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Winter Beater? $800 Oldsmobile Spitfire

Why is it that the corporate twins to the venerable Chevy Monza always seem to catch our eyes? I suppose it’s largely due to the fact that the Monza is seen far more frequently as an affordable, attainable classic, and the variations GM produced just don’t pop up as often. Barn Finds reader Pat L. spotted this cheap-as-dirt Olds Spitfire here on craigslist for just $800. 

The Spitfire used a recipe that GM still uses today, which is to take a single model and stretch it across multiple brands’ product lines. Slap on a different front fascia, tweak the taillights, offer some different wheel covers and change the insignias and you’re off to the races. For better or worse, customers are wise to this and sometimes this plan backfired on GM, especially with cars that had a poor track record for quality.

This Spitfire is actually a touch more desirable than some of the cars we’ve previously featured from this family of vehicles, as it’s equipped with a manual transmission. I’m always surprised how for an economy car, lots of these are saddled with the automatic. As the seller rightfully points out, this Spitfire could be a great candidate for an engine swap, and that a 350 or 283 are popular choices for hot-rodding this platform.

And an engine swap may make even more sense when you consider why this Spitfire is so cheap: the motor is free, but it doesn’t currently run. There’s “some rust” but is said to be solid overall. I always like the idea of a cheap winter beater, but only if it’s not too much work to get running reliably. If you’ve got a rebuilt V8 sitting around the garage and otherwise taking up space, this could be a fun – and cheap – wintertime build. Anyone agree?


  1. Howard A Member

    Alert, Starfire, not Spitfire.

    Like 2
    • Jeffro

      Atleast he didn’t call it a Mach 5

      Like 1
    • Tim Rusling

      Yeah, Starfire. Come on, supposed car guy. This was no Triumph of engineering.

      Like 2
  2. RayT Member

    My mother had the Chevy version of this. Even in Southern California, rust crept in early, in the same places where this one is showing rot. That alone is enough to make me say “nuh-uh” to this Oldsmobile.

    Hers was a V6/manual, and I can’t imagine a duller, less-responsive car. Oh, wait, this one has a “four”? I CAN imagine a duller car….

    Stuffing in a SBC would mean contortions to get to the rearmost spark plugs. And you’d still have to fight the Rust Bugs.

    • Howard A Member

      Hi Ray, looks like you and I are the only members to comment early ( and obviously, the thumb downer is not a member) My ex-wife had the V8 Monza version of this car. It had the 305, so it was a little better to change plugs ( still took every extension and swivel I had) It was a fun car in a straight line, but pretty miserable otherwise.

      • RayT Member

        Howard, I generally try not to comment on cars that have reached Roach Motel status in my mind — and, blessedly, BF doesn’t dig up many of those! — but the Chevy Monza and its derivatives are truly Cars of Shame. GM hasn’t dropped the ball very often over the years, but when they did, they launched some real Doozies!

        I have no doubt Mr Thumb Downer will appear in due time, and we’ll find that this is one of his favorite cars….

  3. Rabbit

    I bought a 78 Monza back in 84 with a spent 305 in it. Converted the SB400 from Mom’s old Caprice to short-shaft accessories & stuffed it in there. Went through three sets of rear tires before I sold it to a kid who promptly let it get away from him on wet streets. Looked like a fish, went like a fish, steered like a cow. Understeer & oversteer in the same package.

  4. Al

    starfire not spitfire thats a triumph

    Like 1
  5. nessy

    The only thing to remember these cars by, the Olds, Buick and Chevy versions was that they were the very first cars in the US to introduce the new modern square front headlights. They hit the streets in the spring of 74 as early 75 models. A few months later in the fall of 74, the new for 75 Olds 98, Toronado, Buick Electra, Riviera and all Cadillac models also featured square headlights. This was a major style update at the time. Almost like the first euro style headlights on the new 84 Mark 7s and the new 86 Taurus/Sable models which started the round modern car look of today. The 75/76 Starfire/Buick/Chevy front ends with 4 square lights made a pretty good looking front end, the rest of the car, blah. This car with it’s single headlight front end is yucky. I think that is an important note when you remember the Starfire and it’s sister cars of 75. The square headlight cars stopped traffic when they first came out.

    • Howard A Member

      Hi nessy, don’t forget the Pontiac Sunbird, with it’s all new fender script.

      • nessy

        I did not forget the Sunbird my friend, however, the Sunbird did not come out until the 76 model year. It was only the Olds/Buick and Chevy for the first 75 model year.

  6. mark

    As if the last model years of the British Triumph Spitfires were not bad enough, here we have an GM version that was worse…… is actually an Olds Starfire………………….Maybe this “find” is an attempt to make the folks that bought the Cadillac Cimarons feel better about their purchase?

