“Patina” and “provenance” have been flogged so mercilessly by cable TV auction announcers that they might as well be food words, words that leave me feeling a vague dread as if I’ve done something wrong, words such as “moist,” “tender,” “juicy,” “succulent,” “decadent.” Shiver… Regardless of the tired and lazy words used to describe it, give me a car with a memoir worth reading any day over anything with a chalk mark restoration. Since when does an old car have to be free of flaws to deserve our affection? I prefer to call any car or owner of such a car a member of the 20-footer club. This is in no way a cut down.
The patina *ugh* trend has been, I think, good for the hobby, because your average car person is no longer embarrassed by their car’s flaws, as if they should have been in the first place; this website’s love for the well-loved and well-used car is an example of that.
I’m a card carrying member of the 20-footer club. Using Old Cars Weekly’s 1-6 Collector Car Rating System, the low-3, high-4 lunch table is my purview (notice that Old Cars Weekly also refers to the 20-footer). These aren’t beaters, but any concours guy wearing khaki pants would be as disgusted with my love for the high-4 as I am with food words. That’s why I walked at a brisk pace, no…ran toward this ’64 Cutlass. I just knew that these were my people. This car is PERFECT.
It sat next to a very similar convertible, but the coupe in its Tahitian Yellow may as well have been emitting pheromones. I was lucky not to walk right into cross traffic after seeing the little chips in its paint. Although it too was not a show car, I barely looked at the convertible, and I really, really like deep reds. It just didn’t give off the same vibe.
Lest you think that I’m a rat rod guy or something, I want to reiterate that a 20-footer is different. It’s got to look good from a distance. It can’t be rolling trash. It can’t be held together with baling wire and a prayer. This Cutlass is a classic example: The paint MAY be original, but it’s more likely a repaint from 40-odd years ago that now shows its age.
It looks like some wheel lip trim is missing. If this were a Michigan car, I would have guessed it had corroded and fallen off somewhere on I-475 in 1973, but this car has been more fortunate.
It has a Missouri inspection sticker from 1988. I hear that Missouri also makes a spectacle out of salting its roads, but a car from the Show Me State has a far better chance of showing up in one piece than anything from what was then called the “Water-Winter Wonderland.”
Digression: I’ve mentioned before that the 1964-67 General Motors A-Body may be the best old car ever. At the risk of offending their owners (of whom I am one), they are not really the best at anything, but they’re pretty good at almost everything (except maybe brakes). Their squarish styling still looks crisp today, their powertrains were all durable and reasonably powerful, their suspensions were simple and effective, and their interiors were well-trimmed and roomy(ish). The aftermarket is well-stocked with suspension and driveline upgrades if one feels they need upgrading, but even in factory trim the A-Body is a relatively modern feeling old car.
I drove this 20-footer (40-something-year-old cracked lacquer, pitted trim, etc.) on a hundred-mile round trip to attend the car show where I saw the Cutlass. When I got home, I said out loud, “this is the best old car ever.” And I’ve owned it for 18 years. I still can’t believe how good it is at simply being an old car.
Back to the Cutlass: With apologies for the psychedelic photograph, it has a bucket seat and console interior with a floor shift. The Cutlass came with a very good 330 cubic-inch Oldsmobile small block under the hood, although a Buick V6 was standard in the basic F-85. The floor shifter is most likely attached to a two-speed Jetaway automatic that Oldsmobile shared with Buick and Pontiac, although only Buick and Oldsmobile used a “switch-pitch” torque converter. It’s important to note that the B-O-P two-speed was NOT a Powerglide and was a significantly different design.
The Cutlass Holiday Hardtop was the second-best selling F-85 in 1964, a few thousand units behind the F-85 Deluxe Sedan. This beautiful, perfectly not perfect member of the 20-footer club explains why. Chances are good that its owner drove it many miles on the freeway at the speed limit to get to the show. When they pulled in the garage, chances are also good that they said “this is the best old car ever.” Welcome to the club.