13K-Mile Diesel! 1981 Oldsmobile 98 Regency

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You can’t get much of a luxury car in 2023 for $37,000, which at $11,300 in 1981, is what this 1981 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency would cost in today’s dollars. Did that make sense? $11,300 in 1981 = $37,000 today. The seller has this beautiful luxury survivor listed here on eBay in Beechwood, Ohio and they have a buy-it-now price of $20,900 listed, or you can make an offer. Thanks to Russell G. for sending in this tip!

This car has only traveled a reported 13,000 miles, give or take, over the last 42 years, which is incredible. Although, if you look at the Vehicle History Report, it lists an odometer discrepancy at some point. We don’t know what or why that is, only that a good number of those are errors on the part of reporting agencies. This car appears to be in absolutely incredible condition no matter the mileage.

Oldsmobile made the tenth-generation Ninety-Eight from 1977 through 1984 and they were the first generation to go through GM’s famous downsizing exercise. When looking at the earlier cars, they almost seem overwrought now, with wasteful sheet metal for the sake of being long. The new cars were about a foot shorter and 800 pounds lighter, yet still offered the luxurious and quiet experience that Olds 98/Ninety-Eight buyers wanted.

This car doesn’t have the leather interior that buyers today just can’t live without, as with their $8 daily lattes. Velour was good enough for most buyers in the 1980s and 90s, what happened? The seats look basically like brand new in this car both front and rear. And as expected, so does the trunk area. You may notice a subtle diamond pattern in the seat fabric, which was available in 1981 only. Models in this era included the base model, the LS, and the high-end Regency, which came in either a two-door or four-door sedan body style. Everything works inside other than the power rear tilt on the passenger seat.

This is an Olds 350-cu.in. V8 diesel, which would have had an incredibly low 105 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. Oldsmobile was reportedly America’s #1 seller of diesel cars in this era and 20 mpg isn’t uncommon in Olds diesel cars if you can also live with a 0-60 second time of 20 seconds. Ouch. No matter how you slice it, this has to be the nicest 1981 Olds 98 diesel sedan out there. Have any of you owned one, or better yet, an Olds with a diesel engine from this era?

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Comments

  1. alphasudMember

    Perfect candidate for a 6.5 Detroit turbo swap. That way you don’t have to worry about the crank breaking in half. Have people forgot how poor this engine was? GM had one shot at making the diesel a popular option which would have solidified the customers perception as a viable alternative to petrol power. Unfortunately they failed miserably and Americans said no way!

    Like 27
    • Lincoln BMember

      Would a 6.5 bolt to that transmission?

      Like 2
      • Driveinstile DriveinstileMember

        Im pretty sure this has the Turbohydramatic 400. A 6.5 or 6.2 i think should bolt right up. But Im no expert.
        I remember these Diesels when they were new. They left a pretty sour taste in many peoples mouth about diesels. In the end I think many of the problems with the Olds 350 diesel were sorted out, but it was too late, damage was done.

        Like 12
      • Driveinstile DriveinstileMember

        Im going to have to correct myself. I just did a little digging. Looks like it may have had a turbo 350 or even a 200C. Guess with the engine swap it would need a trans swap possibly too lol.

        Like 2
    • Chuck

      Screw that, climb under and if the block says D on the underside it’s junk. If says DX order a set of ARP head studs and drive the crap out of it
      If you wanna get fancy slide a hot Cam in her and she will leave rubber and still show you 25mpg with the AC on!

      Like 2
    • Gary

      I heard that some racers used the heads to build high horse power gas drag engines. I don’t think they had a actual combustion chamber, just valves in a flat head. Compression ratio would have been high, I think. I was working at a little truck stop when I was 13 and saw the first one, owned by our local auto wrecker. It was in a beautiful restored 56 Chevy Bel air two door sedan, odd choice but he said he got way better milage than 20 mpg claimed by the author. He did a fabulous job, it look completely stock. I had another guy come in with a Olds like this one from out of state (vacationing) who said it sounded louder than normal but ran ok. They have a tendency to do that with a rod hang out of the block. I filled the oil and directed him to our local Olds dealer, he said he was only three hours from home and was going for it. Gotta love a positive thinker.

      Like 2
      • Phil D

        Racers used the diesel engine blocks (particularly the 350 DX castings, which this one would be) to build very heavy but bulletproof 350 gas engines, but not the heads. The flat-faced diesel heads wouldn’t work at all on a gasser because there’s no combustion chamber whatsoever in them (diesels use what’s known as a fire bowl in the piston as their equivalent to a combustion chamber), along with the fact that these heads would have had a useless pre-chamber in them, since the Olds diesels were indirect injection engines.

