Sunday, March 4, 2012

10 US-Market Diesel Cars You Forgot About

1985 Volvo 740 Turbodiesel (VW I-6 power)

Now that gas is again approaching prices close to $4/gallon, it seems appropriate to post this list of ten diesel cars which were sold in the US that you probably have long forgotten - or never knew about in the first place. Some of these cars are incredibly cool from a novelty sense. And some... well, let's just say they're better left forgotten.



1. 1984-1987 Ford Escort Diesel - EPA Rated 41 city/53 highway

Powered by a 2-liter Mazda diesel engine, the Escort Diesel was EPA rated for 41 city and 53 highway mpg, which is pretty impressive. What wasn't so impressive was the acceleration: with 52 horsepower and 67 torques, sales were as slow as the Escort's 0-60 time. Nail in the coffin: Interference engine design meant that an owner who neglected to replace the timing belt would experience total engine failure soon after.

Fun Fact: The Tempo was also available with the same diesel engine, but sales were even worse.

Click "read more" after the jump to keep reading.













2. 1983-1987 Ford Ranger Diesel - EPA Rated 29 city/31 highway

With an earth-shattering 59 horsepower and stump-obliterating 91 pound-feet of torque, the first Ranger Diesel with a Mazda/Perkins 2.2 liter powerplant was not exactly going to set any land speed records, but it was capable of fantastic MPG- EPA numbers indicate low 30s, and owners report topping 50.  But this is America: speed and power trump MPG. (Thanks to Mario, who advised me that the 1985-1987 models have a Mitsubishi 4D55T diesel engine, the same one used in the Dodge Ram 50 pickup)




3. 1985-1987 Peugeot 505 Diesel - EPA Rated 28 city/30 highway

This car gets points not just because it's diesel, but also because it's a Peugeot, which means that odds are you forgot the car existed in gas-powered form, too. The "XD3T" turbocharged diesel produced 95 horsepower and was used in the sedan. For reasons unknown, an "XD2S" turbodiesel was given to the heavier station wagon- this one produced 80 horsepower. Perhaps it's this sort of logic that caused Peugeot to exit the US market entirely in 1991.





4. 1984-1985 Volvo 740/760 and 240 Diesel - EPA Rated 24 city/27 highway (Auto)

Why they're forgotten: The Volkswagen-produced LT35 (referred to by Volvo as the D24 in N/A form or D24t as a turbo) engine didn't provide much better fuel economy than the standard gasoline Redblock, although it was much more torquey.

Service was a nightmare. Volvo dealer technicians weren't well-versed in VW Diesels, and the procedure for replacing the timing belts (yes, belts- there are two) is slightly akin to performing brain surgery. In addition, many of the engines weren't maintained with a diesel-spec engine oil, which caused wear issues. The motors themselves aren't bad, but many mechanics turned them into smoky, knocking paperweights.

Fun Fact: It just so happens that I own one of these things, and I can vouch for the very involved timing belt procedure... but the driving experience is awesome, and I have been consistently smoking the EPA's MPG estimates, seeing 27-30mpg city.





5. 1985 BMW 524td - EPA Rated 24 City/30 Highway

Yes, BMW sold a diesel over here. For a brief period of time, they offered the 524td, an e28 5-series. The diesel engine was developed and manufactured by BMW themselves and was labeled the M21. A six cylinder engine, it was reportedly loosely based on the venerable M20 gasoline engine.

Blame the 524td's stateside failure on the BMW 528e, the 524td's gasoline counterpart. The "e" in 528e stands for greek "eta" or "efficiency-" it achieved comparable fuel economy, but didn't smell like a truck, and was generally quicker. To add insult to injury, the "eta" engine in the 528e is nearly indestructible, with reliability that can rival that of many diesels.

Fun Fact: See #6.




6. 1984-1985 Lincoln Continental Mark VII - EPA Rated 23 city/29 highway

Lincoln apparently just couldn't sit back and watch the 80s diesel bandwagon roll by; they had to get a piece of the action for themselves. But instead of attempting to develop their own engine (perhaps they saw their neighbors' V8 diesel project and decided to learn from others' mistakes?) they turned to BMW and used the same M21 diesel straight six that's found in the 524td. The car was a sales failure - apparently people didn't want their classy Lincoln spewing diesel exhaust, and the fact that an American luxury car was powered by a German powerplant wasn't exactly a hot selling point for loyalists, either.

Fun Fact: Reportedly, at least one Mk. VII Diesel rolled out of the factory with a 5-speed manual transmission. I'm sure that finding parts for that is easy. Right.





