Saturday, July 16, 2011

1984 Diesel Buick Century Wagon - For No Other Reason Than It Still Exists

The other day I posted a 1984 Toyota Corolla Diesel. That post was for amusement purposes only. Until I spotted that car, I had no idea such a thing existed. I can't imagine that it's a very fun car to drive.

The folks at saw the post and left this comment: "Toyota? How about a Buick Century Diesel?" I knew that GM built some diesels in the 1980s, but didn't think any were still around. It turns out that there is at least 1 still left in the world, and the guys at RoverClassic have it.

This post is also for amusement purposes only. (It's amusing to us now, but it wasn't all that amusing when these cars were new...)

GM offered 3 passenger car diesel engines. 2 V8s and a V6. They were developed Oldsmobile, but used shared with the other GM divisions.

Based on GMs gas powered engines, but not developed or tested enough, the diesel V8s were complete disasters. Head gasket and cylinder head failures were extremely common. Fuel delivery was a problem. Bent rods and broken crankshafts were problems, too. The list goes on and on... It was so bad the a class action lawsuit resulted in GM replacing the engines at little or no cost to the owner. Many V8 diesels were converted to gasoline engines.

The 4.3 liter V6 diesel, like the one in this car, was marginally better. A different head bolt design meant that head gaskets didn't blow as early or as often on these engines as they did on the V8.

Like the Corolla diesel, I can't think of a good reason to recommend this car to anyone. Unlike the Corolla, this car is in very, very nice shape. The chances of you ever again seeing a car like this - in this condition - are very slim.

Located in Staten Island, NY, click here to see the dealer's ad.

** This car sold on eBay a few days ago for $4400.00 (!!).**


Anonymous said...

The major problem with the Oldsmobile Diesel engines was the fuel pump. It had 2, count them 2, plungers to feed 8 cylinders. That was the first problem. Each plunger was doing too much work. (unlike the Benz Diesels of the same era that had a multi-plunger pump that each cylinder had it's own plunger. 4cylinders had 4 plungers, 5-cylinder 300D came with 5 plungers) They other horrific under-engineerment (is that a word?) came from the fact the GM guys said "Hey, Diesel oil is...OIL! Yes!!" and so they used the fuel as the lubricant for the pump. Yes, it is oil. No, it is not a very good lubricant.Well, negligent owners only had to skip one or two fuel filter changes (a big No-No with Diesel-engined cars) and the contaminants in the fuel, like water would get past the pump, into the cylinder. At 20-to-1 compression there is not a lot of space in the cylinder for water (not compressible) or more likely: steam. BLOOEY! There goes your head gasket!. The Benz Diesels of the time had 2 fuel filters, a rather large main one and a pre-filter. They also had separate lubricating oil sump for the mechanical fuel pump. (just as Alfas' Spica pumps do.) If you are going to try to live with & drive a GM Diesel from the 80, change those filters religiously and try to have a rebuilt pump available to stick in there every 50k miles or so.

Ed said...

Anonymous, I think you are taking it a little too far here. VW Diesels use a single plunger for four cylinders, and the Dodge Cummins Diesels using the same VE design also just use a single plunger for all 8 cylinders. Also they WERE lubricated entirely by the fuel oil with no problems for hundreds of thousands of miles. It is, er was important in those days to have a good filtration system with integrated water separator since water in the fuel was a common issue. I would say the main issues with these cars are the things previously mentioned, about how the blocks were modified gas blocks, combined with the lack of knowledge at the GM Dealers about diesels

Anonymous said...

I want to know who bought it.. what a terrible car. They were just bad, period. The first thing I can think of that would be worse is a gas become diesel tempo.

Mike P said...

A friend of mine's step-dad had a diesel Olds, back in the early eighties. And it's a good thing that my friend was going to school to become a diesel mechanic, because you just about needed a personal mechanic to keep one of those running! I remember alot of problems with the injector pump that was in the intake valley, and that alot of the problems were caused by water in the fuel. And Ed, the Olds diesel wasn't a modified gas motor, read this:
. Very informative. My friend eventually talked his step-dad into trading that piece of junk in on another Olds, a Delta 88 with a gas burning 307.

Blair Russell said...

Yeah, I noticed Rover Classic posting that advertisement in the comments, and I decided not to mention the obvious that GM diesels are generally terrible and that's a big reason why we as Americans aren't diesel-mad like those Europeans are, nor that it's interesting some of those are still around.

longrooffan said...

There is still a fastback available in Daytona Beach.

Anonymous said...

Well Ed, (you can call me Alden) that's my story and I am sticking to it. It was a bad combination of pump and fuel filtration design. A terrific book from the early 1980s called The Durability Factor had a pretty good section that took an in-depth look at the failures of these engines and the results from analyzing the warranty work done when the cars were first on the market. For many of the engine failures it was the exact cascade effect I described.GM did not have a "deep bench" for Diesel engine design at the time. Mercedes and Peugeot did and notice their fuel pumps were a (more expensive) multi-plunger design. I am also going to say the VW Diesel was a MUCH smaller displacement engine, had a really very good easy-to-replace fuel filter and pushed a lot less fuel volume than the GM V8.
That said, I never owned a GM Diesel, even though I considered several over the years. I did own several Benz and VW Diesel cars and drove them until the bodies rusted off them.

diesel mechanic said...

I am really interested in mechanic jobs. And now think I should choose diesel mechanic as career. I like your post. Thanks for sharing information