Count me as one of the A-body Aeroback’s few fans. I only ever see these cars in terrible condition, but this pristine, and appropriately white, example shows its designers’ intentions quite faithfully.
I found this car in the Columbus suburbs during a typically humid Ohio summer. The red interior is a great match for the white paint, but with fixed windows and lots of glass, I can think of few things worse than sitting inside it without air conditioning. I would be surprised if this car didn’t have that option, though, and if I owned it, the only thing I would change would be its wheels, which I would replace with Olds Rallyes, painted in matching white (dark graphite or black would also work). Luckily those are easy to find.
Suddenly, I don’t want breakfast anymore…
When Oldsmobile began getting stupid…
It’s in much nicer shape than our ’78 Gutless ever was – even new. We had to take ours back to the dealer after a few months because the paint was peeling off. Besides that, the radio had a bad speaker and the interior build quality was rather sloppy. I’m honestly surprised my dad didn’t trade it for something screwed together a little better. The drivetrain held up okay, though, and we got 12 years out of it, including my two sisters and I learning to drive. That said, its Collonade predecessor was a much better car, in my opinion.
I don’t mind these, I’m just puzzled by them. What was Bill Mitchell thinking, given the success of the formal-look broughams of the time?
Fortunately given the climate of Vancouver fixed windows with no a/c wouldn’t be a problem outside of 10 days a year!
I didn’t know Bill Mitchell was responsible for this.Then again it’s something he’d probably not want to shout about.Even a genius can have an off day.It makes a Pacer look beautiful.
Two words come to mind upon seeing this car:
When you say ‘Seville Junior’, I think 1980 Buick Century/Olds Cutlass.
Perhaps ‘Baby Bustleback Wannabe’?
I’ve always liked late-40s retro look of these aerobacks. HOWEVER, this particular car, with the wide whitewalls and those fakey-wire wheel covers makes me think of a middle-aged man wearing a leisure suit, white shoes and a white belt.
It was pretty common to see people dressed that way back in the 1970s. During the Great Brougham Epoch, there were many people who wore a Brougham Wardrobe. Far too many people…
I apologize if I’ve brought back bad memories for those of you who lived through those times.
Thank you for reminding me of yet another reason to hate broughams.
I spent some time yesterday looking at REAL American luxury or near luxury offerings some Buicks and Packards from the 30s sorry but the broham chintzy junk just doent equate to luxury compared to the proper item.
I’ve wondered what compelled GM to market these? Starting with styling that clearly would evoke strong mixed reactions, before they even hit the street. Add being devoid of the true handiness of a hatchback, the whole purpose of having a hatch roofline, to start with. Plus, rear windows that don’t open. Pop-out quarter windows, that only seem to act as an interior air exhaust… with no supply of incoming backseat fresh air. Not to mention the very formal front end styling, combined with a swoopy roofline. It looked like two cars in one.
I want to be open minded about them, and partial to any car, but what a depressing model. It’s almost like they prepared us for the Citation X-bodies with these. Perhaps Carmine can rationalize GM’s thinking.
I recall older middle-aged people buying them when new. And they weren’t that popular in my region. The two doors being especially rare. It doesn’t have any of the sportiness usually associated with this style of roofline. The Monza roofline for example, makes this one look industrial. And the Monza, at least, had a hatch.
To me, a four door high end 1975 generation Olds Omega, offered with a notchback that opens as a hatchback, trumps this design misfit quite easily. And looks attractive in the process. Plus, at the very least, negates the justification for the development costs of the Aerobacks. An upscale four door hatchback Omega/Nova, would have sold better too IMO. Similar in look/design to the hidden hatchback Chrysler used on the LeBaron GTS/Lancer and Shadow/Sundance. Just freshen the Omega’s front clip and sheetmetal.
I’m usually quite forgiving, but this car seems like a mistake from the get-go.
…the very formal front end styling, combined with a swoopy roofline. It looked like two cars in one.
And neither of them attractive.
Whatever point the overall shape of this, ahem, “Cutlass” might have had is negated by the lack of hatch; a decision both inexplicable and unforgivable. Does it ever occur to bean-counters as they’re decontenting our cars that their parsimonious plans could backfire — resulting in far fewer beans coming in (from the buying public) for them to count?
When I first read the word Aeroback in the title of this post, before I scrolled down to see the photo, I momentarily hoped somebody had stumbled upon one of these in the wild. But upon googling, I find these glassed-up 1986-87 Monte Carlo/Gran Prix oddities (born of the same NASCAR-related imperative as the equally odd Superbird/Daytona) were called not Aeroback, but Aerocoupe.
Since bread and butter Chevrolet didn’t get one(neither did Pontiac) I imagine that there was some trepidation about the aerobacks at GM Styling too, as someone else pointed out, they are like a modern interpretation of the “torpedo” and fastback body styles from the 40’s, why they tried them again in the 70’s, I’m not sure, perhaps as a way to distinguish the Buick and Oldsmobile A-body sedans from the more plebian Chevrolet and Pontiac ones.
