Rollin’ Coal: 1984 GMC Caballero Amarillo

For those who are old enough, remember the OPEC oil embargoes that happened back in the 1970s? After two oil embargoes (first in 1974, and then in 1979) rocked the United States, fuel-efficient engines and downsized cars replaced the dinosaur-sized American automobiles and their huge engines. One of the more emphasized engines used in cars in the late 1970s and early 1980s was the diesel engine, which had been used for a while in European cars and trucks and some American trucks, but had not been used much (if at all) in American passenger cars. This 1984 GMC Caballero not only features the unusual Amarillo package, it is also equipped with the very rare 5.7L diesel V8. Find it here on Hemmings in Lamar, South Carolina, with an asking price of $8,500.

 

Though Pontiac produced a few prototypes of their own version of the El Camino (a 1959 Catalina and a 1968 LeMans), General Motors would not produce a production badge-engineered version of the El Camino until 1971. GMC got the green light to produce its own version, which was called the Sprint, beginning in 1971; the Sprint was basically a rebadged El Camino with minor trim and name changes and was produced from 1971 to 1977. When the El Camino was redesigned in 1978, the Sprint was renamed Caballero (Spanish for “gentleman”) and was produced from 1978 to its swan-song year of 1987. This Caballero is a 1984 model, and features the Amarillo (Spanish for yellow; I was an A+ Spanish student in high school) trim package, sans the yellow color on this car-based pickup. The car-based pickup recently was professionally repainted in two-tone green and dark green, and features chrome bed rails and stainless trim, dual sport mirrors, and steel wheels with wire hubcaps and thin white-line tires, all of which are in flawless condition.

Here’s a look at the inside of the bed, which is painted to match the two-tone outside of the truck. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the engine and drivetrain, but the Caballero is powered by the very rare 5.7L Oldsmobile diesel and backed by a three-speed automatic transmission (most likely a TH-350). Debuting in 1980 and lasting until 1985, the 5.7L Oldsmobile diesel V8 was rated at 105 horsepower and 205 lb-ft of torque, and was backed by the three-speed automatic only. The Oldsmobile diesel is considered the bane among GM engines (especially diesels), and unless this Caballero has really low miles, I would swap in a 6.2L or a 6.5L diesel; a Duramax swap would be nice too, but reportedly that would require a lot of fabrication work. I would also shelve the TH-350 for a 700R4 or a 4L80.

Though the outside has been repainted, the inside is all-original, with gray cloth seats, gray carpeting, and the rest of the interior in a dark green-gray. The inside of this Caballero is in good condition, though the steering wheel looks a bit weathered. The interior is nicely spec’d with power steering, power brakes, power windows, tilt wheel, and AM/FM radio with cassette player. The aftermarket floor-mats look a bit out of place, but aside from swapping the driver’s-side mat for a new one, I would leave them in for protection. Overall, this diesel-equipped Caballero is in nice condition, and if the price can be negotiated, this car-based pickup would be an unusual sight. Factor in a diesel and transmission upgrade, this would be a heck of a sleeper. What are your thoughts on this very rare GMC Caballero Amarillo diesel?

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Comments

  1. BRAKTRCR

    Verde, and more verde, would not be my choice, but it could be a nice car. I had an 86 Cabellero that I ordered new. Should have never sold it. Was a great car, with 305 bucket seats and center console. When I drove it home from the dealer, I noticed the dash emblem had a Bowtie on it. Had them change that.
    In going through the ordering process, I could have ordered a 4 seed tranny, but I let the salesman talk me out of it. Was still nice with the very comfortable bucket seats, and pretty quick for an 86

  2. moorevisual

    looks great but too bad it’s a diesel

  3. Art M.

    The 6.2, 6.5 and 6.6 Duramax are all too heavy without major suspension/chassis work as they are”real” diesel engines. The 350 in this car was only a modified Oldsmobile gasoline engine, which is why they were such crappy engines. I had a friend who bought a new Monte Carlo with the 350 diesel. When he went to trade it in a couple years later, the salesmen at the dealership would hide from him. He ended up trading it in on a Subaru and only getting $500.00 out of it , much less than he owed on it.

