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'85-'91 GM "N" Bodies

These cars were referred to by some in the automotive press as GM's answer to the BMW 3-Series when they were introduced. They were stylish and handled well, and, depending on the specific model, quite reliable. My '86 Grand Am 4 cylinder went 189,000 relatively trouble free miles. What was the experience of other readers?


  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Posts: 1,711
    The '86-'91 Toronado/Riv/Eldorado/Seville looked a heck of a lot like the N-bodies.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    I hope nobody has the audacity to mistake those for classics.(-;
    I guess they're OK, I still see a lot of them on the road, so they can't be all bad. I think the only thing to watch for is the Quad 4 engine (powerful but problematic).
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,046
    ...GM was on a downsizing kick back then, that went into full-swing in 1977, and once they started they just couldn't stop fast enough. I think the original purpose of the N-body was to replace the RWD Cutlass Supreme, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Buick Regal, while the Monte Carlo might have been slated for oblivion. Remember these cars probably started their design cycle in 1981 or '82, when gas was expensive, we were in a recession, and big cars, for the most part, weren't selling. Ironically enough, those recession-ridden years were great for the Regal and Cutlass, and Olds/Buick models in general, which had some of their best sales years. The Monte however, and especially the Grand Prix, suffered reduced sales.

    Notice, for example, that when the N-cars first came out, they were only available as a coupe. And they had names that had originally been applied to high-spec personal luxury coupes. Calais and Somerset were sport packages for the Cutlass/Regal, that had rallye wheels, bucket seats, and floor shifters. And the Grand Am was an attempt at a more luxurious muscle car, but focused more on the luxury than muscle. They also had a fairly formal roofline, with small quarter windows and a vertical backlite.

    I think what happened, though, is that the gas got cheap again, the Supreme, Regal, and Monte (but not the Grand Prix) started to sell well again, so instead they tried to bring these cars out as something sportier. The Calais and Somerset only sold so-so, but the Grand Am really took off, and got molded into an import fighter. When they were redesigned for 1992, it was the kiss of death for the Skylark and Olds, which was re-named Achieva, but was a second coming for the Grand Am. I read somewhere that between '91 and '92, Skylark sales fell something like 61%. I'm not sure how hard of a hit the Olds took, but it was probably similar. The Grand Am, however, remained a top-ten contender, as it had been since around 1986.

    As for engines, I think the best to get for long-term reliability is the 2.5 Pontiac Iron Duke. I think they called it "Tech IV" by then, but it was the same basic 92 or so hp engine. The 3.0 was a Buick engine, derived from the 3.8/4.1 block, I believe. They had a few other configurations too...a 3.2 in the late '70's, and a 3.3 in the late '80's. That block got better as time went by, and eventually became very reliable. But the earlier models had poor lubrication and just relatively sloppy assembly quality in general. Sure, you'll still find some with high mileage on their original V-6'es, but there are many, many more that died a painful, premature death. I've heard the Quad IV was problematic, as well. A co-worker of mine back in the early '90's bought a Cutlass Supreme coupe with the Quad IV. Even in that heavier car, it was pretty quick, but I remember she got rid of that car in record time!
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 18,883
    is that they are classic examples of why GM became uncompetitive. I don't know of any credible auto publication comparing them to a 3-series, for crying out loud!

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,046
    ...the Grand Am got a modest facelift around 1995 or so, and a couple magazines said BMW should sue because you could tell Pontiac was aping the BMW grille! So yeah, it's been compared to the 3-Series ;-)
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    I don't know what GM was thinking when they restyled the existing Skylark and Calais in '92. They took decent looking, if bland, cars and completely funked them up. My upstairs neighbors have a Skylark sedan ('94), they got inherited it when her mom died. It's not quite as ugly as I remembered, and Mike says it's almost as quick as his '94 325i off the line (GM V6s do have pretty good torque).
  • ghulet-

    If nothing else, the redesigned Skylark and Achieva were the epitome of '90s styling: a weird, plasticky techno look with lots of angles. I thought the Achieva looked OK, but the pointed front on the Skylark was a bit much. I believe they flattened it out around '95 or '96, and that looked quite a bit better.