Whatever it was, GM moved quickly on these when they realized they were a bit of a “turd in the punchbowl” on the market, and by 1980, they were history, with the exception of the cheap aeroback coupe, which lived until 80 and then dropped.
From what I can tell, these were never planed as hatchbacks, so there isn’t any cheapening or de-contenting there, as far as I know, these were always designed to be fastback sedans, perhaps in retrospect, they should have considered making that hatchbacks, though I don’t think that would have helped much.
This is what I had in mind above… I think if they were more styled as notchback hatchbacks, using the Nova hatchback as a reference point, they could have saved a lot of money and produced a better styled car in the process. I’ve done a Photoshoped version below. My intent would be this notchback sedan that you see. That would open up with a full hatchback. They’d obviously have to reinforce the body engineering accordingly. Notice this looks similar to the Nova, but higher end, and more European. I also gave the windshield and front fender slightly more rake. I think the version they eventually used wasn’t elegant or creative enough, even for 1975/76. The version I prepped has a taller trunk for groceries, while the overall length is actually shorter. Plus it has more family resemblance and continuity with the Colonnades they replaced.
Very nice photoshop; that’s a huge improvement. And as you said, there lots of continuity from its predecessor, the Colonnade.
You want to try your hand at some other “What If” photoshops? If so, send them out way; I love this kind of alternate reality.
Thanks very much Paul, absolutely! Like yourself, the contributors and readers here, I think we often can tell when manufacturers have produced a less than stellar model. And we are basically putting them through the smell test. I genuinely think GM mailed in the design on the Aerobacks. I’m not an engineer, but a designer, so I always try to take into account engineering limitations. But I will miss details. But so often, well engineered cars are let down by styling that doesn’t bring out the full potential in a concept. Some of these cars don’t require a 20/20 hindsight critique years later either. You can tell they were lacking that something extra, when they were in the showroom. I’d say, to some degree, that was the case with each of the 1978 A Bodies. I’d be happy to submit Photoshop before and afters, on occasion.
I think we sometimes think that companies like GM can’t lay an egg, with all of the people involved in a new model. IMO, design wise, they went right off the tracks in the 80s. Somebody at the senior design level lacked the guile to rise to the occasion, given the responsibility they were entrusted with. I think the ’83 Thunderbird alone, puts the majority of GM’s 1980s styling to shame.
That looks good! The nose reminds me of an AMC Concord/Spirit.
Thank you! You know, I find the windshield rake on the fastback Cutlass that GM produced is so upright, I am shocked. Even a small additional rake would have helped aerodynamics, mileage and great improved the styling. With not penalty in interior room. I find at some point in their history, each manufacturer is guilty of being too cautious to step outside the box. I think that was the case here.
Very impressive!! I’ve often wondered how the aeroback sedan could have looked better and come up with nothing – but I never would have thought to do it that way. Looks great!
Thank you! Comparable to the large open dashboard space on the Chev Lumina APV and Pontiac Trans Sport minivans, these Aerobacks created a similar situation, only flipped to the rear of the car. It was the rear parcel shelf area that couldn’t be put to use for cargo. At least as a notchback hatchback, that area can be accessed for storage. Plus, I think it’s a more attractive design, as a hatchback concealed as a notchback, and could have sold much better.
… these were never planed as hatchbacks, so there isn’t any cheapening or de-contenting…
In that case I guess it was pre-emptive decontenting, or pre-contenting, if you will.
(FTR, Spellcheck doesn’t like “pre-contenting” but that’s OK: Spellcheck doesn’t recognize “de-contenting” either. Spellcheck also wants me to take the hyphen out of “pre-emptive” and spell it “preemptive”, which I’m not going to do.)
That is one big picture.
Maybe GM had seen an Austin Princess and thought if they can get away with designing a hatchback that isn’t and actually find buyers so will we,
Ive only seen one of these cars in a field for sale grass up to the windows so it wasn’t selling fast and they were never marketed here new, but that one seems in good order from the photos
A too little to late hatchback Princess came in the horrible short lived Austin Ambassador.Only made for 2 years til the Maestro abomination appeared.There were few takers,not many wanted what was essentially another tarted up Land Crab that was going to be obsolete pretty soon.BL never even bothered to make LHD examples.
Opel Monza~Vauxhall Royale Coupe with 4 doors.
Nice cars,it’s a long time since I saw one.Another car on my wish list
The Rover SD1 at least managed to look sporty and luxurious in this body configuration.
The Cutlass Aeroback has it’s brougham side significantly negated by the roofline. And the sportiness of the roof style is compromised by the plasti-chrome brougham look and feel of the rest of the car. Referencing all the Aerobacks, not this one specifically.
