Pros: Dependable, powerful, comfortable, efficient, light weight, driver friendly, not bad looking.
Dependable, powerful, comfortable, efficient, light weight, driver friendly, not bad looking.
Cons: Transmission issues, brake fatigue, body roll, rust.
Transmission issues, brake fatigue, body roll, rust.
My first car after I received my license was a 1988 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale four door hardtop sedan ( or Delta 88 for short). It was light blue in color with dark blue interior, and stretched just over 16 feet long. The car ran well for three years before I had to sell it due to mechanical problems at 90,167 miles on the odometer. Those miles may seem low for a mechanical failure, but you have to consider that I drove this car faster and much more aggressively than I drive now, all the time, and yes it won several out of town drag races, at over 100 MPH. The car was my 85 year old grandmothers and had been previously driven only up to about 20 MPH, to go a block away to a grocery store and back. By the time I was done with the car it had another 30,000 tough miles on it, and had left a 1996 Pontiac Grand Am in the dust behind it. Now I regret not going easier on the car because I'd likely still be driving it.
The Delta 88 could be purchased in brougham package or coupe version, but all were six passenger sedans. Similar to the Buick Park Avenue in both design and price, the Delta 88 was not quite the "poor mans Cadillac" like a 98 Regency, but it was a little more plush than a Chevrolet or Pontiac of the same vintage. Downsized since 1985 from a rear wheel drive platform, the boxy styling was still apparent but with a smaller engine hauling a much lighter body; interior space is approximately equal to the rear drive car despite these changes.
Exterior and Appearance:
Light blue body panels are broken up by tastefully designed black trim and door guards. Chrome lines the windows, door handles, door guards, and bumpers culminating in large chrome wheel covers that could be spoked or solid, as they were with my car. A red hood ornament proclaiming Royale sits atop a chrome front grille with large rectangular headlights on either side. Hefty steel bumpers make a positive impression on the front and rear, while decent size rear-view mirrors allow for easy visibility behind the car. The hood angles downward for more visibility up front, though the hood ornament is just visible when sitting up all the way forward in your seat. Delta 88 and Royale script lines the rear fenders that end at unattractive but functional, square, orange, and red tail lamps and brake lights.
Power and Acceleration:
The Delta 88 sedan comes equipped with a 3.8 liter (231 cubic inch) V6 engine that develops 150 horsepower and 215 Ib-ft of torque. In comparison to my V8 powered cars, the Oldsmobile has similar 0-60 times (around 9 seconds) but the smaller engine does lack some of the low end torque. This is not to say that it did not accelerate quickly and confidently onto the highway, just that it won't shove you back into the seat like my Cadillac (see link). Up to about 45 mph, acceleration is smooth and brisk, though with some noticeable front end wandering under full acceleration. At about 45 mph the car seems to slow slightly to engage a fuel saving device, then cranks right back into overdrive up to about 65 mph, where it pauses to go into the final gear. Whether you are in overdrive or not, the first gear to second transition is so smooth that it is barely noticeable. To engage into 3rd and 4th gear is a little more labored, but still a nice transition. At least that is how it performed before the transmission started to fail (the eventual reason for my selling of the car I thought I would keep forever at 16 years old).
My family has owned two of these cars, this one and a 1990 Eighty Eight (same car with a slightly redesigned transmission and a different name as "Delta" was dropped). These cars can still commonly be seen all over the country even today (about 20 years after manufacture) and that should tell you something about their quality. Apparently there have been some issues with these cars transmissions (GM 4T60) up until a fix was engineered into the 1990 model year. My car and a family friends two Delta 88's all developed transmission issues (he ran a mail route so the stop and go driving did them in) but our 1990 seemed to have a more durable transmission that lasted much longer.
Stopping distance was never much of a problem with this car. I rate it average as the two front disc brakes and drum rears were nothing to impressive, but they did thier job and even brought me to a few high speed emergency stops on rural roads, near where I live. The car could be ordered with ABS, but mine did not have this feature and did slide around a bit during the winter (once into a mailbox) but it stopped better than our Windstar that had ABS, most of the time. I did have one incident of overheating the front brakes on a hot August afternoon while coming to my third stop from over 60 MPH in a row on a highway. The brakes felt spongy and responded as if someone had put oil on the front pads, which resulted in a greater stopping distance than expected by about 20 feet. Luckily nothing was in front of me. This was an isolated incident and never happened again, but the brakes were still hot enough to instantly evaporate water when I returned home 15 minutes later, after giving the car a rest in a parking lot.
Brake longevity was decent even under heavy use slowing on hills and from high speeds. Without the ABS, one or two (generally the front tires) would occasionally lock up when a deer would run out ahead of me, but the car remained very easy to control. The car traveled in a straight path with no meandering during braking.
