This past Saturday while running errands, I rounded a familiar corner in my suburban Chicago town and saw a decidedly unfamiliar sight. Peeking out between the trees, parked in front of a stately older home, was this 1972 Cutlass Supreme 4-Door Hardtop, in what looked to be impeccable condition. Between the brand-new looking Olds, and the timeless house, the glimpse view could just as easily have been in the fall of 1972.
Were it not for a 5th Generation VW Golf GTI parked right by the rear of the Cutlass, the scene really could have been from another era.
I don’t know the the people who live in this house, so I didn’t feel comfortable walking onto the property to get closer shots of the Cutlass. But even from a distance, it’s clear that this 46-year-old Oldsmobile is in exceptionally good condition. The Nordic Blue paint was lustrous, the wheel covers sparkled and the whitewalls looked freshly scrubbed. Clearly a garage queen….
The Supreme sedan carried Illinois plates, though it certainly doesn’t look like it suffered through many Illinois winters. The rocker panels show no easily visible signs of rust at all.
While the seemingly complete lack of rust might indicate that the car originally came from a hotter, drier climate, there were no signs of significant damage from UV-rays either. For example, the top of the rear seat back is visible, finished in blue “Orleans” cloth, with no sign of sun-induced upholstery shredding.
Speaking of interiors, during the early 1970s, General Motors was all about differentiation, even within the same model series. The 2- and 4-door Cutlass Supreme models offered different sew patterns and door trim. Shown above is the “Orleans” cloth interior for the Cutlass Supreme 4-Door Hardtop.
The blue trim found on today’s Cutlass Curbside Classic was one of 3 cloth selections for sedans; other choices for the 4-doors included “Morocceen” vinyl in Black or Saddle.
Cutlass Supreme 2-Door Hardtops used the same cloth fabric, but sewn in a different pattern than the 4-Door. Door trim was also different, featuring much larger “genuine imitation” wood grain panels and door pull straps.
The 2-Door Cutlass Supremes added white “Morocceen” vinyl to the mix, while convertibles offered all the same hues in all-vinyl only.
To pair with the colorful interiors, mid-sized Oldsmobiles could be had in a choice of 18 exterior colors, 6 of which were exclusive to the intermediate lines (full-sized models had 6 exclusive colors of their own).
When I was growing up, I was quite familiar with one of these colors—Saturn Gold—as my maternal grandmother, Mère, had a Cutlass Supreme 2-Door Hardtop finished in this shade. She loved her Cutlass, and always considered it a very “snazzy” car, and it actually was very nice in a “Seventies Gold” kind of way.
Mère’s Cutlass Supreme had a white vinyl top, like the car in the top picture, with the wheel covers like the car on the bottom. Her interior was finished in the white “Morocceen” vinyl, which seemed like a good choice for the hot New Orleans climate. Perhaps it was psyschosomatic, but Mère’s white vinyl seats really didn’t seem to heat up as much as the black vinyl ScorchUrButt® seats in my mother’s ’71 Olds Ninety-Eight.
Mére’s Cutlass Supreme 2-Door Hardtop was one of 105,087 built that year, while our featured Curbside Classic Supreme 4-Door Hardtop was far less popular, with 14,955 produced. All in, Oldsmobile sold a whopping 334,582 intermediate models for 1972, and the Cutlass was well on its way to becoming one of the most popular cars sold in America.
The Cutlass’s popularity was well earned. Consumer Guide Auto Test 1972 gave the car high marks. Though the pictures shows a Cutlass Supreme 2-Door Hardtop, the test car was a 4-Door hardtop, which CG praised for its comfort, quality and robust 350 V8 engine. Testers found the Cutlass to be a bit expensive for an intermediate, but you did get what you paid for: the Cutlass remained popular on the used car market as well, helping maintain strong resale values.
Using this 1972 Oldsmobile Data Sheet along with the photos, we can “guesstimate” the original price of this Nordic Blue Cutlass Supreme 4-Door Hardtop. Based on the way Mére’s car was equipped, I’d imagine a fairly typical option load for the Cutlass Supreme would have included the following: Turbo Hydra-matic automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes with front discs, left-hand remote mirror, air conditioning, tinted glass, AM radio with rear speaker, electric clock, floor mats, bumper guards and protective moldings, full wheel covers and the “Convenience Group.” So with a base price of $3,329 ($20,423 adjusted) and options totaling $1,130 ($6,972 adjusted), our Supreme sedan could well have retailed for $4,458 ($27,350 adjusted). Layering on a few additional options like the popular vinyl roof ($99, $607 adjusted), tilt wheel ($44, $270 adjusted), cruise control ($62, $380 adjusted) and rear defogger ($62, $380 adjusted), anti-spin rear axle ($43, $264 adjusted), stereo tape deck ($114, $699 adjusted), power windows ($113, $693 adjusted) and 4-way power front seat ($77, $472 adjusted), it would have been easy to take the price of a ’72 Cutlass Supreme over $5,000 ($30,675 adjusted).
And those slightly premium prices, plus the Cutlass Supreme’s handsome lines and comfortable interior, made this Oldsmobile a “smart” status symbol in driveways from coast-to-coast. It was upscale but not too fancy, at a time when that was considered desirable.
That’s why this particular Curbside Classic sighting was slightly bittersweet for me. The nice house with the nice “new” Cutlass Supreme in the driveway was a reminder of the days when Oldsmobile had unmistakable style and charm, making the brand America’s sweetheart. These pictures capture what once was, and it’s a far cry from Oldsmobile’s dismal final years of offering dumpy, out-of-date cars for the geriatric set and people seeking cheap wheels. My Saturday sighting turned out to be a fleeting glimpse of a time fading away in the rearview mirror: when I drove the same route Sunday, the Cutlass Supreme was gone, though I’m thankful for having had a brief, sweet snapshot of the Seventies in the fall of 2018.