked like so amazingly rich until the sun shone on it. Add to it the plasty-chrome wrapping that GM engineers designed to crinkle and come off exactly one month after your last payment was made.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I always liked the LeSabre Sport coupe which had the 231 V6 Turbo and trim and 5-spoke road wheel package and upgraded F-41? suspension.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Imagine lining up for fewer pumps in your bustle-back Seville. Then getting diesel glove blowback on your Guccis. Gee that Buick, that caddy sounds clattery at the truckstop. Ma & pa thought the eighteen wheeler turned at the last pyke but there’s still a stench of diesel and just a caddy upfront…

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    It looks like GM spent more money on the diesel badges it put everywhere on these cars than what they spent on designing a proper diesel engine.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    Its seems about time that TTAC rehashed this engine and OEM again. I’ll bring up the fact my parents had a diesel Grand Prix that was problematic until a diesel mechanic scooped it up and added a water separator to it, then hopefully that B&B commentator can add his tid bit of info that GM engineers actually spec’d it out for one along with some sort of ignition improvement and the rest of the B&B can just hate on GM and loathe about their lives.

    Great powertrain ruined by bean counters.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Exactly. The biggest problem was the quality of diesel fuel at the time. Mine was a Delta 88 diesel. Lots of smoke and laughable power, but it never let me down. Got it with aftermarket fuel filters for trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      If GM had great engineering that never reached a single customer, that doesn’t repudiate contempt for GM.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      > a diesel mechanic scooped it up and added a water separator to it

      Bingo! When my Grandad’s 1978 Olds Delta-88 diesel was still new, the dealer added a large water-separating filter to the fuel system, which would’ve normally been found on transport trucks. The car is still in the family, and has never had the cylinder heads off.

    • 0 avatar
      roverv8i

      Yes, I would like to here from someone that has knowledge of the real issues and if they are solvable today. It has been mentioned that the 4.3 v6 had the correct heads so I would guess the fuel quality / filtering was the big problem. I remember seeing issues with rusted up pumps and the like due to water in the fuel. So, if you fix the fuel system issues and use modern diesel would at least the v6 be a reliable engine?

      I think of other similar scenarios such as the Triumph V8 in the Stag. Lots of cooling issues due to poorly cast heads. The aftermarket suppliers now understand and offer rebuild heads that have been gone over to fix issues along with other updates that make this a reliable engine. And maybe more to the point, they are not re-engineering, they are just taking there time to insure the quality of the original with hands on detailing vs. the original flawed mass production process. It may be more correct to say not well engineered for mass production.

      Whereas the V8 has head gasket issues that may require a more in depth engineering change that may or may not be possible by modification at a machine shop. This makes me think of the intermediate shaft bearing on Porsches that can be done if you pull the engine.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        the killer was the lack of a water trap in the fuel system. The Stanadyne injection pump they used was entirely fuel-lubricated, so water and other contaminants would trash them in short order. Plus, if water got in there and the pump tried to inject it, it’d misfire and on the next injection event it’d cause an over-pressure in the affected cylinder, overwhelm the head bolts, and damage the head gasket.

        also, early cars had 12 volt glow plugs which took forever to pre-heat.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        I wonder how many of the 4.3s found their way into Cieras and Centurys back in the day?

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      One friend’s family’s Olds diesel wagon ran for a quarter million miles without issue, but his family was the exception: they started, warmed up and drove the car like it was a diesel. Averaging mid 30s on the long highway drives common in the area, it performed flawlessly – until it was lent to a hard-up acquaintance who “just needed something to get around for a week.”

      It didn’t survive that week: the fellow ended up driving it like a typical carbureted gasoline automobile of the time, then – despite repeated warnings plus the large label over the fuel filler door – poured several gallons of gasoline into the tank.

      Hot Rod Magazine ran a feature in the late 80s detailing junkyard crawls specifically looking for dead GM diesel engines, as the beefier blocks allowed for some serious high compression gasoline rebuilds.

    • 0 avatar
      ihbase

      That is funny.

      There was nothing “great” about that powertrain. And if one believes that a water separator could solve all of the structural issues with that motor, then that person never had the bad fortune to deal with those engines in commercial applications. The GM diesel was so bad, it make the International IDI 6.9 look like a powerhouse.

