Four-Door Quad 4: 1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais

“Cars from the 1980s that I would love to own: I will take Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais with the Quad 4, Alex.” While I doubt that will ever be an actual question on Jeopardy!, this rare four-door Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais would certainly be my answer. This example is one of the rarest specs, as most of the ones we see are in two-door form. Said to have been owned for many years by a retired Air Force pilot (those guys always have the coolest cars), this Quad 4-equipped Calais is listed at no reserve here on eBay and parked somewhere in Winter Park, Florida with bids at just over $500. 

Man: the factory body kit, quad exhaust, absolutely-period-perfect “twist”-style alloy wheels – this car had it all. I know underneath is a fairly ordinary economy sedan but these “GMO Quad 4” cars stepped things up with the upgraded powerplant, thickly bolstered bucket seats, FE3 sports suspension and a variety of styling tweaks. This particular car has been in the care of an older owner which explains why it hasn’t been modified from stock; it also has under 80,000 original miles.

Yes, it’s covered in red surfaces from the door panels to the back seats. At least the steering wheel remains neutral. Although I seemingly think this was one of the best GM products to come out of the 80s, they were never big sellers and had nagging reliability issues. Though many of you will always prefer two-doors, I will always prefer cars that are a bit sleepy in nature and a sedan body on an entry-level compact is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Remember, this was the 80s – any car with actual respectable performance was worth a second look.

The details look right on this car, with a super clean engine bay, no obvious body damage and an interior that shows relatively few signs of wear and tear. The seller claims this Quad 4-powered sedan is one of just 200 made; can anyone validate that number? While you may prefer the two-door Calais homage to the 442 or the Pontiac Grand Am GT, a Calais sedan loaded up from the factory is the one for me – the only way to improve upon this recipe is if it had three pedals instead of two.

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Comments

  1. Steve R

    Nice car. Too bad it isn’t a stick shift. If it was that would make one of those great inexpensive fun to drive cars which you drive everyday until it starts requiring more than routine maintenance.

    Steve R

    • Jerry Brentnell

      here sits the main reason oldsmobile died in its tracts ugly square box at the best of times gm should be proud of this thing!

      • LucilleCaddy69

        I think you mean the Chrysler K cars.

  2. Superdessucke

    Always thought the 4- door N-body was better looking than the 2-door. And I thought the Calais IS was the best of the Ns. So I was in love, until I saw the tranny :-(

    Seller’s ad is a little misleading. The 180 horse motor he talks about was the LG0, but it only came with the 5-speed. This auto version should have the milder 150 horse LD2.

    Still, this motor is pretty quick, especially compared to their competitors at the time. My mom had a W32 Grand Am with this engine, so I know.

  3. Tom Price

    I had the 2 door version back in the day… That engine shook like crazy at idle.

    • MrF

      I thought the Oldsmobile Quad 4 would be great when I first heard about it. Come to find out, GM decided to save money by omitting the balance shafts common in large displacement four cylinder engines. Vibration was the predictable result, so customers got the shaft instead of the engine. Classic GM (sort of like the Pontiac Tempest’s “half a V8” of the early 60s…).

      Like 1
  4. Tirefriar

    I’ve always been a fan of models that were off the beaten path, having owned a Bavaria, couple of Alfa Romeo Berlinas, an AR 164LS, etc. Never thought I’d attribute a Cutlass 4dr to that list but I definitely like what I see here.

  5. Mallthus

    Briefly drove one of these, as my grandmother had one (in bright red with the whale tail spoiler, no less) and I drove it after she passed and as the estate was being finalized (it coincided with a period I was between cars).

    My recollection was that it was reasonably quick, but the suspension was, like too many GM products of the period, too stiff to be useable at the limit on anything but a glassy smooth surface. The smallest imperfection would land you in an adjacent lane at speed.

  6. Gunner

    Good reading on this topic:

    http://www.gminsidenews.com/forums/f77/1989-cutlass-calais-h-o-quad-4-a-226097/#/topics/226097?page=2

    I purchased a new 1990 Grand Am with the W32 package LG0 equipped Quad 4 H.O. right off the showroom floor. That car was fun, and I do miss it!

  7. Superdessucke

    I too was curious about this 200 number. I think it’s bogus in this context. According to a December 1989 Chicago Tribune article, Olds made 200 H.O. IS coupes in the summer of 1989 to give the public its initial limited taste of that hot motor…

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1989-12-03/travel/8903150278_1_calais-international-series-olds-cutlass-calais-engine

    A blog post from 2015 confirms that. According to the post, the 200 1989 H.O.s were all coupes, and you couldn’t even buy one new through a dealer. They were all put into company car service and eventually to employees and dealers as used cars after their service was completed.

    http://www.gminsidenews.com/forums/f77/1989-cutlass-calais-h-o-quad-4-a-226097/

    This particular car isn’t an H.O. Quad 4 because it’s an automatic. And of course it’s a sedan. So it definitely wasn’t one of the special 200.

