Journal: The Omni GLH Is Awesome And Has A Curse Word In Its Name

The Omni GLH Is Awesome And Has A Curse Word In Its Name

By Doug DeMuro
March 1, 2014

When I was first contacted to write a column for Petrolicious, I had two distinct reactions. The first one was flattery, since Petrolicious is known the world over for being an excellent, highly respected automotive website. Admittedly, I am known for being an excellent, highly respected automotive journalist, but only by my mother.

My other reaction was that I don’t know anything about classic cars. So I told them this. “Guys,” I distinctly recall saying. “I don’t know anything about classic cars.” And then they laughed, and chuckled, and snickered, and giggled, and told me “Suuuuure, you don’t know anything about classic cars. Your first column is due Monday.”

The problem is that I actually don’t know anything about classic cars. I’m the guy at Cars and Coffee who walks by a ’62 Fairlane and a ’64 Impala and says to his friends: “I never knew Buicks used to look like that.” But rather than belabor the point, I decided to shut up and get to work, since these people are actually crazy enough to pay me money to write about cars.

So I’ve decided to write about cars that are classics to me. And my first choice is the 1984-1986 Dodge Omni GLH and GLH-S.

Now, if you’re a car enthusiast, you probably already know about the Omni GLH. In fact, I think there are more videos, articles, and columns about the GLH than there are actual GLHs in existence. This is verified by a quick search on AutoTrader, then, then Craigslist, then Hemmings, where not a single GLH can be found. This is probably because they were all wrapped around trees by third-owner high school students around 1994.

But there’s a good reason the GLH gets so much press: it’s freaking awesome. Oh, and it has a curse word in its name. We’ll take these attributes individually.

For the freaking awesome part, I turn to a little GLH background. Imagine a time, if you will, where your typical compact car is making 75 horsepower. (Europeans are thinking: Uh… 2014?) And now imagine an automaker coming out with a high-performance version that increases that figure by 50 percent.

Now, this might not be too hard for many of you to imagine, because it happens a lot. The regular Ford Focus has approximately 160 horsepower, for instance, while the Focus ST has roughly 947 horsepower, all of which comes through the front wheels. It also has a rear wing that you could use, in a pinch, as a snowboard.

However the Omni GLH was special because it came out at a time when “performance version” meant adding a spoiler and, if you were lucky, some body-colored wheels. Here I am thinking of the late-1970s Chevrolet Chevette “Rally,” which boasted an eight horsepower increase over the standard model’s 52 ponies. Vroom, vroom.

Unlike the Chevette, the Omni GLH wasn’t kidding around. The initial model featured a 110-horsepower naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder, while a 146-hp turbocharged powerplant joined in 1985. This may not seem like much, but the Omni weighed in at just 2,200 pounds, which meant the thing was really fast. It also meant the 1985 Omni GLH had double the power of a standard Omni. For perspective, imagine a modern Honda Civic with 290 horsepower.

But even that wasn’t enough for the folks responsible for tuning the Omni, who were obviously consuming some sort of mind-altering drugs. (NOTE: Carroll Shelby was involved. We’ll get to that in a minute.) That’s because the 1986 model year saw the arrival of the limited-production Shelby GLH-S, which offered a full 175 horsepower thanks to increased boost and various other upgrades under the hood. Zero-to-60 came in just 6.5 seconds, which was a second slower than the V8 Ferrari of its day. Now imagine a 330-horsepower Honda Civic that does 0-to-60 in 4.3 seconds.

But in spite of its excellent performance, the Omni’s best feature was its name. “GLH” stood for “Goes Like Hell,” reportedly at the request of Carroll Shelby himself, as the cars were tuned with the help of his company. And the “GLH-S?” Supposedly, that stood for “Goes Like Hell, Some more” – although there are conflicting reports about whether the “S” simply meant “Shelby” (Most insist it stands for “Some more,” but that just sounds too ludicrous to be true).

Either way, the Omni GLH and GLH-S should hold a special place in the minds of anyone fond of the hot hatch. It certainly does for me, considering I keep browsing the Internet for a nice used one. And when I finally find it, I’ll bring it to Cars & Coffee and proudly display it next to the all the Fairlanes. Or the Impalas. Or the Buicks. Or whatever.

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Peter J Smith
Peter J Smith(@fb_1043682525)
3 years ago

“Hell” is not a curse word. It’s just the name of a fictional place.

David Lewis
David Lewis(@dandj26)
5 years ago

Don’t know if you got it in the States, but in the UK we had a Mitsubishi evo “FQ”.
When asked if FQ meant anything the man from Mitsubishi said, of course, it stands for “Fuc\%&g Quick!