      Other commenters have made good points about judging by the standards of the time. Fair enough. But even in that era, the GM diesel set a new low standard.

      Maybe tootling around at idle to the grocery store or fishing hole they could maintain sequential internal combustions for a while. But then, so could pretty much any engine under those low-stress conditions.

      I had one in a C&C service truck through the late 90s- a low-mile, rust-free, former hydro plant truck. I bought it with low miles- probably because no one at the utility wanted to driver it either. It was a pristine used service truck equipped with a PTO which, compressor and service crane. It worked fine as a shop truck as long as you did not expect it to move very far, very fast, or very reliably.

      Today. I still shudder when I hear a GM 6.2 or 6.5 diesel thrashing its way toward death- these days, usually when some poor misguided soul has decided to use one for a 100% Bio fuel project.

      The upside? It may have forced Ford and Dodge to bring diesel trucks to market. The downside? It harmed that market.

      There are many reasons why old GM is dead. The corporate decision making structure responsible for bringing substandard products like that engine to market is certainly one of those reasons.

      -Michael

      • 0 avatar
        Duaney

        Wish I could take you for a ride in my 81 Bonneville diesel. 157 thousand miles, uses no oil, super dependable. And she moves right out at our altitude of 7,000 feet. I’m in the camp that says that the 5.7 diesel is a great design, regardless of what naysayers like you have to say. GM did try to cheap it out, with a water in fuel warning light on the early cars, but it’s so easy to add the water separator to avoid trouble, why not.

    • 0 avatar
      Rudolph

      Re ruined by bean counters
      ▲ Ever so CORRECT ▲
      As I recall , the ’78 engine used a forged crankshaft , then the ’79 was downgraded to a cast crankshaft :(

  • avatar
    JimZ

    the sad thing is that the 4.3 diesel V6 was actually “done right.” it had 5 head bolts around each cylinder, and although it wasn’t exactly sprightly at 85 hp you have to remember the competition was things like the VW Rabbit diesel which had a whopping 45 hp.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      This.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I’ve heard many things about the 4.3 Diesel unicorn.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        I remember seeing an ebay auction about 10 years ago for a diesel A-body Cutlass. Supposedly the FWD sixes were less rare than the RWD ones.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Asked the exact same thing in my post above. IIRC, that engine was an Olds and Buick-only item; until 1986, IIRC, the two cars I mentioned had a Buick 3.0 V6 available between the venerable Iron Duke and the “hoon-alicious” 3.8!! Don’t remember the exact years of the Diesel availability, and of course, the “lesser” 6000 and Celebrity in the Sloanian hierarchy didn’t get the Diesel at all.

    • 0 avatar
      DubVBenz

      In all fairness, the best competition had an inline 5 3.0 liter that made upwards of 130HP and around 187FtLbs While achieving 25 HW MPG in 1980. Mercedes sold the only memorable diesel in the US of that era and probably single-handedly saved what was left of the diesel market

    • 0 avatar
      spamvw

      48 Horsepower on the 78 Rabbits, moved up to 52 later.

      It weighed under a ton, so it wasn’t Vanagon slow.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “This allowed the diesel engines to be built using much of the same machinery as their gasoline brethren … but also encouraged head gaskets to fail early and often.”

    One might have thought GM would have learned something from the Toro-flows. Nope.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    It’s worth remembering that the Oldsmobile diesels were the best cars GM ever made, until they were the worst cars GM ever made.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=Uc8DAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA114&lpg=PA114&dq=Popular+Mechanics+Oldsmobile+diesel+owners+survey&source=bl&ots=aGFDD-OEye&sig=Fkex-qna0319JfBksxgrR1IcEyo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiimL2YwLjKAhXJ7R4KHVohDFQQ6AEIHTAA#v=onepage&q=Popular%20Mechanics%20Oldsmobile%20diesel%20owners%20survey&f=false

    Before the miles started to add up, Olds diesel buyers were the happiest customers in GM’s history.

    • 0 avatar
      Ko1

      It’s also worth remembering that Motor Trend picked the Chevy Vega as their 1971 Car of the Year. Doh! Another “Well, it seemed like a great idea at the time.”