7. 1985-1987 Jeep Cherokee XJ Diesel- EPA Rated 28 city/31 highway (Manual)



Jeep couldn't avoid the diesel bandwagon either, and used a Renault four-cylinder diesel engine in the Cherokee. The Cherokee Diesel was only available in two-wheel drive form - possibly because the Renault engine would not have produced enough power to drag around a heavy four-wheel-drive system. Reportedly, the Renault engine actually is fairly solid, albeit sluggish. Still, it is incredibly difficult to find a diesel XJ in the United States. Rumor has it that Jeep sold a large number of these things to state governments, but I can't find the article that mentioned the name of the state.






8. 2005-2006 Jeep Liberty KJ CRD - EPA Rated 26 city/29 highway

Exactly 20 years after the Cherokee Diesel, Jeep decided they needed to test the US market for diesels again. This time, they turned to VM Motori, an Italian engine builder who supplies diesel engines for cutting-edge, fast, sexy cars such as London cabs. The 2.8 liter common-rail diesel produces only 170 horsepower, but an awesome 295 pound-feet of torque, which makes the Liberty CRD popular with people who tow campers and boats. The Liberty CRD gets pretty good fuel economy for a 4x4 SUV. All-in-all, it's a great package, but it wasn't a sales success. Despite being much more refined than the 80s diesels, the CRD still has some clatter and smoke - and the option wasn't exactly cheap. Tightened emissions laws are partially blamed for the 2006 death of the KJ Diesel, but we will probably never know the real reasons why DaimlerChrysler stopped production.

Fun Fact: This isn't the only modern Jeep diesel. The other one isn't on the list because it doesn't qualify as "forgotten-" the 2007-2010 "WK" Grand Cherokee was available with a 3-liter Mercedes Bluetec CRD diesel.



9. 1978-1985 GM Diesels (LF7 4.3 V6 and LF9 5.7 V8) - EPA Rated 21 city/29 highway (Caprice)

Okay, so I might be cheating a little bit here by adding this to the list. I can't say that these engines are forgotten - they're infamous. But GM wishes you had forgotten them. GM was desperate to meet government emissions and economy standards, so they told Oldsmobile engineers to develop some diesels. Problem is, the engineers didn't have enough time, and they apparently forgot a couple key diesel necessities. The engines didn't come with fuel/water separators – something that is almost as important on a diesel as an oil filter is on any other engine – and the head bolts had a tendency to stretch. The results were catastrophic. An FTC-sponsored class action suit resulted that got many consumers' money back, but America's taste for diesels in passenger cars was gone for at least the next 30 years.

Fun Fact: When the 4.3 V8 diesels failed (which was pretty much all the time) they were replaced under warranty with a 5.7 V-8 diesel. As a result, the 4.3 V-8's are incredibly rare today... But if you do manage to find one, turn around and run - as fast as you can.





10. 1982 "Datsun by Nissan" Maxima Diesel - EPA Rated 28 city

The 1980s Maximas were pioneers in several respects: they had an available 2.8 diesel engine, and they were also touted as the first talking cars. Producing 80 horsepower, the LD28 diesel engine was regrettably not available with a turbo. It was, however, available in wagon form, which is kind of awesome.

Fun Fact: The "talking" feature was made possible by a mini-phonograph embedded deep within the Maxima's dashboard; many owners report that the feature still works. 
 

Have you owned - or do you currently own -  one of these oilburners? Did you ride in one as a kid? Would you buy a new diesel powered passenger car? Share your stories and comments below!















9 comments:

  1. I remember that VW diesel pick up my friend had in high school back in the day. I wish more diesel cars were available in the US. Seems like with fuel prices so high, people would by them.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It sure does seem like there would be a demand. From what I have heard, we should be seeing more diesels coming out in the near future. But still no true diesel powered economy cars. I think a diesel Focus or diesel Cruze would sell like hotcakes. GM says a diesel Cruze is on the way; I'll believe it when I see/drive it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. A slight revision on the 1983-87 Ford Ranger diesel: only the 1983-84 models used the Mazda/Perkins 2.2L; the 1985-87s went for the Mitsubishi 4D55T turbo diesel also used in the imported Dodge Ram 50 pickup.

    ~Ben

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the heads up! I knew they switched in the mid 80s, but didn't know they left the Mazda-based engine. I'll change the article.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Interesting article... of these "rare" US diesels, I have actually seen/driven/worked on several, primarily Volvos of course, but I've also had a chance to do some engine work on a couple of different BMW 524td's (one a US-market automatic and the other a grey-market standard transmission version that had been imported from Canada -- that one truly is rare), went to test drive and almost bought a 1984 Lincoln Mk VII LSC Turbodiesel also with the BMW M21 motor, have worked on many CRD Libertys, and have dealt with a handful of diesel Peugeots, including one that is even more rare in the US than the 505. That is the 604 TD sedan, which was Peugeot's larger luxury model. They did sell it here but only in very small numbers. Same 2.3L XD motor and transmission as the 505. The one I worked on was in for its 390,000 mile service and was running fine. :-) The engine used in the BMW's and Lincolns, though, was not as robust.