        Like 2
    • duaney

      By 1981 the engine was bullet proof

      Like 2
      • ACZ

        The 81 was not quite bullet proof, but pretty close. The 85 was really bullet proof.

        Like 2
  2. HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

    Oh, this is going to stir up a hornets nest. In case you missed that era, I know Scotty was there, and Geomechs knows all about these. When gas prices skyrocketed, yet diesel remained low, almost 1/3 the cost, the logical solution was a diesel. Oh, the savings mount with every mile,,the ads claimed. To be honest, I didn’t think they were that bad, just caught Americans, with no prior diesel experience, with their pants down. 1st, and foremost, diesel wasn’t available like today, and many times, one had to fuel up at those low life truckstops,( where I hung out) that always had spills. Then winter set in. Diesels don’t like cold, and maintenance. Diesels require strict oil changes, and babied when cold. American passenger car drivers had neither the knowledge nor the patience, and fried these left and right. I believe a gas engine swap was common. That tin can next the air cleaner, I believe is a silencer, as the intake makes a lot of noise, and general clattering of a diesel isn’t for everyone. These made great road cars, the diesel shines on the highway, but city traffic killed these. The 13K, which looks right, considering what it is, scares me.

    Like 16
    • Grant

      Exactly.

      Like 3
  3. Harvey HarveyMember

    Nice car with a crap engine.After spending 25 years in a shop with 6 other mechanics breathing in diesel exhaust you couldn’t give me one. I’ll take the smooth, quiet gas engine every time.

    Like 11
  4. Lincoln BMember

    45 years truck mechanic and put 500,000 km on a 1984 mazda B2200 and got twice the fuel mileage of gas pickups and I loved that trouble free truck, but Howard is correct on all points. Today’s driver prefers the pep and quiet smell free performance of gas engines, the diesel is best suited to people with a long commute. Diesel engines are best when inline and V8 or V anything should be avoided IMHO.

    Like 6
    • Stan

      Correct Lincoln. An old trucker expression is ” 6 in a row.. ready to tow “

      Like 5
      • HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

        Huh, I heard it was always, “6 in a row, makes ‘er go”, but there could be regional differences,, :)

        Like 4
    • connbackroads

      I’ve got a B2200 with a Perkins motivator if it interests you . . .

      Like 1
      • Lincoln BMember

        It would depend on where you are and the condition of the body, fantastic mechanics but very prone to rust.

        Like 1
    • Sammy

      This list reads like a greatest hits from my childhood. My Dad had an 83 B2200 diesel. My mom had a custom cruiser diesel wagon. The Mazda was bullet proof (but not deer proof as I totalled that truck with a buck). The Olds had a engine problem early on and my dad found an engine from a later 98 (I held the flashlight while he swapped it) but it had the TH350. Aamco put 11 transmissions in that car until they refunded my dad the unlimited transmission warranty. The other weird diesel they had was a Mercury Capri diesel which I’ve never seen or heard any another one.

      Like 1
  5. Troy

    5 owners and only13k miles….. I don’t know its really clean so its hard to say

    Like 1
    • Die-SelMember

      Yeah, you have to wonder why so many owners with that low of miles.
      Reading the glowing and exuberant eBay listing…me thinks they are “Selling the sizzle….and not the steak”

      Like 2
  6. Tony Primo

    The car was in the shop so often that it didn’t have time to accumulate a lot of miles.

    Like 24
  7. normadesmond

    I drove 180,000 with my ’79 88 Diesel.

    I changed the oil every 3000 miles, used ARCO Graphite the entire time.

    Yes, I also had problems. GM put in a new transmission.

    Like 7
  8. Big Bear 🇺🇸

    This Olds is beautiful and the only downfall is that so call diesel 350. It’s was GM poor attempt on this. If I had the room and purchase ths Olds. This first thing I would do… Bye-bye diesel!!! And my GM go to engine is .. not a LS but my favorite 383 stroker!!! And it would fit nicely. I would beef up the trans . And make the rear into a posi. Of course nice duals not too loud it’s a luxury vehicle. Everything would be hook up under the hood including the cruise control. That would be a bitching ride!!!! 🇺🇸🐻🇺🇸

    Like 2
  9. local_sheriff

    This car’s owner(s) at least deserve cred for not having converted to a gas engine decades ago! Though I’ve never driven an Olds diesel I remember these were plentiful in G and B bodies were I grew up – by the time I was old enough to drive they were all converted to gasoline power and I haven’t seen nor heard one running since the 80s.

