By on October 7, 2019

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser wagon in North Dakota junkyard, LH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhile traveling to my job as Wise and Fair Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of Lemons Supreme Court at the Minneapolis 500 race in Brainerd last week, I flew in via Fargo, North Dakota. Naturally, I visited a Fargo self-service junkyard before boarding my plane home, and that’s where I found this rusty-but-well-preserved ’88 Cutlass Cruiser International Series.

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser wagon in North Dakota junkyard, speedometer - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsMost Detroit cars didn’t get six-digit odometers until the 1990s (though there were exceptions here and there), so this car could have 207,413 or even 507,413 miles on the clock. The nice interior suggests that 107,413 is the correct figure, though.

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser wagon in North Dakota junkyard, dealership badge - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSold locally, probably owned by a meticulous elderly person for most of its life, then — judging from the Moorhead High School parking permit on the windshield — handed down to a grandchild.

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser wagon in North Dakota junkyard, rust - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBy Moorhead standards on a 31-year-old car, the rust isn’t so bad. I’m sure I’d have seen a real corrosion horror-show underneath, if I’d felt like getting in the cold Fargo mud and taking a look.

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser wagon in North Dakota junkyard, hood ornament - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Cutlass Cruiser was the wagon version of the Ciera, and this top-trim-level International Series came fully loaded with power windows, bucket seats, shag carpeting, and other goodies.

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser wagon in North Dakota junkyard, engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsRather than suffer with the clattery 98-horse Iron Duke engine that came as base equipment, the original buyer of this wagon opted for the 2.8-liter V6, rated at 125 horsepower. The good old Buick 231-cubic-inch V6, with 150 horses, could be had in the ’88 Cieras as well.


1988 was the final year for the first-generation Ciera, which had been around since 1982, but the “New generation of Olds” didn’t need to know that.

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69 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser International Series...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    We all know the real reason this car from Fargo has so little rust, the original owner opted for that TruCoat

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    This brings back the memories – these A-Body wagons and especially the sedan versions were everywhere in my childhood in a GM-dominated suburb. And maybe one of the last series of American cars that you could get in coupe (N-Body?), sedan, and wagon form.

    These were also popular with Midwestern college kids as automotive hand-me-downs.

    I’ll still see one – very rarely and probably the last of the 90s version – still chugging along.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      These indeed were everywhere and then one day there must have been a B body apocalypse where they were all called home and totally disappeared from earth.

      One issue I would have had with owning one is basically advertising that an elderly person lives in a house with one parked outside making my home more inviting to a home invader.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    That’s in remarkably good condition for its age. Easily restorable, I believe, though we can’t see the underside. Still–it’s a malaise-era vehicle and of little historic interest, unlike the model I would want or the specific vehicle I DO want.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      My brother recently bought a house and across the street someone has a cherry A-body Olds wagon in their driveway. That may be worth farting around with, this one not so much methinks.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The malaise era was the 1970s, with choked-down carbureted V8s. By the late 1980s, Detroit had started to figure out the emissions hardware and fuel injection – like this car has – and cars were more driveable.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @Lorenzo: Maybe true. But these boxy pieces to me all fit the description until they started showing smoother, more aerodynamic lines… which means everything through the 80s and into the early ’90s.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          AHA! You’re one of those wind tunnel, swoopy, 4-door coupe guys! I’m not ready to give up on the 2-box wagon/3-box sedan, because I have elderly relatives who can’t get in/out of those low-roof back seats and have to sit in the front passenger seat, telling me to slow down when I’m accelerating onto a freeway, and being blinded by the sloped rear window of the cars in front of me with mailbox trunk lids.

          Why do you think people are buying 4-door pickups and SUVs? The automakers are going to be surprised when they go farther and farther into sloping the roof and reducing side window height on their SUVs/CUVs. Just give me a tall box with big back doors so I can fit the old folks back there!

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            “AHA! You’re one of those wind tunnel, swoopy, 4-door coupe guys!”

            Nope. I’m one of those 2-door coupe, heavy metal types whose favorite body styles fall in between 1958 through 1972. I currently own an extended cab (2-2/2 doors) pickup truck that is far, FAR larger than I really wanted, though has enough towing capacity to meet the size trailer my wife wants to buy.