    • Ed P

      The Olds diesel block had many differences. It was much heavier than a gas version. The extra weight was due mostly to the reinforcements. The diesel block are code D for early engines. After about 1980, code DX blocks were used. These were much improved but their early reputation kept buyers away.

      Like 1
  4. Todd Fitch Staff

    There might be one dude out there who wakes up every morning thinking “Today I’m gonna find that diesel Caballero.” On the other hand here’s some guys having fun in an ’86 Caballero with a blown LS1. http://www.hotrod.com/articles/hrdp-0412-1986-gmc-caballero/ Either way it beats a Rabbit Pickup any day.

    • DrinkinGasoline

      I sincerely hope that nobody wakes up thinking “Today I’m gonna find that diesel Caballero.” If so, then there is medication for such a condition. And yes, it would be better than the Diesel Rabbit Pick-Up that my goofy Uncle was so proud of..
      He never played with a full deck anyway.

  5. geomechs geomechs Member

    Looks good. Ultra rare with the diesel option. We sold lots of diesel-powered cars and trucks back in the day, and I’ve specialized in diesel servicing for the past 30 years. I thought I’d seen everything but I guess I was wrong. Nothing wrong with this unit. As I’ve said before, the 350 diesel was the most misunderstood engine I ever saw. By the time this one came out the problems it did have were well addressed. Myself I’d like to find an ’80-’83 Cadillac Eldorado with a diesel.

    The 350 diesel engine first debued with the THM 400 transmission. It was later replaced with the THM 200 with lock-up converter.

    I wouldn’t bother trying to shoe-horn a 6.2/6.5 into this car. Too heavy, too bulky, and no noticeable increase in power.

    • Ed P

      I agree, most misunderstood engine is absolutely true. GM advertising said these could be treated just like gas engines. Any diesel person would know this was a kiss of death.

    • DrinkinGasoline

      What would be appropriate….the 455 circa 69 or 70 backed by the THM 400….the THM 200 was junk and GM knew it.
      Planned obsolescence to say the very least. Wanna know the problems with the lock-up converter ? Have a seat by the fireplace with a cigar and a brandy in a snifter in my library ‘cuz this will take a while.

      • geomechs geomechs Member

        Yes, the TH 200 was a doorstop at best. Actually it held up better if you disabled the lockup converter. But there were still a lot of warranty claims against it.There were a few guys who pulled the diesel and dropped in a 455; the big gas motor really made those cars sing; probably the local gas station owner as well….

  6. dirtyharry

    Between 79-85, GM built all kinds of oil burners, including a transverse mounted 4.3 turning out 85 hp, for the front wheel drive models, even the Chevette. All in all, by 1984 things were somewhat worked out and then gas got cheaper. All interest was lost. They still sounded like a can full of nails and made a lot of black smoke. Most buyers didn’t really know they required some different care, especially in the USA were the diesel fuel wasn’t terribly good. Even Mercedes had difficulty with American diesel fuel.
    I like it as is. It is unique and that can’t be all bad.

    • Ed P

      The owner’s not knowing it required different care was the major issue with these engines. The 2nd gen 350 dx block resolve many problems.

  7. Joe Haska

    I have had several of these, and really liked them,. for everyday drivers, the idea worked, a car and a pick up. I don’t know anything about the diesel, I guess, I could give it a chance.

  8. gbvette62

    I’ve owned a few El Camino’s (I still have a 71 I bought new), and always loved both the El Camino and Sprint/Caballero.

    This is a particularly pretty example, but that Olds diesel is a real deal breaker for me. I’m actually surprised that there are still any around, in running condition. Most of them got replaced with a gas engine, years ago.

  9. Francisco

    “Caballero Verde” now. I aced Spanish in high school, too.

