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1992-1998 Oldsmobile Achieva

Oldsmobile-Achieva-SL-sedanIf there were ever an entirely inexplicable, odd, unusual and unexpected object of Car Lust, it would be . . .the Rampage! But a close second (third, fourth, or fifth, really, given the people around here) is my uncanny BLOARC* for the Oldsmobile Achieva.

No, I don't understand it. The car has no personal meaning to me; I never owned one, nobody I know ever owned one, and I'm not sure I'd ever really want to own one. By most measures it was neither a particularly good or bad car, certainly nothing that would make any normal person sit up and  take notice. No major reliability issues, not an exceptional performer, but not an underpowered weenie-mobile either. It looked a little odd and the name is kinda flaky.

But I love it still. And that is no doubt due to its rather unique styling. "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" as Francis Bacon said, and there is strangeness in the Achieva's looks. It doesn't really look like anything else and that appeals to me.

In a way, it's somewhat akin to the Honey Badger: You may not want one yourself, but they look interesting and you're just glad to know that such a creature exists. 


 * Bizarre Love Of A Random Car

The Achieva was part of Oldsmobile's early-1990s efforts to revamp its line and attempt to compete more head-to-head with the imports and also to get away from the boxy look of the rebadged J-body models that had taken Olds through the late '80s. The Achieva replaced the Calais in mid-year 1991 and came in both sedan and coupe versions. It was a pretty standard front-drive car and although classed as a compact, it pretty much pushed the limits of that class. The base engine was a 2.3-liter Quad-4 that developed anywhere between 115 and 190 horsepower, so it could be tricked out to a reasonable performer in that respect. After 1995 the Quad was redesigned as a 2.4-liter "Twin Cam" with about half of the architecture of the engine new. This was done to smooth out many of the rough spots in engine performance compared with the imports, notably the Honda Accord. Horsepower with the new engine never reached the heights of the old Quad, but it was much smoother and more in line with what customers wanted. Olds also made V-6s available for those requiring higher torque.93_achievaCoupe

Reviews were generally positive, although in terms of fit and finish the Achieva suffered from the general "parts bin" mentality of GM in those years, resulting in cheaper-looking parts that didn't really fit in with the Oldsmobile style. It was supposed to go head-to-head with the Honda Accord but didn't really measure up.

Its looks set it apart, which is really where I start to take notice. It's two things really: The rounded split grill sitting above the flat bumper and the. . .yes, I am actually saying this. . .rear fender skirts. As I have noted before I've never been a big fan of fender skirts--they make most cars look ponderous to my eye rather than elegant--but in certain cases they work. Perhaps because those on the Achieva are a bit smaller, they seem to me to add that touch of strangeness in an otherwise unassuming little car that tickles my aesthetic fancy. Just enough to be quirky, but not enough to really put it over the top. Personally, I prefer the coupe as it seems a little better proportioned than the sedan but unfortunately, the skirts only seem to have been an option on the sedan version.

The Achieva didn't quite achieve its goal of model longevity, being replaced after 1998 with the Alero, which took its styling cues from the Aurora. And, well, we see what happened to Olds after that. I still see quite a few of these around and they always invite a turn of the head. Despite my protestations above, I could see me bombing around in one of the 190-horsepower coupes.

--Anthony J. Cagle


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If memory serves, the "fender skirts" were part of the rear quarter panel stampings, not a tack-on, optional part, much the same as the bulbous Caprice of the same era. Seems the same "GM parts bin" mentality had a hand in designing both cars.

Yeah, maybe that's why I like these skirts; they're more part of the body line and not just a cover for the wheels. Makes for a nice smooth line going back without the wheel well interrupting it. Just enough to catch one's eye and look a little unusual.

I really like that front grille too, for whatever reason. Like I said, it just caught my fancy at some point and I always notice them.

I think I had an electric shaver with that front grille pattern...

I know my Grandma had an Oldsmobile fetish back in the day - I don't remember if she ever had an Achieva or not, but it seems like the kind of car she would automatically gravitate toward.

The four-door Achieva, being a compact model, and with its rear-quarter fender-skirt styling, looked to me like a kindergartner in an uncomfortable Sunday suit. And Olds should have thought harder about the name; It sounds not high-tech, but inarticulate.

