Thread Number: 77728  /  Tag: Other Home Products or Autos
Coal powered Oldsmobile
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Post# 1017505   12/9/2018 at 18:23 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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I came across this video showing an experimental coal powered Oldsmobile made during the 80s.

Maybe the idea should be revived so we have a reason to revive the coal industry, as promised by Trump! LOL

Post# 1017518 , Reply# 1   12/9/2018 at 19:37 by wayupnorth (On a lake between Bangor and Bar Harbor)        

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Olds had a diesel powered engine that was was underpowered, stunk to the high heavens and was not reliable in cold weather.

Post# 1017527 , Reply# 2   12/9/2018 at 21:03 by RP2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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A fun friend, pipe organ restoration guru Ed Stout, had a diesel Olds wagon back in the early '80s.  A bunch of us piled into his car and buzzed from Sebastopol in Sonoma County over to Occidental near the Russian River for dinner at the Union Hotel where the food just doesn't seem to stop coming.


On that dark two-lane country road, we encountered a steep incline, and being a dog of a car already, it really struggled with a full load of men packed into it.  A pair of headlights came up behind us, seemingly out of nowhere.  Ed floored it to try and pick up speed, producing a huge thick black cloud behind us.  The set of headlights was seriously obscured and quickly dropped way back -- and not because we were moving that much faster, either.   It was really satisfying and we all roared with laughter. 

Post# 1017529 , Reply# 3   12/9/2018 at 21:07 by Kate1 (Idaho)        

And I thought emptying coal ash out of a furnace or boiler was a chore. Imagine having to empty your car’s ash pan. Having a car that belches out black soot everywhere doesn’t sound like much fun either.

Post# 1017601 , Reply# 4   12/10/2018 at 14:23 by ahab (Chalfont PA)        

That's awesome. I was not aware of a coal fired Olds...

The reason the 80s GM diesels were such dogs and rarely lasted beyond 100k was due to the fact that GM simply replaced the spark plugs with glow plugs and retrofitted a fuel delivery system. That's a bit oversimplified however these were gas engines converted to run diesel fuel as opposed to engines designed to burn diesel. Diesel fuel needs to be compressed to 22:1 in order to burn, whereas most gas engines fall in the 8-10 to 1 ratio. This higher compression requirement led to a lot of parts under the hood which weren't designed for this kind of stress or engineered to be efficient under these conditions.

Post# 1017640 , Reply# 5   12/10/2018 at 21:23 by Stricklybojack (San Diego, CA)        

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Post# 1017660 , Reply# 6   12/11/2018 at 05:42 by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        

A friend of dad's was a Chevrolet salesman and was pressuring dad to buy a diesel at the height of the gas crisis. I pointed out that the car had to be serviced every 1000 miles which was about a week's driving for him. He gave up on the idea and bought a Toyota which gave him great service and gas mileage. Now diesel is far more expensive than regular gasoline. Back in the 70s, it was cheaper.


Coal-powered cars could be the new government fleet. The Third Reich had a recipe for getting a liquid fuel from coal.  A program on the History Channel showed the ruins of the huge plant in Eastern Europe. I think that it consumed more energy than it produced, but who in this administration cares when it increases the amount of coal used?


Thinking of coal ash, I have never heard of how ships disposed of it when the boilers were in the lower levels, generally below the water line.

Post# 1017667 , Reply# 7   12/11/2018 at 07:00 by combo52 (Beltsville,Md)        
1970s Oldsmobile Diesel Durability

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Very few of these care even managed 50,000 miles around here on one engine without big repairs, and many people just converted then to gasoline engines.


John L.

Post# 1017704 , Reply# 8   12/11/2018 at 16:20 by vacerator (Macomb, Michigan)        
A few Old's diesel owners also installed

the later 6.2 litre Diesel engine, which was designed to be a diesel from the get go.
Olds gasoline to diesel block problems; Too long of a stroke to obtain the needed 22.5 to one compression ratio for diesel ignition. The crank, bearings, pistons, and wrist pins just couldn't take the pounding, no matter how durable the Olds engine was.
One would think that having among the worlds best engineers would have field tested them long enough to know before release.
Then again, engineers are not the bean counters.
GM wanted them on the market by 1979.