    • Buck Neccid

      Welll… since the el Camino is the mullet of the auto industry, I figured I’d keep my Caballero (87) in a Spanish flavor. I’ve named it Basura Blanca :)

  10. 2VT

    OK, a little history for ya on the 5.7 Diesel. I worked as a claims adjuster for an extended warranty mechanical breakdown contracts. So I saw alot of claims on these and it went like this: 1) headbolt brakes 2) headgasket leaks 3) cylinder hydrolocks 4) blows crank out the bottom of block. I felt bad for used car contract holders because 1) mounting hardware not covered 2) seals and gaskets not covered 3) subsequent damage from a non-covered part not covered. Boat anchor with a service contract. And NO, the contract wasn’t designed not to cover breakdowns (in fact the 700R4, New Process 4WD and Vega’s kept us real busy anyway.) Point is it was fixable. Not exactly easily but doable anyway. 1) replace headbolts with highest grade hardware and 2) install water/fuel separator. Once the hydrolock issue was prevented the engine would last as long as any other GM V8 of it’s time. Would, however, be better with the 7 headbolt 6.2/6.5 rather than the 5 headbolt 5.7. IMHO (and I am entitled to my own opinion)

    • Ed P

      The existing fuel of the time mandated a water separator. All diesel trucks have them for a reason. Using the correct API grade oil was critical on the original D block motors. The correct API oil was very often overlooked and did cause bearing failure.

      • Dave Wright

        I bought an early 80’s Deville from a customer’s estate when I was managing a Firestone store. He was a wealthy guy and loved the car. It had an extra 50 gallon tank in the trunk. He bought the car new and had some engine trouble early on……he also had a fleet of GMC trucks he used in his business so was a very good customer for the dealership. They replaced the original engine with the later improved one at no cost. I never had a hiccup with that car. It would get 26 MPG on the highway. It was a great ride. It went with an old girlfriend after a couple of years. She was still driving it several years later. I think the idea that the early ones were problematic and destroyed the reputation for the better later engines is true. Mercedes has used the same blocks and internals for both Gas and Diesel engines for decades with no trouble. The 190D used to hold the miles driven record for all cars.

      • geomechs geomechs Member

        I remember when the 350 came out there were a lot of valve train failures: lifters, rockers and supports. Of course there were also a lot of camshaft failures. But those who used the proper oil and changed it regularly had little to no problems with the valve trains. I had a farmer customer who ran a Mercedes 300D and he took the car in to the MB dealer for a check-over/service. One of the things they checked was the camshaft because MB was also experiencing above average camshaft failures. The MB dealer asked him what he used for oil and he told them that he got his oil from John Deere and he used it in EVERYTHING. Apparently they were shocked when his MB camshaft looked brand new. I remember at that same time we also replaced a high number of gaspot camshafts: SBC, BBC, truck 366 and 427s, Buicks, Olds gaspots, you name it; they were all failing. At that same time the formula for engine oil changed from SE-CC to SE-CD. We wondered if something happened there. If wasn’t long before the classification was changed again to SF, and like magic, camshaft failures disappeared—until recently when they decided to remove the zinc from the oil.

  11. Miguel

    Since when did these diesel engines become a desirable option in any GM car?

    Would a gasoline powered El Camino of this vintage even be worth what the seller is asking on this one?

    Just to be transparent, I did have one of these engines in a 1981 Buick Riviera. I loved it when it was running but when I let it sit for a while the bill was outrageous at the diesel shop to get it running again.

    • DrinkinGasoline

      Since when was any diesel option desirable in ANY car ? Ever seen the interior or the trunk lining of a Mercedes Diesel after 15 years of service ? The EPA would condemn it as a respiratory hazard !
      I’m off to work Honey…OK, do you have your N95 Respirator mask Sweetie ?? Yes Honey ! OK, have a wonderful day !

      Like 1
  12. DrinkinGasoline

    The Olds diesel was riddled with issues as mentioned above. Gasoline conversion knowledge was a must for GM Techs at the time as they performed quite a few of them and as a Parts Manager, my inventory had to be well stocked for those conversions. As a side note to the seller….wipe down those tires after the dressing soaks in.

  13. mark

    Friend bought a new 1982 Olds Delta 88 with the V-8 diesel. One of the bigger junk piles ever sold by GM

  14. Dave Wright

    These were very popular when I lived in California…….the guys would swap out the Diesel engines for a good gas one and still be smog exempt as diesels were in those years.