            My personal favorite car is the 1959 Chevy Impala hard top coupe, though I have no complaint with the standard coupe version. Then I have to jump about 7 years to the GM “mid-sized” models that were turned into Muscle Cars. I liked the Oldsmobile Cutlass series the best but I wouldn’t turn down Pontiac or Buick, given the chance. (The Chevys were too plain, outside of the Monte Carlo and Caddy didn’t make anything I liked.) ’67 to ’72 had the best looking bodies of that group.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      That interior looks spotless!

      There’s almost less dust on that IP bezel than in my four month-old Accord! I need to break out my California Dash Duster!

  • avatar
    detlump

    Beat me to it!

    A little unusual to see the Cruiser still has license plates, I would have removed them before being hauled away. You never know where your plate may end up and get an interesting phone call or visit from the police.

    Our family had an earlier Ciera sedan with the gutless Iron Duke, so the 2.8 was a better choice especially considering the larger loads possible in the Cruiser. I still remember that Ciera pointing skyward on hard acceleration but nothing much happening besides lots of noise under the hood!

    The Ciera/Cruiser of this era must be in the running for largest idiot lights – it almost seems like the designers had to fill up more space than desired – “let’s make huge warning lights!” Wouldn’t a cluster of 4 gauges look better there, and likely GM had thousands around from other vehicles.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I find my myself waxing nostalgic for these. Simple, reliable, efficient, & cheap. Just about the opposite of what you find today at your local dealership, or any stripe.

    • 0 avatar
      Sloomis

      I owned a ’96 Cierra wagon. While it had its merits — interior space, fuel efficiency, a lot of car for the money — reliability was most definitely not one of them.

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      I hate this misplaced nostalgia. This car was only “simple” in the sense that it was featureless. It sure as heck wasn’t reliable OR efficient OR cheap. It was also slow, had poor braking, sloppy handling, unsupportive seats, loose steering…shall I go on? Or are you still in your 80s fog?
      (I got my grandpa’s ’87 Ciera in 2008, so yes, I remember.)

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “I got my grandpa’s ’87 Ciera in 2008”

        So you got a 21 year old 80s car and you’re complaining about the “sloppy handling” and the braking?
        GM shouldn’t fire up the A-body factory in 2019 but I think some of you are being way too hard on these.

        • 0 avatar
          Goatshadow

          They had sloppy handling and hilarious body roll from the factory.

          Also they were awful cars that looked as outdated as they were.

          • 0 avatar
            SPPPP

            I think the A-bodies were OK for the time, especially the Pontiac 6000. That car drove much better than you would expect for a mid-80s GM car. Of course, the fact that expectations are so low in the first place tells you something. But they weren’t completely awful, in my opinion.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I knew the FWD A-bodies had various small GM V-6’s, but I never knew the Buick 231/3.8 was available in them.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I can confirm in the Buick iteration of the A-body wagon 3800 was available by MY91 because my friend had one in the early 2000s. Generally speaking to my recollection the Olds/Buick A-body models frequently were equipped with the 3300 but that may have been the step up engine from the 2.8 found in the more plebeian offerings.

      • 0 avatar
        spookiness

        A 3800 wagon sounds pretty sweet. Speaking of sounds, that is one thing I remember about these cars. I was in junior high school at the time and would walk to the library from school along a narrow street. I would play this little game of ID’ing cars approaching from the rear. Iron Dukes and the GM 2.8’s were pretty identifiable.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Yes to both engines’ exhaust notes. Very distinctive!

          And there was indeed a Buick 3.8 V6 available in the Oldsmobile and Buick A-Bodies! Tried, and failed, to get my Dad to obtain his ‘86 Century with one, but he bought a leftover Limited Sedan off the lot with the mid level 2.8 Chevy V6, complete with the last year of a 2-bbl carb! (This engine got SPFI a year later, in 1987, and is what we see under the hood of this Ciera.)

          However, I did have the opportunity to hoon..DRIVE..a friend’ 1985 Century Estate Wagon with the big Buick 6! Went like a scalded rabbit!

          The best handling experience in these, as with the RWD G-Bodies, was with the heavy duty suspension; another friend’s Mom had an ‘87 Celebrity Eurosport Wagon so-equipped. Would have loved to have tried one of these with the big engine and the uprated suspension!

          • 0 avatar
            CobraJet

            I had a 1988 Ciera Sedan with the 3.8 as a company car. It had the upgraded suspension and handled great for cars of that era. With that engine it would smoke the front tires.

