A few years ago, I was in a bit of a bind. I needed a cheap car, but I didn’t want to drive something boring. With less than $2,000 to spend, there wasn’t much within 200 miles of my house.
But late one night, I saw a Craigslist ad for this 1977 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale. It fit the bill; the price was right, and it was a land yacht with a big V8. Not exactly a hot rod, but not a soulless Toyota Camry either.
So I drove out of state and bought the car. About 20 minutes later, it overheated and blew off the radiator cap. That caused one hell of a mess, and thus began my love-hate relationship with the unusual Olds 403 engine.
The Delta 88 is Absurd
By modern standards, the Oldsmobile Delta 88 is completely absurd. The first thing you’ll notice about the car is its monstrous size. The car is the same length (if not longer) as a single-cab longbed pickup truck. And what do you get for all that size? A huge trunk and a tiny interior. Seriously—the interior is quite small.
The 403 cubic-inch V8 under the hood won’t gap a minivan, thanks (in part) to 1970s emissions components. And with a massive exhaust leak, the car sounded like an airplane when the secondaries opened up. But it wasn’t all bad—despite the ridiculousness of a car like this, I just couldn’t stop driving it.
This 1977 Olds is Better than Modern Cars
That’s right. My 1977 Olds Delta 88 is significantly better than any modern car I’ve owned. Why? Because it’s truly comfortable. It rides like a cloud. People actually wanted to ride in my car. Not because it was particularly cool, but because it was the only car that made you want to go for a ride. After a long day, passengers could sink into the couch-like seats, enjoy a cigarette, and listen to the AM radio.
Plus, my car commanded the streets. Look at the road presence of this thing. It looks like a battleship (and floats like one too). It’s a car that says, “don’t hit me or I’ll ruin your day,” as it idles at a stoplight. Other cars from the 1970s and 1980s such as the Chrysler K-Car and the Ford Fairmont share many of the same qualities, but lack the sheer size and tonnage of this full-size sedan.
I don’t think that the land yachts of the 1970s get enough credit. Guys like Jeremy Clarkson trash big Cadillacs and Lincolns endlessly for their square styling and funny names, but why? Sure, you can poke fun at ridiculously big and inefficient cars, but when was the last time you drove one? There’s no better vehicle to cruise the long, straight highways of the American West. And given the price of gas at the time, comfort was well worth the reduced efficiency.
So that’s why I love my absurd 77 Oldsmobile. It’s big, floaty, and the steering is vague—but nothing available today drives as smooth or easy as this sub-$2,000 steel box. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll consider these cars ‘classics’ like Mustangs and Thunderbirds. Giant cars like the Delta 88 are a purely optimistic American creation. We came up with it, so why not embrace it?