      • 0 avatar

        Motor Trend has a knack for poor choices of Car of The Year. The 1983 pick was the Renault Alliance, the car that my dad bought despite it breaking down on the test drive. (My dad also has a knack for poor vehicle choices).

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Murille, I hope it was an Olds 307 that you swapped in – I am aware that Chevy made a 307 back in the 1960s but I’m sure that a quadrajet Olds 307 would have been a much simpler swap.

    (Although personally I would have found a Buick 350 or an Olds 403 if I was working an engine swap in the first place.)

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      honestly, from my days as a wrench, I hate GM and the Olds 307. At the end of that engine’s usage; they crammed it into a bunch of other models. I hated getting late ’80s Caprice wagons in; they had the 307 but I always had to fight with parts jobbers who insisted the VIN code was for a Chevy 305. Look, jackass, I can see the oil fill neck on the front of the engine, it’s not a 305.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        There was much confusion with this. In 1986 the full size Cadillac Brougham switched over to the Olds 307 and was made in the same plant that produced the B-body wagons all of which got the 307. But some early Caprice wagons from 1986 got the 305 Chevy as did early run 1986 Pontiac Parisiene sedans and later switched over to the 307 Olds. The Caprice sedans however kept the 305 Chevy all the way until 1993. And then you had California and Canada with other variations there.

    • 0 avatar
      Duaney

      Its actually a Federal offense to replace the diesel with a gas engine, it violates all kinds of EPA regulations. Even though the Olds 307 would bolt in, and the Chevy would require moving the motor mount perch’s on the frame, and a different transmission, and a host of other incompatibilities with the Olds installation.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        No it is not illegal to swap the engine provided the replacement engine is the equal model year and ALL of the emissions components that were used in the original application are transferred and functional.

        CA even has a process of approving engine swaps. You have to go to a referee and when they are happy with your swap they give you a certificate. That certificate is then show during the normal inspection process so that the tester knows to treat is as the vehicle donor when checking for the correct emissions components.

        Here is the 1 pager https://www.bar.ca.gov/Industry/Engine_Change_Guidelines.html and the relevant portion about diesel to gas conversions. “Diesel-to-gasoline conversions must have all gasoline engine and chassis emission control systems installed (such as fillpipe restrictor, catalytic converter, and evaporative emission system).”

        That said I’d say that most of the Olds diesel to gas conversions were not done legally. But then again there are lots of illegal gas-gas engine swaps done too.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    My dad worked at a GM dealer during those (dreadful) years. Apart from the diesel engine option, this has got to be the plainest, most under-optioned LeSabre I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t even have cruise control, and that AM/FM radio is not even a Delco, but one of those budget imitations (often Audiovox brand) dealers used to install on cars at the time.

    My guess is that this car must have been factory-ordered by some Joe (Jane?) Thrifty, who thought he’d be saving even more money by going with the diesel option. Boy, must he/she have been sorry…

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      It seemed like the diesel equipped cars were either plain Jane crank window versions or loaded with most options.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      It looks like your average budget Gran Fury R-body from ’79-’80, even down to the front grille. The Buicks and Oldsmobiles sold, even with the diesel option, but the Chrysler R-bodies didn’t.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      That stereo looks near-as-dammit to a stock Delco–though I shouldn’t have been thrown by the obvious “distant/local” switch.

      I recall being in a friend-of-a-friend’s Olds Calais which had a DIN x 1.5 radio in it, but it looked bone-stock, except for the dark-on-light LCD display..same sort of thing.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I cannot fathom these cars getting anywhere near those EPA ratings, even if you adjusted them for today. Anyone with first-hand or even third hand knowledge know if over 25mpg was possible in these large cars with diesel power?

    Powder blue with no options but the diesel. Yuck.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      According to the article I linked to above, owners of full-sized Oldsmobile diesels averaged 20.8 in town and 26 mpg on the highway when the cars were new. Keep in mind that the speed limit was 55 mph and highway traffic was generally under 70 mph. Also, the cars didn’t have the emissions controls that burn so much diesel fuel today.

