As a kid growing up in the 1980s, the “Colonnade” 1973-77 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme was a constant factor. In my Midwestern city, they were, even by 1988-89, as common then as beige beigemist Toyota Camry LEs are now. But the one I remember the best was owned by my Aunt Candy.
Uncle Don was a mechanic. A damn good one. Back in the 1970s he worked at Bob Neal Lincoln-Mercury in Rock Island, where my grandparents bought their Lincoln Continentals and Thunderbirds. Whenever they brought a car in for service, they always requested Don, and only Don, to work on their cars. The other guys in the service department groused about this, but as Don was the best mechanic they had, they had little recourse.
In fact, Don was constantly getting job offers from other dealerships in the Quad Cities. My aunt once told me that at a Christmas party in the late ’70s, Erv Peters, a local Ford dealer whom Don was working for at that time, asked Candy how to keep Don on? Simple, she said, just pay him more money! So he did.
As you might expect, Don was a gearhead, so he and Candy always had interesting, and nice, cars over the years. In the early 60s he had a 59 Thunderbird, and later on, a 1966 Chevy Impala Super Sport, white with black top and interior. That one was replaced with a blue 68 Impala two-door hardtop.
But wait, you may be asking, isn’t this article about Cutlass Supremes? Yes, it is. Now where was I?
My Aunt Candy got her Cutlass about a year after my Uncle Don bought a brand-new 460-powered 1976 Starsky & Hutch Torino. It was ordered through Bob Neal Ford, which was next door to Bob Neal L-M, on 11th Street in Rock Island. Uncle Don’s Starsky & Hutch was a factory-built special edition; like many other 1972-76 Torinos, Gran Torinos and Elites, his was built at the Ford plant in Chicago and shipped to Rock Island. Almost immediately after the S&H came off the truck, Don got rid of the factory Magnum 500 rims and purchased proper slotted mags. He also had to give the car a bit of rake to match the real thing. Despite the combination of giant bumpers, various emissions systems and Ford-O-Matic strangling the Gran Torino, my aunt fondly remembers flying across the I-280 bridge across the Mississippi in it at better than 100 mph.
So, the Gran Torino was a little too fun, perhaps. A one-year-old ’76 Supreme Brougham, in triple burgundy was its replacement. Around this time, Uncle Don was getting into Jeeps (the real Jeeps, CJ-5s and CJ-7s), so the Olds was primarily her car.
Her car was a Cutlass Supreme Brougham, Mahogany metallic, with a matching cordovan vinyl roof and interior.
The interior was the primary selling point of the top-of-the-line Brougham, with deeply cushioned floating-pillow style seating. 1976 may well have been Peak Brougham, with nearly every domestic car having, if not “Brougham” emblems on them, some type of luxury model with landau tops, crushed velour seating and a smooth ride. There was even a Luxury Decor Option on the Pinto, for heaven’s sake!
It was nearly as prevalent then as the fake sports packages and Nurburgring phoniness on many 2017-18 cars today. Many, even Cutlasses without the Brougham trim, were loaded with options, such as A/C, power windows, power locks, cruise control, and several different vinyl roof styles. Many had the color-keyed Super Stock wheels, as seen above, or wire wheel covers, but Candy’s car had the standard stainless steel wheel discs.
All of this was brought back recently when I spotted this 1976 Cutlass Supreme in town. Judging from the circa 1990 plates on it, it’s been in storage for some time. Initially I thought it was a Cutlass Salon from the factory T-top, but upon parking and checking out the car, it was just a standard Cutlass Supreme coupe, which took up the lion’s share of Cutlass sales that year.
People under 30 may find it hard to believe, but once, coupes ruled the land, and not all two-doors were Mustangs and Camaros. Total sales of Cutlass coupes during the mid-’70s usually were greater than the sedans and wagons combined.
The baby boomers whose first cars were Mustangs and Falcons and Chevy IIs were growing up, getting respectable and having kids, and a loaded up Supreme coupe was just the thing to show you were now a responsible (and upwardly mobile) adult.
I had first spotted this car several months ago, but never had time to stop and check it out. It also disappeared for a while, but reappeared recently and I knew I needed to take a look. It had no for sale sign on it, but was in pretty nice shape. Not perfect, but pretty nice for a 41-year old car,
Initially I thought it was the same color as Candy’s Brougham, but checking my 1976 Oldsmobile color chart, this is likely a repaint; it’s more of a black cherry instead of the factory Mahogany metallic paint (as seen on the non-Brougham Supreme further up and immediately below, seen at the OCA Nationals in 2015). Still a nice color though!
In addition to my aunt’s car, my cousin also had one of these as her first car, a ’77 in the same colors as this one I saw at a garage several years ago. Hers was not a Brougham, though, just a standard Supreme.
It did have the Super Stock wheels and white top, however, same as this one. My cousin’s car, however, lost its rear bumper not long after she got it, a common problem on these and other Colonnade GM cars. The salt on the roads in wintertime would dissolve the bumper brackets, leading to at least fifty percent of surviving Colonnades having MIA bumpers by 1990 or so.
I imagine the featured Cutlass Supreme has been or was in storage for some time, for not only did it have minimal rust for a Midwestern car, but its rear bumper was still present and accounted for-and rust free.
The seats had been reupholstered at some point, as it was not the factory fabric, but fairly close. Someone must love this car, as it had gotten new paint and interior at some point in the past.
Whoever ordered this car new must have wanted a sporty coupe, as it had the bucket seats, center console with floor shift, and factory T-top. The T-top was a fairly rare option on these; this is the first one I’ve seen in person with the option. The aftermarket wire wheels were approximately the same age as the car from what I could tell, so they could very well have been a “Day Two” upgrade.
As for my Aunt Candy’s car, she kept it for around ten years until my uncle found her a nice 1978 Ford Thunderbird in a kind of copper color, rust free, with the rare buckets and console. The paint was tired, so he repainted it in a nonmetallic midnight blue, which contrasted nicely with the saddle tan interior. Curiously, Candy’s Olds never lost its rear bumper despite never being garaged the whole time they owned it. However, the nearby Blackhawk Foundry, two blocks down the street from their house, wrecked the paint and pitted the glass by the late 1980s. EPA violations, anyone? But its interior was still pristine when they sold it.
It has only been in the last ten years or so that these cars have begun appearing at shows. Everyone wants the 1968-72 Cutlasses, so they can paint it Resale Red and slap fake 442 emblems on it. And while the 1973-77 Cutlasses are still not particularly valuable, I’m glad to see they’re getting at least a little bit of collectibility and respect.
This post is dedicated to my Aunt Candy, who lost her battle with cancer on the morning of December 2nd. Godspeed Candy, you will be missed by all of us.