Cohort Capsule: Oldsmobile Firenza – Should They Have Called It A Cutlass?


Although a great decline was looming on the horizon, Oldsmobile was on a remarkable high in the mid-1980s. From 1984-1986, the Olds division posted consecutive output of over 1 million cars each of these years. These numbers were achieved by strong sales of the Cutlass Ciera and Cutlass Supreme (which were both among the top 10 best-selling cars in America for 1985), the final RWD Ninety-Eights and Delta 88s, their FWD successors, and the new Calais (soon to be “Cutlass Calais”). Contributing least of all, save for the Toronado and Custom Cruiser, was the J-body Firenza subcompact.


During this three-year period, the Firenza sold 82,475, 49,040 and 46,701 units, respectively, making it the second worst-selling Olds in ’84 and ’85, and the third in ’86 (when the Custom Cruiser became its own separate line). Even the Toronado, which was double the price, sold 42,185 units in 1985. Considering that the Firenza came in four body styles versus the Toronado’s one, this is even more dismal. Was the Firenza one too many J-bodies? Likely not, as the costlier Buick Skyhawk outsold it by about 2-1, and every other Oldsmobile had multiple corporate cousins.


There’s also the Firenza’s styling. Although most of it was quite bland and similar to the other J-bodies, the Firenza featured a rather blunt front end. Without a traditional grille and with a rather unusual six-headlight cluster design, its nose may have been off-putting to buyers. The Firenza eventually received a more tasteful, Cutlass Ciera-inspired front clip for its swan song season 1988, but it was too little and too late to make a difference.


Then there is the Cutlass Question. Much like Chrysler with the LeBaron name, in the 1980s, Oldsmobile began applying the Cutlass name to multiple model lines at once. Take the Cutlass Calais, for example. Despite overall Oldsmobile sales sliding in the late-1980s, upon gaining the “Cutlass” moniker for 1988, Calais sales remained remarkably steady. Could the Firenza have benefitted from the Cutlass touch?


Regardless of why the Firenza failed to achieve the success of other Oldsmobiles and its non-Cimarron J-body siblings, the bottom line is that the Firenza did not rack up high sales, making it one of the rarest Oldsmobiles of this era. Its economy-car position only enhances its obscurity today. This particular Firenza, spotted by Joseph Dennis, is especially rare due to its exceptional condition. With no serious rust, and the retention of its wire wheel discs, this car was likely senior-owned and lightly driven. Despite the dirt, it would appear to have been pampered for most of its life – and you can’t say that about many J-cars.


Related Reading:

Automotive History: 1988 Oldsmobile Firenza

Curbside Classic: 1986 Oldsmobile Firenza S coupe