      A PM owner survey for the mid-sized 1981 Cutlass 5.7 liter diesel showed owners getting 23 mpg town, 29.5 mpg highways in actual use. Most of the diesel Cutlasses were station wagons.

    • 0 avatar

      I know the gas version with the Olds 307 got 16 in town and 24 on the highway with the 3 speed TH200C. Mom and Dad’s 84 Olds was far more economical than the 76 Chevelle that replaced it, as the Chevy got 14/20, with its Chevy 305.

      Even with me as a teenager and that Delta 88 was 10 years old, it’d still get EPA rating for MPG. Just wasn’t very reliable though.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    At least the 350DX blocks make good gas engines.

  • avatar
    callmeishmael

    A friend of mine won one of these in a golf tournament in Vegas back then. It broke down on the drive back to San Diego. A dealer replaced the engine and my friend sold him the car for a song.

    I don’t know if there ever would have been enough demand to support these cars even if they’d been as reliable as the gas engined ones. I do know that GM’s wretched implementation killed any chance the car might have had.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    The first year for the diesel (1978 ?) had a weak glo plug system. In cold weather I would go outside , turn the key on and go back into the house for 5 min or until I thought it might start. My 1980 wagon had the revised glo plugs and was a very good starter. We drove it 100,000 miles with all the usual problems, head gasket, inj. pump, pluged fuel filter, cracked torque converter, rear main oil leaks, many water pumps, alt., and starters. Other than that it was a good car!!!! Some owners claimed 30 + mpg,I got 28 mpg highway. This and other GM problems is why today we are driving Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      The early cars had 12 volt glow plugs which did indeed take forever to preheat. Later ones (along with the 6.2/6.5 and the IH/Ford 6.9 IDI) used 6 volt glow plugs who heated rapidly but required careful controlling or else they’d burn out. Sometime in the late 80s positive temperature coefficient (PTC) glow plugs came out with intelligent controllers.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I have a friend who had a Riviera diesel…don’t ask me why.

  • avatar
    david42

    My parents had TWO of these, a Delta 88 and a Custom Cruiser. Almost 35 years later, they’re still angry about those cars. They’ve never bought American since then.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    My dad had an ’84 (?) diesel Olds 98 with white leather, factory CB radio, and faux wood trim. It was actually a nice car – easy to peg 30mpg on the highway. Since he drove over 40k miles a year, that was a considerable cost benefit.

    I learned to drive on that car.

    After the diesel went, my dad had it replaced with a gas engine.

    And then the transmission blew – while I as driving the car to a job interview.

    After that my dad started buying Nissans. He got 210k miles out of a ’87 Stanza that eventually became my car in college.

  • avatar
    7402

    My parents bought a diesel Olds wagon after a couple decades of Oldsmobile loyalty. It was an absolute piece of junk and the expensive repairs and depreciation when they sold it were a visible strain on their limited financial resources at the time.

    35 years later their 4 children and 8 grandchildren have NEVER bought a GM product; the fleets are full of Japanese and German cars along with a few Fords.

    I’m pretty sure the bean counters will never be able to quantify what that one experience cost GM in future sales.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    We had a clean lower mileage 62K 1982 LeSabre Custom at our dealership back in the late 90’s very similar to this car but with more options. It had the extra cost Buick 4.1 liter 4 BBL V6 tied to the 200R4 transmission. Me and my partner were both surprised how well that engine moved this car around, at least in city and suburban driving. That car sold rather quickly after we put it in the front row and we still saw it driving up until a few years ago so it must have served them well. If it had the diesel we would probably have avoided it.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    I WANT an Olds 88 coupe(or settle for a LeSabre) with a GAS V-8 so bad.

    I thought the Oldsmobile was 307 ci and the Chevy was the 305 ci. They got passed around like the village bicycle, so who knows?
    (Someone who knows GM like I know Ford, that’s who. Lol)

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      AFAIK by the last half of the ’80s the Olds 307 was used in the wagons (Caprice, Safari, Estate, etc.) while sedans got the Chevy 305. Stupid GM used the same VIN code for either since they’re both 5.0 liters.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I had a three month fill in job at the local Olds Dealer during this time and all the mechanics bought dead Diesel from pissed off Customers and replaced the engines (Employees got new crate engines at co$T) and did some peaks and tweaks that made them reliable , even the Porters drove brandy new Oldsmobile Diesels and loved them….

