(first posted 5/6/2011) Your question in today’s class of GM’s Deadly Sins 101 will be to answer the following question: just what was it that inspired the failed Aerobacks? Everything else in GM’s downsizing Great Leap Forward was going so peachy; the B Bodies that appeared in 1977 were a smash success. And all GM had to do was scale the A Bodies down by x%, and call it good. Well, just for good measure throw out a few basic amenities like opening rear windows, but who’s going to notice that, especially when they’re so smitten with those fabulous fastbacks? So let’s take a look at some of the possibilities:
It’s hardly the first time Olds and other GM cars were infatuated with fastbacks. In 1941, GM jumped into the aerodynamic era with a vengeance, the Olds version being designated Dynamic Cruisers. But one had a choice of either the aeroback or conventional design.
The new 1948 and 1949 GM bodies also had fastbacks in the line-up, along with notch backs. So was GM drawing on its long fastback heritage?
Maybe not. The times they were a changing, and the first energy crisis began the paradigm shift in American car design that took a long time to unfold, but was clearly heavily based on European and Japanese design influences. The grossly obese Colonnades were perhaps truly the last new American car design that was utterly in defiance of the global trends elsewhere. That had to change, even if the new American cars still had a distinctive way of representing that smaller manifestations.
A full survey of all the the designs that led to cars like the Aerobacks is beyond our scope, so let’s let’s take a look at a few random examples, and you can find some more and use them to support your answers. The Autobianchi Primula was a very significant car, appearing in 1964, and predicting small car trends perhaps better than any other. Of course it was FWD, and a hatch was added after the first year or so, but it created a design pattern whose influence was to be seen around the world for decades to come.
The Renault R16 appeared a year later, and translated the Primula’s superbly practical design and utility into the mid-size class. It’s hatchback made it supremely practical.
And the somewhat ungainly Austin Maxi of 1969 was another example of the very early school of (European) mid-size fastback/hatchback sedans. It’s lack of proportions gives the Cutlass Aeroback four-door a run for the money.
Of course, the odd thing about the Aerobacks was that they didn’t have hatchbacks, even though that was quite the rage about then, and GM saw fit to give its “compact” X-Bodies like this Omega version hatchbacks. Oh well.
Ironically, the ’78 Malibu (and Pontiac LeMans) didn’t have the fastback, but the Citation plunged Chevy into the European FWD hatchback formula with a vengeance. And the Olds and Buick versions of the X-Cars? The were as notchy as anything ever was. So it almost seems that the fastback genre was like a hot potato being tossed around between the divisions. And it broke apart while it was in Chevy’s hands. No more stinkin’ fastbacks for us: enter the Celebrity.
We’ll pick up the current end of the GM fastback history, but let’s take a quick look at these actual cars, instead of all their possible influences. This four door belongs to neighbor down the street, and has been there as long as we’ve lived here (18 years), so I suspect it’s a lifetime family member. It occasionally gets pressed into towing service. I never asked which engine it has, but I seem to remember hearing it once (a Honda Civic is the main driver) and it seemed to have that distinctive V6 plea for help.
There good old Buick 3.8 V6 sported 105 hp, and was the base engine in all Cutlass, even the 442, which was now an appearance package. The 260 V8 packed all of 110 hp, despite two more cylinders and thirty cubic inches. Chevy 305 V8s were also on tap in 145 and 165 hp (four barrel) versions.
At least the new A-Bodies weighed almost half a ton less than its Colonnade predecessors, so that was quite a help. From today’s standpoint, these cars were pretty light, running between 3100 and 3300 lbs or so; obviously more with the V8 and lots of options. Eliminating rear window openers must have saved a precious pound or so, as well as a few bucks.
The interiors were nothing to get excited about; pretty typical GM cost-cutting wherever one looked. That reminds me, Olds started it crazy Cutlass name game in 1978. The Salon had been a top-line Cutlass with Euro-touches and very nice seats and all. But in 1978, that Cutlass coupe was given the Calais name, and the Salon now meant fastback. OK; keep us guessing, and keep destroying any name equity.
