Diesel Oldsmobile Wagon is a Generation Gap Encarnate

1979 Olds Diesel Wagon for sale

There are about four Blipshift shirts I regret purchasing; with the Unicorn being the most recent. The brown diesel manual wagon, hoo boy! …except I can already hear my dad doing that dismissive scoff/chuckle that he does when presented with irony-steeped anti-cool that’s so popular with Gen X…or is that Y? (I fall in-between). Boomers, despite being the first major counter-culture movement, aren’t wired to accept the deliberately uncool. Anyway, this Olds Diesel is among the worst cars ever made, a car that turned lifelong GM buyers into Honda and Toyota customers, a stunning monument to The General’s inability to execute what might’ve been a good idea.

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No doubt about it, this car is awful…but it’s in pretty good condition. The interior looks better than our four-year-old prime kid hauler and the exterior’s got sun-burnt paint over straight panels. A diesel title makes it exempt from California’s malaise-hating smog checks, opening the door for a few creative liberties under the hood. LSX FTW BRO! would be a little too obvious (remember: self-conscious irony), but maybe a beefed up 6.5 turbo or Duramax would check both the horsepower and thematic boxes? Hell, maybe just keep it as-is as a mandatory experience for any auto writer ranting about low diesel adoption.

Anyway, it’s $1450 on SF Bay craigslist.
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  1. Batshitbox Avatar

    Maybe bad writing but it looks like the seller claims it “Rolls coal”, which it oughtn’t not to unless a.) correctly modified or b.) seriously in danger of runaway diesel syndrome.
    That said, my pal had one in high school. I loved the thing. All the interior amanities were breaking one by one and my pal, who was a bit of a kook, felt that he had an “entropy field” around himself that made things break faster than they would around others. I told him it was probably his voltage regulator over-charging and blowing all the fuses, but now I know it was Malaise Olds / 350 Diesel Syndrome.

    1. CSM Avatar

      1) Those diesels would indeed smoke notably once they were worn and compression reduced. I bet this one is about 200 miles from a head gasket or crankshaft failure.
      2) That “entropy field” has existed inside most GM products since about 1971., thus their complete absence from my garage or fantasy car list.

  2. countersteer Avatar

    Runs good? Rolls coal? Nice price ! I bet the AC just needs a charge….

    1. CSM Avatar

      “Cooled when parked”

  3. Kiefmo Avatar

    If that’s the 5.7L, It’s got more torques than my DD diesel. Can’t be that much of a dog, even in that big wagon body.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      Between 205-220 ftlb. of torque, when new, now???. Weighs at least 4320 lbs. 0-40 km/hr in 4.4 seconds. It is THAT bad. http://www.automobile-catalog.com/performance/1980/47525/oldsmobile_custom_cruiser_350-v-8_diesel.html

      1. Kiefmo Avatar

        That’s about what my 300SD does, performance-wise. At least I average about 25mpg.

        1. P161911 Avatar

          You 300SD will keep running for another 30 years, this thing will be doing good to run 30 minutes at a stretch. Here’s a good article on the Olds Diesel http://www.autosavant.com/2009/08/11/the-cars-that-killed-gm-the-oldsmobile-diesel/ The only ting Olds diesels were good for was making VIN numbers that didn’t need emmissions in the states less stringent than California for engine swaps and making for cheap insurance for hot rodded engine swapped G bodies. Lots of these got gas engines within 5 years of being made.

          1. CSM Avatar

            Actually, those engines make good boat anchors too.

  4. Joe Btfsplk Avatar
    Joe Btfsplk

    “Rolls Coal” refers to the thick, black, cancer inducing cloud that follows diesel vehicles shortly before they grenade… does it not?

    1. Batshitbox Avatar

      Well, you can oversupply your diesel with fuel through the injectors and get that plume of black sooty smoke, they sell switches and other modules to do that. Generally that’s what Rolling Coal refers to. Or you can oversupply your diesel with oil from the crankcase past the worn out rings and get the black plume, but eventually the engine will spin up to match the amount of fuel it’s getting, and that’s a runaway.

  5. Sjalabais Avatar

    Definitely a piece of history. Just not the kind of history that includes monuments, statues and the like…
    Very interesting comment on the social attitude of baby boomers and odd, not-so-smart car taste leanings. I always assumed this generation in this country defines the concept of “there is a group for everyone”.
    And the title…whatever you do now, the original exemptions and regulations will follow the VIN?

    1. mad_science Avatar

      In California, in order to re-register your vehicle, every 2 years you have to do a smog check if your vehicle is gas and made after 1975. If the VIN is for an older vehicle or a diesel, then they never send out paperwork requiring a smog check.
      However, technically a cop could notice your 502ci big-block powered “diesel” car isn’t such and send you to a smog referee station (basically a CHP-operated shop) that would…actually I’m not sure what they’d do…maybe issue a massive “fix it” ticket, requiring you to put the original engine back in. Of course, in order for this to happen a cop would have to notice and care and take the effort.

