On This Day in Motoring 13th Sept

38 Years ago today - 13th September: Oldsmobile 88 and 98 models, the first diesel cars manufactured in the US, were introduced. A major selling point of the two models was their fuel efficiency, which GM claimed to be 40% better than petrol-powered cars.

Yeah I had an 81 Olds diesel Brouham 88. Great road car and got about 24 mpg. Needed a new engine at 200K though.

My neighbor in Maine had an '81 Olds diesel. He never could get it to start in the wintertime…even with starting fluid. I think it even had a twin battery setup.

Agreed these were good engines.

Given car manufacturers were (and still are) trying to get the best mpg possible, why didn’t these diesels sales numbers succeed?

@JoeMario I beg to differ, as will many others. Most of these engines failed prematurely and were replaced with gas engines, mostly in taxis. Only the ones which were meticulously maintained and not loaded heavily survived to a reasonable age.

The concept was great, however.

Wiki summarizes it well.
“Oldsmobile produced various Diesel engines from 1978 to 1985. Sales peaked in 1981 at approximately 310,000 units, which represented 60% of the total U.S. passenger vehicle Diesel market, but this success was short lived. Sales quickly declined over the next several years as gasoline prices dropped. Additionally, the Oldsmobile Diesel had gained a reputation for unreliability and anemic performance that damaged the North American passenger Diesel market for the next 20 years. Nonetheless, the strong blocks continue to see use in petrol-powered race engines”

They produced 90-120hp from a large V8, no turbo.

The engines were junk. In 81 they had used a heavier engine after the gas converted ones didn’t last at all. But it was essentially a gas engine converted to diesel and not strong enough for the high compression. So rings, head gaskets, heads, etc. were an expensive problem. Plus maintenance was a lot higher. I paid $300 for a starter and $600 for an injector pump, plus paid $800 originally for the engine. Winter starting though was not really a problem if you took care of the glow plugs and fuel. Two batteries.

In 81 I paid $10,000 for mine. Two years later I had about 70,000 on it and talked to the dealer about trading. Their offer was $2500 trade-in on a new Olds. So $7500 depreciation in two years says it all. That’s why I kept driving it for 480K with a couple engines and a couple head gasket repairs at $1100 each. Kinda diminishes the value of 24 mpg.

My Dad followed one of those up a steep hill and continued to follow it into the owner’s driveway soon after the top to tell him his car was running horribly rich (black smoke)…oops…never mind.

Yep black smoke was fine. White smoke meant you either needed a new injector pump or had a head gasket leak.