CCCCC Part 4: 1970 Cutlass S Coupe – The End Of An Era

(first posted 3/24/2011)       1970 marks a turning point in so many ways, especially for GM cars and the Olds Cutlass. The last year for high compression engines, it also marked the end of the dominance of the mid-size sporty coupe. This Cutlass S Coupe epitomizes all that perfectly, so let’s consider this a farewell to the carefree sixties, before the coming dullness would be masked by the Novocain of “luxury” that The Great Brougham Epoch offered as a substitute. The rise of the Cutlass Supreme was at hand; the sporty Cutlass would soon be a distant memory.

The real (turbo) thrust of the of the CC Complete Cutlass Chronicles is to document the rise of the Cutlass Supreme Coupe to the top of the sales charts. This started with the first distinct Supreme Coupe in 1970 (see related post). But first it had to overtake this sporty Cutlass S Coupe, which had been the top seller in the F-85/Cutlass line ever since its arrival in 1962. Olds had successfully tapped into the shift away from sedans to sporty coupes, and would then lead the charge again with “formal” (Supreme) coupes.  In 1970, this sporty Cutlass S coupe was enjoying its final year at the top of the Cutlass sales charts, so let’s give it its last hurrahs.

I’m obviously getting rusty on the grille details of vintage Cutlasses, because this particular car confused me briefly. Problem solved: it’s a 1970 Cutlass S coupe sporting a 442 grille insert and a W-30/W-31 hood with ram air intakes; a 442 wanna-be. Ok; not uncommon for cars of this vintage to sport a bit of confusing mix-and-match body parts.

CC 196 133 1200 crop

This body generation started in 1968, with a rather different front end, as seen on this ’68 Cutlass S coupe.

This one here is a genuine 442, a former CC centerfold.

Olds Cutlass 1969 W31 2_middle

Starting with 1969, Olds cultivated a new front end style that was only very slightly modified through 1972, and can be a bit of a pain to decipher.

The 1970 through 1972 coupes also got some cosmetic surgery to freshen the look, including that little hump over the rear wheel opening, which I’m not too wild about. The unbroken rear quarter without any break into the roof was of course a gift from the ’66 Toronado, but it never seemed to go over that well, because Olds quickly found ways to break it up. Not enough visual interest, again.

Olds Cutlass 1969 sedan

These 1968 -1972 GM A Bodies were quite a departure from the norm, with the coupes now having their own 112″ wheelbase versus the sedans’ 116 inches. It was in the zeitgeist of that sporty coupe heyday, and certainly gave them a highly distinct profile and differentiation from the sedans, which had seemed to be trying just a wee bit too hard to look like a coupe. Ahead of their times, in that way.

No wonder the coupes sold so much better; no longer were they just a slightly glorified two door sedan/coupe. More than ever, the American sedan was being relegated to dull old-folks status. Ironic, since the soon-to-be most emulated car in America would be the Mercedes sedan. Figure it.

In 1970, Cutlasses still had a very healthy palette of engine choices, in that last year of high compression (in 1971, all engines had to be able to run on low-octane unleaded regular). You could get a 155 hp 250 CID Chevy six in your Cutlass S Holiday coupe, but only 729 buyers chose that combination in 1970. The standard V8 engine was the 260 hp two-barrel 350, but 310 and 325 hp versions were available too. And you could even order a 320 hp 455 in a non-442 Cutlass. The 442 had 365 hp and 375 hp (W-30) 455s on tap. A very formidable lineup indeed.

And the dull Jetaway two-speed automatic was now gone too, supplanted by the ubiquitous THM 350 (THM 400 with the 455). 1970 was the last year of unbridled cheap power, and a 3500 lb Cutlass felt pretty lively, as long as it wasn’t one of those 729 sixes.

1970 was one of those high-water years, especially for GM. The 1971 full sized cars were morbidly obese, and the combination of the reasonable sized cars of 1970 with their superbly smooth and crisp power trains (thanks to the THM and unsmogged motors) made any of these cars, no matter how equipped, anything from a pleasant to very entertaining experience. The quality was still decent to passable, the looks were timelessly good, and their steering and handling was now the best (or as good as any) in the (domestic) land, especially with one cheap little tick or two on the option sheet.

The handing over of the baton to the seventies’ Cutlass Supreme is hardly a moment of automotive glory; but then one tends to relate very heavily to the decade of one’s youth. I’d like to chalk it up to that, but I’m not finding a whole lot of conviction in that. So I’ll just try to pretend I was born ten years later, and muster some Supreme enthusiasm. I know plenty of you will, when we get to them.

Chapter 5 Here