I consider myself an “Oldsmobile Man” from an Oldsmobile family. However, there’s one model that managed to remain completely foreign to us: At no time in the family history did anyone own the second-generation baby bear Oldsmobile. Somehow, the burgeoning phenomenon of Cutlass domination bypassed our family’s Oldsmobility.
Oddly, the first Cutlass to come into the family was the somewhat controversial first generation. In May of 1963, at the age of 45, my Aunt Rosana decided to take up driving. Scared of the sheer mass of the big Oldsmobiles, but nevertheless enchanted by their styling, she chose a Cutlass Coupe. But as jpcavanaugh has often noted, the wee lil’ Olds could be a bit troublesome on those hot summer days in Port Arthur. Many “HOT” warning lights later, it was replaced with a 1967 Delmont 88.
More typical family purchases comprised endless streams of Eighty-Eights and, occasionally Ninety-Eights throughout the rest of the 1960s. Particularly legendary was my Uncle Lawrence’s 1964 Super 88. The stout 394 and apparently trouble-free Roto-Hydramatic made many a believer out of relatives who converted from Chevys and Fords.
My dad appears to be the lone heretic. He’d started with a Corvair 500 sedan, but by 1969 had fallen in love with “Mopar methodology” in the form of a cherry 1962 Dodge Lancer GT. His later embrace of Oldsmobility did not come without a bit of resistance: He broke ranks and bought a two-year-old 1968 Cutlass ‘S.’ As the second youngest sibling (at 22), he signaled where Oldsmobile would find its greatest success in the American auto marketplace of the 1970s.
You’re probably wondering, “And what has all that to do with our featured second-generation Cutlass?” Allow me to make a point from Paul’s excellent chronicle of the Cutlass nameplate: The second-generation was the seed, not the flower. Although the Cutlass was popular enough it became, to borrow a contemporary pop-culture reference, a “Supreme” in 1964.
After quite a few false starts between 1961 and 1963, both the baby Oldsmobile and the Supremes started hitting their stride in 1964. It wasn’t long before the Cutlass and Diana Ross became the focus of their respective lineups.
By 1966, both Ross and the Cutlass were rising stars. Sometimes I can’t help but think that the choice of “Supreme” for the fancy new Cutlass four-door hardtop had something to do with the rise of America’s new sweethearts. The Cutlass proved it had the wattage to shine among even the brightest stars. The same could also be said of Miss Ross, as rumors of her going solo started swirling.
By 1970, The Cutlass nameplate had left the F-85 nameplate in the dustbin of history. The post- Diana Ross Supremes fared a little better than the F-85 badge, but not by much; in fact, their respective story arcs seem to run in parallel. Both the Cutlass Supreme and the ex-Supreme triumphed in popularity and sales for the next decade-and-a-half.
So what made these such good seeds for success? The reasons were several. Though not as technologically sophisticated as their predecessors, they were extremely well-crafted, sensible and sprightly. And while perhaps not as pretty as their Special/Skylark cousins, they still are decidedly handsome cars–especially in Cutlass Coupe guise, whose “Junior Starfire” theme was carried over from the previous year.
It probably helped that unlike their predecessors, they didn’t attempt to be a thesis on what a sensible American car should be: A perimeter frame had replaced the unibody. The first New-Generation Rocket V8 did with cast-iron and cubic inches what turbocharging (at the time) could not accomplish. And paralleling Chevy’s Malibu line, their size recalled the un-bloated Eighty Eight of a decade before.
Although I love the first F-85/Cutlasses, I can’t help but like this generation too. My only real pet peeve involves the infernal Jet-Away two-speed automatic, especially considering that three-speed automatics had become pretty much universal at Ford and Chrysler. When it comes to motivating the car’s roughly 3,000 lbs, I’m sure the 290 hp, 330 cu in V8 performs admirably, despite being one cog short (which presaged the penny pinching that would eventually undermine this star-in-the-making).
The overall competence and class of these Cutlasses generated good word-of-mouth and built a reputation so good as to be extolled on this very website nearly 50 years later. It can be said fairly that if not for the heavy lifting done by this Cutlass, the Colonnade era cars would never have had it so easy. In fact, they wouldn’t have had a reputation to hang their vinyl roofs on.