Post# 1017707 , Reply# 9   12/11/2018 at 16:40 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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It seems to me I've heard stories, too, that people would buy their diesel Oldsmobile, drive it for a while, go buy a new Oldsmobile...and have the Oldsmobile dealer refuse to take the diesel Oldsmobile as a trade in.

This is only a story I heard--I can't confirm it--but somehow it seems quite believable.

Post# 1017714 , Reply# 10   12/11/2018 at 19:05 by speedqueen (Harrison Twp, Michigan)        

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Union Pacific's GE built gas turbine electric locomotives from the '50s and '60s such as the one I included a picture of burnt heavy fuel oil(Bunker C) that had to be heated before it could go through the system. These were and remain the worlds most powerful locomotives ever built at 8500hp and 212,313 lbf of tractive effort. For comparison, a current production GE ES44DC only has 4400 hp and 166,000 lbf.


At one point, UP tried converting one of these to run on coal powder. While it did work, the acidity of the coal eroded the blades of the turbines, which, I presume was the issue why the coal powered Olds never went further.


**Regarding the picture, everything in frame is required, the front power unit, the rear power unit and the heated and insulated tender that kept the fuel oil liquid. These were massive machines that were superseded in 1969 when it was figured out how to use multiple diesel locomotives with only one manned and controlling the rest.

Post# 1017716 , Reply# 11   12/11/2018 at 19:13 by DaveAMKrayoGuy (Oak Park, MI)        

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I wonder about all those gauges necessary to monitor whatever additional functions, and why they can't be added in a more conventional manner... There seemed be nothing in the story telling about anything of which they do...

It looks like it be just right for Popular Science to cover, and as for the Olds dielsel engine fiasco, I read in a used car book of how dealers would not take any in even on trade, myself...

The engine truly was GM's historically worst failure until the 1981 Cadillac V-8-6-4 (often running mostly in 1-3-5-7,--and ZERO!) came along...

-- Dave

Post# 1017718 , Reply# 12   12/11/2018 at 19:19 by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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>I wonder about all those gauges necessary to monitor whatever additional functions, and why they can't be added in a more conventional manner... There seemed be nothing in the story telling about anything of which they do...

Good point.

I have to wonder if some of the gauges might have been more about that car as a research/development project, and not so much something that would be needed if the car had ever reached a point of being a salable product.

Post# 1017719 , Reply# 13   12/11/2018 at 19:41 by DaveAMKrayoGuy (Oak Park, MI)        

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Yes, my point exactly--not much they wanted to reaveal, should anything that was too inner-sanctum, in their top secret research/development be exposed...

Another thing to mention, and in regards to that handful of coal shavings we saw that, that entire vehicle is expected to run on...

Putting a shovelful would hardly sustain that car towards even electric-vehicle attainability... Plus, that vehicle-weight from such a power plant needed to be run on a thing like coal (with all the breaking-down and excessive heat) would make that Oldsmobile just too front-heavy...

The most practical measure anyone can think of with even the most amateur level of engineering would be to just use the trunk space to keep all that coal to power the car for any reasonable amount of distance...

Then in place of the drive shaft is the screw-drive to run the coal through what would be the transmission tunnel, sort of like how coal is delivered to a furnace...

Finally, the car, as far as any transmission goes, would simply be (although STILL front-heavy) just front-wheel-drive...

(Ummmm, clever! --No?!)

-- Dave

Post# 1017752 , Reply# 14   12/12/2018 at 08:54 by vacerator (Macomb, Michigan)        
Turbine's, etc.;

Yeah, the rail industry had a better success than the auto industry did with turbines. They run very hot, so in summer and warm/hot climates, A/C was not an option, but a necessity, even to keep the turbines cool.

