By on September 25, 2020

In the Eighties, did you seek a compact car with the highest possible number of lamps at the front? If so, the choice was clear in ’84: Oldsmobile Firenza.

The Firenza was Oldsmobile’s mid-luxury version of the extensive J-body platform. Beneath Firenza in J-body land were the Pontiac Sunbird and Chevrolet Cavalier, while above/astride it were the Buick Skyhawk and Cadillac Cimarron. The J-body cars were new for ’82, and replaced the rather awful H-body entries like Sunbird Safari and Monza. Assuredly the modern J-body was a welcome relief.

Initially, Firenza’s body lineup was a bit limited. For the ’82 model year, Only the two-door hatch and four-door sedan were available. The range expanded in ’83 to include the Cruiser wagon, and ultimately added a two-door sedan in 1986. Firenza was placed in the Olds lineup beneath the X-body Omega (later replaced by Calais). Despite its small entry-level status, power and luxury equipment were still an option for the aspirational Oldsmobile customer.

Visually, the Firenza was differentiated from its siblings by its front and rear clips. Both were designed to mimic other cars in Oldsmobile’s lineup. The front clip featured an integrated aero-type look, with six lamps up front. Four lighted the road ahead, and two were for turn signals. Unlike other Js, Firenza’s grille was integrated into the lower portion of the bumper instead of under the hood. The rear look was vertical rectangular lamps as seen on so many Olds models.

Engines ranged from lowly 1.8- and 2.0-liter overhead valve engines to overhead cam engines of the same displacement. Toward the latter part of Firenza’s life (’85 onward), it could also be ordered with the 2.8-liter V6 from the Chevy Celebrity. However, that engine was part of the sportier GT package, and was only available on the hatchback. Sorry, no sporty Firenza Eurosport wagon to be found. Transmissions were four- or five-speed manuals, or a three-speed automatic.

1987 saw the Firenza start to wind down, as GM had bigger entry-level aspirations for Oldsmobile. The V6 coupe vanished after ’87, and for the Firenza’s final year in 1988, the front end adopted a lookalike clip to the popular midsize Cutlass Ciera. 1988 was the debut of reworked Cavalier, making it clear Firenza was finished.  In 1989, Oldsmobile customers wanting a compact were directed to the mid-life Cutlass Calais instead.

Today’s Rare Ride is a relatively low-option example with an automatic transmission. Power arrives via the 1.8-liter overhead cam engine, which means 84 raging horses. With 22,000 miles, this excellent condition example sold recently via a dealer in Minnesota for around $7,900.

[Images: seller]

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49 Comments on “Rare Rides: An Ultra Brown 1984 Oldsmobile Firenza Cruiser...”


  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    That thing is absolutely beautiful. I had no idea the V6 could be had in any Firenza, but I did drive a lowly looking Cavalier wagon with just about the only option being a 3.1L V6 (so early 90s) and it utterly hauled butt and baked off the tires with zero effort.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    When I was a kid changing oil in the 80’s, these things were everywhere. Seemed like every other car was a J-body.
    You gotta love the dark brown velour interior. Much nicer than today’s black and yucky grey domination.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Oldsmobile week on TTAC continues… Too bad Cadillac didn’t slap a Cimarron badge on this to make a little luxury wagon

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Minnesota? Good thing they put the Tru-Coat on at the factory.

    Also, as much as I grew up in the backseat of an atrocious J-body (an ’85 Sunbird that was worn out by the time it was traded in, in ’93), a small wagon with that much greenhouse is so appealing. Even if you find small crossovers an acceptable substitute (which I find basically everything cheaper than a CX-5 to be not worth my time), none of them have that kind of visibility.

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    I remember being in a few various J-bodes back in the day.

    1. Horrible instrument panels. Looked and felt CHEAP regardless of the brand.

    2. Look at all that wonderful glass in the greenhouse!!! Remember when you could see the outside world from inside the car (I’m looking at you, Camaro)?

    3. Wire wheel covers and whitewalls were top-of-the-line luxury in Detroit in 1984. That all changed the day after Christmas 1986, when the Taurus/Sable were introduced.

    4. Think of all the bodystyles and assorted stampings needed to build them. 4 bodystyles total on this platform, and even though they shared fenders, doors and roof, even the hoods would be different for the various brands. These days, all they’d offer is a 4-door.

    5. GM was fascinated with the 6-light look in higher-end models in this era. The Pontiac 6000STE also had this.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    My parents had a Cavalier wagon. It was a horrible car in regards to reliability and lack of refinement. So bad, to this day no one in the family has bought a GM product again.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      My parents had a Cavalier wagon. It was a fine little care in regards to reliability and had typical refinement of cars from the time. Nothing like basing your current car choices on an experience from decades ago. Yeah, makes sense.