      1. Batshitbox Avatar

        Also in the case of acquiring a salvage title or doing a lien sale you need a vehicle verification and they’ll check your engine numbers then. After that you can put whatever you want in there. I thought about the 4300 V-6 Vortec marine spec motor for my Scout, but I have to get it going on the ol 152 first!

    2. mzszsm Avatar

      What Tim says, and Sj every state is different! This will blow your mind’s worldview, in IL it even depends on where your home address is, ever locale is different! So where I live it recently changed, now only OBDII cars get checked every two years (after a four year grace period and passing an initial inspection as long as registration does not lapse), it used to be gasoline ONLY if older than ’68 were exempt for where I live. If you try and pay your registration without getting the inspection, you get a letter without the registration materials enclosed saying, ‘go get your car emissions inspected, if it passes we will send to you your renewed registration.’ If you don’t have current tags, you get pulled over.
      My ’90s cars without OBDII they would put a sniffer on the tailpipe, get some readings on idle, and then run with some accelerator for some more readings. They would also stick a mirror on a stick underneath to see if there was at least a housing for a catalytic converter under there I guess. My friends with ’70s cars, they would pop the hood too, checking for what, I have no idea, maybe a PCV and canister, that everything under there looks basically the right vintage, maybe lots of hoses snaking all over the place.
      But so that’s the thing, there are no other regular inspections where I live (like road worthiness) and so if your car is in the class where it does not get inspected for emissions ever again, that’s neat, cause then you can do what ever you like, say drop in a B23FT or something like that. Say you did that, now you are on the line to get it registered properly and that takes one state police inspection, but if they never know…
      Of course police can stop you, so don’t do anything too obvious. For people with older cars they tend to get stopped the most for trying to use the antique plates (which cost less, but have lots of restrictions) on a DD around here though.
      Anyway, just thought you’d appreciate the US insight.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Absolutely – so the whole “matching numbers” talk makes sense after all, when replacing the original engine might affect the type approval, so to say.
        Just makes me wonder even more what kind of person might end up buying that diesel wagon, and if said purchase will be a smart decision…

        1. mzszsm Avatar

          Kind of, there are places where they walk outside with you and verify that the VIN matches when you initially register a car. I don’t know of a place that verifies if the number on the block matches for the VIN, that would be different for all older cars. But for example in IL there are rules that would put you from now it is not a simple to register passenger vehicle you are trying to register but instead it is now a custom, kit, or rod, which have different procedures of which there are two main flavors. So for example if that model car was available with that model engine, you’ll be alright even if yours came with a different one originally. If your car did not have a salvage title, it pretty much never gets checked outside of emissions. Again it is incredibly lax, I have a neighbor with a Toyota truck with a GM V6 and honestly the rules are so confusing, he probably should have had it gone over by a place certified to do so by the state police, but as long as he keeps the registration current and refrains from stupidity, even if he sells it, no one will ever check even for the new owner.

      2. P161911 Avatar

        Sounds similar to Georgia. We have only certain counties in large metro areas that require emissions testing, but that has a rolling 25 year exemption. So in another 5 or 6 years all the tailpipe sniffing will go away, since 1996+ have OBDII. Outside of that it is pretty much anything goes. When they started doing emissions testing in the late 1970s/early 1980s they did away with the state safety inspection that checked things like headlight alignment and road worthiness.

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          What was the reasoning behind doing away with tech inspection for emissions testing? Economy? Too much hazzle? I don’t see why one would affect the other.
          As a bottomfeeder, tech inspection has made me sell cars as parts cars a couple of times, yet I am very much in favour of it. Just looking at the cars I see regularly in my area, some moms never change the burned out light bulbs on their cars. It’s good to know that every two years, they just have to – and somebody will check their brakes, steering and the car’s structural integrity at the same time.

          1. P161911 Avatar

            Not sure the change happened before I started driving.

      3. salguod Avatar

        Ohio has no testing at all. None.
        There used to be emissions testing in Cincinnati and Cleveland, I think, but I’m pretty sure that’s gone now too. Back in college in Cinci in the late 80s my Chevy Monza had no cat so I had to keep the registration at Mom and Dad’s in Toledo to avoid the testing. I eventually put a cat on it but the previous owner had punched out the filler to allow him to run leaded gas so it would have still failed.

        1. Please Stand By Avatar
          Please Stand By

          Dayton had emission testing back in the early 90’s, I believe it’s gone now. Making a 1979 Buick Regal pass inspections was challenging. According to the Google echeck is still a thing in Cleveland/Akron, poor bastards.

  6. Cool_Cadillac_Cat Avatar

    A still good friend of mine in HS’s father had a tan/woodgrain Olds wag diesel. Bought new. Was hell to own.
    After the third or fourth head gasket in under 80K miles, he went to the opposite end of the spectrum and dropped a 455 into it.
    Changed not one thing to indicate there was a change…”DIESEL” hood ornament, and everything.
    Being 17-19 years old, we loved to go troll with it on the weekend at the cruising strip.

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