John Miles
John Miles(@jmiles242)
5 years ago

I used to walk past a pair of these as a child in Fergus, Ontario. Mr. Sprague maintained his little monsters on the corner lot. I knew they were special things, as I’d probably talked at length with my Dad and uncles at length in one of those ‘what kind of car is that?’ chats.
I knew it was a serious machine, as I saw the polished larger diameter tailpipe exiting on an angle; it stated ‘this is entirely functional and required’.
So each day on my way to James McQueen public school I walked past with a Shelby powered skip in my step.

7 years ago

I worked at a Chrysler dealership (lot boy) after school and weekends when these little overpowered crap-boxes were being made and sold. The first Omni cars had VW drive-trains in them, as did all the first generation K-cars. Then came the non-turbo Sport Omnis, which had much of the styling, handling equipment… And finally the GLH Turbos. This was round the same time that Ron Popiel was selling a hair spray product for balding men called “Great Looking Hair” on late night TV… Anyhow, the turbo GLH cars were… Interesting to drive. Torque steer was fantastic. The car would almost change lanes unaided, simply from tromping the foot down. The gearshift communicated with the 5 speed transaxle via a cable shifter. They often did not get along, requiring plenty of adjustments, especially if they were “forced” by frustrated drivers, which happened a lot. The engine was peaky, the turbo kicking in would smoke the tires in second gear from a rolling start… and you’d be all over the lane due to torque steer.

Jeff S
Jeff S(@jps)
7 years ago

I remember convincing my dad to get one of these. He was a hard sell since he still held a grudge from a new plymouth in the 60s that fell apart within 18 months.

The good was that the GLH had for the time seriously wide/ low profile tires – they were wider than the 911 my dad had at the time. The way I remember it 30 years after the fact was being able to take 90 degree turns at 50 mph and have the car stick to the road which was lots of fun; shredding one of the goodyears and paying 185 for one tire in 1985 hurt.

The bad: the build quality awful even for the 80s, the alternator went out multiple times, the ac broke, amongst other things I have blanked out, and within 15K miles and 2 years it was gone.

I now agree with my father, and have shied away from chrysler products ever since.

Joep Verbeeten
Joep Verbeeten(@jobjoris)
7 years ago

[quote]Could anyone enlighten me a little, in Europe, there was a Talbot Lotus Sunbeam. Are the Talbot and GLH the same thing?[/quote]
They surely were not. The Sunbeam Lotus had an actual Lotus engine (2.2 16v) and was blessed with RWD. The Dodge Ombi was based on the Simca/Talbot Horizon and had FWD. They share the looks however.

7 years ago
Reply to  Joep Verbeeten

Thanks for the info. I finally understood Horizon, Omni, Sunbeam relationship. They all looks so suspiciously same, I always got myself confused all over.

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson(@andreas)
7 years ago
Reply to  JB21

I bet you’re not the only one. Both cars were Chrysler products, both were superminis launched at about the same time and they’re quite similar in styling. However, as Joep said, they are different cars.

samir shirazi
samir shirazi(@samirshirazi)
7 years ago

great writer I think.

7 years ago

Nicely written. Well done!

In Europe, as many have pointed out already, we know this car as the Talbot/Simca Horizon. Well, not exactly THIS car… because the Horizon never had a souped up version, nor did it ever had the reputation of being soup-up-able over here. Being a kid of the ’80s I recall these Horizons and always thought it was a shameless French copy of the VW Golf (Rabbit) Mark I and because of that I never really gave it attention. Fast forward to this decade, being slightly Mopar centered, I found out the true story behind the Horizon/Omni and because of now being so rare here too, it made it all the more desirable to keep an eye out for one. Crazy how ignorance changes over the years 🙂

Todd Cox
Todd Cox(@mc70)
7 years ago

I LOVED these cars when they came out, and absolutely beat the GTI Rabbits to death for the first 3 months that they ran. After that, they were quickly relegated to the boneyard with blown engines and exploded transmissions. Sad, really, because they were on to something with this car; it was a harbinger of things to come. Had the reliability and technology been just a little better, it probably would have propelled the American sub-compact market in an entirely different direction.

7 years ago

Could anyone enlighten me a little, in Europe, there was a Talbot Lotus Sunbeam. Are the Talbot and GLH the same thing?

James Toal
James Toal(@jamestoal)
5 years ago
Reply to  JB21

Closer relative was probably the Talbot/Chrysler Horizon. I think the smaller three door Sunbeam was on the same floorpan, but I also suspect the Talbot Lotus had proper suspension and steering , as it won several international rallies.

Aaron McKenzie
Aaron McKenzie(@aaronmckenzie)
7 years ago

Welcome to [i]Petrolicious[/i], Doug! As a fan of your writing, I’m thrilled that you’ve joined our community. Even as a fan of the hot hatches, I knew very little about the GLHs and your piece was a fun introduction to the car.

