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'78EstateWagon

1977 Estate Wagon brief review in Car & Driver

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One thing mentioned is the Oldsmobile engine in a Buick, which ultimately led to a lawsuit over an Oldsmobile engine in a Cadillac around the time this road test was written.  In the end, this form of 'brand dilution' and extreme body panel sharing hurt GM severely in the 1980's where it was difficult to differentiate individual models between their five divisions . 

 

They could have learned from British Motor Corporation/British Leyland marketing 6 different lines of cars with the same body shell.

 

Craig

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Posted (edited)

Great article . Lot of on the money comments through out it.  We recently took our twenty-something nephew and niece for a ride and one exclaimed "Man this is like riding in a living room" to which another exclaimed "or a greenhouse".  We are truly loving ours.

Thanks for sharing Colin

Edited by MrEarl (see edit history)
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As I recall, the "lawsuits" had to do more with the buyers expecting an Olds 350 in their Delta 88s, raising the hood to find "a mere Chevy motor" instead.  At that time, an Oldsmobile buyer wanted and desired an Oldsmobile engine in their Oldsmobiles.

 

Back then, there was also some confusion of WHICH 400 cid engine was in what full-size GM car.  As if they had engines built and were seeking places to use them.  Chevy was out of that mix, capping their engines at 305 cid for the normal cars and their 350 cid for the police cars.

 

When Pontiac was toward the end of their Pontiac 400 cid inventory, for Firebird TransAms, they reserved THEIR 400s for the last of their 4-speed cars, using the Olds 403 for the automatic trans cars.  In their pre-Turbo 4.9L days.  Seemed that as long as it'd lay rubber, nobody cared (in the performance car market)?

 

Later, there were some Pontiac 301s where appeared in Z/28s and Chevy 305s in some TransAms.  You could tell as each engine kept its original exhaust pipes/tips, no matter the particular GM F-body it was installed into.  Pre-1982, after which they all had Chevy-architecture motors in them.

 

Thanks for posting the C-D article!

NTX5467

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Brings me back to 1978 and a new 1978 Buick Regal coupe on the showroom floor.  I was 13.  Many years later that Regal would be my first car. 

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Regarding Olds or Chevy V8s being shared, part of it was no doubt cost savings.  But I've read that it was in part a consequence of Olds & Chevy having more production capacity.  Buick needed more V8s than Flint could turn out in the late '70s.  Anyone have insights into that suggestion?

 

And even though I've been obsessed with cars since I was a little kid I confess that I was well into adulthood before I learned that there were four different 350 V8s made by GM and three different 455s.   Understanding the costs associated with all of that R&D work and parts inventories, it seems SO extravagant now where finance guys will kill to wring pennies out of the manufacturing cost of any product.   I consider it bittersweet.  It's part of GM's majestic heritage.  They were so big and strong that divisions seemed to see one another as their biggest rivals.  I once read someone say that the GM divisions mostly thought they were playing intramural ball.   It also seems to have been the source of inertia that held them back from becoming a leaner organization faster.    Nonetheless, I love seeing the "X" code on my VIN for a Buick 350.

 

 

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2 hours ago, '78EstateWagon said:

Nonetheless, I love seeing the "X" code on my VIN for a Buick 350.

 

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Some Cadillacs of the late 1970's used a port injected Olds 350 engine.  When my 1980 LeSabre with the Olds diesel clanked it's last I sold it to a friend for $100 and he swapped the engine from his wrecked Seville.  It ran better than the diesel ever did and got better mileage.  He gave the car to his son with over 500,000 miles on the engine.

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Back in the '60s and until the 1980s, each division had their own engine families.  The cost of each was figured into the cost of the car, as always, just as every other GM division did.  NOTHING corporate, with the closest things being the transmissions and rear axles.  Although there were some divisional differences in these things, too.