      • 0 avatar
        johnds

        It’s actually more common than you’d think. I had an uncle who had an 85 Grand AM that completely drove him nuts. The last GM he ever owned and started buying Camry’s in 1986.

        I have other relatives who’s wallets have been robbed lately by the GM service department to fix a 09 Malibu, 06 G6, and an 08 Impala.

        Another relative, now deceased WWII Veteran, started buying Accords in the late 80’s, and his last car was a 2002 Camry. The last straw was a 70’s GM product.

        I personally used to drive primarily GM V8’s such as Buicks and Chevrolets, but poor build quality, questionable reliability, plummeting resale value made me switch to Honda.

    • 0 avatar
      cardave5150

      My family, when growing up, had a ’79 Chevy Malibu, an ’82 Buick Regal and an ’85 Olds Delta 88 (not all at the same time). All continually needed service, but were considered “reliable” by my dad because they never left us stranded. But that constant care and feeding sent me away. I’ve never owned a modern GM product, just a couple of old collectibles. I probably never will own one, either.

      I knew several people that had various J-bodies back then. Most of them swore off GM as a result of their experiences as well.

      • 0 avatar
        MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

        I don’t rule anything out based on 80s…..anything. While I do drive Mazda/Toyota/Lexus these days, our Volt and Tahoe are among the best/most reliable vehicles we have owned. Same goes for the Volt before this one and a whole bunch of Suburbans. So you can’t tell me about how terrible GM is, sorry.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    What a great little wagon. Really liking that color scheme. The interior especially is an attractive color. Love it.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    “Winter in Firenza” rhymes with “dose of influenza” (I think…).

  • avatar
    ajla

    The best cars I’ve ever owned were GM products. Unfortunately almost nothing they offer today has any relation to those vehicles I enjoyed.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    If I were dropping eight grand to get an ’80s time machine, this one would be a long way down on my list, even in this condition.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    How in the world did something survive like this in Minnesota, of all places? That’s a miracle, unless it was used as a weekend/trip car, and garaged, on jackstands and covered, the remainder of the time.

    Even the stenciling on the cruise control part of the turn signal stalk appears flawless! Actually, this thing’s optioned almost identically to my 1984 Pontiac Sunbird 1.8 hatch, which was part of what turned me into a Honda fanboi: automatic, basic AM/FM ETR stereo, rear defroster, tinted glass, dual mirrors with driver remote, air/cruise/tilt. My guess is that was how most of the Js came from the factory around that time. However, my one aunt had a first-year Firenza hatch with tinted glass — and nothing else! Well, it did have one weird feature: a key buzzer wired backwards, which would buzz with the key in the ignition, and the driver’s door closed! Which made the fact that the four-speed stick came with a tab to release the key an interesting experience!

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, it only has 22,000 miles, so my guess is that it probably wasn’t driven during the winter, and spent the rest of the time in a garage. Seems like a bit too much love for this particular car to me, but there you have it.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        It’s nice seeing these types of survivors though! If I happen to see something like this at a show, I’ll make a beeline to it before I peruse this Tri-Five over here, or the ‘67 Mustang over there! That is, unless there’s a GN around from the last few years of the run, particularly if it’s a GNX; in those cases I’d need to carry a microfiber with me to wipe up the drool!

        And whoops — this has power locks, which my ‘Bird didn’t!

    • 0 avatar
      johnds

      My mother bought an 87 Caprice from an estate with 20,000 miles in Minneapolis. If there was any rust, it was very small surface spots on the exterior, but only drivers door, and the paint was still shiny like it came from the factory.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Don’t know why but Ford always did ‘brown’ better than GM. Particularly in the late 60’s to late ’70s when it seemed to be a preferred colour for LTDs and T-Birds.

    Do prefer velour to any other seating fabric/material. Also prefer colour co-ordinated instrument panels to the dreary black that seems mandated today.

    For you ‘youngster’ note the manual windows on an ‘entry level’ aspiring to near luxury auto.

    Regarding J-cars. My work partner and I went out on the same weekend to purchase new cars for work. I got an Accord sedan. He got a Turbo Sunbird. I will let you guess which vehicle a) was most reliable, b) which vehicle customers preferred to ride in, c) which vehicle retained its value.

    He parted with the Sunbird in after approximately 24 months.

    • 0 avatar
      cardave5150

      Ford did do some terrific browns. These GM browns almost seemed “faded” when they were brand new.

      Arthur, you’re right about the manual windows. Those were options on so many luxury cars in that era. As time has marched on, more and more options have become standard, to the point where today’s “penalty boxes” have more malaise-era luxury features as standard equipment (air, automatic, PW/PL, tilt, cruise, upgraded sound system) that the whole reason for being of Caddy and Lincoln has diminished.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Nostalgia is a curious thing. One minute you’re looking at a miserable turdbox in the high school parking lot, wondering what poor soul had the misfortune of being seen in it, and then 36 years later you’re hip-deep in fawning adulation of said turdbox on TTAC.