    Since I’m fascinated by obscure engines I did research on the Olds diesel phenomena this winter. Turns out that with the DX version introduced ’81 most issues were eliminated, like stronger head bolts/gaskets and a water separator filter; however damage was done already. The way I see it is GM itself that is to blame for this catastrophy having rushed the Olds diesel into production without taking into account the specific requirements of diesels while at the same time pushing the engine as just as user-friendly as the gas version. For the European market the Olds diesel did so much damage to the Oldsmobile name so that when Alero was introduced it was marketed in Europe as a Chevrolet – with crudely almost homemade looking bowtie badges glued atop the Olds rocket.

    While I got my share of diesel fumes when in the army with 2stroke Detroits, some people apparently don’t get enough. This guy has most every version of the Olds diesel lined up alive and knocking https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZI_lDUjl7k0&t=293s

    Like 7
  10. george mattar

    I rust proofed these when new at a very busy Olds/Mazda dealership. This a beautiful car with comfort far beyond any crap built today by GM, or anybody else for that matter. But that boat anchor diesel. What a pile. Our dealer sold his personal attorney one brand new in 1978, a white Regency 98. The attorney goes for a trip to Baltimore from central PA, the crank broke about 150 miles into the trip. What a POS. Another GM failure of the 70s that turned that once great company into the Titanic. In the mid 80s, I worked at a very busy used car reconditioning shop. Our mechanic, George, spent his days removing the 5.7 diesels from various Oldsmobiles and replaced them with gas engines. A friend of mine who LOVED diesels bought all the engines for pennies on the dollar. Why, I will never understand. The compression ratio of these engines was 22:5.1.

    Like 0
  11. Big C

    I remember looking at a big Oldsmobile station wagon. Don’t remember the #, 98, 88, ?. But it was a diesel and had something like 9,000 miles on it. It was red with a red interior and was like brand new. This was in the mid ’80’s, and the dealer wanted $1400 for it. I test drove it, brought it back, and said “no thanks.” The salesman was begging me to buy it. I could have got that thing for under a grand. But, didn’t have the time, the place or the money to swap out the diesel for a gas engine.

    Like 3
  12. Doug Edwards

    Went to school with a guy in Cal that put one in a 58 chevy step side, nice truck. We in in Diesel school and the instructor had a thing for Chevette diesels., Who knew.

    Like 1
  13. Maggy

    455 time.I swapped in a early 70’s olds 455 into a customers 83 diesel Buick estate wagon. He hated the diesel and wanted some pep.I remember the engine itself being a little wider but all the 350 brackets lined up except 1 which I had to modify by cutting it and welding in a piece to make it wider.I had modify the frame support bracket on pass side to clear the exhaust. That was it.Thing was a tire shredder.The customer loved it .Those Olds diesel’s were sought after by Dr. Oldsmobile type race car guys as the blocks were a lot beefier then gas engines. He never had to go for an emmisions test either as it was registered as a diesel.

    Like 9
    • Jon

      Maggy, when I started to read your post, I thought you were talking about a car I used to own.
      Bought a ’81 Regency from my mechanic in the early ’90s. Him and his brother had also swapped out the diesel for a 455 out of a ’73 Tornado. Arkansas car which was nice to have in salt addicted Minnesota. I added in power seat recliners and swapped out the cable mirrors for power ones. And if you remember the aluminum spoke look rims that were seen mostly on wagons, I found a set in a salvage yard. With blackwall tires, car looked a little sportier than whitewalls and those wire spoke caps.

      Like 3
      • maggy

        his name was Olaf. He worked as a salesman in the foundry next door to our shop. His had the spoked hubcaps but I remember those those aluminum wheels. Didn’t see those that often. Did another swap but this time a gas 350 in a diesel 79 98.This was about 35 years ago.His wagon was dark blue with woodgrain sides. Blue cloth split bench.

        Like 3
  14. Lincoln BMember

    Around 1980 Detroit Diesel introduced the fuel pincher an 8.2 liter na V8 4 stroke, gutless, smokey and I did a lot of head gaskets until the early version was recalled and drilled for bigger head bolts. GM was in a learning curve about 4 stroke Diesel. Those chevette diesels mentioned may have been Isuzu and they build a great product, I have been told S10’s used them and had I known probably would have owned 1. It certainly has helped GM in today’s pickups.