Cadillac V 8-6-4; Dave, thats funny! They never only hit on 1, 3, or 5 cylinders though. The problem was the slow clock speed of the computer processor. It just couldn't keep up with throttle and speed changes which resulted in jerking and rough performance. Just unplugging the connector to the valve train solenoids made them run on all 8 all the time. Problem solved, except fuel economy.
Those 368 cubic inch cast iron engines were as durable as every Caddy V8 before.
Where they really goofed was the subsequent H.T. 4100 253 c.i. aluminum V8. The Northstar was better, but not by that much. Planned obsolesence. Of course, many are still on the roads, if driven around with a light foot.

Post# 1017756 , Reply# 15   12/12/2018 at 10:08 by 63kenmore (Tennessee)        
Diesel cars of the eighties

I remember back in the early to mid 1980’s someone my husband worked with had a diesel Cadillac. We lived in Minneapolis at the time and I remember him coming home at night in the dead of winter saying that this guy’s car had to be pushed into the Republic Airlines hangar so the fuel would warm up enough to drive home.

Post# 1017771 , Reply# 16   12/12/2018 at 13:22 by twintubdexter (Palm Springs)        
So happy that I'm happy...

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Where would any discussion about vehicles be without mentioning the "Northstar Curse"? The one in my little 1998 Eldorado must have been vaccinated, since to this day it remains the most trouble-free engine I've owned since 1968 (the worst being an optional Japanese Mitsubishi in a Chrysler Town & Country wagon). I am very fortunate to have a small, independent service shop that works exclusively on Cadillacs. He knows them inside and out and is friendly and reasonable. The local GM/Cadillac dealer here stinks. Not only are they outrageously expensive, they don't want to see a car as old as mine anywhere near their dealership unless it's in the trade-in pile. As old as it is, the sophisticated Northstar is not the engine you have your neighbor work on in his garage.


My 20 year old car has a whopping 25,000 miles on it so I suppose the engine has plenty of time to act up. I on the other hand don't have plenty of time. By the time this car has 30K on the odometer I'll be history. In the mean time, the little Cadillac remains a total pleasure to drive, similar to  my old 96' Corvette but quieter, smoother and with a lot more room for my XL fanny. I have a couple of other vehicles but the Eldorado remains my favorite. 


purrs like a kitten, maybe not forever, but certainly for now

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Post# 1017772 , Reply# 17   12/12/2018 at 13:36 by RP2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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The car in the center stall reminds me of Nate's '93 Buick Roadmaster, which hasn't been quite as trouble-free as your Eldorado, Joe!

Post# 1017775 , Reply# 18   12/12/2018 at 14:00 by cadman (Cedar Falls, IA)        

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Man, lots of misinformation here that seems to get passed down like gospel.

The Cad V864 was actually a great engine...just a 368 with valve deactivation solenoids. Torque peak at 1400 RPM. Dead reliable EFI. The ECU was up to the task, but customers complained about vibration, especially during the 6 cyl transition. Snip 1 wire and you were running on 8 cylinders full-time. I think people confuse this with the other early 80's Cad engine that was a fiasco, the 82-85 HT4100. I've had several, and rather like them, but they require actual routine maintenance the likes of which Americans were, shall we say, unaccustomed to with their cast iron big blocks. I'd take an 84/85 anyday.

The diesel 350 was not simply a converted gas 350, as is often told. It shares many similarities so that the same machining and tooling equipment could be shared, but that's about it. Where GM screwed up was the low numerical gearing which made the cars even slower, and pinching pennies on injector pumps and WIF equipment, which were added back in after the initial waves of failures arrived (mostly after the DX block upgrades). And let's not forget about the head-bolts.

Of course this didn't address the other inherent diesel fuel gelling, sooty, smelly exhaust, maintaining a pair of batteries, and nightly block heater plug-in. All of that, plus a rod through the side of the block of our '81 Olds put my father off GM for a few years.