    Hard to believe that in 2056 we’ll all be lusting after the entire 2020 Mitsubishi lineup.

    • 0 avatar

      That iMiev was such an awesome, rad car. Wish I could find one.

      Nah I’ll be 70, and probably not care about cars anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      Yankee

      You said exactly what I was thinking. I enjoy these Rare Rides features regardless of what kind of car it is, and I enjoy reading about the history of a given model and looking at the photos of well-preserved-models like this one. But this car embodies all that came to be known as “the malaise era” for American carmakers: horrible build quality, styling by a committee of accountants, and non-existent reliability. My aunt had one of these and it spent more time in the shop than in her driveway. My dad got company cars every two years of this kind of garbage (Omega, Skylark, Celebrity to name a few) and always ended up having the head gasket replaced just before he traded them in at 60,000 miles. That being said, however, I also miss velour seats!!

  • avatar
    spookiness

    J-cars were awful, but there sure were a lot of them, and many persisted for a long time. I love the relative roominess, and small wagons can pack in a lot of stuff. My aunt had a Skyhawk of this vintage, blue on blue, and it was quite luxe and nice for the time.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I’m most assuredly wrong, but this car reminds me of that car what took loads of abuse from Planes, Tranes & Automobiles.

    When did 6 cylinder engines stop being offered in compact, mass-market cars? The most recent I know of are the Chevy Cavalier, now this, and the Tempo (though if my understanding is correct the Tempo was more of a tweener).

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      The abused steed in that movie was a LeBaron convertible, but the color is correct.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Re. Compact cars with V6’s, about 10 years ago, the Australian market Corolla had the 3.5 as an option, although I think it was just a performance model. Likewise, the MkIV Golf and Jetta could be had with the VR6, although that was pricy. Other than that, like you say, the Cavalier/Sunbird, the Tempo/Topaz, and also the Shadow/Sundance, all through 1994.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah MKV Golf had V6 in the R through 2010. A3 had a V6 similar era.

        But you’re forgetting the ATS with its V6, which made it to 2019.

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          I didn’t so much forget the ATS as figured anything with a luxury badge was an obvious omission, because by that rationale, the Lexus IS still counts (and the BMW 2-Series, for as long as that lasts in RWD form). I believe the MkIV VW’s could at least be had with the VR6 in non-sport trim (GLX or something like that?), Which would probably fit on the Sloan ladder somewhere around an Oldsmobile or Buick.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I actually preferred the ATS with the turbo-four – it felt a lot lighter on its’ feet.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Peak Cruise Control Switches. The turn signal stalk incorporated cruise, wiper and high beam functions and was ideal for road trips since you could manage all the driving tasks with your left hand (right hand is for food/beverages/radio/atlas and tending to date/spouse/family).

    The shift lever and parking brake arrangements are an unforgiveable waste of valuable real estate in a wagon. (Wagon *should* imply space efficiency.) WHERE are my cupholders??

    Field trip for today’s automotive designers: Sit in the front seat of this vehicle. Shift your feet around, yes, even from side to side. Feel all that space? This is an American footwell right here, kiddo. [Raises eyebrow meaningfully.]

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      The cupholders were two recesses molded into the back of the glovebox door! You’d still be lucky if your drinks didn’t spill all over while you were using those with the car parked!

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      +1, ToolGuy, packaging is a lost art.

      @ sgeffe – Those cup holders, which I think GM had into the early ’90s on some models, have always been a bit of a mystery to me. I think they were more aimed at drive-ins, drive-in movies, and tailgates than at actual drinking while in motion.

      – – –

      Disagree politely but emphatically with the opinion several comments above that these cars embodied the Malaise Era. The Malaise Era is not epitomized by any car with fuel injection. While far from perfect, cars like this generally bested their predecessors of a decade earlier in terms of packaging, handling, economy, assembly quality, and corrosion protection.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A great uncle of mine left the family the 4 door version of this same Firenza with the 2.0 OHC and most options. For some reason the motor was making odd sounds so we sold it.

    I always liked the hotter hatchback and coupe versions of the J-Car be it the Pontiac 2000 GT, Chevy Cavalier Z-24 with the 2.8 MPI or the rare ride Buick Skyhawk T-Type with the 1.8 turbo.

  • avatar
    Bondtrade

    “Dong!!! Where is my AUTO-MO-BILE??!!” “Lake… big lake.”

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The headlight and turn signal arrangement is supposed to bring to mind past Oldsmobiles, like the ’59 Olds, and the ’68 Cutlass.

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