    -Nate

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    1981 was also the year Cadillac had the NEW V864. LOL. They were all junk! And still are IMO. Can’t wait for the Chinese Cadillac CT6 HYBRID. Wonderful!

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    It’s good to see that some pieces (the taillights, rear bumper, seat and even the window cranks) have been (presumably) taken and purchased from it.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      I’m surprised they didn’t purchase the grab handles on the doors. On cars of this vintage they were notorious for popping off. You then had to use the indentation in the armrest to pull the door shut.

  • avatar
    SidewaysLS4

    Now this brings back memories. ’81 Lesabre, my mother had one when I was a kid. Nice seeing the details in photos to recall that thing.

    And it’s a Diesel too…in 1988 I bought an ’80 Cutlass 2dr with one of those motors for cheap since I wrecked my ‘hot rod’, and needed a new home for the engine (a 403 Olds). The one I purchased still ran, sort of. We would blast it with some ether to get it running, and marvel at the bubbling in the coolant overflow tank when it ran. Had to add water once in a while (ok, rather often). After a few weeks of this, it finally died about 1/2 mile (thankfully) from my house, most likely injector pump failure. Some other street cruiser who happened by offered to push it with his car so my buddy and I didn’t have to manually push it, lol.

    The smell of ether nowadays always brings me back to that Fall and trying to get that thing running

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    In Australia about 20 years ago, there was a guy importing the diesel engines used from the USA. He had set himself up as a business doing diesel conversions on toyota 4×4’s installing these horrors. i was surprised that a few customers actually had the conversion done thinking they were getting a “GM” diesel …ha ha ha ha ha

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    My father bought 2 cars with this engine new in 1980 and 1984, he put 100,000 miles on them mostly trouble free, here is what you had to do to keep these happy.

    Change the oil every 3000 miles with proper diesel motor oil

    Only buy your diesel fuel at high volume truck stops to keep the water out.

    Have the head bolts torqued every 9000 miles and replaced every 18,000 miles, replace the head gasket at 50,000 miles

    Never run it below a quarter of a tank

    If you towed with it and it got hot replace the head bolts and head gaskets ASAP

    Do all that and they were pretty good engines

    • 0 avatar
      greaseyknight

      That’s nuts, no wonder people hated them, I would be if I was in that situation.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      I’m not sure if this an endorsement or a condemnation. Maybe neither.

      • 0 avatar
        I've got a Jaaaaag

        Neither, it is a testament to what my father was willing to do to get 30+ mpg in a full size station wagon. Considering the gas versions got about 18 and at the time diesel was cheaper than gas.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          He would have been better off with a diesel 6.2 ltr non turbo Suburban. My uncle had one and he went 300,000 miles with it and the maintenance was no more than the usual diesel preventative maintenance.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            My god…155 horsepower in a vehicle the size and weight of a Suburban, especially with a lethargic automatic behind it, must have made for some slow cruising.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            My Grandfather had a succession of diesel Suburbans. I took my driver’s test in the last one. Fast they were not, but put your foot down and keep it there and they would move right along. Didn’t accelerate much different unloaded or loaded up and towing their big camper. They had no problem cruising at 75mph under my 17yo foot. They made great noises when you wound them up!

            Never any engine problems, but they went through the stupid hydraulic brake boosters like a 5yo goes through candy.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            My buddy has had an ’87 Suburban for the last twenty years or so now. His grandfather had purchased it new. It’s actually one of the faster vehicles on the road when he’s driving it. The accelerator pedal on that is like an on-off switch to him.

            The transmission is not lethargic at all. Unlike most new vehicles, the 700R4 downshifts immediately when you floor the pedal. Weight distribution is about 50/50 and it has a LSD so it’s fun in the snow on studded winters. It can, and has, towed 10,000 lb trailers and is perfectly capable of highway speeds while doing so. 100 mph is no problem unloaded.

            It is slow, but most people never accelerate as fast as that thing can. I know a few women who have never used more than maybe 60 hp from a car’s engine. I once asked one if she has ever floored a gas pedal in her life. “Why would I do that?”.