The Achieva combines some really intriguing design cues with possibly the stupidest name of its time.

That has got to be the first time in the history of our language that the Olds Achieva has been likened to a honey badger. Well done.

A friend of mine had a white sedan years ago. The cut of the rear door, while somewhat unique and aesthetically pleasing, makes it REALLY awkward to get into the back seat. Whenever a group of friends were going to ride in it the fight for "shotgun" got pretty serious as nobody wanted to contort their way through that back doorway.

Ahh, the under-Achieva. I can see the appeal of the coupe - there's something mildly and oddly attractive about it in an inoffensively ungainly way. And with a Quad 4, it could be pretty quick.

But ... and as you can imagine, this is hard for me to say ... I *hate* the Achieva. It was just awful.

"But ... and as you can imagine, this is hard for me to say ... I *hate* the Achieva."

That would be a BHOARC.

The Achieva SCX was a good showroom stock racing car. I think they dominated their class, partly thanks to being fitted with 14 inch tires instead of the costume 16 inchers on the Achieva SC. Something to keep in mind for people who think they can improve performance with low profile tires.

The worst thing about these cars, and their cousins, was that they broke in expensive and complicated ways. My sweet little old landlady has a 1996 Buick Skylark with 37,000 miles. I think it is a V6, which has spared her the mandatory head gasket failures of the Quads and 'Twin Cams,' but a check engine light last year cost her about 2 grand. She finally decided to live with the light. More recently the car has spent several days at the dealer due to refusing to crank when hot. The dealer had it for a while, claimed no problem found. Towed in again, they kept it for a while, said that they think it is 'the dashboard,' and that all they can do is replace a couple thousand dollars worth of 'dashboard' parts and see if that solves the problem. Sure, it is an old car. It has 37K miles though, and has seen less abuse than a teenagers car sees in a day. If my landlady decides to buy another car, chances are she will be one more long time US brand car customer finally driven to a Japanese import.

I once had a 2-door 1994 Buick Skylark, the one with the strange pointy front end bumper, which was pretty much a slightly tarted up version of the Achieva. Had decent power and pretty good handling for the time (3.1 V6). Drove it cross country once (California to Georgia) stuffed to the gills with my stuff, and it did just fine. Being at a transitionary point in my life, I have lots of nostalgic memories of that car, the kind that makes my heart ache for those times. Developed annoying glitches later in life (ignition switch, windows not rolling up or down properly, some electrical faults, bad headlight dimmer switch, to name a few) and eventually met it's demise being tboned by a Crown Victoria when my wife was driving it (fortunately no injuries). Though it was inadequate for family use later on, I really did enjoy it in my single days.

"More recently the car has spent several days at the dealer due to refusing to crank when hot. The dealer had it for a while, claimed no problem found."

I wonder how much of the apparent dissatisfaction with American cars is due to service-related things like this rather than the actual build quality. I've always been under the impression that dealers make a lot of money on their service departments, which would tend to reward those with repeat customers. The imports are really immune to this either, but I do wonder if there's something unique to the domestic structure as well.

My experience with American auto dealer service departments has been terrible. They have told me that the factory warranty only pays them 80% of normal repair costs, so I'm last on the list to get fixed. Then, regular dealer charges are the highest in the land. $100 an hour to fix a Ford? Sorry, Wally's Service Station can beat that.

I was always amused at the slogan "Always Use Factory Parts". If they broke the first time, why would I want to use the same part again? Years ago, a factory wheel bearing for the Fiero was $210 - it had 40,000 miles on it. I got one from an auto parts chain for $84, and it worked fine.

Had an Achieva rental once. It was the biggest piece of crap I had ever ridden in and it ended up leaving us stranded. The Grand Am we got as a replacement was heaven compared to that Achieva.

This is an odd car for me. Now that I've read this post it feels like I've seen dozens of these motoring around town, usually with decaying paint and emissions that look like there's a campfire under the hood. But I've never seen a single one with an Oldsmobile badge, name, or any other identifier on it. It's as if any such markers all up and dropped off or fled as soon as possible. Embarrassment or a perquisite for running on in jalopy-hood? You decide.

