Regularly seeing the same car for almost 40 years is uncommon, but it’s an experience I have enjoyed with this 1974-75 Oldsmobile Cutlass Vista Cruiser wagon. The house where I spent most of my childhood starting in December 1975 is within walking distance, which I still drive by this Olds each time I visit my parents four decades later. Once common and easy to ignore, this wagon has become a distinctive part of the scenery that will be missed when it eventually goes away.
The Colonnade-body Vista Cruiser of 1973-77 was a sad ending to a classic nameplate, a Vista Cruiser in name only. Instead of the elevated roof with panoramic skylight windows that gave the original Vista Cruiser its name, the new “Colonnade” Cruiser was no more than a higher trim version of the Cutlass Supreme wagon with a narrow pop-up glass window over the front seat that gave hardly any light or ventilation.
How hard would it have been to install a full-width sliding panel, as pioneered by Nash in 1937?
Both versions shared the inherent drawbacks of the Colonnade A-Body wagon design, whose liftgate was less versatile than a three-way tailgate, heavy and difficult to open as its struts became weaker with age, and which sacrificed cargo space with its steep forward slope. This particular Vista Cruiser, however, evades any criticism of its design by surviving for so long in drivable condition.
It is appropriate that my latest sightings of this Olds wagon have occurred in the 1986 Custom Cruiser that I bought for my drive to Gambia, which has now also become an indispensable aid in helping my mother to move out of the house that we moved into in 1975. During each trip, its cargo area, laid out during the 1970s to hold standard 4×8 sheets of plywood, has hauled away small pieces of furniture, crates full of family heirlooms, and old junk that is worthless but which I cannot bear to throw away. The two wagons are long-separated cousins from Lansing, born off of similar platforms just over a decade apart, one a constant presence in my childhood and the other very much a part of my life today.