 

Chevrolet, with its greatest sales volume, might have been considered a little arrogant in how they did things.  Look in an early '70s Chevy car parts book, under "transmission slip yokes" and see how many there were.  Probably about 20+, as I recall.  To maximize profits, it was more about getting the car to the end of the assembly line with the least cost involved.  I suspect that about 5 would have been all that was needed, realistically.  Seems like Buick and Olds had only a few each?

 

It might be hard to understand, but the sales volumes were far greater than they seem to be today.  But then it was only Ford, GM, Chrysler, and AMC covering about 90% of the North American market.  What the domestics don't have now, the import brands took up the slack on.

 

In many cases, especially with GM (by observation), they'll put out a decent car when it's redesigned.  Then, at the mid-cycle refresh, it might become what it could have been to start with, once all of the basic costs for the redesign have been covered.  With more money to play with, greater things can happen.  As the L69 305 4bbl Camaro Z/28 in 1985, complete with the Recaro-style logo interior, for example.  But in the last-gen Park Avenues, their mid-cycle refresh only resulted in new exterior and interior colors.  Maybe some different allow wheel designs, too?

 

Things were MUCH more exciting (product-wise) and interesting, BEFORE each "division" became a "sales division of GM", rather than stand-alone operating units under the GM umbrella.  As Fisher Body sought more "under-the-skin" commonality in stampings and such.

 

By about 1960-1962, GM was leading the competition in so many areas, but was also coming under Federal scrutiny because of its market dominance.  The latent orientation that GM was too big and should be broken up into two or three different companies.  IF, for example, GM-Rochester had brought the RamJet fuel injection from its lofty Corvette level to the more mundane normal cars, to replace the 4bbl carb option, it would probably have caught Chrysler and Ford flat-footed, especially Ford.  Chrysler, as Buick, had been working with Bendix with their ElectroJector EFI units.  RFI plagued the Chrysler units, though, with factory 2x4bbl set-ups replacing most of them.  The first Bendix unit was prototyped in a '53 Buick, as I recall.  Ford had just begun using the then-new Holley 1850 4bbl at that time.  I believe the Chevrolet units was pretty much perfected, but putting a similar unit on a Pontiac needed more work?  Think of the advertising advantages if a Chevy Impala FI had won the Mobil Economy Run, back then!  But, 4bbls were cheaper to produce, offered decent power (with improvements almost every year), and it didn't take much to work on them (tool-wise).  A missed opportunity for GM?

 

If you look at 1962-era magazine road tests, the 231cid Buick Special, with its Dual-Path Dynaflow would usually perform at least as well as eth Olds F-85 Cutlass 215 4bbl V-08 with its 4-speed HydraMatic transmission.  LOTS of weight slinging around in that old HydraMatic that wasn't there in the DP Dynaflow.  One reason that the Chevy PowerGlide performed so well, with power absorption of about 20 horsepower rathe than 40 for a THM400.  FWIW

 

NTX5467

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Posted (edited)
On ‎5‎/‎1‎/‎2020 at 11:31 PM, NTX5467 said:

Things were MUCH more exciting (product-wise) and interesting, BEFORE each "division" became a "sales division of GM", rather than stand-alone operating units under the GM umbrella.  As Fisher Body sought more "under-the-skin" commonality in stampings and such.

 

By about 1960-1962, GM was leading the competition in so many areas, but was also coming under Federal scrutiny because of its market dominance.  The latent orientation that GM was too big and should be broken up into two or three different companies.  IF, for example, GM-Rochester had brought the RamJet fuel injection from its lofty Corvette level to the more mundane normal cars, to replace the 4bbl carb option, it would probably have caught Chrysler and Ford flat-footed, especially Ford.  Chrysler, as Buick, had been working with Bendix with their ElectroJector EFI units.  RFI plagued the Chrysler units, though, with factory 2x4bbl set-ups replacing most of them.  The first Bendix unit was prototyped in a '53 Buick, as I recall.  Ford had just begun using the then-new Holley 1850 4bbl at that time.  I believe the Chevrolet units was pretty much perfected, but putting a similar unit on a Pontiac needed more work?  Think of the advertising advantages if a Chevy Impala FI had won the Mobil Economy Run, back then!  But, 4bbls were cheaper to produce, offered decent power (with improvements almost every year), and it didn't take much to work on them (tool-wise).  A missed opportunity for GM?