  15. Moparman Member

    Very nice looking vehicle, and despite all of the alledged later “improvements”, with gas being cheaper than diesel, the thought of the extra care involved with the current drivetrain doesn’t make this caballero verde con envidia!! :-)

  16. Pat A

    My grandparents had an ’80 Sedan DeVille diesel. It was a sweet highway cruiser, when it wasn’t in the shop. At some point my grandfather had a stroke, and wasn’t fully compos mentis. My dad and my grandmother were taking it for service to the dealership, and while they were on their way there,my grandfather called the dealership and told them that he was on the way with a shotgun, and was going to kill everyone there. So my dad and grandmother arrived to a very nervous reception. I don’t remember if the cops were called. Now he would have been arrested for making terrorist threats. It saved my grandparent’s lives, though. They were out on a desert highway, and got T-bone hard. The full frame and weight of the Caddy took the impact and they walked away with just a few bruises.

  17. Nrg8

    By the time GM got the issues resolved, people were looking to the 6.2s. I bought a 80 Cheyenne with one in 94. The grandson was sitting on cab trying to close the bent hood. He wasn’t a car guy, the batteries were low and the starter was dragging. Bought it and a heavy half for body parts. Anyway after I went through the bills from grandma. Batteries were 3 weeks old, put in a starter and it ran ever so smooth. Swapped the body parts shot it flat black rims red and drove it. I had the flex ring fail. But the IP is simple. I had a 71 Cutlass 350 gas that i had bought at insurance aution in the garage. Didn’t need it. Started just driving in the summer as it was ideal for the boat and running crap to the cabin. IE I used it as a truck. I was bringing the boat out and lumber and plywood for an addition on the cabin in this spring. When I headed to the city i felt a hiccup and then it sounded like a steam engine. Puffs of raw diesel was coming out from behind the alternator. None of the fliuds have mixed. I’m thinking maybe pencil injector popped out or head or head gasket. But bottom line you put the right oil, glow plugs every few years, make sure the battery connections are clean. It was a tough truck. So 23 years, last 10 was summer only. But i proved alot asshats wrong as they were so sure it was going to blow up. F-them stop talking out of your butts boys. The motor was good to me. But if your afraid of boogie man what are you gonna do….

  18. HeadMaster1

    This would make an awesome HOTROD if you live in CA or one of those horrible “smog states” where you’ll get 20 to life for flipping your air cleaner lid upside-down. In CA, show up once and prove it’s a diesel, then close that hood and never see them again…..I’m thinking a 5.3LS motor on the mild side, or a nice LS9 and really tear it up

  19. ACZ

    Just like always. “I had a friend that” or “I heard that” or “I had a relative that”.
    Always the guy that never owned one, is the guy that will tell you all the bad stuff. A diesel, a Corvair, always something to rip on.
    Well tell you what, nay-sayers……..My 1981 Coupe deVille with a 350 Diesel went over 275,000 miles on the original engine. The only reason I sold it was that after that long, I needed a change.
    Put that in your pipes and smoke it.

  20. 427Turbojet 427 Turbojet Member

    Use it until/if diesel fails, then bolt in a gas Olds engine (if you can find one). Bought an 82 Caprice wagon with a 350 diesel with blown head gaskets. Put a ’72 455 and 400 turbo in it, Chevy van 15 X 8 rally wheels and 235/60 radials. Great tow vehicle.

  21. angliagt

    The service writer at the local Olds dealer (when these were new),
    told me that ALL the mechanics would disappear when one of those diesel
    powered cars would show up.

    • ACZ

      And that happened with just about any major change in vehicles. They all ran from computers, fuel injection, OBD 1, OBD 2, overdrive trans, you name it. Nothing stays the same. Either you learn the new technology or be left in the dust. The milk isn’t delivered by horse and wagon any more.

      Like 1
      • Pat A

        The milk isn’t really delivered anymore.

  22. duaney

    I drive some form of Olds 5.7 diesel almost daily. Love them to death! By the way, it’s illegal, per the EPA to change the diesel engine over the gas engine. Unless you change everything, and have the EPA re-certify the vehicle. you’re looking at rear axle ratio, transmission, fuel lines, fuel tank and sender, instrument cluster, fuel evaporative system, electrical system, exhaust system, and engine labels, VIN code, and I’m sure that I’ve missed much of it.

  23. Motrbob

    Love the phone calls only please part of the Hemmings ad and no phone number…………

  24. George

    455 olds would bolt right in!

  25. Metoo

    Nice looking bed. Doubt you will ever see it going to Home Depot for a load of lumber. Maybe Bed & Bath for a load of pillows.

    Like 1

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