Post# 1017780 , Reply# 19   12/12/2018 at 15:40 by RevvinKevin (So. Cal.)        
V8-6-4 and diesel

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My uncle had an '81 Seville (the fugly one with the sloped back) and it had the 8-6-4 engine.  As I recall he wad quite happy it and felt that was a good engine, but gas mileage wasn't all that great.   It wasn't trouble free for him however, but overall it was OK considering what repairs had to do.  He even went to the trouble of repainting a two-tone green just because he wanted to.


At one point (a few cars ago) I had a 1980 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham diesel.  It was very clean and very comfortable, but had 120K miles showing when I bought it.   At that time it had a new factory crate motor (latest DX series diesel), plus new tires, batteries, brakes, etc.   It was a wonderful car for the majority of the 8 years I owned it.   I put over 80,000 miles on it and never had a problem with the actual engine itself.  With the exception of the injector pump failing once, it never failed to start, even when it was 26 degrees in the mountains when I went skiing.  It also never leaked or used a drop of oil and consistently produced 28 MPG @ 65-70 mph with the A/C on.  I really liked that car and that it was a diesel. 


Cory mentioned tall gearing.  As I recall my car had 2.56 gear ratio and with the 3 speed TH-200C trans, any moped could/would beat me off the line at the traffic light grand prix (the first 100 feet or so).


It was a great car until little, small, annoying things started failing or falling apart.  As was typical with GM products of the time, once it neared the 20 years / 180K miles mark, the headliner fell, small trim pieces (inside and out) started falling off or breaking, some electrical things (switches for mirrors, cruise control, some lights, rear window defroster, etc) stopped working.  Oh... there's also the fact I went through 3 transmissions (under sized/under rated for the engine) and 5 alternators.  That last one was my fault I suppose, for trusting the rebuilt / lifetime warranty P.O.S. alternators that Pep Boys offered at the time.  The longest one survived before failing was maybe 5 months.


When I sold the car to a (at that time) co-worker, the trans was starting to acting up again.  I heard he ended up selling it to a junk yard after the transmission failed again.

This post was last edited 12/12/2018 at 21:57
Post# 1017781 , Reply# 20   12/12/2018 at 15:43 by twintubdexter (Palm Springs)        

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As is usually the case, there's a lot of very knowledgeable people here. They know far more than I do for sure! Also very typical are my posts taking a subject way off course. So sorry, and please don't give General Motors any ideas about a coal-powered Cadillac.

This post was last edited 12/13/2018 at 02:06
Post# 1017786 , Reply# 21   12/12/2018 at 16:02 by DaveAMKrayoGuy (Oak Park, MI)        

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Getting back to the coal powered machine, why would they use a shlubby Oldsmobile for it?  I think the tree huggers need this in something more smaller & economical... At despite the energy usage of some fossils fuels, what's still at a less expense of what is normally mined for or taken out of the ground...


The experimental diesel engine designed to run on used deep frying oil (remember Deep Fry?) was used in a Volkswagen Rabbit...


Just a thought on how the best vehicle to use is something which likewise meant less trips to the gas pump...


As mentioned, I like the idea of this being a government vehicle, however, if something like required to go a realistic distance should suddenly fall into a shortage, a crisis, or just suddenly need a bailout... (Not!)




-- Dave

Post# 1017883 , Reply# 22   12/13/2018 at 15:58 by goatfarmer (South Bend, home of Champions)        

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Back in the day, Oldsmobile was kind of a "test bed" for GM. V8 engines, Hydramatic transmissions, many started with the Olds brand.

Post# 1021499 , Reply# 23   1/17/2019 at 12:54 by ahab (Chalfont PA)        

Hagerty's published this article yesterday which explains the conversion of the GM 350 gas engine over to diesel and why it failed better much than I could. It goes on to explain the plethora of other reasons why Oldsmobile's effort in the automotive diesel market was such a mess. Good vintage photos too!