I can imagine the 1975 Cutlass looking through the mirror at its 1964 incarnation, then starting to sing: “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” Perhaps a look from the perspective of time passed could have prevented it from falling so far from grace after such a heady rise to the top.
As Ms. Ross might have put it, “Reflections of…the way it used to be.”
This is one of my very favorite Oldsmobiles (and one of my very favorite cars). And your excellent write-up does it justice. As I remarked earlier, aside from the color, this car is an identical twin to the one I grew up with.
After a moderately troublesome 1961 F-85 wagon, my parents bought a brand new dark green Cutlass Holiday hardtop, complete with bucket seats and a console and the same deluxe wheelcovers on this car (which were shared, I believe, with the Ninety Eight). I recall my father saying that the dealer did not have an air conditioned one with buckets, and they figured that they could live without the air.
My mother drove that car into 1972, and it was one of the best anywhere in the extended family. The 330 with the 4 bbl carb was fast and started so easily that the original battery lasted for 7 years. This generation of Cutlass was also one of the least rust-prone cars built. When Mom bought a new car, she sold the 64 (with about 60K on it) to her nephews at a steep family discount, and they drove the car for another several years.
I am probably biased, but the 64 is the best looking of all of the Cutlasses until the 72 Cutlass Supreme coupe (which this car was replaced with). I can appreciate the front of the 65, but the rear of the 65 was a definite downgrade. Although the Tempest/GTO may have been a bit more attractive, I would place this car second among the GM intermediates. I remember the satisfaction I felt when the Cutlass became so popular in the 1970s, that we were Cutlassing before Cutlassing was cool.
This is just a sharp nicely proportioned car. It really does seem to be almost the perfect size.
I really wish someone would start making “right” sized two door cars again. Simple rwd and a small V8. Even with CAFE it should be possible to turn something like this out for a reasonable price with reasonable mpg. I’ll bet a LS1 transplant and a 6speed auto would make it a nice performer with mpg in the upper 20’s on the highway.
Oh well, I can dream.
You’re living in the past. A couple of years from now, upper 20’s gas mileage will be the equivalent of owning a Hummer H2 ten years ago. By future standards, the car you’re dreaming of is an overweight, gas-hogging pig.
Do you really think so? I know there are cars that are supposed to get great mileage now, I average over 40mpg in my Cruze, but it seems like most cars are realistically still getting mid 20’s in daily driving. My 2000 Trans Am could get 24 mpg religiously, and would easily push 27 on long highway trips.
Not trying to disagree, I just don’t see things getting all that much better like people think they are. Heck, my wife gets 24 ave in her Grand Prix, and my mother gets 22 ave i her Regal T…I think cars have bloated quicker than fuel tech has caught up. It seems like all of the long term cars the magazines test these days only pull mid 20’s for average.
You are probably right and I’m living in a dream world. I look forward to the day that I don’t have to choose a car for mpg for personal finance reasons and can daily drive something more fun…oh well.
That sounds like a pipe dream, but maybe not…The Chevy Code130r showcar from last year’s detroit auto show comes to mind. It’s smaller, but still about as old school as one could hope for in the modern era.
Well, I think Philhawk has a brilliant idea. And there’s no reason such an architecture can’t become diesel/hybrid etc as needed to meet newer emissions and mileage standards. But all of the Big Three have suitable RWD platforms, in the form of Mustang, Camaro and Challenger, and could in fact leverage them over much higher volumes if offered with more space-efficient two door coupe packaging than the pony car versions. Keep them modern, with a few retro touches, and name them Cougar or Comet, Cutlass or LeMans, and perhaps Valiant or Duster. Oh, I guess that part wouldn’t work … never mind. But I think the cars could do very well. After all, RWD with traction and stability control is as good or better in slick conditions than FWD, and with the IRS on some of these platforms (and coming soon to all, I have read) the packaging can be roomier than with all the space needed for a live rear axle to go up and down. Add a high-tech turbo V6 and they might even cannibalize pony car sales. And I sure see a heck of a lot of Mustangs around.
Heresy! I would never replace an Olds with a Chevy engine as the Rockets were durable and buildable. I would agree that if you must stray from stock, the 2 speed Jetaway would have to be a casualty. Since Olds blocks are pretty much the same, a built 394, 425 or 455 would make this Cutlass a mondo-sleeper. I also enjoy the San Francisco setting. The Bay Area is FULL of clean, everyday driver classics. More so in the East Bay.