I don’t think I need to actually spell out that the Aerobacks were a failure, do I class? The Cutlass Supreme Coupe (our next class subject) was a huge success, but the Salons foundered, and were quickly replaced by mini-B bodies. Fastbacks were essentially banished from GM, as the eighties ushered in the most extreme form of notchback-ism ever seen.
Well, nothing is forever, especially at GM. Fastbacks eventually found their way back into the GM mothership, and one in particular seems to draw on the heritage of the Aerobacks. But we’ll leave that for a CC thirty years from now.
I have to admit that I’ve always found these moderately attractive, considering how formal and frilly the notchback A/G bodies were. I think, thankfully it was a lot harder to justify/tack on the “brougham” ephemera that plagued those cars onto the fastback versions.
But it was *ABSOLUTELY ABSURD* that these weren’t hatchbacks. And that carb fed 105hp Buick 3.8 cried for help in 50mph expressway cruising with just a family of 4 aboard. My Cousin Monica had one of the first 1980 Notchback Cutlass LS sedans through med school. She used to think all of the racket and noise meant something when she floored it. as it took about 30 seconds to get up 55mph and finally pass that Tercel in front of us. A blown head gasket in 1997 prevented that sh*tbox from being my first Oldsmobile. Thank Gawd. All it did well was go in a straight line at Boulevard speeds.
I think the lack of stamina that Cutlass had automatically convinced every other member of the family to go with the Olds 307 for their Olds purchases. I always wondered, despite all their trouble, were the 350 Diesels faster than the 3.8’s of the time.
I suspect that these cars were never hatchbacks because:
(1) That didn’t fit Olds’ and Buick’s image.
(2) Cutting out the crossmember below the rear window would cause body integrity issues that, while not insuperable, would add more weight and complexity to the design.
(3) Hatchbacks have interior noise issues that would also not fit the image of a baby Olds or Buick. I’ve owned two hatchbacks, and boy did I get tired of the ever-present axle thump. The hatchback’s interior shape seemed to expand the sound and aim it right at the back of your head.
There is still one of these fastback sedans in my neighborhgood. I think the design doesn’t look half bad. As for the concern about structural rigidity and noise, how much different would it be from the wagons?
The notchback Olds and Buick sedans looked amazingly similar to the first generation Seville — enough that I have to wonder if it affected Seville sales.
Given equal build quality, a wagon bodyshell would flex less because its longer roof panel provides more stiffening. The large opening in a hatchback weakens its bodyshell similar to (but not as bad as) the removal of the roof panel weakens a convertible.
Regarding the noise issue, you’ve just answered the question, “What is one of the reasons people quit buying station wagons?” They didn’t just walk away from them because they were too practical. They got tired of the coarse noises emanating from the rear axle, the multitudinous trim panels, and the tailgate, all jiggling in your own personal anvil chorus.
It did not affected the Nova based RWD Seville sales because the Seville became FWD and were redesigned with a “Bustle Back” using the Eldorado platform then for the 1980 model year. The A/G Bodied RWDs were given the “Seville RWD” look which began from 1980 through 1988 (remember the 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Classic?).
Actually, the Malibu, Cutlass, et. al, became all the rage because of their resemblance to the Seville. The idea was to get a loaded Cutlass notchback sedan so your neighbors thought you bought a Caddy.and you really only paid about 2/3 what the Cadillac costs. GM sold a boatload of these notchbacks.
The formal roofline on the (non-Salon) Cutlass did have a very Seville-esque vibe to it, but the six-window roofline on the Malibu with its faster C-pillar shared more with the Caprice. I suppose they all fell under the “sheer look” that the Seville ushered in. And the Malibu did switch to the more formal roofline for ’81, but by then, the Seville had gone bustleback…
It didn’t affect Seville sales because by the time the Cutlass and Century notchback sedans appeared in late 1980, the Seville went to the FWD Eldorado platform with its bustleback design.
