Curbside Classic: 1971 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser – Just the Right Amount of Patina – Or Maybe Not

(first posted 6/12/2017)       I was recently down in London, Ontario for business.  I had some free time in the evenings, so I decided to check out a few of the area cruise nights and do some car spotting.  South-Western Ontario seems to be an area that is loaded with old American Iron, and every time I travel there I come across something new.  On this trip, when I ventured south of London, I came across this 1971 Vista Cruiser parked outside a small town local garage.

As a rounded a corner, I caught a glimpse of the front end of this marvellous Olds and I instantly came to a halt for further inspection. The car is unplated, and it appears to be used as an advertisement for the garage. I’d say it works, as it sure grabbed my attention!  I was able to get some decent shots with my phone, unfortunately none of the interior shots came out.  The interior did match the exterior though, original looking with just a smidge of patina.

The Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser was based on the intermediate Cutlass, but had a 5” wheelbase stretch, all of which went in the rear passenger/cargo area.  The 1968-72 models rode on a full-size like 121” wheelbase. The longer wheelbase moved the rear axle back allowing room for a forward facing seat to have a proper foot well.  The Vista Cruiser was available as a 2 or 3 seat wagon, and this particular example is a 3-seat.  A more detailed history can be found here or here.

Not only did the wheelbase stretch increase the passenger room, but it also made a significant increase in the cargo room.  The 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser had 93.6 cubic feet of space, while the Vista Cruiser had a whopping 105.2 cubic feet of cargo space.  In fact, it wasn’t far off the massive 1971 Custom Cruiser, which GM measured at 109 cubic feet of space.

Although based on an intermediate chassis, I think it’s hard to argue these cars were midsized.  The 1971 Vista Cruiser stretched out to 218.3 inches in overall length, and GM claimed that the curb weight was stout 4283 lbs (probably more in real world).

The Oldsmobile Cutlass line was heavily restyled in 1970, including the Vista Cruiser, although its bones date back to 1968.  Like the rest of the 1970 Cutlass line, the Vista cruiser received new quarter panels with a sweeping character line over the rear fender.  The front clip was restyled, the lower body character line was eliminated and the dashboard was revised.  For 1971, the Cutlass line received a new hood with two large muscular looking bulges, along with larger grilles to fill those bulges.  The engine choices were a 350-2bbl, a 455-2bbl or a 455-4bbl, all of which had lower compression for 1971 to run on regular gas as per the corporate wide GM mandate.  Since this was a 1971, the VIN  does not show the engine displacement and I was unable to determine what was under the hood. With the drag racing sticker on back, maybe it was the 455-4bbl?

This particular example has almost the perfect amount of patina.  As someone who has battled rust for my entire car owning life, I have never particularly cared for any rust, patina or otherwise.  However when I saw this fine specimen, I had to admit that the patina, the vintage looking business logo on the rear window and the surf board on roof looked pretty darn good.  So good, I’d almost be tempted to keep it like this and just drive it if it were mine. It certainly was an original or mostly original car, so why change it?

On closer inspection though, the Di-Noc was hiding some significant rust on the lower doors and the fenders, to the point of requiring major surgery.  And as quickly as my new found love for rust patina came, it was gone. Nightmarish thoughts of cutting sheet metal and finding more and more rust filled my head.  No thanks!  Then again I realized it’s not my problem to deal with and I quickly returned to admiring the car.  Sitting here on the side of the road this old Olds just put a smile on my face.


Related reading: CC: 1966 Olds Vista Wagon    CC: 1969 Olds Vista Wagon   both by PN