Handling and Maneuverability:
The Delta 88 is the most driver friendly car I have owned as far as being able to keep it under control and maneuver it. The suspension was shot when I bought it, so body roll was excessive with the car leaning at unnerving angles on winding country roads. The car rarely ever chirped a tire around corners but it would lean, giving the impression of less traction, it did not however, drift out of an intended driving path while leaning around corners. This Oldsmobile is considered full size for the year (though much smaller than my Lincoln) but is in no way intimidating to drive. It is easy to park and fits nicely within the driving lane on all but the narrowest roadways. Blind spots are small with this car and its relatively light weight gives it a peppy and almost sporty feel. After driving my Cadillac for a while, I was always amazed at the difference in driving feel between the two cars (just over 200 pounds apart), the Cadillac feels much more solid and tank-like, but the Oldsmobile is more maneuverable and easier to accelerate or stop in. With a turning radius just shy of the 40 foot mark, this car handled well and was easy to get into tight parking spaces. The long wheelbase dampened bumpy roads in spite of the poor suspension condition, and driving was generally comfortable on most road surfaces.
Interior Features and Extras:
As far as my Delta 88 was concerned, you got nothing on the inside. My car had a front and rear defroster, air conditioner, and the entire front bench seat could be rolled back, but not reclined. I had roll up windows, cloth seats, and just about anything else you might expect as standard in 1960. I really didn't care though, it was my first car, it drove reliably, and it was more comfortable than my friends sub compacts. It was a bit of a stereotypical old lady's car, but some tint, wheel covers, and subwoofers, quickly separated it from that look. The car had standard automatic safety belts that were designed to be left buckled into place at all times, even when opening the doors. I always unbuckled the seat belt before getting out as I did not understand this feature, but it is supposed to enhance safety and ease in getting out of the car.
The car could be ordered with power adjustable leather seats, power tinted sunroof, power locks and windows, air bags, Delco ETR stereo system, ABS brakes, trailer towing package, power antenna, and several other features that my bare bones vehicle did not have. The car was advertised as a dependable and roomy family sedan with just enough luxury to appease the average American family, and I think it met that demand. Inside the car, plastic trim and metallic gray wood grain add to a sort of formal look, somewhat reminiscent of 1980's appliances but not overly cheap. The seats are comfortable, but there complete lack of adjustment made them unsuitable for long trips. Road noise is louder than with my expensive luxury cars, but it remains quieter than in our Chevrolet Blazer and other smaller cars. The stock radio sounds decent through the four Delco speakers but I still upgraded to a CD player and new rear speakers. Interior space is plentiful for up to five people (I once had 7 in the car) but above that, it gets a little cozy. The car is tall enough to accommodate my 6 foot frame and wide enough to fit three in the back seat, interior materials look better than today's plastic interiors, and room for passengers is ample. Trunk space is also plentiful; even with the spare tire mounted beneath the floor, there was still room left for groceries after installing a 60 pound subwoofer system inside.
Repairs and Reliability:
Despite the aggressive and unrelenting way I drove this car as a teen, it rarely broke down or needed repairs. We did have to replace the computer, alternator, starter, exhaust, and a front end linkage that helps keep the front tires in the proper position, during the 30,000 miles I drove this car. The transmissions' impending failure was the final straw, as the cost of a new transmission was more than the blue book price or the $500 I sold it for in 2006. The suspension was shot and rust had begun to form all along the bottom of the car after 15 years of parking lot dings combined with Wisconsin's road salt. The undercarriage and engine were a study in the oxidation process, but the paint above the center line of the doors was still shiny and nice, albeit with some sun fading. This car was light years more reliable than my 1986 Lincoln Town Car and only left me riding the bus to school 3 times in two years.
The only difference between this 1988 Delta 88 and the 1987 model year is that it has shoulder belts on the rear seats. The 1987 model only had lap belts in back, other than that everything is essentially the same in appearance from year to year.
Fuel efficiency is rated at 19/29 MPG, in my experience fuel economy started at about 27 MPG combined and dwindled to 17 with the transmission issues causing the engine to rev up all the time. For a car this heavy and roomy, the ability to get gas mileage near 30 MPG is a definite advantage. Generation III of the GM 3.8 Liter in my dad's 2005 Pontiac has a bit more horsepower and slightly better economy after 17 years of improvements, but the Oldsmobile really isn't that far off in performance due to the weight difference. The 3800 series engine was chosen as one of the most reliable and efficient engines coming in at number 5 in Wards 10 best engines of the 20th Century list.
Wheelbase: 110.8 inches
Overall length: 196.3 inches
Width: 72.4 inches
Weight: 3243 pounds
Engine: 3800 series 231 cubic inches (3.8L) V6
Capacities: 16.2 cubic inch trunk, 6 passenger, 18 gallon gas tank.
In ten years if the opportunity arises to buy another one of these by then classics, I will probably do it. The car is very spacious, accommodating, and powerful, without sacrificing fuel efficiency. The Delta 88 makes a great first car, it is big and safe (especially if you get the air bags) and cheap to insure. Parts are abundant for these vehicles and many can still be seen driving today.