Absolutely, they were like separate, independent rivalries, and at new-car introduction time, it was not complete unless you visited the dealerships and look at the cars from ALL five divisions back in the 1960's, especially under the hoods.  Working at a gas station, one got to know the different 350 engines rather quickly, such as Oldsmobile's oil fill not on the valve cover, and Buick's cross-hatches on the dipstick where the oil level was supposed to be.

 

As I recall, Bosch in Germany took some of Bendix's ideas and utilized them in their first-generation D-Jetronic fuel injection, and make it work reliably  More here:   https://www.bosch.com/stories/50-years-of-bosch-gasoline-injection-jetronic/

 

Problem with GM was they were too proud of themselves and being true red, white & blue American, wanted to develop everything on their own, without any intervention from a competitive vendor, especially an overseas one, (back when they owned Delco, AC, Frigidaire, et. al.), even though the product may have been better designed.  Reportedly, Holley developed a carburetor for the Vega, and not wanting to be outdone, AC hastily developed one, and ruining any future ties for both companies.  As everyone knows, GM got humbled severely in the 1970's and 1980's.  One of my favorite magazine covers was "Number 2 is Teaching Number 1 How to Build Cars" when the NUMMI plant opened.

 

Craig  

 

 

Edited by 8E45E (see edit history)

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I don't know if GM was "too proud of themselves", but I did observe that some of their quality decisions were lacking.  Like the vinyl roofs that were showing threads on the popular Grand Prixs after a few years of the TX sun.  OR the fact that almost all of those same mid-later '70s Grand Prix high-back bucket seat backs were not sewn correctly with a non-uniforn (crooked) non-horizontal upper seam.  When I was in college at TX Tech ('72-'74), one of my "cheap entertainment" activities was to look at new cars on the lots.  Once I noticed the crooked seat backs, I went to the local Pontiac store and looked at what they had on the lot.  Only about ONE of the 30 new '74 Grand Prixs had those seats sewn correctly.  Not to mention fender alignment on the GPs and similar Monte Carlos.  That gen Monte Carlo was probably the first GM car where the front door sheet metal, the A-pillar, rear hood corner, and the rear of the fender all met at the same focal point, with, or course, curves involved.  By '77, how all of that fit together was better than the '73 models, by observation.  Which is when I read that in "a designer's policy manual" (or unwritten code) that such a coming together of all of those body lines at that place on the car was NOT to be done.  

 

I believe the EFI on the Cosworth Vega was Bosch, but the EFI on the Cadillac Eldorado was Rochester?  In the middle '80s, I seem to recall that Chevrolet took proposals from Bosch and GM-Rochester on the EFI for the Chevy TPI EFI system?  Of course, they took the GM-Rochester unit, but possibly with some Bosch injectors?  There was also some deal with GM and Bilstein on F-body shocks, too?  Several different deals, back then?  Also seems like that GM copied what their competitive vendors did, a bit?

 

But, to me, a MAIN thing GM marketing did in the '80s, in their similar vehicle comparisons was to compare numbers rather than other things like fit/finish and such.  Of course, it would be "Advantage Oldsmobile" if the Olds Achieva had 2cid more engine displacement than its Honda competitor.  No matter that the Honda engine was smaller, had more power/torque, and got better fuel economy.  AND ran smoother.  All about the numbers rather than what made those numbers, by observation.  Plus, no matter how good Olds marketing made the Achieva appear to a buyer, there was always CAR AND DRIVER, back then, who obviously had "Honda-colored glasses" on, so no other car could ever come close to anything that Honda did.  EXCEPT for the Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus, when the Chrysler beat the Honda in their evaluation by ONE POINT.

