Hot or Not? 1985 Oldsmobile Calais Indy 500 Pace Car

How many of you remember the 1980s? I mean, as in you were born and cognizant of your surroundings, not as in you were in a rock band and don’t remember much of that decade. Those of you who do remember the 1980s, you may remember that some of the vehicles weren’t exactly as hot as they were a decade or more prior to that era. This 1985 Oldsmobile Calais Indy 500 Pace Car edition is one of those not-super-hot cars from the 1980s, at least performance-wise. This one can be found on Craigslist in Long Prairie, Minnesota with an asking price of $4,995.

Even car dealers don’t provide enough photos on Craigslist. There are zero photos of the passenger side at all, not even a hint. I’m assuming that it hasn’t been raked down the side by a delivery van but I’d want to see it for sure. The 1980s may not have been the hottest decade for these types of badge-and-stripe performance cars but Jim Garner knew a thing or two about cars and it was good enough for him, as seen in this YouTube video! He also knew a thing or two about making a great living, so maybe that’s why he agreed to drive a somewhat similar car in an Olds commercial.

The seller says that this car has new paint and it’s hard to tell the quality when the limited photos were taken in the rain. It also has new tires and it’s hard to picture Jim Rockford (James Garner) doing one of his famous J-turns in a front-wheel drive Olds Calais! It’s too bad that they didn’t sell these cars in a convertible body style like James Garner was driving in that video; like the actual pace car. The actual pace car, while known as one of the worst Indy 500 pace cars of all time, was even hotter than this factory tribute car was.

But, all kidding aside, the interior in these cars is worth the price of admission, even if you just took it out and installed it in your living room. I absolutely love this funky color scheme! Silver and red leather?! Come on, what’s not to like? Well, a few seam separations are not to like, but hopefully those could be repaired seamlessly.. ah-hem.. The Rat Pack would be all over this thing. Actually, they probably wouldn’t have been caught alive or dead in this car, but it really is a fun, way-over-the-top interior. In the sea of mind-numbingly-boring black, tan, and gray interiors in today’s vehicles, give me this color combo any day of the week. And, full gauges! Even with most likely an Iron Duke 2.5L inline-four with a shade under 100 hp under the hood, it’s nice to have full gauges. It makes almost everyone’s worst-Indy-pace-cars-of-all-time list, what are your thoughts on this car?

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  1. Nrg8

    Lots of tape lines and body shop dust in that trunk area.

    • DweezilAZ

      Not a tape line if you’re referring to the flat black area. That’s the trim for the tail light panel.

  2. Danno

    My knee-jerk reaction was to rake this over the coals, top to bottom. But really, the exterior design is not that bad. It’s trim & tight, modern, the proportions are very good – the wheel size suits the fenders, the roof is neither too tall nor too short. Whomever designed the shape had a fine, efficient eye.

    Then, the interior design was passed on to someone from an entirely different culture, who was perhaps colour blind and/or over-stimulated. After that, it was passed to the drivetrain department, and probably given to a guy who preferred V8s and rear-wheel-drive, but was “forced” to put an I4 and FWD transaxle. He grabbed the first thing he found off the shelf and cleared the “silly” project off his desk.

    Had this been given a smooth I5/I6, a manual transmission, and maybe AWD, it would have measured up to the race cars it was posing with. Personally, I don’t think it really deserved the high performance sticker on the door.

    • Brakeservo

      A smooth fifteen sixteenths of what?? Sounds like an old socket size just under an inch to me.

  3. Scott Staff

    I’m gonna go with not hot

  4. Doctor my eyes

    Let’s put this one back in barn to mellow for another 30 years.

  5. Steve

    I owned one of these in 1985. The 2.5 iron duke engine had to have its engine head gasket replaced twice. Car got a lot of looks. I still have the Indy door decals stashed away somewhere

    Like 1
    • Michael Leahy

      I bought a 3.0l version brand new in 1985. The performance was pretty decent for its day, the looks got a lot of attention, especially the interior. I wish I still had it as a conversation piece.

