In so many ways for the last rear-wheel drive Oldsmobile 88, it was the same at the ending as it was at the beginning. Once the star of the horsepower race, over time the Oldsmobile 88 became your average middle class car for Ordinary People. It wasn’t so much a fall from grace one might expect. Moreso the manifestation was consistent conservatism for Lansing’s biggest bread and butter loaf.
For 35+ years, the 88 gave reliable doses of 6 passenger comfort, smooth rides, quiet operation and a decent surge of V8 power. Soon enough though, the double-eight badging would have little significance as the march of badge engineering acted as a stick of dynamite against the GM Sloan ladder from the 1920s. It continued to splinter and crack under the weight of more profits and more competition for a shrinking class of buyer.
In a number of ways, before the Delta 88 went front drive, it returned to where it started from in 1949. The 307 cubic inch Rocket V8’s 140 net horsepower rating was close to the 135 gross horsepower rating of the original 303 cubic in Rocket V8 of 1949.
Chances are, depending on gearing, its anyone’s guess which one would win in a drag race. Both were capable of 0-60 times in the mid 12 second range, with top speeds on either side of the century mark. Even gas mileage wouldn’t have been too much different. The low end torque of both engines meant that both could loaf at interstate speeds of 65 mph and return around 20 mpg in a pinch.
In a way, for the longest period of time, its all that most middle of the road buyers asked of their appliances. However, in those 35 years on the market, the 88 had some remarkable shining spots as well. Notably mid 60’s examples of the breed set a gold standard of what a premium family machine could offer. However the world had changed, and fewer buyers admired the lazy consistency Oldsmobile now represented versus the consistent innovation and quality Oldsmobile once stood for. Although the 1977 vintage downsized body pointed in the right direction, enough malaise-era missteps gave the Delta 88 a few black eyes.
Notably the Oldsmobile Diesel V8 debacle, undersized and overstressed automatic transmissions, ambivalent quality control and leisurely performance grated on the nerves and eventually turned off buyers that knew there were other options with which they could spend their money on. Perhaps the bloom was off the rose as these Reagan-era Oldsmobiles wound down their time promoting their vintage virtues.
Oldsmobiles became Old. While the all-new 1986 version offered something new, it was still haunted by the ghost of consumer past. Its the age old question for long term automotive nameplates: What’s borrowed? what makes you blue? what makes you new? Success isn’t forever, so what makes you a legend, Oldsmobile Delta 88? You decidedly have your own chapter in this story to tell.