      • 0 avatar
        MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

        3300 was Buick/Olds only, but yes before that you could option the 3.8L (not 3800 version though). 150 HP 3.8 but 160 HP 3.3L, my Mom had a new 1990 Century with the 3300 and at the time it sure seemed quick.

        My STE drove much better, though.

  • avatar

    I wondered about the plates also. I believe in my state – Iowa – we are, at the very least, encouraged to turn in the plates when getting rid of a vehicle. There is some kind of financial incentive to do so – possibly a credit on new(er) vehicle registration costs.

    Also agree on apparent cosmetic condition. Depending on the underneath condition this looks like it would have many more miles available to whomever might own it. Moot point, of course.

    Murilee, is not having the vehicle “raised” by spare wheels normal for most yards? Most of your photos seem to be of that variety with cars being “tires on the ground” to be relatively more rare.

    • 0 avatar
      johnds

      In Minnesota plates stay with the car. They are replaced by the state every 7 years. You can however, take the plates for decoration or transfer a military, firefighter, or personalized plate.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Spare the nostalgia a for these horrid excuses for a family car. My dad had the century wagon. Talk about a horrorshow in volume efficency, design, and features. It was a nightmare having to ride in that thing. As a 10 year old I’d be in the back seat with my knees digging into the front backrest cuz there was no legroom. Id then be in a friends civic and I’d have inches to spare. The front seats didn’t slide independently and on his and the backrest was not adjustable. The ride was wolllowy and made you car sick on long trips. The interior design was out of the 70s (same with the olds in this post)! I mean just look at what GM was building when Ford had the TAURUS WAGON. That’s what we switched to and that was a mercedes compared to the buick.

    These a body cars were the prime example of 80s GM hubris and why GM failed the decade as bad as they did.
    The A Bodies may have been reliable but that’s not saying much when the rest of the car was outdated and poorly designed in every conceivable way compared to all the competition at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I owned a ’95 Century wagon in 2009. It was fine. I don’t remember it being especially good, but I wouldn’t call it horrible either. For low income people a used A-body could be a blessing. YMMV.

      • 0 avatar
        3800FAN

        So could a gen 2 camry and 3800 powered gm or ford panther. Your point is they make great cheap used vehicles. I agree but car companies don’t make money off used vehicles. We’re talking new car design in the 1980s here that are marketed to new car buyers. Compare it to everything else on the road at the time and you can see the GM huburis that made so many of their fans dump them. It wasn’t just 1 car like the vega it was model after model after model of bad design that was better than the car it replaced but still behind the competition from japan ford and chrysler. GM thought they were still only competing against themselves like it was the 60s and their design of the era reflected that.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “I agree but car companies don’t make money off used vehicles.”

          Why do I care? I’ve never worked for GM, was two years old when this car was originally sold, and the A-body has been gone for 22 years.

          Your initial comment opened with saying “spare the nostalgia” and I’m in disagreement that they aren’t worthy of being remembered fondly by some people.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      The Taurus also cost far more and during this time era had the junk 3.8 in most of their wagons along with a 4 speed automatic that didn’t last long and springs that cracked in two and plenty of electrical issues. I know because we sold both A-body’s and Taurus/Sables during the 90’s.

      A Century wagon with a bench front seat is very rare during this time and split seats were made std shortly after with power recliners also std by the early 90’s so I wouldn’t hold one poverty spec model that somebody special ordered against this car. My friend still drives a 92 Century wagon with the 3300 and caries around all kinds of things in it including washers/dryers, stoves etc. It has been a great hauler and has enough room for 5 inside. Even the AC still blows cold!

    • 0 avatar
      Sloomis

      ‘The A Bodies may have been reliable but that’s not saying much”

      I owned two back in the day, including a wagon like this one, and neither one was reliable in any sense of the word. The wagon was great for hauling younger kids and gear around, though, (granted my kids at the time were in the 2-4 year old range, so back seat room wasn’t as much of an issue) as long as you didn’t mind it breaking down like clockwork every four months or so…

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
        Cars are weird.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        It was feast or famine with all systems and trim in these.

        My Dad became a Honda man after being an Oldsmobuick guy because of a carburetor issue during cold-start operation. After throwing several hundred $$$ at the problem without a resolution, the flunkie in the office of the president of the Buick Motor Division couldn’t come up with a good answer while on the phone with my Dad as to why he shouldn’t buy an Accord for his next car! (A friend of the family later found a GM TSB which might have solved the issue.) Lather, rinse, repeat, repeatedly in the 1980s, and that’s part of why GM’s where it is today!