    So I’m guessing this is a case of hasty and/or wishful research on the part of the seller? IS sedans weren’t overly common, but I do remember seeing them, which to me implies that more than 200 were made.

    OT: I love this quote in the Tribune article: “It`s not wise to bolt this kind of engine into a chassis that isn`t up to handling the power and speed that comes with 180 horses.” LOL!!! I think you can now buy a riding lawn mower with more than 180 horses at Sears, can’t you?

    How times have changed!

    • RayT Member

      Pretty sure the Q4 I drove for a week back then — just after the staff at a car magazine had their way with it — was one of the 200 special builds. I should say “was SUPPOSED to drive,” because on the first day it snapped the transmission mainshaft like a carrot!

      The replacement Olds sent me was a neat little car, though I really didn’t like either the styling or GM’s choice of interior fabrics/plastics all that much. The engine was impressive, but what wouldn’t be a step forward compared to the Iron Duke?

      Looking back, I sometimes feel we were dealing with bigger horses in the past….

      • Superdessucke

        Interesting point. My E36 BMW M3 has 240 horsepower, which makes it virtually unsellable for anything over a Euro beater price. Detuned! Fake M! Cries the BMW enthusiast.

        Yet that car will go 0 to 60 and the mid 5s and run the quarter mile the low 14s. A lot of modern cars with a lot more horsepower can’t do that. There are a lot of different factors including weight and gearing.

    • Superdessucke

      I dug out my old Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1976-1999 (3rd Ed.). It says that 3,345 Calais IS coupes and 1,590 Calais IS sedans were built for 1989. In 1990, it was 1,454 coupes and 877 sedans. In 1991, it was 671 coupes and 379 sedans. And that’s it because the Achieva replaced the Calais as the Olds N-body for 1992.

      So while it’s pretty rare, it certainly isn’t 1 of 200! It’s 1 of 2,846.

      • Poppy

        What does that book say about the 1988 Calais IS production numbers? My first new car was a red/silver ’88 2-door with 5-speed and red leather interior. A guy running a red light totaled the first one in ’92, but I luckily found an identical twin to replace it. Changing family needs caused me to sell the 2nd one. Great little car that was quite fun to drive.

      • Superdessucke

        It says 7,977 coupes and 4,069 sedans for 1988. Far more common than the “monochrome” 1989-91 models. Probably a function of the 1st Gen N-body sales declining as the style aged.

  8. Pa Tina

    Nice looking car built during a big changeover in design philosophy when US builders were trying to bring a “European” feel to their products.I would buy a car from an ex-pilot in a heartbeat. They understand the importance of maintenance and attention to detail. As mentioned above, a manual transmission would have been perfect, but that would not prevent me from having this car. And it has a luggage rack!

  9. C.Jay

    I am surprised that no spoke of the lack of reliability the quad four had. While I am sure there is some who had one with 200,000 trouble free miles.
    At 50K these were very common to puke head gaskets and or timing belts.
    I know a GM dealer that wouldn’t even keep them on the lot.

    • DanH

      Yeah, also surprised no hating yet on the quad-4. Real great engine…not. Luckily, I never had the chance to wrench on one as a young mechanic. But boy, my co-workers did and all they did was cry about it! I avoided quad-4’s like the plague and eventually most ended up in the crusher. THANK GOD I dodged that bullet!

  10. SAM61

    Nice car that would make a great daily driver.

    I had a 90 Calais SL quad 4 sedan…it was quick and reliable during 4 years of ownership. Gray over silver with burgundy fabric.

    The paint sucked…bad primer..”free” repaint.

  11. AMCFAN

    The car presents very well. My only question is when and how many head gaskets has it had? This should be a standard question for a Quad 4 buyer much like a timing/water pump service for say a VW TDI or Porsche 944 924S. Let me see the records!

    A family friend had an Olds Calais Quad 4 they bought new. It required a replacement right before the warantee ran out around 35,000 miles. Then again around 80,000 miles which GM happily said was on them. The car was driven by an older couple. Not beat on. This isn’t a job for an inexperienced back yard mechanic and is pretty complex. They opted to donate it.

    Sad that GM didn’t further develop and engineer out the problems. This engine would have put them in a solid position in the Japanese tuner wars. But instead of fixing it they quietly stopped making it.