The other weird thing here is that it reminds me, except for the grill, of my Grandmother's first-gen Legacy. Mixed feelings about that, since the look itself is fine in a generic way, and I liked my Grandmother a lot. But the few times I had to drive her Legacy, damn me but that car was uncomfortable. Had a steering wheel that had 2 height settings- too low (goodbye, knees!) or too high (where's the road?). Most maddening thing ever. If I hadn't forgotten that it was a Legacy, I probably never would have seriously looked at the 06 Legacy I ended up getting and loving.

The Achieva is an excellent car if taken care of.
I have been a fan of the Achievas design and styling since I was 10 years old (Im turning 27 in July).
Last year, after an extensive year long search, I found my baby.
I own a loaded 1995 Achieva S (V6 power everything) sedan in Medium Cloisson Metallic (a really sharp blue!). Everytime I park the car, I can’t help but walk around it and smile.
It is such a great design. So balanced and handsome.
The front evokes classic late 60’s and early 70’s Oldsmobiles, while the shouldered styling ties in with the rocket age late 40’s and early 50’s Oldsmobiles!
If you would like to see it, I have a cardomain page and youtube account devoted to it. Im working hard to bring some respectability and awareness to how great these cars are. They are worth saving especially since most end up in the scrap heap, and are generally not well regarded in the media.

Gary Smith, the designer has an article about the development of the Achieva.

Ahh, the Achieva. My mom had one growing up, a red two door with a 3.1. It always had random electrical problems requiring dealership service and it had a bad habit of overheating. It didn't really have much space in the back seat either. My mom wound up giving it away to my aunt, who wrapped it around a tree within the week.

We had a 4dr 1987 Calais Supreme, which was the earlier version of the Olds Achieva. We had it for 10 years and loved everything about it. It was both beautiful and comfortable.

I had a 95 achieva S (2.3 quad-4 automatic 2 door) god trust me you don't want one of these. I only got the car because it was dirt cheap and I needed a ride. This car (more specificly ALL N and J bodies) represented everything that was wrong with GM. The interior was all cheap plastics that made a power wheels look like quality. The suspension was unrefined, banging and clanging over small bumps which other cars (and other cars in the larger GM line) absorbed easily. The powertrain was trashy and the auto tranny was programmed to upshift too quickly to improve gas mileage. You can just see where corners were cut everywhere to save $$$ on these cars. As far as reliability goes went,, it was horrible and I drove it into the ground around 128k.

Interestingly I replaced it with a buick regal (3800 powered W body) which I've had for 3 years, 75k miles and have had zero issues. Why gm could make shitboxes like the J and N bodies (which were their biggest sellers btw) while making top quality vehicles like the W bodies shows how little they cared about cars in the lower end of the market.

I bought an Achieva brand new back in '94. It was a sedan with the 3.1 L V6. I drove it for 11 years and loved everything about it except for the name.

Has anyone seen this site for GM car and truck parts ? Will they still be open?

I actually owned two of these little Oldsmobiles; a 1994 "S" model 4-door and then a 1997 SL, also a 4-door. Obviously, I liked it. Both were 3.1-liter V6 powered. If I had been in the market for a 4-cyl. car, I would definitely would have bought an import, probably a Toyota. I drove my car too hard in those days to trust a 4-cyl. The only serious complaint I had about the car was its short brake life. I wore out my first set of brakes on the '94 at 16K miles. It forced me to change my driving habits considerably. Other than that, both cars were fairly solid. An accident forced me to part with that '94 sooner than I had expected. I immediately went looking for another Acheiva. By '97 Olds had cut production of the Achievas so much that the V6 models were virtually impossible to find. I considered myself lucky to find a single one being used as a demonstrator at a small dealership (quite far from home). The thing I liked best about that car? Comfort - at least for the driver. The front seats were the most comfortable I had ever sat in in any vehicle. I'm sure I could have driven cross-country without a complaint. Unfortunately, I'll never get the chance. My second Achieva was totaled when, on my way to work one morning in 2005, another car turned directly into my lane and hit me head-on as I sat at an intersection preparing to make a turn. Although I was able to continue driving it to work, the insurance company decided to total my Olds. Otherwise, I might still be driving it today.

"...get away from the boxy look of the rebadged J-body models that had taken Olds through the late '80s..."

I think you mean the A body Cutlass Ciera, which was Olds' #1 selling car then. The J body Firenza was a flop as much as the Cimarron.

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