Curbside Capsule: 1969 Cutlass S Convertible – Goodbye Sixties

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In honor of our slow re-run of the legendary Cutlass Chronicles, I’ve dug up pictures of this 1969 Cutlass S convertible that I took this past spring. It’s a very likable car, in spite of some major flaws: if you can’t tell from here, that’s not a very high quality repaint and the wheels are decidedly unappealing, too.  Shame.

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When taking pictures of the car, I got to talk to the owner and take some interior and underhood shots.  And whatever my impressions of the wheels and paint, this makes for a great illustration of the average mainstream offering from the muscle car era and also a good example of what would make the cars so popular in the coming decade: you could get a car with a prestige factor somewhat above that of the very similar Chevelle or LeMans in a wide variety of bodystyles, from an extra cool extended wheelbase wagon to this rather athletically proportioned ragtop.

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I’ve gotten flack for my love of 68-72 A-body sedans before, but I think all the A-bodies of this era are kinda hunky, even if they are also slightly soft around the edges.  One can look strong when a bit thicker than “ideal,” and the GM intermediates of the era are a good translation of that idea to four wheels (though I understand why someone might prefer their leaner predecessors).  I’ve mentioned before that Oldsmobile might’ve been well served by gleaning some inspiration for this aggressive era during their final, import-chasing years but on the other hand, few cars of the ’90s looked like they would steal your lunch money, and I’m sure Olds didn’t want to appear antisocial.

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The ’69 Cutlasses got a pretty cool rear-end styling treatment; the fussier set-ups from 70-72 seem to be more popular, but I like this simpler look with the inset taillights a lot better.  Is there some jet-engine inspiration here or is it just me?

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Well, if not evident from the rear, these Olds logos show some jet plane influence.  This detail would also be gone the following year.  If I recall correctly, the owner wanted about $9,000 for the car, whose odometer showed 35,000 miles (who knows how many times its turned over).  This corner of the car makes a good example of why that’s too much to ask .

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Here’s an even better example.  I’m told the power top works and it looks relatively intact, but the same obviously can’t be said for the interior.  It’s hard to match the carefree conviviality of riding three-abreast in a convertible with a big V8 and this convertible would be a great way to be seen, even with that disgusting seat.

Cruising around during a balmy summer evening on the way to the local drive-in, with unburned hydrocarbons wafting into the passenger space, would be a supreme (pun intended) way to conjure up that high-octane late ’60s feel, so this Cutlass would make a fun $4,000 car in its current condition.

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Speaking of which, it looks like the engine’s gotten a few modifications, but it’s hard to know exactly what was done to it.  I can’t tell what engine is under the hood without any air cleaner labels or seeing what color the block is, but I’m guessing it’s a 350 with a four-barrel set-up.

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The shift quadrant showed D,S, and L, so this car has the Turbohydramatic option (it was the final year for the Jetaway two-speed) and as it backs a V8 of a full 5.7 liters from the days of high-compression, I’m sure it makes for a more than satisfying combination in this chassis, even if it was not out-right fast.

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If the increasingly bejeweled Cutlass Supremes of the ’70s became America’s sweethearts, this Cutlass S provides a nice contrast to Brougham-inspired understanding of Cutlass many remember today.  Compared to the GTOs and Chevelle SSs with which it competed, this convertible sibling offers a dapper touch to temper their testosterone-laced aesthetic without looking effete.  As such, it represents a highly appealing middle ground as well as a textbook example of GM’s soon-obsolete marketing prowess.  Though the additional glitz of the Supreme would win out in the seventies and early eighties, there would be sad attempts to recapture the magic of cars like this over the following decades.  Don’t let the green paint fool you.

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