“Mojave”: That was the name Oldsmobile bestowed on the rather shocking interior trim pictured above. It was one of two Native American-themed “Designer Interiors” available for select 1979 Cutlass models (the other pattern was called “Tahoe”). Both trims were a radical departure for the typically traditional Oldsmobile buyer, and are exceedingly rare today. So what possessed Olds to make such a move? Let’s roll out some educated guesses.
First, there was a surge in Native American imagery that spread through U.S. pop culture in the 1970s. One of the most iconic ad campaigns of the decade was “Keep America Beautiful,” a public service announcement calling for action in fighting litter and pollution. Central to the ads was the imagery of an American Indian, with a tear streaming down his cheek, as he surveyed the environmental devastation wrought on the U.S. countryside.
Ironically, Iron Eyes Cody, the actor who played the “Crying Indian” was in reality Espera Oscar de Corti. Of Sicilian descent, de Conti was born in Vermillion Parish, Louisiana, but figured out in early adulthood that playing a Native American was great for career advancement.
There were actual Native Americans who played to their heritage in the 1970s. One of the most famous was Cher, whose popularity soared to new heights with music and TV shows that called attention to her Cherokee lineage.
American Indian imagery even hit supermarket staples, including Mazola corn oil products, with a series of commercials featuring variations on the line: “you call it corn, we call it maize” that were seared into the American consciousness.
So it was no surprise that American automakers would want to get into the the culturally-trending American Indian mix. For example, in 1973 Chrysler offered up Special Edition Newport models finished in Navajo Copper with Navajo-cloth interior trim.
By 1979, Native American imagery was arguably past its 1970’s pop-cultural peak, but that didn’t stop Oldsmobile from introducing trim packages for the Cutlass that were “Inspired by America’s original designers.”
Perhaps Olds was responding to Pontiac’s bold Valencia striped velour interiors that were introduced as an option on the 1977 Bonneville Brougham and then continued for 1978 Bonneville models (though the trim was dropped for 1979, so popularity must have been fleeting). At $44 ($189 adjusted) the Valencia option was a slight premium over the standard velour trim.
Without question, in 1979 Oldsmobile was trying out extra-cost interior trims to further boost personalization (and division profits). In the Delta 88 Royale line, for example, Olds added a Brougham trim, with special divided-bench front seats and Laurentian Velour with pillowed upper-seatbacks. The extra-cost trim option listed for $155 ($582 adjusted). The Royale Brougham was a hit, with the package becoming a standalone Delta 88 model for 1980 and beyond.
In 1979, Olds also offered leather trim for the first time in a Cutlass Supreme Brougham, available in Carmine Red or Camel Tan for $264 ($990 adjusted). Likewise, it must have been popular with customers and lucrative for Olds, as leather trim remained on the Cutlass Supreme Brougham option list for years to come.
But undoubtedly the wildest of the extra-cost interiors were the Cutlass Designer Trims. The Camel Tan “Tahoe” was available on Salon Brougham 2- and 4-door sedans and Cruiser Brougham wagon models and cost $95 ($356 adjusted). The Black/Camel Tan “Mojave” could be ordered for Supreme Brougham coupes, and was priced at $125 ($469 adjusted).
Exterior color choices for the Cutlass Designer Trims was pretty limited. “Mojave” Supreme Brougham buyers had a choice of White with optional vinyl top treatments in White or Medium Beige, Black with optional vinyl top treatments in Black or Medium Beige, and Medium Beige with optional vinyl top treatments in Black or Medium Beige.
“Tahoe” Cutlass Salon buyers could pick White with optional White or Medium Beige vinyl top, Black with optional Black or Medium Beige vinyl top, and Medium Beige, Camel Metallic or Dark Brown Metallic with optional Medium Beige vinyl top. Cruiser Brougham Wagons with Tahoe trim can in those same 5 body colors, but with no options for vinyl roof coverings (Olds did not offer vinyl roof options for any wagon in 1979).
So, with limited color choices, truly wild upholstery patterns and premium pricing, can anyone be surprised that the Cutlass Designer Editions proved to be such a rare one-year-only option?
A search on Google yielded pictures of just two examples of 1979 Cutlass Supreme Broughams with Mojave interiors.
This Medium Tan/Black Vinyl landau top example hailed from Michigan. The aftermarket wing and wheels really make an unusual car even more strange.
This Black/Black landau Mojave was located in Green Bay Wisconsin. At some point the owner must have “augmented” the multi-colored interior by swapping out the stock Black carpet for a Camel Tan carpet.
The rest of the interior looks to be all original, and upholstery on the door panels and front seat backs shows how thoroughly Olds slathered the interior with Mojave patterned velour. According to the seller, this car was one of just 637 Cutlass Supreme Broughams produced with the Mojave Designer Interior for 1979.
I had guessed that maybe ½ of 1% of all Cutlass Supreme Broughams had been equipped with the Mojave trim. Given that 137,323 Supreme Broughams were produced for 1979, 0.5% would be a mere 689 cars, so perhaps I’m right on the money.
Now let’s use the same formula to guesstimate the Tahoe trim take-rate on the even lower production Salon Brougham and Cruiser Brougham models. Just 18,714 Salon Brougham Sedans and a scant 3,167 Salon Brougham Coupes were built for 1979. So applying the same ½ of 1% math to the 21,881 Salon Broughams units produced would dictate that only 112 “Aero-backs” came with Tahoe trim.
The odds weren’t much better for Cruiser Brougham Wagons with Tahoe interiors: a production run of 42,952 would yield just 215 units with such an estimated low take rate.
So finding any Cutlass with a “Tahoe” interior online proved to be almost futile. In fact, I found but one shot, in the Comments section of Curbside Classic from this December 28, 2011 post on a 1977 Pontiac Bonneville. Commenter GrangeRover added a pic from an eBay listing from around 2010 or so. And that is the only real life shot of any Cutlass “Tahoe” interior that I could find in my online search. Does anyone else have pics of Tahoe trim from an actual car?
As for Mojave trim, believe it or not, I have actually witnessed one in person, though it was many years ago. In 1986, when I was in college in Connecticut, I parked in a student parking lot that was also home to a Black/Black landau 1979 Cutlass Supreme Brougham—with Mojave interior! I didn’t directly know the girl who drove it—she was a different year and not in my social circle. While we would smile and wave at each other, I never had the gumption to ask her about the Mojave Supreme Brougham. Somehow asking about her car’s wild interior would have seemed like some sort of a bad pick-up line. So alas, I know no more details about that car, or what ultimately happened to it. But at least I did see an example of a 1979 Cutlass Designer Edition in the flesh with my own eyes.
How many of you have seen a ’79 Cutlass Designer Interior, in either Mojave or the potentially even more obscure Tahoe trim?