  6. Ty'Eira Marie Morrison

    Checking the VIN, it is in fact 8th digit Code U (Iron Lung is what I call it), assuming it’s correct… Granted the VIN looks good, I remember the 4th and 5th digits (N/E listed here) to belong to the ’85-’88 base Grand Am, ’89-’91 LE, and ’92-’05 SE. The Calais’ fourth and fifth digits were either N/F or N/L, depending on year or trim

  7. Edward Clark


  8. Joel

    I believe these had the short lived high output Quad4 engine 180hp

  9. Dave Suton

    I would of thought this would of come with the famous “Quad 4” engine. Which would of made it have 185hp? Not too bad for the era. But I also remember a dual tipped exhaust on one side with the quad 4. And this only has a single exhaust. Anyway, kind of unique when the car magazines were trying everything in their power to slam American automakers for any reason they could.

  10. Coventrycat

    Wouldn’t do a thing for my mullet.

  11. Miguel

    I saw this on the lot in 1985 and wanted it, but I was only 18 at the time and couldn’t buy a new car.

    I am kind of glad I didn’t buy it.

    • Superdessucke

      Good thing you didn’t indeed. You would have gotten regularly embarrassed by better performance cars – like the Celebrity Eurosport and your friend’s mom’s K-car.

  12. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Thanks for the video Scotty, I never knew Jimmy drove a pace car once, let alone three times. I can almost picture Angel riding shotgun, pleading for him to slow down.

  13. Troy s

    Stupid looking cars from any angle, forget about it. I remember these cars general motors was pushing back then, just had to take one more look….. still ugly after all these years. Sorry.

  14. elrod

    This is why Oldsmobile is no longer a car company. Pace Car edition consists of – wait for it….. door stickers. RIP.

    • Miguel

      Actually that is not why, but OK.

  15. Aaron

    Did anyone else notice the 18mph speed at 1600rpm with no key in the ignition?

  16. Todd Fitch Staff

    Nice find, Scotty! I think this is too early but Olds made a Quad 4 spec racer version that was 205HP? 195 for the showroom version with the 5 speed I think. I drove a friend’s Quad4 automatic two-door around Boston for a weekend back in the day, and that thing would fry the tires no problem — I think they were 165 HP. Anyway that was a solid power to weight ratio in those days. With the Tech IV, though, I’d say it’s a couple years too early to be “hot.”

    • CCFisher

      Had a ’91 Grand Am with the HO Quad 4 (180hp) and a 5-speed. Not the smoothest engine by any means, but it was a hoot to drive!

    • Ty'Eira Marie Morrison

      Late ’87 was when the LD2 standard issue Quad 4 hit. It had 160hp and 155ft-lbs torque. It became an option in the ’88 Grand Am, Calais, and Skylark. The racing versions always put out 200+hp, the LG0 High Output was in ’90. Depending on year, the LG0 put out 180hp and 160ft-lbs torque, while the W41 had 190hp in ’91 and ’92, and 185hp in ’93. Granted there were 200 apiece of the ’89 Grand Am SE and Calais International coupes built, the LG0’s most used application was the ’90 Beretta GTZ, and the rarest variant of the LG0 is the ’91 Grand Am SE Sedan, with only 100 being built as opposed to the 204 Calais W41 442’s. The Quad 4 also varies in horsepower after ’92 for all models, losing 5 every year until ’95, when the balance shafts were added, then ’96 basically stroked the block a bit to produce the LD9 2.4 Twin Cam.

      How do I know all this, you ask? My ’93 GAGT Sedan has 175hp

      EDIT: Sorry for the picture being sideways. Didn’t know my phone would do that.

    • Superdessucke

      If you want an N-body, the 1989-91 International Series models are the way to go. These came with the Quad 4 – the LD2 with 150 horsepower with automatic transmission or the higher compression and better cam LGO with 180 horsepower with manual transmission. They were also available in sedan form, which I think looks better than the rather stubby coupe. Those HP numbers might not sound like much now but the car weighed less than 2,800 pounds, so they were pretty quick (relatively for the day).

      Also interesting are the turbo Grand Am SEs from 1987-89. Those used the 2.0 turbo engine from the Sunbird GT and were very fast (mid-15s) for the times. That motor was never available on the Calais.

      This car should have the Iron Duke “Tech IV” 4-banger that made a whopping 92 horses. Not much gusto here and the car would be all show and no go. Maybe an interesting curiosity for someone with an Indy pace car obsession but I can’t see much value beyond that honestly.