With the exception of the 1978-82 Chevrolet Corvette, it was totally unheard of that cars which were Full Perimeter Type Separate Body & Frame Constructions which were also uncommon for NOVA sized cars like this 1978-80 Chevrolet Malibu based Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon and the Buick Century 2 & 4 Door Fastbacks being equipped with standard Hatchback Bodies especially since Station Wagon versions of these cars were already available. Added to that it was also GM’s mistake that the NOVA group from 1973-79 also offered a 2 Door Hatchback Coupe versions as well even though these were Unitized Body/Chassis Cars. Hatchbacks let alone Fastbacks are only acceptable on cars like the Chevy Monza and Chevy Citation since both were technically Subcompact/Small Compact Cars. But for the NOVA group since they were more Mid Size in exterior dimensions than Compacts, this was totally unacceptable and it would have been better had they came with Station Wagon models instead like the 1976-80 Plymouth Volare’/Dodge Aspen & the 1978-83 Ford Fairmont/Mercury Zephyr instead.
The bigger question is why did the Buick and Oldsmobile versions carry the fastback roofline, when these divisions still had an “upscale” image, and customers in 1978 largely associated fastback four doors with economy hatchbacks. One would think that the Chevrolet and Pontiac versions would have been a better fit for this roofline.
The notchbacks brought out by Oldsmobile and Buick for 1980 sold very well.
I remember thinking that these cars were awkward at the time – I was only interested in Cutlass Supremes – but looking at the top photos, I’d have to say that the four-door sedan has potential with a hatchback, sportier wheels and GM’s body-color “sport” mirrors. The two-door fastback, on the other hand, is a complete dud.
There was a flat black 80 coupe behind me today, much better looking than these
The ’79 four-door was our family car (i.e., Mom’s car so that Dad could keep his Opel GT), and the car I learned to drive on. Dad traded in our ’69 Cutlass for a ’79 Cutlass, and he didn’t seem to consider anything else.
I remember one of the car mags predicting that the fastbacks would have fins, so it could have been worse. But the fastback was clearly chosen for for styling reasons, not practical ones. As larsurpreme points out, they had no cargo carrying advantages. In fact, they ended up with an oddly-shaped trunk that was hard to make full use of. Chevy and Pontiac only had the notchback. I’m pretty sure the Buick sedans could be had with either profile, leaving Olds alone with a fastback-only offering in the sedan version.
It had to have been an attempt to provide some brand differentiation among boxy, downsized cars that otherwise were pretty much identical. At least they made some effort to differentiate the cars with more than grills and taillights, which is more than they managed with the ’77 B Bodies.
These cars marked the transition away from each division having unique engine offerings, so if they looked the same, how could GM justify the cost premium of ascending the Ladder of Success? Well, as we later learned, that was a question GM never found a good answer to.
The fixed rear windows sucked — once the A/C gave out, our car was a scalding, rolling illustration why the top of a car is called a greenhouse. But I think it was as much to provide three-across hip room as it was to save weight.
For all its faults, it was a comfortable and reliable. I made many trips back & forth to college making use of all six seating positions on an eight-hour drive. Try that in a mid-sized car today.
Actually, both Buick and Olds offered only the Aeroback sedans in ’78 and ’79. Because they were such sales turkeys, GM brought back the notchbacks for both divisions in 1980. That was the only year both body styles were offered, with the Aeroback being dropped for ’81.
The differentiation issue is a little more complex than this. GM’s main brand differentiator up to the early 1970s was that each division’s engines and chassis engineering were different. After 1959 GM B bodies were shared across the 4 lower divisions, with identical roof pressings but all the the outer skins were unique. After 1964 the same was true of the A bodies.
The real change came when the X bodies were expanded beyond Chevrolet first to the Pontiac Ventura, then the Olds Omega and Buick Apollo. These had identical roofs AND outer skins AND engines and chassis engineering. But they did well in the market. This is where the decline of the old GM really began.
Common outer door skins first appeared on the A body Olds and Buick coupes in 1975, which I would guess was necessary to justify the investment in retooling them early.
If you look closely at the 1977 B bodies, you will see that Chevrolet and Pontiac share one set of door skins while Olds and Buick share a different set. Chevrolet got a unique coupe roofline, and Olds got a unique coupe quarter window. But also for the first time, the chassis engineering was the same, and there was lots of engine overlap.