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson(@andreas)
7 years ago

The Shelby Omni (and other obscure American turbocharged performance cars of the 80’s) is quite a new “find” for me personally. Being European, I’m no stranger to hot hatches, but I never really knew there were American ones. I think I stumbled upon them when I saw a video with Jay Leno about his absolutely bonkers Ford Festiva SHOgun. I’ve always loved “ordinary” production cars made extraordinary and the Shelby Omni certainly fits that category.

Also, I have to agree about the writing of the article. An interesting and funny way to get your message across.

Josh Dockery
Josh Dockery(@doc911)
7 years ago

I had one of these. It was an ’85 GLH Turbo in silver. I bought it from an autoX’r who won his class in it a couple of years. It had a DC chip and intercooler. It was seriously quick and surprised many 5.0 ‘Stangs and M3’s back in the mid ’90s when I owned it. It wasn’t reliable though. It had a tendancy to blow head gaskets and the tranny wasn’t rated for the torque it put out so it was a common failure point. It also had electrical problems with the gauge cluster, leaky A/C hoses, etc. Typical American build quality of the ’80s. The Daytona Turbo had a better Getrag 5-speed that could be fitted with custom halfshafts.

I used it as a trade in on a ’95 Jeep Wrangler that I still own to this day!

Matt C
Matt C (@longdx)
7 years ago

Great article about a truly underappreciated car. Turbo Chrysler’s of the era were really the precursors of what we find today. The Omni GLH was rough around the edges (hold on to that steering wheel as the boost comes on) but it was the first salvo that Chrysler’s engineers were getting better at exploiting turbocharging as a viable power option. We tend to take for granted how most modern turbocharged cars provide almost seemless power, reliability, and less turbo lag. The GLH, Shelby Turbo Z et al were exploring variable vane turbos, intercooling , and improving ecu controls to control the power delivery.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
7 years ago

Great article, I enjoy Doug’s writing on Jalopnik too. I know almost nothing about the GLH but amazed that Shelby would make a hot version of the Simca Horizon (the car the Omni was based on).

Julien Boutoille
Julien Boutoille(@statictoad)
7 years ago

Designed by Simca !

Jonathan W.C. Mills
Jonathan W.C. Mills(@jonathanwcmills)
7 years ago

I too welcome Doug to Petrolicious. I learned more about this unloved little piece of automotive history than I expected and chuckled quite a bit. Great writing, Doug!

7 years ago

Awesome – DeMuro has landed at Petrolicious too! Uh, since he didn’t do it himself, I will. [url=””]Everyone should buy his book! [/url]The best 299 pennies you’ll ever spend.

Joe Means
Joe Means(@kraftwerk-joe)
7 years ago

Whether it be on your day-to-day experiences with your 360 or this outstanding write-up on the GLH, I can’t seem to get away from you, Doug.
Congrats on your recent Jalopnik contributions AND the odd chance to grace the ever-wonderful Petrolicious. Highly admire your tongue-in-cheek style of writing.

Andy Hoffman
Andy Hoffman(@fb_100001487818054)
7 years ago

Where did 947HP come from for the Ford Focus ST? I’m pretty sure it only has around 250 but I may be wrong. Anyways I love the article keep it up :).

Isaac Marlowe
Isaac Marlowe(@ihm96)
7 years ago
Reply to  Andy Hoffman

Hes being sarcastic and exaggerating to be humorous. He does it often and it makes his writing often very entertaining

7 years ago

I’ve had a soft spot for the GLH for quite a while, but the most memorable mention of it, was in Neal Stephenson’s [i]Zodiac[/i] :

[quote]Normally an Omni is a piece of shit, an econobox with a 1.6-liter engine. But for a higher sticker price you can get an Omni GLH, which has aerodynamic trim and 2.2 liters and, for a few hundred more, an Omni GLH Turbo, which has all of that plus a turbocharger. GLH, by the way, stands for Goes Like Hell. Honest. When the blower is singing, the engine puts out as much power as a small V8. Add big fat racing tires and alloy wheels and you have yourself a poor man’s Porsche, the most lethal weapon ever developed for the Boston traffic wars. Sure, spend three times as much and you could get a car that goes a little faster, but who is seriously going to thrash a vehicle that costs that much? Who’ll risk denting it? But if it’s an Omni, who cares?[/quote]

And I’m pretty sure that this is exactly why you can’t find them now. Because EVERYONE treated them this way.

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle(@mosler)
7 years ago

I know alot of car guys and Shelby fans who never really gave this car much of a chance..With Shelby its all about the Cobras and the GT350s. While I do love those cars I still really like his little pocket rockets of the 1980’s and this car takes the cake. I know these cars dont have the racing history of Shelby’s other products but these cars were very cool for the time. From the all blacked out exterior, upgraded suspension and engine. You got yourself a relatively affordable car with some practicality and decent enough performance to take on most muscle cars and exotics of the day. These cars may not be Shelby greatest creation but i think they deserve a closer look.