    -Andrew L
  • dweezildweezil Posts: 271
    2 door, 2.5 litre 3 speed auto.I love the lines on it. Bought it when it was 8 years old with 21,000 actual miles. The only things that went wrong with it were things that died from heat and lack of use. The San Fernando Valley is extremely hot in the summer,so the weather strip was brittle and had to be replaced.I checked with the DMV and the mileage between smog checks was accurate, so it had not been rolled back. It had been traded in on a 94 Buick or Olds.
    I bought a new car so I passed it on to my parents and it's become my Mother's car. She loves it. First car they've had that she felt she had under control.The handling of it is one of it's best features.The size is ideal.
    The handling is entertaining, it's nicely trimmed, gets great mileage and it's pretty to look at.
    I had it painted and the head liner redone before I took it to Oregon. The paint was still glossy, but starting to give out.
    That was the start of GMs clearcoat paints, which were introduced on the C [98s, Park Avenues, etc.] cars.It was the first application of such on their smaller vehicles. Not the really troublesome paint they used from 88 till ???.The BMW references were part of the company hype: "New Values Customers" [whatever the H that meant] were supposed to be Yuppie type baby boomer 35 to 44 year old urban "sophisticates" who coincidentally would be shopping for a car the size and price of a small BMW could also put these on their list. They are approximately the same size.The target customers had the same demographics as the BMW shopper [vaguely], or so data said.A little misguided, I think!!!
    The N cars were sort of "super" J bodies in that they shared platforms,cowls etc. with the Cavalier/Sunbird. They swapped dashboards as well.This was to use up extra J car factory capacity, which, when they were on the drawing board,were getting off to a slowww start [82/83]
    Some referred to them as replacements for the Xs in the Olds and Pontiac lines, though they were really slated as downsized personal luxury replacements as Andre related.
    The Calais actually did pretty well. People were still hot on the Cutlass.140,000 units or so it's first[or 2nd] year.Car and Driver said it wasn't a car that would really lower the average age of Oldsmobile drivers,but it WAS the best Cutlass Supreme they'd ever built.
    Will probably get to see it soon as my folks are driving it to LA at the end of March. It's only got about 70,000 miles on it even now and stillrunning strong.
    Negatives: the ride wasn't as good as I expected, bumps were felt AND heard - very irritating, and the 2.5 was too growly ALL the time, which got on my nerves. Otherwise it was quieter than my current car.
    Sorry for the gassy post, but as interesting economical old cars with modern comfort and features,they're fine. Collectible, I doubt, but I expect they'll have their fans and followers like any brand.
  • mminerbimminerbi Posts: 88
    Millions of '85-'91 Pontiac Grand Ams, Oldsmobile Cutlas Calais, and Buick Skylarks were sold, yet in only a few days there were twice as many messages posted on the newer Renault 16 topic than for these relatively popular GM models. And these GM cars are a lot newer than the Renault 16, which means that many more readers would have owned or driven them than the lesser known Renault. Does anybody have an explanation for the disparity in the messages posted?

    Since the Chevrolet Beretta/Corsica, introduced in '87, also shared the "N" body, the disparity is all the more puzzling.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628 this point, the GM 'N' bodies are in the 'just a crummy old car' stage of their lives, we see them every day and there's not a whole lot of reminiscing needed about them, IMO.

    The Renault, while not particularly popular, is at least a car that many of us never see, and most of us haven't owned one for a long time. It has some interest at least because it's unusual.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Posts: 1,711
    Compared to GM's full-size B-bodies, the N-cars were dogs and were built like crap.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    .......most '85-91 GM cars are not the best. This wasn't exactly a high point in automobive history, and GMs were among the worst. I don't think the Ns were particularly bad in my experience, but this whole topic really doesn't even belong in a 'Classic Cars' forum anywhere.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Posts: 1,711
    What about 1992? I still consider that year a low point for all GM.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    There's not much about 1992 GM that can't be said about 1991. '92 did have the new Bonneville/88/LeSabre, that's about it.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Posts: 1,711
    Don't forget the Eldorado/Seville and the Reatta's cancellation.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,046
    ...was kind of a shakeout year for GM. The N-bodies had been selling pretty well up to that point, although the Grand Am had established itself as a stronger seller than the Skylark or Calais. In fact, I think the Grand Am broke into the top ten selling cars list in 1986, and to this day is one of GM's best selling cars.

    However, when '92 restyle came around, it seemed all the focus was on the Grand Am. The Skylark and Calais (renamed Achieva) didn't go over too well with their funky restyles, although I always thought the Achieva coupe had nice lines. This year, Skylark sales plunged by something like 60%, and I'm sure Achieva sales were down similarly, compared to the Calais.

    Also by 1992, the Park Avenue was beginning to establish itself as the C-body to have. When it bowed for 1991, it received rave reviews...even Car & Driver liked it! It was lauded for having nice lines, good fit and finish, and a well laid-out interior. Not so with the 98. It was a confused jumble of styles and shapes, and tried to look "cutting edge" and "old lady" at the same time! Sales withered, and before long the Park was outselling the 98 by something like 2:1. I believe the 98 was retired in 1996, atlhough they grafted its front-end onto the 88 for 1997 and called it "Regency" or "Elite" or something like that.

    I think the '92 restyle of the H-body is also what sunk the 88 and the Bonneville. Somehow the LeSabre came out as everybody's favorite...JD Powers, Consumer Reports, the general public, etc. The 88 however, saw sales fall while the Bonneville enjoyed a few years of increased sales and then dried up pretty quickly. I never liked that generation of Bonneville...just too over-styled. Interestingly though, in its final few years, the Olds 88 had a nice grille treatment that kinda resembled a '59 Pontiac. In fact, it almost looked more like a Pontiac than the Bonneville did!
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Posts: 1,711
    In the last three years of the older H-body style (1989-91), the LeSabre was the best-seller of them all, simply because it had a better reputation for quality.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    .....what GM did to the Olds 98. I saw a late '80s (pre-91) last night in great shape in charcoal gray, with the lace alloys. That really was a pretty nice looking car, if boxy. They at least had the proportions done well.

    I don't mind the '92-99 Bonneville so much if it doesn't have the cladding, rear spoiler or body-colored everything (which eliminates about eighty percent of them, unfortunately).
This discussion has been closed.