The 1978 A bodies follow the same pattern of door skins, but also have different rooflines. So actually, for the first time since 1958 the ‘standard’ size cars from the senior divisions shared no outer pressings with those from the junior divisions. But again, engineering differentiation was minimal at best. And by ’81 they were back to sharing the same roof pressings with 2 different door pressings, a pattern repeated with the FWD A bodies in 1982.
And all the station wagons in the ’77 B-body used the Chevrolet-Pontiac door skins, with a filler panel on the Buick and Olds models to match their un-chamfered front fenders – our ’78 Estate Wagon had those.
I find something to like in nearly any car ever made, but these cars have always screamed “loser” to me. They just look dumpy.
Still, parts are almost certainly dirt cheap…
I really don’t think that these cars are derivative of any previous styling theme, domestic or foreign. I think they were among the earliest victims of the fact that GM had four distinct brands to differentiate here, and was fast running out of ideas. All of the A-body coupes were formal roof–got enough of that. The Chevy and Pontiac 4-doors had rooflines similar to the B-bodies–got enough of that. Hey, how about a fastback profile for the Olds and Buick! Nobody’s done that yet!
Nor would they. Nobody followed that lead, and eventually Chevy, Olds, Buick and Pontiac all ended up with a more upright, semi-formal roof notchback, which was much more pleasant to look at, but you had to walk up to the car and read the nameplate to know what it was. And who cared? They could have labeled them with a big ‘GM’ rubber stamp and that would at least have been Truth in Advertising.
I wonder if all the different names and divisions at GM were really ever a true strength for the company, or if it was actually Alfred Sloane making the best of a mess he had inherited when he took over in the ’20s?
When other companies like Ford and Chrysler tried to emulate the GM brand hierarchy it always seemed to end in tears…
I’ve always thought these look at least distinctive and interesting. They should have been a hatchback of course but probably weren’t as people especially in the US considered it a cheap, small car thing. Its quite similar actually to BMC’s Princess which is has roughly the same hatchback profile (except wedge as opposed to square in the front).
I second the wedge, another car that looked like a hatchback but wasn’t.
These were horrible, where I used to fuel up many eons ago was a BMC dealer who had Austin princess in their showroom with cardboard under it to soak up the oil drips on a new car very rare cars now with reason
Didn’t that cardboard sheet have a BL part number? 😉
There was the short lived Ambassador, a tarted up hatchback Princess, a stop gap model til the just as horrible Maestro came along.BL never even bothered to make the Ambassador LHD for export.There were few takers in the UK for the latest in a long line of duds and it’s ages since I’ve seen one.
I drove one of the 4 door Olds ones a few times in the mid 80s and was unimpressed. Also by the 80s the underlying deadly sin of the grenading TH250M slush box had reared its head which is what really trashed this platform, and GM.
God! The THM200/250 may have been the only transmission that would grenade if you looked at it crosseyed or insulted it out loud.
The Turbo 250 was a good transmission. It was a light duty version of the venerable 350, and was usually found in 6 cylinder Novas and Camaros. The 200 was another story, it was a totally different design that was basically intended for the H and J cars. GM figured that with the downsizing and smaller displacement engines that the 200 would work in A and B bodies. A body cars maybe, but certainly not the B’s! In typical GM fashion, they denied there was anything wrong with the Turbo 200 for a few years, then decided to improve it. A much stronger version was introduced with an overdrive known as the Turbo 200-4R, and that transmission stood up well in such cars as the G body Cutlass 442 and turbo’ed Buick Regals, including the GNX.
I always thought the 1980 Seville looks suspiciously like these.
I never quite understood why the car came out with that similar styling so soon after these BOMBED. They even came standard with a similar diesel at first.
Did the 80 Seville remind any of you of these odd birds? These cars just screamed cheap all around. Especially looking at the trunk of the Cutlass Salon.
Actually, thinking back to my thoughts at the time, The Seville gained this hatchback look at about the exact time that these 4 doors went to the notchback design, that I remember thinking looked just like the more popular 76-79 Sevilles. Was that more than a mere coincidence? I seem to remember thses had P/w switches for the rear vent windows when equipped with power windows.