My dad drove a 4-door version of these f-85s in the late 60s, It’s still sitting out behind the barn. Just one of the many Oldsmobiles our family has had over the years.
Cool piece ! I like the connection between detroit iron and detroit music, being a bass player J.Jamerson it’s my hero ! My favorite Cutlasses are the ’68-’72 2 door ones, some of the most pleasant american cars of their time to me…
I just read that Chrysler is introducing a special “Berry Gordy” (Motown founder) edition of the 300.
My first car was a 1965 Cutlass post with a 4bbl 330, power steering and a Jetaway transmission. It was stolen in 2004 and this summer I started looking for another and found a couple but were rusty relics. I just missed a super clean mildly modded 64 442 by about two hours. My disappointment and self flagellation lasted about two weeks until I found my current ride.
thanks. I’m not really a big fan of Buicks but this one was too clean and had zero rust.
Back then my friend had a 64 El Camino then a 68 Chevelle followed by a 65 Ranchero. My little brother had a 68 Mustang. The build quality on my Cutlass (especially the interior) was higher than all of them and the 330 was a surprisingly strong performer after I swapped in a th350.
oh and how many other cars brazenly display the size of their carbon footprint right there on the side?
’68 Deuce and a quarter. Undoubtedly a 430. Understated elegance. In the old days, the old money drove big Buicks. Caddies were too flashy or gauche.
Excellent article. I enjoyed all the references to The Supremes; very apt, especially “Reflections.”
Once I drove a ’65 442. I still remember, besides the power, how well it cornered. It was one of the very few cars to have a rear stabilizer bar. More sophisticated than the GTO, but for some reason much less popular.
The comparative success of the GTO and 4-4-2 represents sort of an object lesson in the power of merchandising. Pontiac was just much savvier about appealing to the youth market with tie-ins like the Hurst shifter and stunts like the legendary Car and Driver road test. At the outset, Olds was a little too polite — the small block ’64 4-4-2, for instance, was clearly an effort to do a GTO-type car without playing fast and loose with corporate policy the way Pontiac had with the GTO (the 389 technically violating the “no more than 330 cid in an A-body” rule). By the time Olds (under Harold Metzel and John Beltz) got into the swing of things, Pontiac had all the momentum.
Still give me the Olds, the gentleman’s muscle car.
A beauty and I love the association with the charming young Supremes.
Just a play on “Come See About Me” being the #1 song in the Country around Christmas 1964. Seemed appropriate.
That’s me about 45 years ago in front of Dad’s F-85, complete with dog-dish hubcaps. Replaced in 1967 with a brand new Cutlass Holiday Coupe.
The F-85 was great, honest car of its day, especially the later ones with the 330 V-8 and disk brakes. I don’t think the lack of a three speed auto matters much in a car that makes something more than 300 lb/ft of torque at less than 2000 RPM, in car that only weighed like 3000 lbs.
These cars were very well made, with excellent materials in the interior of the car. It was the actual structure of the car was as weak as they could get away with. In fact they touted the willowy structure as a soft ride feature.
Pretty sure Cutlasses didn’t have optional disc brakes until long after the 330 was upsized to 350 cubes, Olds even saw fit to send the front heavy Toronado out to market with drums at all four corners….
I had one with the 2spd Jetaway. One night trying to impress some girl I held it in 1st gear too long and blew out the front pump dumping all of the fluid over watt ave. I replaced it with a th350 and it made a world of difference. it was like driving a different car.
Disc brakes were optional in 1967 and the 330 was still available. The 350 didn’t arrive until 1968. btw there were two different versions of the 330. The first one had a pushrod angle of 45 degrees and the 2nd version had them at 39 degrees and the heads are not interchangeable without work.
The ’64 was always my favorite Cutlass, and it was sad to see it morph into the pathetic, slow and sloppily-built thing that was our ’78 Gutless. Good article.
LJ, I always enjoy your writing and hope to read it more frequently. To paraphrase Ms. Ross, “Laurence Jones, you’ve been gone too long.”
I had one of 4 (5 counting a Vista Cruiser and a car parted out in Cottage Grove that I got parts off of) in the Eugene area from 2006 to 2012. Anyone remember a red & white 2-door hardtop with the “CLFFRD” vanity plate? Was my car, sold to a restorer in Florida after it developed needs I couldn’t afford to fix.