Which N-Body is the Lamest N-Body?

What the hell month is it? August? September? March? The wall calendar in the hallway at my office is still showing February and I’m hoping everyone leaves it there when they begin returning to the office in larger numbers. Then, in January, we can burn the damn thing. The calendar, I mean. Burn it right off the wall. Hopefully without also burning down the building.

It’s with this fury and indignation that I introduce you to what might be a rage-filled slog through the brand I’ve mostly avoided since I kicked off this series with the Chevy Cavalier. Get ready to trudge through the lamest American cars that ever America’d. Welcome to Lamest Classics’ GM Gauntlet. A series within a series. A tribute to the icon of rusting midwestern malaise.

I’ll get pummeled. You’ll get pummeled. We’ll all cry a little, laugh a little, cry some more.

In the end, we’ll either come out stronger, better people, or we will be dead and/or on fire. Though the GM Gauntlet won’t continue for the whole rest of the year, the above edict goes for this series as well as for all of 2020.

Don’t blame me. This is just a case of art imitating life. Well, assuming anyone would consider this series “art” and not “infantile insults and esoteric car facts.”

Gladiator 1: The N-Body Cars

The hard part of covering GM cars is that there’s so much badge engineering. Under the surface, so many cars share the same wheezing powertrains, outdated transmissions, cheap switchgear, rattly doors, and lackluster build quality we came to know and love from The General in the ’90s.

 

 

So, is this installment about the last pre-refresh year of the Pontiac Grand Am? It was still in its barely-out-of-the-’80s glory, with Pontiac’s famous plastic body cladding to make it a bit less slab-sided. Slap on some BBS-imitation mesh wheels and the Radwood internet fanboys will drool on their own pants over this badge-engineered pile of underwhelming garbage.

 

 

What about the Oldsmobile Achiever Achieva with its Mercury-imitating electric shaver grille? A style so ugly that its advertisers preferred to show bar charts longer than the actual car? Even the thing that gave these cars the potential to be cool, the 190-horsepower Quad4 engine, was gone after 1994. Its SCCA World Challenge-winning days were over.

 

 

Surely the Buick Skylark, with its weird beak, doesn’t actually qualify as lame — for no reason other than the fact that holy crap, Buick made a car that looked weird. But who actually wants it? You know you’re on the right track when you find a car for sale that has photos of it already strapped to a dolly.

Lamest Motors

The only thing that made these cars even remotely interesting was the high-output Quad4 engine, especially in the Achieva SCX W41. Yeah, it’s absurd alphabet soup worthy of an imported luxury car, but it was legitimately impressive: 190 horsepower from 2.3 liters, 10:1 compression, a redline north of 7,000 rpm.

That engine, though, was used for only 3 years. The 180-horsepower version that was available on the non-W41 Achieva and Grand Am was detuned each year in the early ‘90s until it was eventually dropped for ‘95.

Nevermind that Quad4 is a silly name that means “four four.” For 1995, the only version of this once-interesting engine made just 150 horsepower and you could optionally upgrade the automatic transmission to a 4-speed.

 

Oh. And you could also get it with a crappy V6.

You Can’t Lose the Lamelympics in a Teal Grand Am

If you’ve seen a teal Pontiac, with cigarette burns on the seats, headliner drooping until it touches the driver’s frosted-tips haircut, smelling of some combination of coolant, cigarettes, bad weed, and cheap beer, then you know the Grand Am.

It’s the car for underachievers and pretenders. For tossing empties out the window while blasting Van Hagar as you bounce on blown shocks over partially snowed-over potholed country roads on your way to meet your dealer the next town over.

So forget the Achieva and Skylark. Be one of those people who say high school comprised the best years of their lives. Go get yourself a teal or maroon Grand Am sedan with an exhaust leak and rotted-out fenders. Slap some cheap, grey aftermarket hubcaps on your factory steelies. Blat that melancholic BWAAAA from your also-rotting muffler all the way to the DMV over in Dixon and tell them that hell yes, this thing is indeed a classic.

 

It not only does it qualify for Antique Vehicle plates, but it also deserves them.

The Pontiac Grand Am scores a perfect 10 on the Lamestain Index, partly for trying to pretend it’s interesting. The Achieva and Skylark get a 7 and a 4, respectively.