On “Kind of the Hill” Peggy Hill seemed to drive the Buick version of these notchbacks, despite it being 20 years on at the time.
That wasn’t the last gasp for GM fastbacks in the 80’s!
Then there is always the “fasthatch”:
Or in the case of the Chevette Diesel, the slowhatch.
and that Renault R16 looks familiar:
Looks suspiciously similar to my neighbor’s Chevy Malibu Maxx SS
Hate to admit it, If I found one of those early Cavalier z-24 or Type 10s for sale today I would buy it in a heartbeat!
Good luck finding one. I haven’t seen one since mine went to the crusher. In 1998.
I always found those Type10 hatches attractive. Not many were sold and far fewer survived.
Oddly enough, I like these…and always have.
The Salon carried what would later become the Ciera’s international-flag fender emblem, and Oldsmobile advertised the car as an import beater…which it wasn’t. It was just another relatively thirsty, confidence-uninspiring RWD sedan (no worse than anything else from Detroit at the time, granted) wrapped in a blunt-front, sleek-back body with fixed rear windows and a teeny-tiny trunklid in lieu of a proper hatch. Yet, I don’t care: These were some of the most distinctive cars of their era, with a unique “air” to the details that was quintessentially Oldsmobile. Rare, too: A neighbor of ours owned one until 1990 or so, and I’ve not seen more than two or three of these on the roads since.
It would be a pipe dream of mine to outfit one of these things with a modern powerplant and customized interior.
“Interiors were nothing to get excited about”??? Oh, how I beg to differ. This is the actual photo of the interior of a ’79 Salon that was for sale on ebay awhile back.
I’m sorry but I love these suckers. Just for the sheer weirdness of it. Find me a 403 or 455 Oldsmobile V8 and make her scream. In my area it would litterally be like nothing else on the street. (I don’t think a single one survived out here.)
I thought they were going for the look of the Volkswagen Dasher. Also not a hatchback.
Thought that myself. They also appear to be front wheel drive, though not the case. I sort of liked them, especially in the 2 door versions.
Seeing these now, and remembering how I felt about what was going on with the American OEM’s, well, the 1979 Concord my mom bought really was the best choice!
The carmakers really did struggle and had mixed results with their different efforts. I felt that the Ford Fairmont was the best car in this class, as my father-in-law had one and it was quite refined compared to most of these. An interesting era, to be sure.
My friends and I referred to the fastback models as “roach-backs”, or “pregnant roaches”, they were so ugly in our opinions, and really damaged the brands they represented. Of course, back then, coupes always looked better than sedans, as some of the photos prove.
It was a confusing time; ∆ 3” in length & wheelbase between the Fox & A-bodies, & about 300lbs, was the difference between a “compact” & an “intermediate.”
Given the hopeless engine power available, the Fairmont made the most sense from a physics perspective. However, the A-bodies felt more substantial, which was my impression at the time. My favorites were the Cutlass & Regal.
The 2 door version wasn’t too bad, especially in the 442 trim.
One saving grace was that up to 1979 you could still get the Olds 350 for the 442 with the kick a$$ Lightning stick shifters!
That blue four-door may actually have the V8. My only evidence is the fact that it has the passenger side mirror, something that usually meant the car had some options.
For the record, my `80 Cutlass LS had the 260 V8 and a side mirror; my `84 Delta 88 Royale had the 3.8 and no side mirror.
What was it that inspired these? Probably the exact same thinking that went into the styling of the Mercedes-like Ford Granada…fool stupid Americans with a little faux-European styling into believing the cars are equivalent to what you can buy across the pond.
Olds especially (soon to be followed by Buick, then Pontiac and Cadillac, who was already out of the gates with Seville) all had major pushes underway to appear more European or “international”. That would actually make a great CC story, all of the failed efforts by the big 3 to fool people into thinking the cars they were buying were Euro-influenced and/or sporty. Eurosport anyone? Would be a long article, for sure.