            He has close to 300k miles on it and the only major mechanical failure has been the spider gears in the original rear end. Thus, the LSD upgrade.

            It was a fine vehicle for our college road trips to the mountains.

    • 0 avatar
      Duaney

      I’ve never torqued or replaced my original 5.7 headbolts, 157 thousand miles and still runs fantastic.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    When I was in college and working at a fast-lube, a co-worker had an Olds station wagon with a diesel in it. He hounded GM mercilessly for quite some time until they finally put a revised crate motor in it. Supposedly this crate engine had a lot of improvements to fix all the initial issues, but I’m not exactly sure what they were. I can say that the idle quality and diesel combustion sound were smoother and more rhythmic, which was an improvement over the old engine. Jimmy (the co-worker/owner of the car) was very happy with the replacement engine and reported getting as much as 28 mpg on the highway.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Look what I came across!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAngJRVboaE

    Perspective from when new, of the Olds version. I haven’t watched it just yet, but I’m betting they were too easy on it. MW is too complimentary on GM.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Good find!

      That Oldsmobile looks absolutely majestic floating down the highway. And, even with it being a RWD car, there is so much foot, knee, and hip room up front.

      Still, the performance is so very terrible. Even compared to what you could get five years later, let alone what you can get today.

      I wish I could buy a car that *looked* like that and had that kind of space up front right now, but had modern safety and running gear.

  • avatar
    skor

    “350 engine block to deal with the higher compression ratios of a diesel engine, but then he thought he’d save a buck by using the same cylinder-head bolts and bolt pattern as the regular gas 350.”

    For an encore, GM did an equally good job with the cylinder head bolts for the Cadillac 4.6 ‘Deathstar’. Seems like they just can’t learn from mistakes.

    I’ve got two good stories about Cadillac diesels. My uncle bought a Cadillac diesel that immediately starting having problems. Uncle Steve got the brilliant idea of taking the car to Europe. Seems that his reasoning was based on the fact that diesel powered cars were very popular in Europe. He was convinced that he could sell the Caddy for a profit. As it turned out, he ended up abandoning the car in the former Yugoslavia.

    A guy in our ‘hood also bought a diesel Cadillac. Same story, big problems. The dealer offered to swap in a gas engine. The owner refused that offer and demanded that they buy the car back at full purchase price. GM refused. The owner painted “GM Makes Defective Cars.” on the side of the Cadillac. He handed out flyers he had printed up explaining his experience with said diesel Caddy. Local news did a couple of stories about it. GM threatened to sue the owner. The owner called GM’s bluff. Eventually GM caved and bought the car back.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in the late 80’s I owned a 1980 Olds Toronado diesel coupe. It was charcoal grey with a maroon velour interior and most options including a steel sunroof, no vinyl roof but oddly no tilt wheel. Bought it from the original owner for a mere $500 who had a new Goodwrench motor put in under warranty. I did have a very good aftermarket fuel/water separator which I think kept it running well. I got a couple of fairly reliable years out of it (28 MPG highway!) with normal maintenance mainly a rebuilt brake hydro-boost unit(since diesels had no vacuum the brake booster was hydraulic and connected to the power steering pump) new alternator, glow plugs and their controller. Then around 100k it starring making demonic sounds like a death metal band and blew up. I thought about buying a 307,350 or 403 and drop it in but I figured I’d cut my losses and sold it to a E-body aficionado.

  • avatar

    About two years ago I stopped by a classic car shop here in Portland that always has some neat rare stuff and occasionally has some other rare but not-so-neat stuff. That day I was in for a surprise: tucked in the back was the Malaise-y-est brown 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass diesel complete with Malaise-y opera lights and a brown vinyl roof. You could have eaten off any part of the vehicle you desired and the original owner even took to removing the old registration stickers from the plate before applying the new ones. The odometer showed 12,741 miles confirmed to be original despite having a 5-digit display. I regret not asking them to start it up for me but part of me wonders where that car is now.

    That shop later picked up a 1976 Granada Ghia with 32,000 original miles and all whore-house red but when I saw that, I was there mostly for the Packard Super Eight.


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