Post# 1021599 , Reply# 24   1/18/2019 at 13:48 by norgeway (mocksville n c )        
GMs failures

Included the disasterous diesel, a 350 engine built for 8.5 to 1 compression didn't fare well with over 20 to 1, their Slim Jim Roto Hydra Matic used on 61-64 Pontiacs and Olds was with out a doubt, the worst automatic ever built, the second worse was the Metric 200 built in the 80s, then they tried to make a truck engine ,the 348 into a performance engine, powerful, yes, but if you turned it over about 5000 rpm, 9 times out of 10 it would bend all the pushrods, The fact remains that other than rust problems in the late 50s early 60s and questionable build quality of the 57 models, Chrysler was always wayyyyy ahead,the Torqueflite transmission introduced in 1956, and redesigned in 62, was and still is the best automatic ever built.

Post# 1021670 , Reply# 25   1/19/2019 at 04:36 by DaveAMKrayoGuy (Oak Park, MI)        

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I liked the article in the Hagerty’s link, it seems to chronicle accurately how the world’s greatest automaker sadly made in the industry, the world’s worst mistakes...

As it says, cost cutting and expeditation don’t ever fare successfully when it comes to building cars...

Likewise, when GM was building a reliable engine that WAS a true diesel for in its truck line in that very era, anyone that mechanically inclined with the right amount of automotive know-how could have plopped one of those under the hood of what was STILL branded Oldsmobile Diesel, and gotten the tried and true product that should have been rather than something misnamed, powered by the obvious solutions of transplanting a regular gas engine, given the rest of these cars were still redeemably good...

— Dave

Post# 1021681 , Reply# 26   1/19/2019 at 08:43 by kenwashesmonday (Haledon, NJ)        

As bad as the Oldsmobile diesel V8 was, it was not merely a converted gas V8. It shared some of the tooling for manufacture, but the block and moving parts are completely different than the Oldsmobile 350 V8.


norgeway wrote:

"...the Torqueflite transmission introduced in 1956, and redesigned in 62, was and still is the best automatic ever built."


To be fair,  the big Torqueflite 727, the GM THM 400, the Ford C6, and the cast-iron Borg Warner were all excellent heavy duty transmissions.





Post# 1023040 , Reply# 27   1/30/2019 at 11:24 by DaveAMKrayoGuy (Oak Park, MI)        
I suddenly just wondered:

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Can this coal power actually work well enough to also completely power the electrical system?

A way to eliminate the battery must be another important advantage of this, if it will get beyond this still-experimental stage...

— Dave

Post# 1023524 , Reply# 28   2/3/2019 at 20:06 by cornutt (Huntsville, AL USA)        
The worst automatic I've ever driven

was the ZF 8-speed that Chrysler put into the 200. The least of its problems was that if you tried to drive down the highway at a constant speed, it continuously hunted back and forth between gears, forcing you to keep playing with the throttle to maintain a constant speed. If you tried to use the cruise control, it would vary 7-8 MPH in each direction as the transmission shifted back and forth. Driving around city streets was an exercise in constant jerky shifts unless you were very delicate on the accelerator, and eventually the gearbox would overheat and smell.

But its worst characteristic was when you stomped on it... the gearbox would go through 4-5 downshifts over a period of several seconds, eventually putting the engine up near the RPM redline -- where it didn't make any torque. So when you needed immediate acceleration, you had to wait 4-5 seconds while the engine converted fuel into noise, to little effect. I'm pretty sure this transmission is what killed the 200, which was a decent car otherwise.

Post# 1023736 , Reply# 29   2/6/2019 at 06:50 by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        

This is ancient history, but a forester who managed the forest at Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta had a Mercedes Diesel when our botany class was going there in 1970. He told us during one cold snap that he was not driving it because to keep the fuel from turning to jelly, kerosene needed to be added for cold weather operation. The trouble was that when Atlanta's variable winter temperatures climbed back above freezing, there was danger of an explosion with the kerosene mixed in with the fuel and no easy way to get rid of the fuel mixture.

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