Remember Oldsmobile? Sure you do. Well, most people born before 1990 do at any rate. As a kid in 1980s Illinois, my neighborhood was full of them. There was the next door neighbor’s daughter’s beige Cutlass Cruiser station wagon, with wire wheel covers. Her husband had a metallic root-beer brown Custom Cruiser. Across the street and two doors down lived a cedar metallic 1982 Cutlass Ciera Brougham. About a block away, a friend’s mom had a white FWD Firenza hatchback. Expanding further outward, one of my classmate’s parents had a triple burgundy Cutlass Supreme coupe, and both my aunt and a cousin had a 1976 Cutlass Supreme Brougham and ’77 Cutlass Supreme coupe, respectively. So yes, I am familiar with the make, even now, over a dozen years after the marque’s demise. But what I remember best are not the Aleros, Auroras and Bravadas seen in the make’s final years, but the plush, velour- and leather-lined gunboats of the ’70s. Like the Ninety-Eight Regency.
In 1971 the last of the no-holds-barred genuine FULL-SIZE sedans from General Motors were released. It was the last time the designers and engineers could go hog wild. No CAFE, relatively minimal emissions and safety regs to abide by, and cheap oil meant that if they wanted the sedans, coupes, convertibles and station wagons replacing the 1970-model General Motors full-size offerings lower, wider and longer, well, then there was no problem. So they did. Why not? The customers loved it!
The 1971 C-body Olds Ninety-Eights were large and sleek. While the Ninety-Eight convertible was cancelled (only 4,288 were sold in 1970), there were still four models to choose from, in two body styles: the standard Ninety-Eight, in two- or four-door hardtop, and the top-trim Luxury Sedan and Luxury Coupe.
In 1972 a soon-to-be-familiar name appeared for the first time, the Ninety-Eight Regency. It was a special edition commemorating Oldsmobile’s 75th Anniversary. Available only in Tiffany Gold, with black or covert gold velour, each sedan was registered at Tiffany’s (talk about snob appeal!), due to the exclusive Tiffany-designed clock.
But perhaps the most noticeable difference over the regular Ninety-Eights was the button-tufted, floating-pillow style seating, soon to become an Oldsmobile staple.
By 1973, the Regency was a regular production model, available in an assortment of colors and options. A two-door Regency would be added in 1974.
This style of seating, by the way, would last in more or less the same form all the way to 1990, on the FWD C-body Ninety-Eight Regency Brougham. Not a bad run. Of course, the rest of the car was hardly recognizable to the ’73 otherwise! But you still got a smooth ride and those poofy seats.
The C-body Oldses would last into 1976 with only mild facelifts, mostly due to increasing safety regulations. Of course, the beefier front bumpers came online for the 1973 model year, with park-bench style rear bumpers joining the fronts in ’74.
Quad rectangular headlamps were added in 1975, along with a C-pillar opera window. Base price for a Regency sedan was now $6366; 35,264 were made, along with 16,697 Regency coupes. By now the Regency was handily outselling the Luxury models, only 8798 Luxury Coupes and 18091 Luxury Sedans were built in ’75.
The plain Ninety-Eight had disappeared back in 1974 after finding only 4,395 takers. These were the years of Peak Brougham, and if you were going to get a gigantic Oldsmobile, might as well get one with all the gadgets and gizmos, right?
The final year for truly giant Oldsmobiles was 1976, when the Ninety-Eight made its last stand in pre-downsized form, with nearly a square acre of velour, opera windows and courtesy lights aglow, their four-barrel 455 CID V8s drinking hi-test like there was no tomorrow. A final facelift squared up the nose, along with some other trim reshuffling. A Regency four-door hardtop started at $6,691 now, but with a curb weight of 4,820, that was only about $1.38 per pound-not bad. Indeed, Oldsmobile and its Lansing, Michigan home was breaking sales records at this time, mostly due to the amazing popularity of their midsize Cutlass, but the full-sizers were still finding plenty of buyers.
Midwestern lawyers, dentists and CPAs seemingly agreed, as 55,339 Regency sedans were built, along with 26,282 Regency coupes, 16,802 Luxury Sedans and 6,056 Luxury Coupes. Of course, a rebounding economy after the 1975 recession helped, but it also was not a secret that the next GM luxocruisers would be downsized, which added to the demand.
So many fine folks trucked on down to their Olds dealer and signed on the bottom line, posthaste. And while the 1977 GM full-sized cars were in many ways superior to the old gunboats, they still weren’t quite the same. Never again would an American sedan be so unapologetically American. Which brings us to our featured car.
This one is owned by Jason Bagge, a friend of mine and fellow member of The Brougham Society. Jason is somewhat well-known as “The Car Whisperer” as he finds and buys old cars, mostly lux models (but also pickups, Dusters and vans too!) from the ’70s, fixes them up, enjoys them, and then when the time is right or a very appealing offer is made, sells it off and moves on to the next one. This car was located in Missoula, Montana and while not perfect, was in very good shape. Mostly what it needed was some TLC. The car ran like a champ. It is not done yet, but is coming along nicely.
It also has only 89,000 original miles on it. Over the past few months, Jason has been replacing trim bits as time and money permit, slowly but surely bringing it back to showroom condition. Over the last couple of years that I’ve known him, he has done this to at least a dozen old cars, and I’m probably grossly underestimating that number!
This is it folks. This is what an American car used to mean. Room, velour, and more room. Also room. And velour. Bench seats, column shift, and lots of space. Consoles? Lumbar support?! Clearly you are in the wrong showroom, go check out that Mercedes dealer across town. Comfort was the watchword. Though you could suck the doors off a contemporary Mercedes 240D with ease. But then, so could a Mustang II.
But seriously, the people who bought them weren’t going to go hooning in one. Nope, this was the car to sedately get you to the office, or the golf club, or to dinner in the city, all in comfort and quiet, naturally. Cars like these Ninety-Eights were meant to be isolation chambers.
And for those who think the B- and C-body 1970s GM cars are basically the same, the owner of this fine motor vessel would have to disagree. You see, he also owns a 1976 Caprice Classic four-door hardtop that he is also bringing back to new condition, and the difference between the 350 Chevy and 455 Olds is night and day.
The Chev will move out with authority, but step on the Regency’s go pedal and you will hit Ludicrous Speed before you know it! Back in 1976, there were more differences than a couple of emblems and an inch or two of wheelbase between biggie Chevys and Oldsmobiles. These days the closest you can get to one of these ’70s Interstate cruisers is a ’17 Impala, so it’s always interesting to take a look back at what cars used to be like-for better or worse.