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19 responses to “Which N-Body is the Lamest N-Body?”

  1. neight428 Avatar
    neight428

    I have to go with the Achieva. Limited run interesting engine notwithstanding, it looks like they took the styling from the contemporary 98 sedan and applied it disproportionately to the smaller platform. But most of all, it’s the name. It sounds like something a business school sophomore would come up with for his consulting agency project. It also sounds like a nasally northeasterner saying “achiever”, which is annoying both in the accent (to my southern ears) and in the sense that Oldsmobile had long since abandoned trying to achieve anything other than attempting to locate a niche between Pontiac and Buick while using the exact same cars.

  2. Batshitbox Avatar
    Batshitbox

    Um, I came here to get away from all the wildfire news. Not that I can, since it smells like smoke in my place. Have you been using Brion Gysin’s cut-up method to assemble Lamest Classics? Allowing cosmic happenstance to juxtapose the quote from CalFire against the deterioration of N-Body cars and your burning calendar reference?

    Face it, making fun of Clinton-era GM products is like stealing fireworks from a retard. Pontiac? Oldsmobile? Well, if you stuck to gradma’s advice to never speak ill of the dead you’d fund little fuel for your fire in GM, but why not slap the Chevy Corsica around instead? I mean, it’s just as retarded and twice as ugly. Who do you think all those wasteoids in Grande Dames were chucking those dead soldiers at?

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9500159c09a72b50584df15aab64c7608f952f07a30ba0a77196e605d81249d4.jpg

    1. Pinkerton9 Avatar
      Pinkerton9

      The Corsica, one of GM’s signature series of bland cars named after interesting European places. The Corsica reminds me less of crystal clear Mediterranean beaches, and more of the lingering distaste that comes with being the homeland of Napoleon Bonaparte. On the bright side, if I squint really hard I can see a Beretta GTZ.

  3. 0A5599 Avatar
    0A5599

    “Then, in January, we can burn the damn thing. The calendar, I mean. Burn it right off the wall. Hopefully without also burning down the building.”

    Hah. When I was a freshman in college, around the first week of class, my roommate and I had some neighbors who wanted to meet us. They had a calendar with a cartoon of a cat with a kitten, wrote a note on it implying that one or both of us had gotten one or both of them pregnant, and slid it under the door for us to discover. We hung it on the wall.

    Around late September, a visitor was disturbed by the calendar and lit it on fire while it was still hanging on the wall. The sheetrock was fire-resistant, of course, and the calendar didn’t get much oxygen while it was on the wall, so basically, the edges of the pages smoldered a bit until the fire self-extinguished. The calendar was still legible, but the wall had some charring. We put a poster on top of the calendar to conceal the damage.

    Anyway, my mom had a Grand Am under the Smartbuy program. After 3 years, she had the choice of giving the car back to the dealer, or keeping the car and making payments until it was paid off. There was nothing particularly “wrong” with the car after three years, and I don’t think it ever had any mechanical issues, but she was very happy to get something else–anything else.

  4. neight428 Avatar
    neight428

    I have to go with the Achieva. Limited run interesting engine notwithstanding, it looks like they took the styling from the contemporary 98 sedan and applied it disproportionately to the smaller platform. But most of all, it’s the name. It sounds like something a business school sophomore would come up with for his consulting agency project. It also sounds like a nasally northeasterner saying “achiever”, which is annoying both in the accent (to my southern ears) and in the sense that Oldsmobile had long since abandoned trying to achieve anything other than attempting to locate a niche between Pontiac and Buick while using the exact same cars.

  5. smalleyxb122 Avatar
    smalleyxb122

    I owned a ’98 Skylark. Gone was the “quirky” beak. By ’98 it was a fleet-only car, which I got cheap third-hand.

    Lame? Absolutely.

    But it met a need for me at a time when I needed cheap reliable transportation. I bought it from a friend who was willing to let me make payments to him. I have respect for that boring old car, and gratitude to the friend for selling me his wife’s old Skylark for $500/month for 3 months.

  6. outback_ute Avatar
    outback_ute

    Do you think any Pontiac Grand Am owners would have had tailored suits?

