Oldsmobile had a long and storied history before its I suppose timely demise due to lack of interesting and unique product as well as a general loss of distinct purpose. But many of us coming of driving age in the 1980’s will remember a very long stretch of time that the midsize Cutlass Ciera was ubiquitous on our streets, with the herds really thinning out within the last decade or so. So seeing this first-year 1984 wagon, the Cutlass Cruiser, was a bit of a surprise.
The Ciera line (and that of its sisters) had started production for the 1982 model year in Doraville, Georgia; the newly downsized Cutlass Cruiser wagon was introduced and added to that line a couple of years later for 1984. These A-bodies were of course derived from the X-body platform (i.e. the Citation) and over a long run of some fifteen seasons were sold through 1996 as the Olds Cutlass Ciera and Cutlass Cruiser, Buick Century, Pontiac 6000 and of course the Chevy Celebrity.
1996, the final year, finally saw Olds drop the Cutlass part of the name, likely to save a few pennies on the badging. All were FWD with the exception of one version of the Pontiac 6000 sedan which offered an AWD option. Imagine if AWD was offered across the divisions and in wagon form, perhaps they would have sold in even greater numbers. Opportunity wasted.
Fifteen years is an eternity in the car business and with the running start that GM got practicing on the X-body warm-up act, it’s no big surprise that by the end (OK, quite a while beforehand) they had really figured it out and these ended their run as generally excellent vehicles from a reliability and durability standpoint even if they were heavily outclassed well before the end in most other respects. Still, they were big enough and most importantly could be produced cheaply enough to for the most part keep both buyer and producer happy.
Like many families across the United States, mine owned one as well, in our case a well worn 1985 (I think) Celebrity wagon with the Iron Duke (uh, I meant Tech IV), tan vinyl interior and a suspicious odor. It was acquired pre-owned sometime in the early ’90’s. It was a very far cry from this exceedingly well equipped Oldsmobile that comparatively is dripping with luxury touches starting with the woodgrain siding, rear-most vent windows and wire-wheel covers, the last of which denoted real luxury and “you’ve arrived!” in 1980’s General Motors marketing psyche.
This one even has a very ornate hood ornament that retains all of its original luster.
I don’t fully understand how GM can bundle that ornate ornament with the modernist rocket image peppered around the rest of the car though. The rocket is cool. The hood ornament is Grandma but might look good as a tattoo on Johnny Depp or similar. But they don’t go together. This one seems to have been a local its whole life ending up here less than ten miles from where it started out. Emich is still around but Olds obviously isn’t.
Of course the Olds Cutlass Ciera line is also very well remembered for its role in the Coen Brothers’ film Fargo, where car salesman Jerry Lundegaard is scheming using his dealership’s fleet of Cieras. A subplot has him selling one and getting into a debate with his buyer regarding the “TruCoat”, a coating that the buyer doesn’t want to pay for but “they put that on at the factory” and “we can’t sell it without it”. The DiamondCoat on this one may not be called TruCoat but as we all know it does the exact same thing to the paint, i.e. absolutely nothing.
This Olds wagon is powered by the Buick 3.0 liter V6, putting out a respectable for the day 110hp and 145lb-ft of torque. The Klein Family Celebrity’s crappy Iron Duke (excuse me, I meant to say crappy Tech IV) produced more noise than power but was also available here, this owner made the wise choice.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but cars with bordello red interiors seem to hold up better than anything else seen in the junkyard. Just look at that velour, it almost (almost) makes one want to strip down and lay on it. So decadent. And so (seemingly) clean and filth repellent, the red hue could contain anti-microbial properties. Perhaps the DiamondCoat comes as an interior protectant as well, if so then maybe it works after all.
It looks pretty loaded from here, although there was a trip computer option with center console available at one point, I am not certain it was for 1984 or in the Olds wagon. Power windows and doors, a power driver’s seat, woodgrain dash, split bench seat, all the modern conveniences.
It’s 1984, why isn’t the owner’s manual on a floppy disk ready to be inserted into your Radio Shack TRS-80 or Commodore VIC-20? Oh yeah, not everybody had an 80 column card installed and only about 512 bytes of memory. Better just to depict it on the cover, so futuristic!
It’s missing a CB and possibly the optional “Rally Fun Pack” as in Clark Griswold’s Antarctic Blue Sports Wagon, but everything else is here. A full set of gauges without blanks, virtually unheard of in Junkyard GM finds! The rear window defroster. A/C. It’s all here.
I wonder if the owner’s grandson was practicing neutral drops and killed it, that RPM gauge needle stuck at almost 6000RPM well into the red zone of the tach (in an Olds) is a bit scary. 83,203 miles are showing, it could well be 100k more but the interior is so clean, perhaps not…
That steering wheel design is a bit of an abomination though, who thought that looked good with the Olds logo trying to slide off the bottom there? Lots of dash vents but nothing for the crotch anymore. There’s even fake stitching around the padded areas of the dash and the wheel’s horn pad, foreshadowing the look in many cars today.
The Delco Stereo Cassette unit with Forward and Reverse buttons as well as Bass and Treble controls looks like the fancy unit for 1984 and that HVAC controller was of course ubiquitous across virtually every product in the GM stable.
The back seat is even more pristine than the front, if a bit out of place due to the workers looking for coins or whatever underneath. Ooh, the rear passengers each get their own ashtray as well.
Going back around to the rear, it’s not an unattractive design at all. I don’t fault Toyota or Volvo for their boxy 80’s designs so really can’t complain about this either. I sort of like it, actually, just a shame the “wood” is peeling.
The keys were in the ignition where Junior probably left them after the last neutral drop, so let’s see if they work back here. Use the round key and twist left to open the glass only, or right for the whole tailgate. What shall we do?
We turned it to the right and holy crap is the tailgate heavy, the struts probably wore out in the mid 90’s and weren’t replaced. But there’s quite a bit of room back here without the descending roofline seen in too many of today’s wagons and CUV’s.
And look at that, Old-Skool 8-passenger seating (3/3/2) even if the last two are the wrong way around with a handy footwell to catch the vomit from the littles, who needs a Suburban? Note the total of two headrests in the car and they seem the same as what was in the Klein Family 1977 Pontiac Ventura if I’m remembering correctly with that blade-like shaft.
This badging always astounded me, I can’t really think of a car that appears less internationally flavored than the Olds Ciera lineup. What’s curious is the omission of Japan’s flag (Ok, not really curious, it was the 80’s and the domestics were getting creamed by the Japanese) but if there is one country that seems to appreciate this car today, although in Buick form, it would be Japan. But why is Belgium on there? And Italy? Dude….
There’s a special feel. I guess that’ll do.
Related Reading about Cutlass Cruisers in happier circumstances