    • dweezilaz

      AMC, the Quad was built until 2002 when the Ecotec replaced it. The “upgrade” engine for Cavaliers and Sunfires. Standard on the 97 Malibu.

      Are you referring to the HO version ?

      There’s a web site that charts all the upgrades to the Quad over the years.

      And this:

      https://www.revolvy.com/topic/Quad%204%20engine [taken from Wiki it appears].

      Continual changes were made to it, even balance shafts at some point.

      GM may have actually gotten it right by the end of the run with all the revisions. Maybe…. sort of….. uhmmmm

  12. JoeBazots

    WOW! I see red! As one who lived through the 80s, I think I’m qualified to say that the only taste some people had back then is what was in their mouths. Other than the red overload, kind of a cool survivor. Hope someone will care for it as well as the original owner has.

    • Miguel

      I can’t say that stopped in the ’80s.

      When the 2005 Mustangs came out they put red seats in a lot of cars that never should have had them.

  13. Brett Member

    I had a 93 GA GT with the HO 5 speed. Man what a fun daily driver till it blew a head gasket! Dad and I over 2 days replaced it after machining the head. Year later it looked like it was going to happen again so that was that!

    Echoing above eat head gaskets like mad lol

    • Ty'Eira Marie Morrison

      …meanwhile, the ’93 Sedan I have must be in for one soon, despite running like a top

  14. John B

    Yes, Air Force pilots have a taste for the coolest cars! My dad bought a new 1953 Jaguar XK-120 that he watched ’em build in Coventry for 3800 dollars if my memory is correct. Too bad all those damn kids(me plus 4) started arriving soon afterward…my mom always said his zipper was down before the landing gear. True story.

  15. DJ Kenny

    I had an X that drove her Dads few year old burgundy Quad 4 Grand AM. Thrash rattled loud over every bump and the engine made thrashy sounds. It always had issues.
    No Thanks.

  16. glenn

    anyonenotice that crack around the steering collar where it meets the instrument cluster i wonder what thats all about

    • Poppy

      Are talking about the vertical crack in the instrument cluster bezel, or the gap around the circumference of the steering column where it fits under the cluster? If the former, that’s not typical damage. The latter is pretty typical ’80s GM fit and finish.

  17. Scott

    I have 2 of these. I drove one to just under 200,000 miles until it had rust issues but no mechanical issues. If you don’t let them overheat this engine can last a long time. Absolutely loved driving it so I put it in the barn 10 years ago as a parts car until I could find another. Picked up one last fall with 48K miles but I did have to put a head gasket in it. Runs good now hopefully I can run this one to 200K. Both are 1990 5 speed manuals.

  18. Howard Scheetz

    I had an 86. Yes, it was quick. I lost it when some one else slid through a stop sign on a very icy morning. It was a great car and economical. At 120 k, it still ran like new,

    Yep, I would bid on this one if it were closer.

  19. Ty'Eira Marie Morrison

    Would it be wrong if I said this car was at Copart in China Grove, NC (an hour away from me in Asheville) about a month ago because I wanted a companion to my ’93 Grand Am GT Sedan? Yes, it’s an ’89 LD2 automatic and my ’93 GAGT Sedan is the only ’93 High Output/manual Sedan left in America of 719, but I can never find a Calais International Sedan to save my life. When I do, it’s always outside of my price range, because at first this one was listed for $9k. I see the right rear wheel cover got replaced, but the same bumper damage and Pope AFB sticker is still there…

    • David

      It doesn’t look like it’ll make $9K today, it’s at $2,175 now.

  20. Ian

    This car was on Copart for weeeeeks! We all watched it get sold to the current seller on Classic GM FWD Society. There is a considerable markup on the car now considering it has had nothing done to it since being purchased from copart. And – it was donated to copart in the first place after being donated elsewhere and didn’t sell!

  21. Chris N

    I had an ’86 Pontiac “Damned Am” with the “Iron Puke” L-4 and it was a rolling junk heap that would overheat if the temp outside reached >90*. Slow, buzzy, all plastic, dumped it before I joined the Navy.

    I drove a couple of N-bodies from that era including a Quad-442 which was kind of quick but my dad had a Buick Somerset Regal with the V-6. Now THAT thing would haul, even though the fuel door never closed right! Loved the digital display speedo that would max out at 85 and I know that thing was going faster. Cannot speak to the longevity of the V-6 but it was fun for the 2-years he had it.

    This is the middle of the dark days of GM. The best idea that they had was the Fiero but they even screwed that up by putting that same crummy Iron Duke engine in it. The last year with the V-6 is where they should have started.

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