I think partly because the Aeroback has no ass. It just keeps on sloping all the way to the bumper.
You are correct! Plus, the roofline and the big, brutish rear bumper don’t integrate well at all.
If the Aerobacks were channeling the Torpedo cars of the 40’s, then at least there’s a logic to their design. With the SD-1 Rover, channeling the Ferrari Daytona’s design logic was a bit of a stretch.
No more so than the current North American Ford Fusion channeling Aston Martin’s design language, I guess.
I will say, the SD-1 did a very good job of it though.
Gee, I can think of somebody that needs to get this as a gift . . . . . . .
KiwiBryce is probably more right than he even realizes. Everyone believes that the Aerobacks look the way they do because of Bill Mitchell’s 1930s fetish, and that undoubtedly played a role in how they turned out… but when these cars were being developed, 4-door fastback styling was still hot in Europe and I’m sure that cars like the Princess, SD1 and Citroen CX/GS (another car that got away with looking like a hatchback despite not being one) were really the spark of inspiration behind this, and the Citation to an even greater extent. Of course, the finished product looked nothing like that! A beautiful car, it is not… but I’ve always thought these were the coolest version of the downsized A-body as well. FWIW, I do like the ’78-’80 Cutlass front end treatment much better than the later takes, and I also appreciate that GM tried some truly out-there things under the hood to match the styling. When the Cutlass fastback was new, you could order it with a diesel V8/5-speed manual combo. That’s drivetrain in a body that looks like this is one of those cars that doesn’t even seem like it could exist in our universe; something from an alternate dimension, like an IKA Torino or an Australian Falcon – familiar and impossible all at the same time (at least from an American perspective).
If only it had been an actual hatchback. Maybe they wouldn’t have sold any better, but it would have been a much better car for it. I’m with you, Perry – but we might be the only two, and I also completely agree that those wheels and whitewalls gotta go!
Did you read the disclaimer on the bottom right of that ad stating that the car is equipped with engines from various divisions? That is because GM tried to stick Chevy engines into the Olds Cutlasses and when the dyed in the wool Olds buyer opened up the hood of their new Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon or Supreme and saw a Chevy engine(most likely discovered because the Olds Rocket engine has the oil filler cap in the front of the engine) they had a Shit-cow
The base engine in these was the Buick 3.8 too, so there could be a variety of different things under the hood.
Here’s a couple other ads for the Oldsmobile. I couldn’t find any magazine ads for Buick’s version.
Perry, I’m also a fan of these cars. A friend’s older brother had a 442 version back in the day, and believe me there is nothing cooler than being in sixth grade and being given a lift to school by said brother who then departed with a tire squeal leaving a fresh patch in front of all the kids. I’d love to find a 2 dr version, 442 or not, just to relive those memories for a while…
Nice car, but it would look SO much better with the Super Stock color-keyed wheels and whitewalls. Like this Omega Brougham.
Actually, I’d rather have the Omega! The Aerobacks are interesting, but interesting like a Gremlin or Pacer; not interesting like a Cadillac Fleetwood or Colonnade Grand Prix!
It is amazing how much better an Olds from the 70’s and 80’s looks with the super stock wheels. Whenever I used to buy a Cutlass years ago that was the first upgrade to take place.
Aha! I knew I’d seen those wheels before: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/cc-cohort/cohort-sighting-1978-cutlass-salon-dig-those-crazy-wide-whitewall-tires/
Definitely worth a second look though.
Thank you, Tom – I thought I was going crazy or having a serious deja vu moment… I knew I had seen this same exact car somewhere before.
I was having the same experience. But what’s interesting is that the commenting went in quite different directions each time. In the previous one, it was all about white walls. This time, much more the design itself. It just goes to show how starting a conversation is just that. Where it goes is anyone’s guess.
WOW! I had no idea my cohort pictures had been used back then!
I also completely forgot about that older Flickr account.
Back in the early to mid 80’s my parents were shopping for a used car. I remember them looking at one of these in fairly decent shape. I hoped and prayed that they would not buy it because it seemed so ugly and I knew that It would be passed down to me when I got my driver’s license. They ended up not buying it much to my relief opting for a nice Buick Regal instead.
However, with the passage of time, they certainly look unique. I wouldn’t buy one or look for one but would drive it if given the opportunity.
Yuck. There is no such thing as a car manufactured after 1961 that looks good with wide whitewalls.
I remember reading somewhere when these came out that they were supposed to be hatchbacks but a last minute change of heart but the kibosh on that. It was too late to change the roofline so they ,in typical GM fashion went blindly ahead. Give the design it seems apparent that they should have been hatchbacks.
Looks neat enough, but I would not like that fixed rear seat glass. It does look like a 1980s interpretation of a 1948 Chevy Fleetline Sedan. I agree the Ohio Valley is a steamy place to be and made me feel like I was back in an Orange, Texas Summer. That Valley is even more muggy than Central New York.