      • CCFisher

        I forgot all about those Grand Am Turbos. I can’t imagine that there are more than a handful left. Once they got old, they were most likely junked in frustration, much like the Sunbird I owned with the same engine. Bad head gaskets, cracked exhaust manifolds, and turbo plumbing that refused to stay in place. Get on it for an extended period (uphill), and I was just about guaranteed to hear “foomp” as the crossover pipe blew off the turbo. It was an under-engineered marvel.

      • Superdessucke

        I haven’t seen one of those 1.8/2.0 turbos in probably 20 years, at least. They were built in Brazil or Australia and most commonly found in the Sunbird GT. But they were also available in, of course, the Grand Am SE (standard for a short time) and LE (very rare option) and the Buick Skyhawk T-Type. I think it was rarest in the Grand Am. I’ve never even seen one live.

    • dr fine

      That must be the one I saw at an Olds dealer in Atlanta, it looked like this but the paint scheme seemed better looking. The body style was still impressive to my eye, and when it was wound out through the five speed, the loud exhaust bark sure didn’t sound like an iron duke.

  17. Murray

    I think a AMC Pacer is better looking and probably worth more$$$. Another GM product at not its finest. Yuck😝


    I don’t even remember that was a 1985 Indy Car! who won that race? the beginning of the end of the worst car era in USA by 1988 the name was:
    Not hot at all.
    This particular car $2,000 it’s well paid

    • DG

      Actually, it was the then all new W-body Cutlass Supreme. Also made into a convertible, also FWD.

  19. michael carney

    I’d buy it. It’s got a good look. However I didn’t think so in the 1980’s I thought it was ugly and they were everywhere. I think every GM Division had a copy of this car. I may just be yearning for the 80’s and not a car I thought was ugly in the 80’s.

  20. Redwagon

    Ah, that would be a solid — Not.

  21. Lawyer George

    Pace car! What a pathetic joke. Uglier than snot. I would never buy this car for a kid heading for college, because having it would probably subject the kid to harassment, causing great depression and causing the kid to flunk out of college.

    From my picture of my 60 Cad Deville. GM did much better in the 50’s & 60’s

  22. Steve R

    Someone that thinks the Indianapolis 500 is still relevant will buy it. Unfortunately, they will take it to every car show possible and chew the ear off of everyone that’s too polite to keep walking..

    Steve R

    • stephen paulus

      hahahahaha Steve R, ain’t that the truth.

    • DweezilAZ

      Steve there’s one being restored even now, possibly the one featured here a few months ago.

      Pictures have shown up of it’s progress on the 85-91 N Body Facebook page.

      • Ty'Eira Marie Morrison

        ^Can confirm, granted it’s a ’91 442 W41. I actually run that page 😂

  23. Howard Scheetz

    I had an 86. It was simply the best car that I owned. Great car for its size, Mine had an up graded interior. Nice power with an auto tranny,

    • DweezilAZ

      I have an 86. First owned it in 92 with 21,000 miles on the odometer. Passed to my parents, then they passed it to my little brother. He and his wife drove it for 11 years.

      Forgot how much I enjoyed it till I got it back.

      And yes, I put money into it, even though it’s “worth” nothing.

      The car is filled with contradictions: luxury features and an Iron Duke. 80s car but a 70s mindset. High tech [for the time] assembly and design development [computers, robots, clear coat paint] and ultra cheap hardware.

      It represents GM’s 80s mindset very well.

  24. Brakeservo

    If you think this is great, whadda ya think o’ the Cimarron??

  25. Nova Scotian

    Good cars for the time. Quad four was punchy. If I owned the car, I’d remove the graphics of it. It’s a joke to think this is anything close to a race/pace car. More like a pedestrian car.

  26. Loco Mikado

    Would have loved to see James Garner, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen race each other. That would have been a race.

    • Dan

      Especially if they had all been driving stock 1985 Cutlasses. IROC. International Race if Crapcans.

  27. Taco Juan

    YIKES!!! Did you get a hat, and a bowl of soup when you bought it?

  28. Chelsea buffington

    This car has a special place in my memory. My father bought one and had it for a good portion of the 80s. I remember how badass it seemed-listening to “In The Air To Tonight” and feeling the wind In my hair…

    Hot or not, it represents an object that holds specific smells, touches, memories of a better time when all there were were laughs & good vibes of childhood.

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