 

Comparing the GM 2.5L 4-cyl to the similar Honda (or any other import brands') 4-cyl was like a "tractor engine" to a "car engine", seemingly.  A god, durable engine, but not in the same league as many of the competitive-brand engines, by observation.  BUT, in the long term, probably cost less to repair AND was easier to repair by the corner mechanic.  Still, more refinement in almost everything GM had back then would have been welcome, but with the same semi-bulletproof durability (not needing nearly as much maintenance as any other competitive import engine, by observation).  So, several different ways to look at that situation.  But for the time, for GM, this was "par for the course".  AS, under the later brand management organization of John Smale, market share decreased steadily.

 

NOT to say that the GM Financial operatives were not very involved in many of these decisions, too!  Being concerned with getting the car to the end of the assembly line at the least cost . . . a valid concern, which tended to cause many decisions of whether to purchase a part that would fail a projected 30% of the time or one that might fail 20% of the time.  They were willing to chose the 30% failure rate to save money.   And still make money after they paid the dealers to swap out that part for better one under warranty.

 

That whole deal was explained in the Lee Iacoca book (circa 1982) where it chronicled his "life" at Ford, in the early segment of his career there.  He was invited to attend a "pricing meeting" where decisions were made on shock absorbers for the '58 Fords.  The choices were a $2.50 factory-cost shock, or one costing 75 cents more.  The less expensive item had a projected service life a bit past the 12K mile warranty period, but the higher priced one would last longer.  They opted for the less expensive one.  He questioned that with his supervisor.  He was told that the less expensive one would last well enough to get out of Ford's obligation during the vehicle warranty period, and give otherwise good service afterward.  When the shocks did need replacement (which Monroe claimed was after 12K miles), then they'd return to the selling Ford dealer, get their Rotunda brand of aftermarket shocks (which was the +75 cents option), that would then give the customer a better product that would usually last past the 1st-owner period of ownership.  Which ALSO allowed the dealer to make money, other than on the initial vehicle purchase.  Which could further cement the customer/dealer relationship, to everybody's benefit.  And, if all went well, keep them buying Fords.

 

I suspect that that orientation existed well into the 1980s, when it took GM three model years to get a particular platform "perfected", whereas Ford and Chrysler seemed to do it in 1 year, by observation.  The 1995 Camaro was a much better/nicer build than the initial '82-'84 models were.  Panel fit, quality of materials, paint gloss, and available options.  Put them all side by side and the differences were obvious.

 

Part of that situation was possibly the result of what the DeLorean book (circa 1981), where GM would delay final approval of the cars for production until past the "last minute" to get contracts done with their suppliers.  As Ford and Chrysler already had their jobs "in work", on schedule.  So, this resulted in the suppliers having to put on extra shifts to do the GM "rush jobs", which tended to result in poorer quality control, which led to fir/finish/'panel gap-alignment issues.  And, of course, GM had to pay more for these things, which probably meant that corners had to be compromised in other areas, to pay for it.

 

These are my observations from the dealership-side of things, from 09/76 until the present.

 

On the other hand, there were some things that Chevy did in their engines that seemed very "Mickey Mouse" , but after I learned how it all fit together, they worked pretty well, for less cost.  But some were very dependent upon the quality of machine work in order for them to work as well as they did.  "O-ring" valve stem seals, rather than "umbrella" valve stem seals, for example.  As long as the valve stem/valve guide clearance is toward the bottom end of the clearance spec, things work well, but when the wear gets things enlarged, then the o-ring can work better than the more-desired umbrella seal.  As long as the o-ring seal didn't split and fall off, with age.

 

NTX5467

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The Cadillac EFI (late 70s) was Bendix. As I understand it Bendix sold the rights to their 1950s "Electrojector" system to Bosch, for all countries EXCEPT the United States. In the 1970s when Cadillac came calling, Bendix dusted of their patents and went to work. Bosch had been using and improving EFI all those years, so some of the parts were off the shelf Bosch stuff, but the control unit was all Bendix. IIRC the Cosworth Vega also used the Bendix system.