Back in the 70’s there were more influences than just “Broughams”. It’s been my belief that these were designed to have a “Euro” feel to them and be perceived as a VW Dasher alternatives. As their newly smaller size put them in the same(ish) size class. Maybe GM felt that they could capture the attention of a few euro-snob buyers, & snag some conquest sales?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a fan of these cars. I’d have one in a moment, although I’d probably want to do something about the malaise-era smog motor…
I’d go for one in that metallic brown they all seemed to be painted in, along with the GR-78 14 tires on the Super Stock wheels…
MMMmmmm… Love me some Aeroback!
Someone get that poor black Cutlass a correct front bumper, STAT! I’m okay with the sedans but very much like the 2-door Aerobacks, especially the Century. The rear package tray accomodates 6×9 speakers unlike the A-specials & sedans…which only had room for the wimpy 4x10s.
I’d be a player on an ultra elusive 79-80 Century Turbo Coupe.
Oh, definitely! The rear spoiler really transforms those…although the only one I’ve ever seen was in print.
Oh yes, now that you mention it, I see that’s the wrong bumper on that car…
Dang you, Google Images! 🙂
Pulling the 260 Olds and instead inserting a nice fresh Rocket 350 or 403 would be a perfect swap out.
Could these bodies have been planned with NASCAR in mind? Like the Monte Carlo Aeroback a few years later?
the hatchlessback look was quite the thing in Europe; Alfasud, GS, Pug 104, Allegro, Princess, all did this; as did the Honda Civic (which, as with the 104, quickly saw the error of its ways, Alfasud and GSA joined in later). There were doubtless others!
Nice article and pictures. My own view, without any knowledge of what was actually going thru the minds of the Roger Smith crew at GM, was that the goal was to spin as many different body styles off the platform as they could – whether they were good looking or functional was not part of the decision criteria – only maximize the investment.
I think this body style is horribly ugly – and that’s even if it was in pure factory condition without the wide whites. It reminds me of an early 80s version of the Pontiac Aztec – it’s what Walter White would have drove if Breaking Bad was set in that decade……..
If GM was trying to recapture the fastback look of the late 40s-early 50s, we should remember that notchbacks outsold them back then as well. There is a reason that the Chevy Fleetline disappeared (and it was a heckuva lot better looking than this.)
A girlfriend I had in the 80s got one of these from her grandfather (of course). Light yellow with that horrible lightish brown interior. There was nothing I liked about that car.
At first glance I thought the headline said “arresting aardvark,” which kind of made sense. The wide whitewalls look very wrong on this car, though.
My take on these cars at the time, accurate or not, was that GM in this era was terrified to design anything without a straight line. The expressive curves and sculpted sides of the early 1970s conveyed waste, while straight lines conveyed efficiency and seriousness of purpose. Simplistic, perhaps, but I do think that is where the minds of many designers as well as buyers were at the time. So GM said, “Golly, we can keep our straight lines and still get a kind-of fastback out of this, and no one will think we’re being wasteful!” That the design WAS wasteful—of trunk space, at least—was the inconsistency, but this was supposed to be overlooked, I guess.
Very well put.
Im clearly in the minority here, but I think this car does have a bit of appeal. Its ugliness and awkwardness at least make it INTERESTING, unlike the later models which went for straight up stodgy. At least GM took a few risks with this thing and that makes it kinda cool.
That said, the wheels and tires on this example are a total eyesore. If youre a pimp, then it fits the theme but wouldn’t a Seville be more appropriate? I agree on mounting up some rallyes/superstocks. Say what you want about GM, but whoever was designing some of their wheels from the late 69s right up to the mid 90s was nailing it.
They really did screw the pooch by not making this a full on hatchback though. ‘regular’ sedans are all but useless AND boring, this is just useless but with some visual point of interest. Daniel’s photo-chop does cleanse it up a LOT. I think that trunk treatment with the smoothed front clip of that aero-coupe Monte would be the hot ticket.
I was too young at the time to appreciate these on the road, until later when I was older. I thought these were interesting, but, why did they fix the rear door windows from rolling down? That would have turned me away as a buyer, myself. Here’s a nice beauty shot from a catalogue.
Marky Mark: I think the fixed-rear-window “feature”, which was used across all GM divisions for the RWD A-bodies, was an attempt to free up a little extra elbow room while saving a few bucks. It was probably tolerable as long as the AC worked, or if the front occupants also wanted ventilation (the rear vent windows would have created a decent cross breeze). But I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the back on a hot day with only a vent window behind me for air; that would suck, literally. As far as I know, the only other car maker to try this on 4 door cars was Chrysler, on the 1981-82 K-cars; they switched to roll-down windows after customers complained.