        But some folks didn’t have any problems with these, and some were lemons from the outset!

        I’ve occasionally wondered what would have happened if my Dad had listened to my 16-YOA pleas to buy a 3.8L-equipped Century. Of course, the blown head gasket repair to an ‘84 Pontiac Sunbird on a commuting college student’s budget was still awaiting a couple years away, which also turned my GM family away from the maker!

        • 0 avatar
          dividebytube

          We became a Nissan family for a decade or so after the GM diesel fiasco.

          I’m not sure why but my dad returned to the GM fold. He got a GM credit card which he used to fund a ’99 Olds Aurora (!). Which by some stroke of luck was actually a reliable car that he only recently used as a trade-in.

          Now he had a 2015 Buick Enclave and a 2018 Chevy Equinox, neither which I really like compared to his big BOF cars of yore.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      “horrid excuses for a family car” Exaggerate much? Our 87 Buick Century wagon was not a bad car.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Nitpicky comment here, I know, but…Murilee, there was no Cutlass Cruiser International Series. The International Series was the more sporty variant of the Cutlass Ciera coupes and sedans, but there was never a wagon version of it. Maybe you thought this was an International Series because of the world flags badge found under the “Cutlass Cruiser” lettering on the fenders, but that badging came on all Cutlass Cieras.

    This one appears to be a well-loaded Cutlass Cruiser, so it’s probably a Cutlass Cruiser SL, but definitely not an International Series.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      You are correct. The International Series was for the Cutlass Ciera coupe and sedan only, and possibly the ASC-converted convertibles; I’m not sure.

      The International Series versions of those had the 3.8-liter V6 and later the 3.3-liter V6, not the 2.8-liter, as in our example.

      I bet you’re right about this being an SL, too.

  • avatar

    The A-bodies were almost Soviet in robustness and design, remarkably stout, yet still look incredibly upscale when dressed up in the right colors and shod with whitewalls.

    Right now, I have three in the Throwback Collection – a ’94 Century Special, an ’86 Celebrity, and a ’95 Cutlass Cruiser that needs a transmission. Hard to beat what these cars are for the almost literally pennies they transact for nowadays.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I once read somewhere there was some kind of decontenting done on A-body suspensions, something about two bolts to hold something in place as opposed to the three which the design called for. Somewhere along the line someone made the decision to actually use all three bolts on the wagons only because it was assumed families were traveling in them and I guess it was a safety issue.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I had a black 4 door version of this car with the same 2.8 and 3 speed 125 transaxle during my college years with a nice darker burgundy interior, full gauge package, split bench seats and dual recliners. I bought it with 92K miles and put on another 90K. It was as reliable as the sun and never left me stranded. The 2.8, which was rated 130 HP for 1989, was such a big upgrade over the Tech IV which another friend owned in his same year blue 89 and we both got around the same 24 average MPG in mixed driving.

    I traded the car in for a 93 loaded 3300 Ciera and my wholesaler friend got a hold of it for his wife that drove it for another year with 180K on the clock. She hit a deer with that car so our mechanic bought it for 300 bucks and replaced the header and grille and drove it another couple of years now with over 200K miles. It survived going off the road into a guard rail, hitting a bridge too. We always referred to that Ciera as a cat which had multiple lives.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      If you got a good one built on a good day, these wouldn’t quit! As with most things GM, by the last refresh to the Ciera and Century in the early 1990s, all the bugs were worked out.

  • avatar
    johnds

    I see the plates are old style embossed and they say 2012. We run a year ahead on the tab sticker here in Minnesota so that tells me the last time registration was paid was 2011.

  • avatar
    saturnotaku

    We had a 1992 version of one of these. Red with red interior, 3.3L V6, 4-speed auto, rear-facing “third row” seat, and “Rallye” gauge cluster that included a tachometer and volt meter! Put more than 160,000 miles on it before it had to be put out to pasture due to rust, bad cats, and a failing fuel injector.

  • avatar
    Mc Lean

    A friend’s dad (very senior) had one of these. What I remember is that the vent wing windows above the rear quarter panels were powered, controlled by the driver. That’s luxury, man.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    On the general subject of A-bodies… this video is why YouTube was created IMO:

    youtube.com/watch?v=C7ULzp454Ps

  • avatar
    Wodehouse

    “…shag carpeting…” I’ve been chuckling about this all day.

  • avatar
    Oreguy

    This find lands squarely at the center of my childhood universe!
    My hometown… My High School even!

