Hi there. I’m Eric Rood. Maybe you’ve seen me at Roadkill Zip-Tie Drags, judging 24 Hours of Lemons races, or helping to run Lemons Rallies. Maybe you’ve seen my name on stories here on the site. Just kidding, nobody ever reads those. [Ed note: I read them, Eric! -E]
Anyway, Roadkill has paid me to contribute to the site here for more than a year, so I figured I’m (over)due for an introduction. I have, one might say, questionable tastes, so what better introduction could I make than with the recent purchase of a terrible car? Err, another terrible car.
Meet Doris. I just bought this 1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser Wagon for $300 from Donnie Petrunak, who drove it (and won a trophy) on the Monterey Car Weeeeak Rally in August. Donnie and his Fail Inc. Motorsport teammates bought the car in Florida, where it had lived its entire life, from an estate. The previous owner’s name was Doris and given its antiquated nature, Donnie stuck the car with her name.
When Jeff Stobbs and Kevin Schrage—who won the Winter Rally earlier this year in a Cadillac Limo—sold their crashed MG Midget Lemons Rally car to auto journalist Bradley Brownell—who co-drive the rally with me in a plush Toyota RAV4 Hybrid—Stobbs and Schrage drove this Wagon back to their home in Minnesota. when I bought it from Petrunak, I flew to Minnesota with a suitcase of tools and the drove five uneventful hours back to Doris’ new home near Chicago.
At least one GM B-Body Wagon owner made sure to tell me, “It drives the wrong wheels.” While Doris might be a front-wheel-drive A-Body wagon with a wheezing 3.3-liter V6, she appeals magnificently to my nostalgia, which is, of course, the driving force behind so much car culture. I was born in 1984 and these cars were simply everywhere in the Midwest as I grew up.
My seven-person family owned several three-row station wagons. While ours were all well-worn GM B-Bodies, the rear-facing third seats remain a fond memory. My siblings and I never called “shotgun;” we always fought for the “way-back seat.” I read my first comic book in the way-back seat and we took my first family vacations in a Malaise-green Pontiac Safari wagon, which my parents later replaced with a regretful Ford Aerostar.
In addition, my early driving days were full of mid-size American front-wheel-drive cars. My friends almost exclusively drove hand-me-down GM A-Bodies and Plymouth Acclaims. Those all handled righteous beatings at the hands of teenage drivers who knew where all the jumps were on tractor-rutted Midwestern gravel roads. Simply put, I know this car can handle whatever I give it because I’ve seen dozens of them suffer teenager abuse of the highest magnitude. And I’m a responsible adult.
I’ve been looking for a cheap wagon, minivan, or light truck recently for parts-hauling and camping duties. A front-wheel-drive wagon wasn’t at the top of that list. However, this rust-free wagon had a stack of maintenance records, an impeccable interior, and endorsements from the two rally teams who drove it. And for $300, can you ever really go wrong with a running wagon?
So what’s the plan for Doris? The return trip from Minnesota demonstrated that this car, though it protests vehemently at low speeds, is happiest at 70 miles per hour. It’s almost like General Motors designed it specifically to cruise on highways. As such, I expect to make the occasional road trip in this wagon.
The engine is a 3.3-liter V6, which is a smaller version of the Buick 3800 V6 found in so many GM vehicles over the years. They are not renowned for their exhaust sound—a monotone “HWRAAAAOOOOOOOOOOOUGH” regardless of RPM—and this particular engine seems a little short of its original 160 horsepower. However, Doris does have a four-speed transmission with overdrive and it returned more than 25 miles per gallon on the highway. Another road-trip plus.
Does it have a few quirks? Yes, it’s a 27-year-old car so the door seals leak, the tachometer always reads at about 9,500 RPM (these engines will throw the rods into orbit at 5,500 revs), the fuel gauge bounces around constantly, and the speakers can’t keep up with the aftermarket stereo installed. But again, I grew up listening to crappy stereo speakers adding distortion to every song. Another point for nostalgia.
Nevertheless, the seats are pretty clean and still have lots of life left in them. The four-way power seat still works, as do the heat, air-conditioning, and at least half of the door locks and power windows. Can you spot the rearview mirror?
The suspension is pretty cushy and the rally team tried the old football “helper” airbags in the rear to carry all their rally gear (Mostly coolers and luggage). Of course, the footballs popped almost immediately, but you’ll also notice the complete absence of rust, at least. That alone makes it particularly rare for a 1990 car in the Midwest.
With lots of cargo room, it’ll also haul a bevy of parts and, should I get the chance, you might also see the rear-facing seat being used for some car-to-car photography duties. I don’t see any reason to dump the existing engine as long it’s running, but I wouldn’t rule out a later L67 3.8-liter V6 swap if I decide to keep it long-term.
It may not look like much, but the Cutlass Cruiser has it where it counts: It was cheap. Find a few more pictures below in the gallery.