When Bill Mitchell took over GM Design in the late ’50s, his presence was felt almost immediately in the new GM cars, particularly in the 1961 models. Simple, clean elegant lines were his forte, when compared to the brash, wild and bechromed chariots favored by his predecessor, the unforgettable Harley Earl.
I grew up in Northwestern Illinois. Due to this, I am very familiar with the GM A-bodies, and Cutlass Cieras in particular. They were everywhere at the time. So were their brethren, the Chevy Celebrity, Pontiac 6000 (a friend of my dad’s bought a white 6000 STE brand new) and Buick Century. There were at least two Cutlass Cieras on my block circa 1985. They were as common on the streets as CR-Vs and Tahoes are today. Arguably, the most famous Cutlass Ciera was the tan 1988 Cutlass Ciera that Jerry Lundegaard gave the hit men as partial payment in the classic 1996 film, Fargo. Of course, that Oldsmobile was what ultimately led to everything going pear-shaped in spectacular fashion. An aside, if you haven’t seen this movie, go watch it right now. I’ll wait. OK, ready? Then let’s continue!
In Autumn ’81 the Cutlass Ciera first appeared, as a 1982 model. It had some very big shoes to fill, though the larger rear wheel drive Cutlass Supreme remained in the lineup. The Cutlass nameplate was Oldsmobile’s most successful in the 1970s, and the Cutlass Supreme coupe in particular was the undisputed best selling model in the lineup. The Cutlass was downsized in ’78, followed by a more aerodynamic restyling in 1981. It remained in the line with the addition of the Cutlass Ciera, however. It was the first time the Cutlass nameplate was applied to more than one car line. As the ’80s progressed, Cutlassization would run rampant over at Oldmsobile Division. Likely at its peril, but never mind that today.
My Grand Dad always had a beater, for everyday driving, and a good car, which he bought new and brought out only on special occasions. Once, he said he’d buy a new car when he retired and give his current garage queen, a 1966 Chrysler sedan, to my Dad. In 1977, Grand Dad did retire, and Dad held him to his word. To replace the Chrysler, he headed down to Carter Chevrolet-Olds and placed an order for what is oft regarded today as one of General Motors’ biggest blunders: a 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88 with the then-new 350 CID LF9 V8 diesel engine.
The Delta 88 4-door sedan was the most popular 1978 Olds to be ordered with the LF9 diesel. Much like the base-model 1966 Chrysler, the 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88 was advertised as more car for not much more money than “lesser” automobiles. Undoubtedly this appealed to Grand Dad’s innate frugality, as it still allowed him to have an upscale, but not ostentatious, full-size automobile.
After the GM A-bodies became G-bodies, each division did its own thing when it came to deciding what models stayed in the lineup. Consider the sedans: The Chevy and Buick versions departed after ’83. Pontiac’s G-body Bonneville lasted until 1986, after which it became an H-body. But Oldsmobile, arguably the purveyor of the best A/G-bodies in the corporation, kept its sedans going all the way to 1987. All in all, not a bad run for an Olds model that had flopped (at least in four-door form) when it first appeared in 1978.
In 1979, GM debuted its newly downsized personal luxury trio: The Cadillac Eldorado, the Buick Riviera, and the Oldsmobile Toronado. All three had been valued members of the General Motors fleet by that time, but in ’79, they all became front wheel drive.
It wasn’t always that way. The original Buick Riviera started out as its own model, albeit borrowing heavily from the full-sized Buicks, from inaugural 1963 through 1965. Then the Toronado appeared in 1966, with front wheel drive. The redesigned ’66 Riviera was on the same body, but retained rear wheel drive. Finally, in ’67 the front wheel drive Fleetwood Eldorado coupe came onto the scene.
From ’67 until 1976, all three E-coupes stayed this course: same body, but with the Olds and Cadillac front drive and the Riv rear wheel drive.
There is a certain website out there that is trying, desperately, incessantly, to bash successful GM cars. Why is anyone’s guess. But despite popularity, despite corresponding sales figures, it doesn’t matter for these guys. Bitter, angry people make for bitter, angry car posts. So in my own way, I’ve been trying to counterpoint these surly rants. Today’s subject is the redesigned 1985 front wheel drive C-body GM cars: De Ville/Fleetwood, Electra, and of course the Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight.
“Oh ho, aha!” some folks may rant: “They were shrunken, stupid, unreliable maaaan! No one bought them!” Big talk from persons who only got brand new cars when they conned them out of their employer. But I digress. The simple, plain truth is despite a completely new look, smaller dimensions in nearly every area, and a major change from V8 and rear wheel drive to V6 and front wheel drive, these newly minted GM lux cars sold well.
From 1971 to 1976, General Motors had the market covered when it came to the finest in upper-crust land yachts: Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, Buick Electra, and the Cadillac Sedan de Ville and Fleetwood. It was the last stand for true full-size luxury. No diets, no exercising, full steam ahead with room, space and wheelbase! And velour. Lots of velour. But times were changing. Fuel economy was slowly but surely becoming more important to buyers, especially after the 1973-74 gas crisis. Could one still get all the Broughamage they wanted, yet with better economy? Have plenty of stretch-out room despite dimensions being trimmed? Indeed, they could!
GM proved it with the downsized 1977 B- and C-body full-sizers. Easier to drive, easier to park, yet with power everything, room, space and the ever so important gadgets, gizmos and nameplate prestige! And if you didn’t want to spring for the high-priced Cadillac version, you could still get nine-tenths of its luxury in an Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency. Continue Reading →
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.
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. Continue Reading →