    One other small correction that I'll make -- you mention that GM 4.3 diesel warranty failures resulted 5.7L engines installed as replacements, which is partially true, but not completely accurate. There were actually two completely different 4.3L GM diesels produced in the early 1980s. One was a 4.3L V6, which you mentioned -- it used the same bore and stroke as the 350 (5.7L) V8, with two fewer cylinders. However, there was also a 4.3L *V8* diesel produced, which was a downsized version of the 350 built on the same template, and that is the one that was replaced with 5.7L units when they failed within the warranty period. The 4.3L V8s are extremely rare in service nowadays since so many got swapped out for 350's, but the V6 was in fact a much more robust design than either of the V8's, by virtue of having a different headbolt pattern more suitable to diesel engine stresses. Many of the V6's were installed into FWD chassis where replacing them with a 350 V8 would have been impossible. So, though we are arguing minutiae here, technically speaking the two 4.3L diesels are rather different animals and the one you are discussing is in fact not the V6 but the V8.

    Of course, finding any of the three Olds diesels nowadays would be a challenge, so whether one is slightly more rare than another may be a moot point.

    Nice blog!

    George

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks George, you're like a walking diesel encyclopedia. I actually spotted a Peugeot diesel the other day, abandoned in a vacant lot in one of the less-savory areas of town here. It didn't look like a 505, maybe it was a 604? If it's still there, I'll snap a picture next time I drive by.

    I thought that the whole 4.3 to 5.7 swap thing sounded kind of fishy/far-fetched and I should have noted that in the article, but it slipped by. I'll correct it. And I seem to be on a roll with the rare diesels, I work part time at a parts store in Columbus and have a regular customer who has an Olds 5.7 diesel. He's a semi truck driver and loves the car- takes it to his diesel mechanic and says it's reliable. I asked about cooling issues and he looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about.

    Thanks for the comments and compliment!

    Nick

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have to disagree with your Jeep Cherokee assessment that they only came in a 2-wheel drive version. I have owned two 4-wheel drive Cherokee diesel and still drive one of them after 15 years!

    -Troy

    ReplyDelete
  8. I actually own the same 84 Ranger Diesel that my father bought new and I drove from the ages of 18-21. It was and is fantastic. Very reliable and well built, a great rattling him sound, and yes-severely underpowered!

    Hills in Oregon are a lot tougher to climb in it than were the subtle ones in Michigan. Luckily Dad preserved the body and engine bay with a solid coating of cosmoline..everywhere! Save one area near a wheel well that is now rusted out. But I digress..these Perkins engines were actually built by Toyo Japan for Mazda, liscensed and designed/engineered by Perkins. They were very common 4.135 engines Perkins built for boats, generators, farm and construction equipment, and anything BUT cars and trucks. But it winds pretty fast as peak HP is clear up at 4,000 RPMs. I recently got a valve adjustment after a new used head was re-built and it runs like a top even though the original pistons and crank etc have over 250k miles on it. It has a gear driven timing system, so hardly any parts can break. It also burns really cool, so exhaust is all still original!

    Will follow up with MPG report now that I've gotten the valves adjusted properly and it is running well again..but it got 24.5 mpg a running poorly recently. Cheers, Brian A. Silverton, Oregon

    ReplyDelete
  9. I actually own the same 84 Ranger Diesel that my father bought new and I drove from the ages of 18-21. It was and is fantastic. Very reliable and well built, a great rattling him sound, and yes-severely underpowered!

    Hills in Oregon are a lot tougher to climb in it than were the subtle ones in Michigan. Luckily Dad preserved the body and engine bay with a solid coating of cosmoline..everywhere! Save one area near a wheel well that is now rusted out. But I digress..these Perkins engines were actually built by Toyo Japan for Mazda, liscensed and designed/engineered by Perkins. They were very common 4.135 engines Perkins built for boats, generators, farm and construction equipment, and anything BUT cars and trucks. But it winds pretty fast as peak HP is clear up at 4,000 RPMs. I recently got a valve adjustment after a new used head was re-built and it runs like a top even though the original pistons and crank etc have over 250k miles on it. It has a gear driven timing system, so hardly any parts can break. It also burns really cool, so exhaust is all still original!

    Will follow up with MPG report now that I've gotten the valves adjusted properly and it is running well again..but it got 24.5 mpg a running poorly recently. Cheers, Brian A. Silverton, Oregon

    ReplyDelete

Your comments are welcomed and encouraged! Unless they're spam, of course.