One of my primary missions at CC has been to document the decline and death of the big American car. I identified women (and their children) as the primary agents of that extermination, but they needed effective weapons in order to carry out their genocide. There were plenty to be had, starting with the imports in the second half of the ’50s, the domestic compacts starting in 1960, and the intermediates, which came into their own during the years 1962-1964. And for good measure, there was the Mustang and its ilk, starting in 1964. Lots of strong, sharp and very lethal weapons at that. Is it any surprise that the Olds Cutlass eventually became the most effective weapon of all, slashing its way to the top of the US sales charts for the first time in 1975?
We’ve documented the rise (and fall) of the Cutlass in all its generations here (CCCCC). But of course it wasn’t just the Cutlass, as it also had a more modest sibling, the F-85. Finding this delightfully original and gently patinated ’66 F-85 DeLuxe Holiday Coupe gives us a chance to ponder once more how this all transpired.
The whole story is encapsulated in this composite image; Olds coupes from 1946 to 1986, all in model years ending in the numeral 6. The key number is in their lengths, which vary no more than 7 inches from shortest (1986: 196″) to the longest, which ironically is the 1966 midsize F-85, at 204.4″ ( For reference, the 1946 is 204″, the 1956 is 203.3″, the 1976 is
200 “update: it’s 211.7″, so a bit outside of the parameters but still significantly shorter than the 227″ 1976 88).
What does this tell us about Americans’ preference for passenger cars in the 195-204” range? The sweet spot? Pretty much everything.
And of course it explains why the market share of the big full-sized RWD American cars dropped so precipitously, starting in 1957.
The new ’57 Olds (1958 shown) made the first jump out of that length range, with a 208″ overall length. But that was just the starting point. Not surprisingly, by 1958 the revolt against the big car was fully under way.
The 1966 88 coupe, like this one shot by Joseph Dennis, was still around 217″. That jumped to 220″ in 1971, and topped out at 227″ in 1976. By which time big car’s share of the market was down to the teens, for the first time ever.
If I’ve done my job well, this is all old news to you by now, and not very happy ones, to those lovers of really big cars. But the numbers tell the story, much better than my endless words on the subject.
Here’s the numbers in graphic form of how the F85 and Cutlass caught up and beat the 88 (all 88 versions) by 1967. And then never looked back, leaving its older and larger sibling in the rear view mirror. That’s the key element of this car’s story, in terms of its place in the changing landscape of the market.
So how about we take a closer look at this particular F-85 DeLuxe Holiday Coupe? What strikes me most of all visually is how much it looks like a full size car. And it’s not for the first time I’ve felt that the F-85/Cutlass of this ’66-’67 generation does that impersonation better than any other I can think of. I doubt I’m the only one who felt that way in 1966, hence its growing popularity.
Its not inconsiderable 204″ of length draped on a 115″ wheelbase means penalty of overhang, especially at the rear, enhancing that big car look.
The front end is transitional, between the rather simple one on the ’65s, and the even more deeply sculpted ’67, with the headlights set apart (unlike the Delmont 88 the other day, all the ’67 F-85s and Cutlasses had the wide-set headlights).
Which leads to another question: why the “F” in “F-85”? A reference to the F-series fighter planes that were the big thing during the Cold War? There had been an Olds F-88 Futurama-mobile.
Or was it in reference to the fact that the original plans for Olds’ 1961 compact included front wheel drive? The Olds engineers had built a 60 degree V6 and FWD transaxle for what was to be the ’61 F-85. It was scotched, undoubtedly for being too expensive and not yet fully developed. But FWD work continued, and led to the 1966 Toronado.
This is an F-85 DeLuxe, which makes it analogous in general terms to the Chevelle Malibu, meaning nice quality quilted/rolled/pleated vinyl upholstery, and commensurate details in the interior and exterior. This F-85 DeLuxe Holiday V8 Coupe cost $2583, compared to $2484 for the Malibu, or 4% more. That rather modest additional amount bought quite a bit, when one considers that the F-85 clearly says “Oldsmobile” in its more extravagant styling and a number of details, as well as a more attractive instrument panel.
The Cutlass turned it up a notch, with even nicer vinyl upholstery and a large center folding arm rest in front. Bucket seats were optional.
The base V8, with 330 cubic inches and 250 hp was decidedly beefier than the 283/195 V8 in the base Malibu, and equivalent to the optional 327/250.
An optional 320 hp 4 barrel high compression version of the 330 V8 upped the ante considerably. And of course the 4-4-2 package was available on any F-85/Cutlass coupe or convertible, as it was a package, not an actual model.
The six cylinder, which was chosen by all of 1,002 F-85 DeLuxe Holiday Coupe buyers, was the Chevy 250 six. There was some talk of using the 60 degree V6 developed for the still-born FWD F-85 in 1984, when the new A-Bodies arrived, as a counterpart to Buick’s 90 degree V6 as used in their Special/Skylark, but in the end it was more expedient to just use the Chevy six. Good call, as the percentage of buyers opting for a six in cars like this was dropping rapidly, thanks to improved real wages and ever cheaper gas, in adjusted terms.
The Jetaway automatic was a two speed, but had a switch pitch torque converter that compensated somewhat with additional torque amplification when starting off.
Of course the main stylistic feature of all of GM’s restyled ’66 A-Bodies was the tunnelback roof.
That stylistic feature seems to have first seen the light of day on this superb 1954 Ferrari 375 MM coupe especially commissioned by director Roberto Rossellini from Pininfarina for his wife, the actress Ingrid Bergman. Those were the days…
And I’m seeing the ’56 Corvette’s front fender scallops too. GM owes a huge debt of gratitude to Sr. Farina.
Mustn’t forget the rear seat. Was it really worth springing for an extra 7.4% markup for the Cutlass version?
I would say not, as the lack of the Cutlass’ chrome side trim looks cleaner and actually more upscale.
I found this just a couple of weeks ago across the street from Home Depot, and it’s sporting a California license plate. I wouldn’t be surprised if it spent most of its life in San Diego, as the climate there has to be the most benign of any in the country, for both cars and people. Perpetually mild.
Which would explain the exceptionally even and almost artistic patina on its skin. It’s bronzed, but not ravaged from the sun. Its owner most have made sure it had plenty of sun screen on.
The patina reminds me of our copper kitchen counters, which develop a wonderful mottled patina. I love this car, most of all for its superb original condition and its patina.
I’ve run out of things to say, except that this was probably my best find of 2020, at least so far. This is a curbside classic in its ultimate expression.
Which is why I couldn’t stop shooting it.
One more for good measure: