Motor Memories: The Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight

A grainy home video, a photo or two and the car’s nameplate are the only mementos of our Regency Brougham. But the memories live on.

1984 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency BroughamCourtesy: Sam Stevenson

Remembering the Family Oldsmobile

To our surprise, it only went in reverse. Not the car, but the large motorboat we towed behind it for six hours one summer day long ago, heading from our home in Guelph to Constance Bay, Ont. After that fun but sweaty family road trip, it was surely a let-down for Dad that the boat he wanted to test before buying could only go backwards. Boat issues aside, did that car ever get us there smoothly, all eight cylinders a-go!

The 1984 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency Brougham was the second family car in my life, bought used in 1994 and retired in 2005. The years of ownership brought much delight to my family. It made for great bonding time with Dad, as we worked on the spark plugs (and the engine compartment was huge), sprayed cleaner down the four-barrel carburetor and gave it a wash. Its tan-leather seats carried us on many trips to visit family or just cruise the countryside. With so much interior room, Mom and Dad had an easy time taking all three kids, myself included, out of the car while we were sound asleep and carrying us into the house.

Sometimes, the car wasn’t so gentle. My dad accidentally pinched my friend’s finger as he rolled up the passenger side window electronically. Thinking the boy was joking about his finger being caught, Dad kept pressing the button—ouch!

As a kid, I learned the beauty of ice formation as I watched ice crystals form on the car windows. And one time—and only one time—a strange buzzing noise occurred. We were never sure what caused the sound, but it taught me, though not in a profound way, that life does indeed have its mysteries. I also learned to drive in that old car.

What led to the ultimate demise of the Ninety Eight was me removing its broken air-conditioning unit. I knew this would lower the car’s weight, which would allow it to accelerate more quickly. What I didn’t realize was that removing the air conditioner would unbalance the engine. Its removal caused the belts to squeal whenever the car was started cold, as well as at moments least desired. For example, Mom would be driving home from an emergency room night shift, praying that the car wouldn’t start squealing as she pulled into the neighbourhood. My sister took a more preventive approach: Mom or Dad were not allowed to drive her to high school in that squealing vehicle.

Eventually, with the car rusting, squealing and sporting a broken speedometer, we sold it for a couple of hundred bucks to someone in the country. We dropped it off at the person’s property. Decrepit cars spotted the area and the owner’s dogs greeted us none-too-nicely when we arrived. After saying our goodbyes to the car, we left—with our memories. I’ve often wondered if our old car is still out there in that field, and how it looks today. Is it operable? Will I see someone driving it around town fully restored? Unfortunately, brush and trees have obscured the view from the road and Google Earth is too blurry to spot the car from high above. But it is a family legacy that lives on in our hearts.