Junkyard Find: Customized, 363,033-mile 1986 Oldsmobile Calais

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find customized 363 033 mile 1986 oldsmobile calais

Every once in a while, I’ll find a junkyard vehicle that I can tell was loved by some longtime owner. Maybe it shows some absurdly high odometer reading, or evidence of the single-minded pursuit of some lunatic mechanical obsession, or the work of hundreds of hours of creative customization.

Today’s Junkyard Find combines the first and third types.

Most Oldsmobiles I photograph in wrecking yards — and that’s quite a few cars — have five-digit odometers and thus no means of determining real mileage. This car has a six-digit odometer, which was unusual for GM vehicles prior to the 1990s, and it shows the staggering figure of 363,033.2 miles. I see 1980s Hondas and Mercedes-Benzes with big odometer numbers all the time, but a 1980s Olds?

Not only that, but this is a cheap Olds, a Calais. Only the loathsome Firenza had a lower price at your friendly Oldsmobile dealership in 1986.

3.0- and 3.3-liter versions of the Buick V6 could be purchased in a new Calais that year, but this car has the low-luxe base engine: the Iron Duke 2.5-liter pushrod four. 92 clattery, though fairly reliable, horsepower on tap here.

I’d be willing to bet that the owner who applied the red stripes and gigantic Oldmobile Rocket logos believed that the Iron Duke was the greatest engine in human history, and — given the total mileage on this car — he might have had a point. Of course, this car could have gone through eleven Dukes during its 32 years on the road.

Inside, there’s a homemade console that reminds me of the one I built for my ’65 Impala when every penny counted.

Factory cruise control? Sure, if you’re made of money! This aftermarket rig, no doubt sourced from JC Whitney in 1991 or so, got the job done just as well as that Rip-U-Off™ optional GM hardware.

There’s plenty of wear and tear on the Whorehouse Red interior, but nowhere near what you’d expect on a car that turned nearly 11,344 miles during every year of its long, long life.

The rust was the most likely culprit in this car’s forced retirement; cars don’t corrode so quickly here in Colorado, but it does happen. Perhaps this Olds emigrated here from points east.

So special, yet so attainable. It’ll sweep you away!

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  • 2000ChevyImpalaLS 2000ChevyImpalaLS on Jul 12, 2018

    As some of you may know, I had an '89 Calais SL coupe for a long time. Nearly 10 years. It was an automatic with the Quad4. You can say they were cheap or crappy all you want but it drove great and rarely gave any trouble. I loved that car and cried when I wrecked it... with over 350,000 miles on the clock. And the engine would still start afterward. I'd have another one, or have it back, if I had a collection. But I think mine had 14" wheels. It was still tough to find tires, though.

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Aug 08, 2018

    Oldsmobiles with 300K miles were seen quite often by us, even back in the 1990's at various auctions and dealership trade ins. Tech IV engines were also plentiful with these amount of miles in various applications. One of our mechanics is still driving a 1992 Olds Delta 88 3800 with well over 300K as we speak. The dealership owner drove a 1998 green Delta LSS with 350K and we sold my best friend a 1989 Cutlass Ciera with the 3300 V6 and 286K miles that he put well over 50K more before wrecking it. I could go on and on with similar cars and high mileage. Also the Buick 3300 V6 was not offered until 1989 for the record. This car looks to be a 1986 so would only have offered the 92 HP Tech IV or the 125 HP Buick 3.0 V6 engines.

  • ToolGuy Here is an interesting graphic, if you're into that sort of thing.
  • ToolGuy Nice website you got there (even the glitches have glitches)
  • Namesakeone Actually, per the IIHS ratings, "Acceptable" is second best, not second worst. The ratings are "Good," "Acceptable," "Marginal" and "Poor."
  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.