    1. Vairship Avatar
      Vairship

      Sure, apparently they had “tailored” suits that were even more ill-fitting than the ribbed plastic body panels on their car.

    2. Batshitbox Avatar
      Batshitbox

      I have a few tailored suits. My local Goodwill doesn’t sell Pontiacs, though, or I’d have one of them, too.

  7. Rangerman2002 Avatar
    Rangerman2002

    The lamest was the Grand ScAm with the base engine. All the promise of Pontiac excitement and the reality of becoming the darling of rock lot used car salespeople. Close runner up was the Skylark. Did anyone ever figure out how the Pontiac beak ended up on that car?

  8. Zentropy Avatar
    Zentropy

    I so hate these cars. From my perspective, it’s like trying to decide which animal shit is the worst to accidentally step in.

  9. Wayne Moyer Avatar
    Wayne Moyer

    So I had to go look up all the variations of the N-Body to see which ones that I had forgotten. Turns out there are many. This was prime GM time for platform sharing. It reminded me of one of the ugliest of the line. This is the Buick Somerset. A car that I don’t remember from when it was new. It has that wonderful look of GM trying to make an upclass and classic car off of the Grand Am. The proportions are wrong. Long nose/short deck and a sort of notchback. Add in a slapped on nose that was probably supposed to say elegance and instead says that it was found in a junkyard. It doesn’t work on a lot of levels. Now let’s think about good old Chrysler at this time who was doing quite the same thing with their line in the late eighties. It was just a bad time to buy a car.

    You know unless you got a W body Grand Prix with a manual. In which case it was an awesome time to own a car.
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/db/Buick-Somerset.jpg

  10. Troggy Avatar
    Troggy

    When in the US sometime in the mid-90’s my parents had the (dis)pleasure of hiring a Chysler Neon.

    On one leg of the trip we had to go from Seattle WA to Vancouver BC. I had the option of going in the car (the Neon) with my parents, or taking the bus. Fortunately I took the bus. Even though the baby in the seat beside me had puked all over me by the first half hour of the trip, I still didn’t have to ride in the Neon.

  11. SlowJoeCrow Avatar
    SlowJoeCrow

    Cars like this make me glad I spent the 90s driving an A1 Jetta and a Ford Ranger.both of which avoided all of the sins of 90s GM. It also explains Saturn, as an attempt to separate from malaise era GM’s failings and my old 97 Saturn really was a lot better than any N body car.

  12. ptschett Avatar
    ptschett

    From best to lamest:
    Achieva coupe
    Grand Am coupe
    Grand Am sedan
    Skylark coupe
    Achieva sedan
    Skylark sedan

    (Always liked the Olds coupe best. Thought the partially-covered rear wheels on the Buicks & the Olds sedan were silly, and the Buicks were a weird mix of pushing boundaries in some ways and being conservative (e.g. those rear wheel arches) in other ways.)

  13. ptschett Avatar
    ptschett

    From best to lamest:
    Achieva coupe
    Grand Am coupe
    Grand Am sedan
    Skylark coupe
    Achieva sedan
    Skylark sedan

    (Always liked the Olds coupe best. Thought the partially-covered rear wheels on the Buicks & the Olds sedan were silly, and the Buicks were a weird mix of pushing boundaries in some ways and being conservative (e.g. those rear wheel arches) in other ways.)

  14. Maymar Avatar
    Maymar

    https://i0.wp.com/www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Buick-Skylark-1.jpg

    I’m weirdly fond of the Skylark GS, especially in bright colours (I’ve never driven one, so that probably helps). That said, the Skylark was also the only one never available with the manual, and ergo, lamest.

    1. Oak Tree Avatar
      Oak Tree

      OMG… I still sometimes wonder how GM can so consistently get style wrong. It’s like they are actively trying to get the Lamest title.
      And this isn’t new. It’s a good 50 years of Lamest titles.

  15. salguod Avatar

    I was a GM fan in this era, so I have a soft spot for these. They’re easy to poke fun at, but I think it helps to put them in context. Chrysler would offer you a range of K Car derivatives and Ford had the Tempo/Topaz or Contour/Mystique twins. These were much more interesting, anyway.

    Of course there were Corollas, Civics, Accords and Camrys but I don’t think many GM N body buyers were cross shopping Japanese cars at this time.

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