    Like 2
  15. Lincoln BMember

    While I’m shooting off my mouth all truckers know a diesel is a completely different animal with a turbo.

    Like 3
  16. steve

    6.2 LS swap with a 700r4, or scrap it.

    Like 1
  17. JimZMember

    In the 80’s, Olds diesels were the only thing we drove. I could buy them cheap, and knew how to get them going…and keep them going! Frequent oil changes (Kendall Super D3) & fresh batteries was the mantra! Even had a couple of Olds Cierra V6 diesels. Had an early 80s Chevy pickup diesel, and in the 90’s I would special order new diesel Suburbans for my business in Chicago. Many folks performed ill-advised gas engine swaps rather than educating themselves and their customers on what makes a reliable diesel automobile. I started driving Chevy Avalanches when they came out, and regretted they didn’t offer a diesel option. I still love a ‘rattler’!

    Like 6
  18. Bill Owens BillOMember

    I moved to Washington, NC in late 1980 and joined the Jaycees. The summer before I moved there, the Jaycees had a Continental Banquet in which they sold $100 banquet tickets and someone would win the Lincoln Continental. In 1981 they changed the name to Regency Banquet, and they gave away a 1981 Ninety Eight Regency. Times kept getting tougher, and it eventually became a Jeep Banquet until the banquet was finally eliminated.

    Like 3
    • Terrry

      Thank God. I can see it eventually becoming the ‘Yugo Banquet”

      Like 4
  19. pwtiger

    It’s no wonder that GM went bankrupt after all their horrible engines starting with the Vega, I guess this would be a good driver, just have a spare 350 gas engine ready to go…

    Like 1
  20. Roland Schoenke

    With the oil crooks raised price of diesel, I see no advantage to the diesel now-a-days

    Like 0
  21. SaabGirl900

    My father saw a low mileage ’78 Seville diesel for sale in the fall of 1979 and just HAD to have it, despie have zero mechanical aptitude or knowledge. The car spent more time on the back end of a tow truck than it did in the garage at home. The glow plugs failed, the injector pump crapped out and I don’t know how many starters he had replaced….that car just had an appetite for starters that I had never seen before and haven’t since. He would forget to plug the car in when the thermometer went below 40 degrees….up here in the frosty state of New Hampshire, that’s pretty much every day from October through April. So, when he would go out to start the car at 0 dark 30….surprise, surprise, it wouldn’t start. We’d come down to breakfast with Mum in a foul mood, her Cordoba missing from the garage, and the Caddy sitting there insolently refusing to start.

    I think he had the car for 5 years and took a bath on it when he traded it for an ’84 Town Car. I drove it once……..the steering wheel vibrated in time with the engine. It was slow as cold molasses running uphill in January and, as I recall, it didn’t handle particularly well, either.

    This Oldsmobile, like my father’s Caddy, probably spent more time on the back end of a tow truck than on the road, hence the low miles.

    One more reason that I despise GM and would never drive anything GM even if someone gave it to me.

    Like 5
  22. JC

    My sister had this car with the exact same color combo in the coupe version. It was a beautiful car and as comfortable as a Cadillac. Unfortunately the junk diesel under the hood was AWFUL. She bought it off a co-worker and got rid of it 6 months later after being stranded a third time. It only had around 50k miles on it.

    Like 3
  23. Dan Baker

    I worked for a family business that bought 3 of these cars new. All eventually had engine replacements. Beautiful cars with terrible engines. I remember GM spent a small fortune replacing the engines. Yes, they were loud and many people had no understanding of diesel engines. We were strict about oil changes, using Shell Rotella. Engines still failed.

    Like 3
  24. duaney

    Here we go again! I own many of these, drive them all the time and have great luck. Remember the bad news gets all the press, but the good news of all the happy diesel customers is left out. And by 1981 the Olds diesel was bullet proof, earlier engines had more issues.

    Like 5
  25. Big Bear 🇺🇸

    Ok.. this is the 2nd posting. My original was not posted. This is a beautiful Olds with this interior. GM made a poor attempt on using a 350 into a diesel. Very slow and other issues. If I had the room I would buy this and . Pull the drivetrain and install. Stroker 383 with a better 350 trans and have a posi rear end. When you open the hood it would look stock everything hooked up. All diesel stuff removed. And it would be a sweet ride to enjoy. 🐻🇺🇸

    Like 3
  26. Terrry

    Quick! Put a water separator in the fuel system and it may stay running for awhile..and “odometer discrepancy” means someone has been playing tic-tac-toe with the counter. Mystery miles.