    A-bodies were EVERYWHERE in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Today I feel like the roads where I live now are paved in Subarus, but it’s nothing like I witnessed growing up in the Midwest in the 80’s. I’m proud to say we never owned one, as we were a Ford family with a few exceptions. The only GM product to ever grace our driveway was an X-Body. A godawful 4-speed, 4-cylinder Citation.

    A friend’s dad bought a new Pontiac 6000STE (83 or 84?). I remember him demonstrating the built in air-compressor in the trunk. You would have thought I was looking at a spaceship. What would the rocket scientists at Pontiac think of next? Faux-sporty body cladding? YES!

    Brainerd International Raceway is a great track. Watched some Trans-Am series races there in the 80’s. I feel very fortunate to have witnessed Paul Newman compete. I still have some great photos of him walking about the paddock area. IIRC, Bruce Jenner also competed in the Corvette challenge on one of those visits.

    I used to love visiting the W.W. Wallwork Ford dealership as a kid. On one occasion, when pulling into a parking spot in front of the parts department, my dad accidentally rolled our ’76 LTD Country Squire wagon land barge over the curb. The bumper just barely tapped the rather large window out front and shattered it. Glass everywhere.

    That was really embarrassing. Good thing the general manager was a family friend.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Wow ~ direct Geriatric advertising .

    That carpet looks more like cut pile than shag to me .

    It’s a nice car for what it was/is .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    la834

    > 1988 was the final year for the first-generation Ciera, which had been around since 1982

    Hmm, it sure is generous calling the 1989-later Cutlass Cruiser a second generation. What changed that year, the grille insert?

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Maybe GM was selling the Cutlass Cruiser classic? The main difference was the optional Chevrolet 3.1 and 3.3 V6 and 4-speed auto. I don’t think the Buick 3800 V6 was available anymore. The length, width, and wheelbase was identical, and GM didn’t give the dying Olds brand any money for styling, which is probably why Olds was dying.

    • 0 avatar
      NOSLucasWiringSmoke

      Not that I want to be an apologist or anything, but the Pontiac, Buick, and Olds coupes and sedans got a slightly slicker roofline for, I think, the ’89 model year (coupes might have been before that). The Celebrity sedan stuck with the very square-edged roofline for its remaining time until the Lumina took over as an early-ish ’90 launch.

      Engine shuffles occurred throughout the life of the platform, there were some permutations especially in the Buicks that were probably rare (a 3.0 litre V-6 that was a downsized 3.8 in early A’s and the first mid-80s big front-drive cars, the 3.8 as mentioned above, a diesel V-6, the 3.3 which gave way to the 3.1, and the Iron Duke was replaced by the Cavalier 2.2 in the early 90s).

      Chevy was much more limited in engine choices, 2.5 I-4 or 2.8 V-6 almost all the way until I think the last few Celebrity wagons made after the sedan was replaced by the Lumina got the 3.1.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        Out of all these engines the only one I remember that often failed and needed replacing was the early run 1982-85 Buick carbureted 3.0 V6’s. Most of the other engines were reliable save the odd 2.2 head gasket or drive-ability/carburetor issue with the Chevy 2.8/Vara-jet setup. By 1987 all engines were fuel injected and pretty reliable/durable.

        1989 on up sedans had rounded off rear window treatments, revised wheel choices and the 3.8 was dropped in favor of the 3300 which made 10 more HP and was more efficient. 1990 on up has revised door panels, beefed up door latch systems and some suspension differences during the 92-93 years. The Ciera dropped the Brougham moniker and instead carried SL as the top model.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    “probably owned by a meticulous elderly person for most of its life” Why do you assume that? Because it’s an Oldsmobile and a station wagon? My parents where in their late 30s when they purchased the Buick version of this same wagon, same color too. So not just “old” people purchased Oldsmobiles and station wagons. And even if that were the case, who cares what age the buyer was?

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    Cause of demise? I’m going with the padded steering wheel cover. No car can remain in use for even a year with a padded steering wheel cover.

  • avatar
    drfnw3

    Drove an 88 cruiser with the iron duke. Acceleration was truly awful, but the thing would ride well at a constant speed smoothly. Seats adjusted only fore and aft, but they were all day comfortable. When child #3 led us to the first of many minivans, we handed off the olds to friends. They got another decade out of it. Would it be acceptable today? No, but a comfortable cruiser in its day.

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