Tag Archives: Iron Duke

This Oldsmobile ad is too sexy

Introducing the 1981 Oldsmobile Innuendo... er, Omega.

Introducing the 1981 Oldsmobile Innuendo… er, Omega.

“When the action begins, you know that every move counts.”

What are you really angling at, Oldsmobile? Huh?

This is an 1981 ad for the lowly Oldsmobile Omega, sister car to the Pontiac Phoenix and Chevrolet Citation, and proud recipient of GM’s X-Body platform.

Or should I say, XXX-Body platform…

Okay, I get it – she’s a director or something. The vest should be a dead giveaway. You can put pens and stuff in those pockets.

Still, hats off to Oldsmobile for trying to add some sly sexiness to the unlamented Omega, seen here in Broughamified form.

You might want to sit down before looking at these.

You might want to sit down before looking at these.

Though the name was applied to a Nova-based sedan starting in 1973, the downsized 1980 Omega (and its sister cars) were “a big, f***ing deal,” to quote Joe Biden.

Front-wheel-drive, with a standard four-cylinder engine and optional V6, they rocketed to the top of must-buy lists against a backdrop of high gas prices and a relatively dismal economy.

‘Omega’ is the last letter in the Greek alphabet, and translates into ‘mega’ or ‘great’. Well, owners of the 1980-1984 Omega soon found themselves at the forefront of a great number of recalls.

The GM X-Body cars, like Chrysler’s Dodge-Aspen/Plymouth Volare twins four years earlier, could have benefited from more extensive pre-production quality testing. Besides a myriad of problems, buyers of the base X-Bodies were likely underwhelmed by the performance of the Iron Duke 2.5-litre four-cylinder.

The HOTTEST Omega offered, before the X-Bodies were scrapped.

The HOTTEST Omega offered, before the X-Bodies were scrapped.

Making roughly 90 horsepower, the iron block, iron head, overhead valve engine sounded powerful, but was based on ancient architecture. The optional 2.8-litre, aluminum head V6 was a far better bet, making 135 horsepower and good amounts of torque.

My earliest road trip memory, going back to 1986, featured the whole family climbing New Hampshire’s 6,288-foot Mount Washington in a V6-powered 1980 Pontiac Phoenix. That engine eventually evolved into the 3.1-litre, and was only retired in 2005.

Unlike the Phoenix and Citation, the Omega shunned the hatchback body style that seemed to be the most popular choice for Chevy and Pontiac buyers.

This was an Oldsmobile, after all – a mid-range marque – and hatchback cars were for entry-level buyers. Coupe and sedan only, please.

The vinyl landau roof, whitewalls and wire-spoke hubcaps gave this top-end Omega the exterior trappings of larger Oldsmobiles, but those can only bring so much panache to a maligned crop of cars. Still, it brought some satisfaction to this vest-wearing director, who is definitely going places in her career.

The Fiero still burns…

April in Ottawa, Canada.

The glaciers have slowly receded following a winter that resembled something from a Roland Emmerich eco-disaster film, exposing formerly icebound treasures to the lukewarm spring sunshine.

Such bounty, too! Not just old coffee cups, but also mud, no-longer-frozen dog feces, more mud (I think), and the shovel that went missing after New Year’s.

However, on the roads – potholed and cracked as they are – the capital’s weary motorists are thumbing their nose at winter by (cautiously) getting their summer rides out. Last week I rounded the corner near my house to find a red, first-generation Pontiac Fiero parked at the curb.

This also would have been noteworthy in July – I mean, who still has one of these 80s relics?

The encounter sparked hazy childhood memories for me – especially the recollection of my mother forbidding me from going for a spin in my cousin’s Fiero, which I thought was second only to a Mustang for awesomeness. The reason had something to do with safety – the phrase death trap was tossed about quite a bit that day.

Certainly, acceleration-induced whipflash from the car’s standard Iron Duke inline-four wasn’t among those worries.

The 1984-88 Pontiac Fiero (Spanish for ‘fierce’, and ‘ferocious’) was far tamer than most drivers would have liked, despite its radical two-seat/mid-engine layout. The reason for this was GM’s need to make do with off-the-shelf suspension and drivetrain parts that formed the basis of such pulse-pounders as the Pontiac Phoenix and Chevrolet Celebrity – not to mention the pavement-scorching Chevette.

Not quite a Fiero: still, these Chevettes had more than a few parts in common with their two-seater stable mate.

Not quite a Fiero: still, these Chevettes had more than a few parts in common with their two-seater stable mate.

Nothing spells performance quite like the heavy, horsepower-deficient Iron Duke, which, because of tight quarters in the engine compartment, was saddled with a shrunken oil pan that perpetually ran a quart low.

In an attempt to squeeze more juice out of this lemon, drivers often revved the Iron Duke too high, leading to widespread breakdowns. Media reports of engine fires served to saddle the car with a stigma that lasted, and GM tossed the hot potato before the 80s were finished.

In the end, models with the 2.8-litre V-6 and 5-speed manual were the closest the Fiero came to matching its own high-performance looks. I have to image the little wedge I saw parked around the corner had a V-6 stuffed behind the seats, as I can’t image anyone bothering to keep an Iron Duke on the road in this economy – even for the irony factor.