    Like 2
  27. R. Lee Parks

    Olds was often used as a test bed for new innovation, notably the Hydromatic transmission and the diesel. If either failed then their best selling lines Chevy and Pontiac, and their premier brands Buick and Cadillac wouldn’t take the hit. The “middle child”, it’s not surprising Olds took the final dive for GM first.

    Worked with a guy who had just moved his wife and two kids from WV to NC in the early 80s. He had an Olds diesel that died soon thereafter with 50K miles. Not having a lot of money at the time, it was too expensive to repair. The best he could get in trade and probably a loan was a Chevette. Always felt bad for him.

    Like 2
  28. ken

    had a 1984 gas 2 door 98 best American car I ever owed ! to easy to get a ticket though you could be going 100 miles an hour and never know it.

    Like 0
  29. Lincoln BMember

    Wow not too often an 81 olds generates this much interest both pro and con, I rarely say to many nice things about GM (they do make great looking vehicles) but my father didn’t give me this name by accident. One thing to always to remember many engines have trouble when first put on market, a Caterpillar instructor told me once the 3406B when first introduced people said B was for boom,it went on to dominate the class 8 truck market for more than 2 decades and made cats line of engines a dominant force in trucks. Some one after a close inspection might score a cheap car in an era of crazy prices.

    Like 4
  30. William Bartle

    This is a beautiful car! I had a 1979 Data 88 with a 350 gas engine. Paid $400 in mint condition in 1989. Drove it for 4 1/2 years. This car would probably pay for itself just in fun.

    Like 3
  31. Bigmech

    I worked in Oldsmobile engineering during the diesel days. Did diesel to gas conversions at home . Sometimes used the diesel short block with gas code 5 cylinder heads to make a circle track engine for friends. Used a roller lifter cam from the mid eighties hurst olds . Many other parts had to be swapped like flyer and starter as the starter was geared for very high diesel compression and would come apart after many starts . The injection pump driven gear bushings had to be plugged to retail boil pressure. Many other items to be done but perfectly doable nevertheless. The gas engine installed in a Diesel engine bay was so awesome. Very quite because of the diesel firewall sound insulation. Highway gearing for the rear axle was a plus for mileage. Basically they should have built the car like a diesel but with a gas engine lol.

    Like 1
  32. Jay

    We’ve all heard the nightmare stories about these cars but if taken care of they ran fine. The biggest problem was the supporting equipment under the hood like fuel pumps or starters. We had an 81 Cutlass Brougham Diesel new from the dealer. Kept it 3 years clocking around 123k miles. Almost trouble free. It didn’t like the cold, however. But no engine failure, etc. We just traded cars every 2-3 years because our family drove a lot as we were in a rural area. In fact a lot of friends and neighbors drove different GM diesels of that era and none ever suffered from engine failure. As I mentioned above it was mostly the failure of supporting mechanicals under the hood. One thing most of my friends did HATE about them was the propensity not to start sometimes w/out the help of some type of starting spray. Open the air filter housing, spray a little bit and it would fire right up. The only time I recall being stranded was Christmas day 1983 when there was an unusual freeze. It had been zero degrees overnight. Plugged up overnight and started just fine in the morning but about 20 minutes into the trip the gelling was just too much for the engine and it stalled. Ran fine after it warmed up though.

    Like 2
    • ACZ

      I’m glad to hear that I wasn’t the only one that had good luck with 5.7 diesels. My 81 Coupe deVille diesel went 275,000 miles when I finally sold it. I just wanted a different car after having my butt planted in the same one so long. I had the injector pump fixed once. The rest was just tires and brakes. Never had a starter problem. Just regular maintenance done religiously. After that, I had an 83 Riviera diesel. Kept it a couple of years when I got a company car. Hated to sell it.

      Like 3
  33. MattLF9

    Nothing wrong with the 350 DX diesel, my dd for the last 14 years is a ’81 98 diesel exacly like this one, same color too.
    Just withinn the last couple of years I’ve put 30,000 trouble free miles on mine.
    My 350 diesel gets 28 mpg and makes great low end torque, and it’ll do 99 mph when it hits the governor.

    DX’s are extremely reliable, most people are just passing horror stories on that they heard, I have 1st hand experience.

    Like 3
    • Joe

      Yes, this one is a 350 DX block!

      Like 1

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