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Posted (edited)
On 4/28/2020 at 10:20 AM, NTX5467 said:

As I recall, the "lawsuits" had to do more with the buyers expecting an Olds 350 in their Delta 88s, raising the hood to find "a mere Chevy motor" instead.  At that time, an Oldsmobile buyer wanted and desired an Oldsmobile engine in their Oldsmobiles.

 

Back then, there was also some confusion of WHICH 400 cid engine was in what full-size GM car.  As if they had engines built and were seeking places to use them.  Chevy was out of that mix, capping their engines at 305 cid for the normal cars and their 350 cid for the police cars.

 

When Pontiac was toward the end of their Pontiac 400 cid inventory, for Firebird TransAms, they reserved THEIR 400s for the last of their 4-speed cars, using the Olds 403 for the automatic trans cars.  In their pre-Turbo 4.9L days.  Seemed that as long as it'd lay rubber, nobody cared (in the performance car market)?

 

Later, there were some Pontiac 301s where appeared in Z/28s and Chevy 305s in some TransAms.  You could tell as each engine kept its original exhaust pipes/tips, no matter the particular GM F-body it was installed into.  Pre-1982, after which they all had Chevy-architecture motors in them.

 

Thanks for posting the C-D article!

NTX5467

 

To support this position.  Before the 80's or 70's depending how you measure,  all of the car divisions were "Motor Company",  IE Buick Motor Division, Pontiac Motor Division, Oldsmobile Motor Division, etc.. Look at the old advertising literature.

 

The engines were division specific and as an example each division had their own 350 cubic inch engine, etc. Buyers were aware of the engine differences and that the car was just an attachment to the engine.  Each of the divisions had fairly robust engine activities. 

 

Emission laws changed that work and forced common engines because of the cost to certify every engine to meet emissions.   Lots of things changed during that time.

Edited by Larry Schramm (see edit history)
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That emissions issue is a good one to factor in.  Even more recently, and relevant to our particular enthusiasm for Buicks, I've read that despite all its good qualities the 3.8 V6 was finally taken out of production and replaced with the 3.9 V6 (around 2009?) because they'd done about as much as they could with the 3.8 for increased emissions standards.   And that of course marks the end of uniquely-Buick-developed engines at GM.

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The OTHER thing probably in that "mix" is the age of the tooling, which relates to the age of the design.  Then-future emissions proposed regulations would require a few different approaches, most probably, so . . . if you have to replace the tooling anyway, they why not design something different and better for the same money?  Plus, everybody was moving toward 4-valve/cylinder OHC designs, which have their own dynamics on the engine's emissions and power output dynamics.

 

With an overhead valve/cam-in-block engine design, the intake ports in the head have several things to snake around.  Plus the angle between the intake manifold and the intake valve head AND pushrods.  An easier design if the engine is overhead camshaft design.  Plus no deflection in the pushrods, which might marginally affect valve timing from what happens at the valve lifter.  BUT the popular Chevy LS engine family is cam-in-block, but with VVT and some great intake and exhaust ports, in a rwd platform.  The 90-degree design of the Buick engine made it wider, which was not that neat on a fwd vehicle, compared to the more narrow 60-degree designs.

 

The Chevy 3.5L (which was the 3.9L, 3.4L, 3.1L, and 2.8L 60-degree V-6) and Buick 3.8L V-6  were replaced with the GM Powertrain 3.6 DOHC V-6, which is now on its 3rd generation.  The new 3.6L was termed "High Feature", whereas the Buick and Chevy V-6s were obviously less sophisticated, less expensive to build, and lower power output.

 

After the Buick 3.8L production ended, the Chevy 3.9L V-8 replaced the Buick 3.8L in the Lucerne models.  The first year of the Chevy 3.9 had about 250 horsepower (similar to the Chrysler 3.5L V-6, but the 2nd year got VVT and lost a few horsepower.

