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.
Today, the most popular new cars tend towards silver silvermist combover anonymity. Because, as you know, it is much better to have a car that does 17 things crappily rather than one that does one thing very well. But I digress. Things change. It’s a given, especially in the fickle car market. But approximately 45 years ago, the top selling cars in the land of the free were actually attractive. Due to having several in my family when I was a kid, I especially long for the 1976-77 Cutlass Supreme; in all likelihood, so do a number of people, as they set sales records in the ’70s and early ’80s. Luckily, I spotted a primo example at the Oldsmobile Nationals in Brookfield, Wisconsin back in 2015.
We’ve all heard the Colonnade story: In 1973, GM unveiled the new A-bodies. They were new and modern, but were festooned with the first 5-mph safety bumpers. And in certain quarters, draw a serious amount of ire from Monday morning quarterbacks. But at any rate, sporty muscle coupes were on the way out, with the world of Brougham taking over. The Cutlass coupes, in various S, Salon and Supreme forms, did quite well.
But in my opinion, they hit their stride in 1976, when an attractive new face and sheetmetal greeted visitors to Olds showrooms. The smooth sides (sedans and wagons retained the 73-75 fender blisters), quad rectangular lights and waterfall grille all looked great. It was a clean, attractive restyle, what one would call a near-luxury car today. For the up-and-coming young professional to announce his moving up in the world.
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.
While many people who are into classic cars know the Oldsmobile Starfire, odds are they are remembering the full-figured yet sporty early ’60s hardtop coupe and convertible. Honestly, the name had to have come from the early ’60s. Could there have been a more Jet Age name for a car than Starfire?
Introduced January 1, 1961, the new Starfire was a flossier version of the Super 88. Following the introduction of the 1958 Thunderbird, Detroit quickly caught ‘buckets and console’ fever, and as a result many special models were added by all the manufacturers.
In addition to Super 88 equipment, the Starfire received, naturally, buckets seats and a center console, but also a tachometer, brushed aluminum side moldings on the ‘cove’ stamped into the bodyside, power seats and dual exhaust. It was available solely as a convertible, with a base price of $4,647. Only 7,800 were built.
Note: Another one from Tony LaHood! The featured car was spotted by yours truly at the Oldsmobile Nationals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, back in 2015. Enjoy. -TK
Our youngish readers might find it hard to believe that in the early 1960s the idea of a turbocharged production car was only slightly less fantastic than that of a pocket-size wireless flip phone. But in 1962, General Motors (Yes, there was a time when GM was a real innovator) rolled out not one but two such production passenger vehicles: the Corvair Monza Spyder, and the Oldsmobile Jetfire, America’s first turbocharged volume-production cars.
The Jetfire was essentially a 1962 F-85 Cutlass hardtop coupe (Holiday Coupe, in Olds-speak) with specific interior and exterior trim and, of course, a big surprise under the hood.
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.
If you’re in the market for a midsize car today, you have plenty of choices. Well, for now, as the ever present crossover is rapidly compelling the manufacturers to kill off the traditional midsize sedan. Several nameplates from which to choose–Camry, Impala, Fusion and Optima and of course Accord, to name a few. And they all come in the same flavor of competent albeit repetitive design and styling. Where’s the flair, man? Once upon a time, before safety standards, emissions and plain old public demand trumped style, a buyer could get virtually whatever their heart desired, right down to colors, options–and yes, Virginia, even a body style other than the now-ubiquitous four-door sedan. Want an aqua Skylark convertible with a white interior, V8 and four-speed? Done! How about a red Lark Wagonaire with a red interior, 350 McKinnon (nee GM) V8, power retractable roof over the cargo area, and automatic transmission? No problem. You could have those cars and everything in between–in 1965. Everything from cheapskate beige two-door post with manual everything to fully loaded sports convertible with a fire-breathing powerplant. So let’s set the way-back machine to Autumn 1964 and see what we can get.