I consider myself an “Oldsmobile Man” from an Oldsmobile family. However, there’s one model that managed to remain completely foreign to us: At no time in the family history did anyone own the second-generation baby bear Oldsmobile. Somehow, the burgeoning phenomenon of Cutlass domination bypassed our family’s Oldsmobility.
Oddly, the first Cutlass to come into the family was the somewhat controversial first generation. In May of 1963, at the age of 45, my Aunt Rosana decided to take up driving. Scared of the sheer mass of the big Oldsmobiles, but nevertheless enchanted by their styling, she chose a Cutlass Coupe. But as jpcavanaugh has often noted, the wee lil’ Olds could be a bit troublesome on those hot summer days in Port Arthur. Many “HOT” warning lights later, it was replaced with a 1967 Delmont 88.
More typical family purchases comprised endless streams of Eighty-Eights and, occasionally Ninety-Eights throughout the rest of the 1960s. Particularly legendary was my Uncle Lawrence’s 1964 Super 88. The stout 394 and apparently trouble-free Roto-Hydramatic made many a believer out of relatives who converted from Chevys and Fords.
My dad appears to be the lone heretic. He’d started with a Corvair 500 sedan, but by 1969 had fallen in love with “Mopar methodology” in the form of a cherry 1962 Dodge Lancer GT. His later embrace of Oldsmobility did not come without a bit of resistance: He broke ranks and bought a two-year-old 1968 Cutlass ‘S.’ As the second youngest sibling (at 22), he signaled where Oldsmobile would find its greatest success in the American auto marketplace of the 1970s.
You’re probably wondering, “And what has all that to do with our featured second-generation Cutlass?” Allow me to make a point from Paul’s excellent chronicle of the Cutlass nameplate: The second-generation was the seed, not the flower. Although the Cutlass was popular enough it became, to borrow a contemporary pop-culture reference, a “Supreme” in 1964.
After quite a few false starts between 1961 and 1963, both the baby Oldsmobile and the Supremes started hitting their stride in 1964. It wasn’t long before the Cutlass and Diana Ross became the focus of their respective lineups.
By 1966, both Ross and the Cutlass were rising stars. Sometimes I can’t help but think that the choice of “Supreme” for the fancy new Cutlass four-door hardtop had something to do with the rise of America’s new sweethearts. The Cutlass proved it had the wattage to shine among even the brightest stars. The same could also be said of Miss Ross, as rumors of her going solo started swirling.
By 1970, The Cutlass nameplate had left the F-85 nameplate in the dustbin of history. The post- Diana Ross Supremes fared a little better than the F-85 badge, but not by much; in fact, their respective story arcs seem to run in parallel. Both the Cutlass Supreme and the ex-Supreme triumphed in popularity and sales for the next decade-and-a-half.
So what made these such good seeds for success? The reasons were several. Though not as technologically sophisticated as their predecessors, they were extremely well-crafted, sensible and sprightly. And while perhaps not as pretty as their Special/Skylark cousins, they still are decidedly handsome cars–especially in Cutlass Coupe guise, whose “Junior Starfire” theme was carried over from the previous year.
It probably helped that unlike their predecessors, they didn’t attempt to be a thesis on what a sensible American car should be: A perimeter frame had replaced the unibody. The first New-Generation Rocket V8 did with cast-iron and cubic inches what turbocharging (at the time) could not accomplish. And paralleling Chevy’s Malibu line, their size recalled the un-bloated Eighty Eight of a decade before.
Although I love the first F-85/Cutlasses, I can’t help but like this generation too. My only real pet peeve involves the infernal Jet-Away two-speed automatic, especially considering that three-speed automatics had become pretty much universal at Ford and Chrysler. When it comes to motivating the car’s roughly 3,000 lbs, I’m sure the 290 hp, 330 cu in V8 performs admirably, despite being one cog short (which presaged the penny pinching that would eventually undermine this star-in-the-making).
The overall competence and class of these Cutlasses generated good word-of-mouth and built a reputation so good as to be extolled on this very website nearly 50 years later. It can be said fairly that if not for the heavy lifting done by this Cutlass, the Colonnade era cars would never have had it so easy. In fact, they wouldn’t have had a reputation to hang their vinyl roofs on.
I can imagine the 1975 Cutlass looking through the mirror at its 1964 incarnation, then starting to sing: “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” Perhaps a look from the perspective of time passed could have prevented it from falling so far from grace after such a heady rise to the top.
As Ms. Ross might have put it, “Reflections of…the way it used to be.”