I recently had the chance to review a 1985 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser. What this is, for those of you who are unaware, is an absolutely massive station wagon that’s simply too big to even comprehend by modern standards. And yet, it was a fairly typical 1980s car, even though it’s difficult to believe that parents drove around kids in this merely 30 years ago.
I say this, in part, because of its sheer size. The Custom Cruiser is huge, gargantuan, massive, truly the size of a full-size pickup. Driving this car, I couldn’t help but think how absolutely hilarious it is that people complain, bitterly, about the increasing size of SUVs, when really, basically any SUV on the market today is smaller than this relatively normal 1980s family car. The thing is huge.
Of course, this affects the driving experience. The Custom Cruiser absolutely feels every bit of its length, and its width, and attempting to make any turn — even a slow one, a right-hand turn at an intersection — makes it feel like you’re changing courses on a ship. It’s almost insane how excessively huge this thing is and how different it feels from modern cars — even large SUVs — while you’re driving it. There’s no feel in the steering and tons of play, there’s massive body roll and there’s a general feeling that you aren’t completely aware of the location of the car’s corners at any given time. Oh, and the brakes aren’t especially good, either.
Neither is the acceleration. Old station wagons like this are rear-wheel drive and V8-powered, which are typically the marks of a sports car — but this thing couldn’t be further from that. The Custom Cruiser I drove used a 5.0-liter V8 with — this is true — 140 horsepower, which is the kind of number you’d expect from a compact or subcompact car today, and one with a tiny 4-cylinder engine. Except this isn’t a subcompact car. It’s a massive station wagon — and it has a V8.
It also has a lot of seats. One neat trick in this car is the rear-facing third row seat, which allows you to carry a lot of people — this was the minivan before the minivan got popular. So if you combine the rear seat, the middle bench seat, and the front bench seat, this can seat at least eight, and more if you don’t worry about seat belts. Fold down the seats and it’s also absolutely massive, allowing you to transport enormous sheets of plywood and use the wagon as a veritable pickup truck. It’s a very useful vehicle.
Or, at least, it’s a very useful vehicle if you aren’t worried about fuel economy. The owner of this car told me it gets something like 8 to 10 miles per gallon, which is just laughable in the modern era of cars and gas mileage — even big family cars. And, of course, the same goes for parking, as this huge vehicle finds it hard to fit into parking spots, assuming you can swing it into the general vicinity of a spot in the first place.
Still, it’s a wonderful relic of the old days. Driving around in this car was fun, and seeing it — and the amazing condition it’s in — was even more fun, as it just looks pristine for a car like this. It truly hails from another era — and while I’m happy, as a car enthusiast, to leave behind the era of 140-hp V8s, I’m also excited to visit it occasionally as a reminder of how life was a few decades ago. Find an Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser for sale