 

Funny thing was that in the Olds Intrigues, they initially used the Buick 3.8L V-6, but changed/upgraded to the Olds Intrigue 3.5L V-6 (which some dubbed "ShortStar" for its alleged connection to the Cadillac NorthStara V-6, and the similar 4.0L V-8 in the Olds Aurora).  In order to get the Intrigue to perform as well with the 3.5L V-6, they had to lower the final drive ratio so performance would equal the prior Buick engine.  Most probably on low-end torque and off-idle response.  But in  a few model years, the Olds V-6 would equal the Buick with the same final drive gear ratio.

 

I have a 2005 Impala 3.4L and a 2005 Buick LeSabre 3.8L.  I can tell you that the Buick just flat "runs easier" than the 3.4L Chevy does.  Yet the power specs are not really that different.  Both cars have the same final drive ratio, too.  It might be interesting to see how the "old" Buick 3.8L would do with a modern 8-speed transaxle attached to it, compared to the base 3.6L "cammer" V-6?  Especially on the highway.

 

Just some thoughts,

NTX5467

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On 5/7/2020 at 7:30 PM, Larry Schramm said:

 

To support this position.  Before the 80's or 70's depending how you measure,  all of the car divisions were "Motor Company",  IE Buick Motor Division, Pontiac Motor Division, Oldsmobile Motor Division, etc.. Look at the old advertising literature.

 

The engines were division specific and as an example each division had their own 350 cubic inch engine, etc. Buyers were aware of the engine differences and that the car was just an attachment to the engine.  Each of the divisions had fairly robust engine activities. 

 

Emission laws changed that work and forced common engines because of the cost to certify every engine to meet emissions.   Lots of things changed during that time.

Few may remember what a huge colossus General Motors was at one time.  They were big enough to support themselves and would have been able to meet emission laws on a division by division basis.

 

What GM failed to do was change their strategy where they thought the full-size B & C body cars were going to be best sellers forever, and the market for lazy, slow-revving V8 interstate cruisers would never die.  What they failed to notice was the growing compact and sub-compact markets with cars that could handle well on curves and V8 performance from a 4-cylinder or a small displacement 6 which GM only took half seriously, where the imports from Germany and Japan did.  If General Motors put as much effort and full-time resources into developing the pre-1980 rwd X-body 'AVON' cars both in engineering and design individuality among each division, and made them the 'Bread & Butter' mainstays, instead of the B & C cars maybe ten years earlier, they would have been better prepared to take the challenging 1980's decade head on.  Throughout the later seventies and early eighties, the lower level A, X, T, and later, J-body cars were low-profit, thorn-in-their-side products in GM's corporate empire and the lack of emphasis on engineering and build quality really showed, especially when compared to the German and Japanese competition.  Hard to believe, but GM really did expect the J-body Cadillac to be a serious BMW contender.  

 

Craig 

 

 

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I had a supercharged 3.8 in a 2003 Park Avenue Ultra.   Compared to the Northstar V8 in a 2008 DTS I have now, the 3.8 wasn't quite as supple in the noise and smoothness department but for a car of comparable weight its performance was every bit it's equal and the fuel economy was certainly better.  Compared to other V6s I've enjoyed:  an Acura RL 3.5 or a 3.0 "high feature" in a 2010 LaCrosse, the supercharged 3.8 was more satisfying.  So I agree with NXT5467 that a six- or eight-speed transmission might have kept that engine really competitive.

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ONE thing in the NorthStar vs. Buick 3800 comparison is OIL CHANGE COSTS!.  You might have to pay for that extra 1/2 quart the Buick V-6 doesn't need, but you DO pay for all of the 6 or 7 qts of oil the NorthStar (and many other newer engines) need.  Better fuel economy and lower oil change costs . . . ADVANTAGE BUICK!

 

These things might tend to be lost on younger buyers, but not on the "fixed income" more vintage owners.  For whom operating costs can be important.  Although EVERY Buick V-6 owner can appreciate them, too.  Look at all of the complexity in newer engines that it takes to match the 3800SC horsepower output, while generally having less lower-rpm torque (which is where the 8-speed automatics come in, to fill that torque output void).

 

NTX5467

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