  7. Rock On Member

    Platinum sparkplugs are good for 60,000 miles or more(100,000kms in Canada!). Just put a fresh set in when you swap in the V-8. If this seller does not even know the name of the car he is selling, I’m sure that he will let it go for much less than $800.00.

  8. Jeffro

    Wonder if the sunroof leaks? Interior looks….musty?! Thought of using other verbs/nouns but didn’t want to offend anyone!

    • JohnM

      I can smell that interior from here…..

  9. M/K

    I had a 77 with posi track and a shift kit in the automatic. The v6 with after market 4 throat carb ran hard enough to induce over steer on full throttle stomps from a stand still and give a side ways kick at second gear up shift. Oh yea an cut down a second gen camaro rear spoiler and mout it on one of these cars and man what an attitude change

    • Mike F.

      M/K, yeah, I had a ’78 Monza notchback with a spoiler. It was a fun car, suffered years of abuse and neglect like a true diehard. I had never seen a spoiler like that before or since, always wondered where it came from!

      • M/K

        The spoiler definitely changes the cars whole attitude. I beat the he’ll out of mine,power line roads shallow river crossings even a high speed chase or 2 (really). I wish I still had it but the old Yamaha TT500 I traded it for was fun too

    • Tony Catania

      These Piles of Scrap Were Dirivatives Of The Chevrolet Vega If I Am Not Mistaken Similar To The Mustang 2 Being A Ford Pinto In Drag.The March Towards GMs Irrelevance Started With These Clunkers.

  10. Tony Goodner II

    As long you catch the tinworm early and add subframe connectors, these can’t be a more fun car for the price. Most H Bodys have either rusted away, wrecked, or now only go a 1/4th ( or1/8th) mile at a time. This would be nice to upgrade to a supercharged 3.8 or even a 4.8 LS mighty mouse. Ya just dont see them on the streets or at meets..

  11. rustylink

    a Spitfire is a legendary fighter airplane, a Starfire is a crappy Olds product built on a even worse Vega platform.

    Like 1
    • Howard A Member

      Hi rustylink, it’s a darn shame what the mighty “Starfire” had been reduced to with this car. My favorite Starfire was the ’62.

      • rustylink

        Howard – that’s a Starfire – agreed.

      • David Wilk Member

        Howard – I agree with you – GM had a very bad habit in their darkest days of destroying their brand equity. The great Starfire name was first applied to a concept car in 1953 – a truly beautiful piece of automotive futurism from a time when GM still had a meaningful vision:

        Like 1
      • Vince Habel

        I like the 63 and 66 better. 61-66 were real Starefires.

  12. John

    The V8 versions were prone to frame cracks

  13. Fred W.

    Thought I was going insane until I scrolled down and saw Howard’s comment. I pride myself on knowing car models up to the late 70’s and was pretty sure there was no Olds Spitfire.

  14. ROTAG999

    Olds was the ugliest in the lineup.

    • ROTAG999

      I am only talking about this model not all Oldsmobiles is ugliest between the sister cars div.

  15. CJ

    I can’t imagine what the torque of a strong v8 would do to the body on these. My 79 Monza sport with 3.2 V6 and 4 speed would twist the subframe enough to send the fan blades onto shroud

    • Alan (Michigan)

      Sounds more like bad motor mounts to me. If the car were twisting, it would be behind the engine, not in front of it?

    • Howard A Member

      Hi CJ, my ex-wife with the ’77 Monza, 305, had a heavy foot ( especially when she got pissed off at me) and I never remember anything like that happening. Perhaps as it began to rust (seriously) that may have been a concern. ( and boy-howdy did it ever rust)

  16. Car Guy

    I have never seen that particular front end on the Starfire with the single large headlights. Is this a Canadian version?

    Back in the day, I had a 75 Monza 2+2 with the 4.3 V8 4-speed manual, 3.23 posi and F41 Sport Suspension. With a swap to a 4bbl intake and Quadrajet, a “test pipe” in place of the convertor, and a “Monza” performance exhaust system with quad “Ferrari” style exhaust tips, It would roast the tires, but never twisted the subframe. I suspect a broken motor mount on the above mentioned car…….

  17. ACZ

    Tell the truth. Just another Vega.

  18. Tim Rusling

    Ah, yes, the Lemon of Lordstown.

  19. ROTAG999

    I had a V-8 and a V-6 Vega never broke any thing frame wise and i drove them pretty hard so most of those storys are bogus. Had a 87 Mustang 5.0 it had some
    frame and door problems and the rag tops are real loosy goosy can you say cowl shake.

  20. hhaleblian

    Design beat with an ugly stick. Makes Ruski cars look like models from Serbia. Sorry el presidente’

  21. Top Jimmy

    You’ll never find parts for this particular H body, especially in Firenza trim. I agree with others. Rare rustbucket. A friend had a silver Starfire Firenza in high school. Thinking it was a 79. Paperwork….Avis Rent A Car. Hmmm.

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