Hatchbacks were all the rage in the 70s and 80s, and it was kind of cool to actually be seen in one, so the concept was actually right for the times (execution was another story). Frankly, I always thought these turds WERE hatchbacks, you mean to tell me they only had trunks?
I remember driving a four-door Buick version of this car. Don’t remember what engine it had, but it had a four-speed manual transmission with a long shift lever that reminded me of those in contemporary S-10 pickups. The car’s performance and handling was also reminiscent of S-10’s. The car was pale metallic green, and everything inside from the floor mats to the headliner was the same pale green color.
Pity the poor ’78 fastback Olds. It very likely could have been one of those designs where the final production version doesn’t look anywhere near what the original concept started out to be.
Or, put another way, while not really ‘bad’, it’s one of those designs where you know something’s wrong, but can’t quite put your finger on it, similiar to watching a movie where the continuity has been messed up in editing, i.e., shadows move during an inappropriate time frame from shot to shot.
For example, some early Ford Pinto sedans had a similiar roof line where, instead of a hatch, there was a separate rear window and trunk. While still no styling tour-de-force, it was a whole lot more cohesive than the ’78 Olds fastback.
This is a singularly unattractive car, even for its era. I recently read the CC of a 79 New Yorker, which was described as an ugly car. It was not parked next to this.
The fastback sedan makes the Marlin look svelte. This car doesn’t have a good line on it. Pretty bad when the station wagon is the best looking version of a model (a fate that this car shares with the Volare). Here’s a game. An elderly neighbor owns one of these in your favorite color and with 40K actual miles. She offers it to you for $2000. Do you buy it? Not me.
My memory is jogged of a long-ago girlfriend who had one of these that she bought from her grandfather. It was that horrible light yellow with light brown vinyl interior. There was simply nothing attractive about that car. This was in the mid 80s. At that time there were still a lot of pristine 60s and early 70s models in older peoples garages. You could save a lot of money and have a wholly superior car by going that direction. Then later, the newer stuff was better in almost every way. I seriously think that I would consider a Dodge Diplomat over one of these.
I’ve always liked these cars, they had an international kind of flair about them, especially compared to the later Cuttys that said “International” on them. I guess this flavor of fastback is an acquired taste. Also, I’d love to have that hatch X Omega. Pop a 350 in that bad boy and go for a ride. A buddy in high school was given a 4 door version of this car that had a 305 Chevy (with 4bbl!), loads of hooning fun for a couple of 17 year olds. Plus, it looked like Grampas car, so no one would suspect us….
I had the ’79 Buick Century “Sport Coupe” (not “Turbo Coupe”) version of this. Brown with black striping/decals. I chose it because it was so unusual. I remember the interior being quite plush and of reasonable quality. Unlike the transmission that one day decided it would no longer go in reverse. Got rear-ended one day which ended the life of this car, and I “upgraded” to an Omega Brougham!
Car and Driver did a full test of a 442 with 4 bbl 305 V8 and raved about it. Chevy didn’t have an SS version until the 83 Monte Carlo.
I wanted the same car in C/D, black with gold 442 stripes. But, in time, the notchback G bodies won out. That’s why so many 80’s GM cars got the ‘whack back’, even the 83-97 Cougar!
Can you tell me where you got this picture? I’d love to show it on a TV show I’m working on about auto parts. But, I need to know who to talk to about clearing it.
Dan, It’s from here:
They have scans of large numbers of old brochures: http://www.oldcarbrochures.com/
Interesting choice of a business name, there. I think the guys at the brochure agency were having some fun…
There was a TV programme about a trucker around this time called “BJ and the Bear”. I’ll leave you all to contemplate that for a while….
BJ McKay and his best friend the bear.
I remember that one, but never got the double ententre till you put it out there.
Thanks very much, Paul. I appreciate your help.
I’m another member of the “actually like these cars” camp. I can’t really say why, as objectively, they’re certainly odd. But I have vague childhood memories of seeing the Olds version around town (only the 4-door, and the Century seems to have been absent even in that mid 80’s era). And for some reason, I liked them then, and age and rationality haven’t killed that. Plus I’ve not seen one in person in God knows how long, so maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Generally, I think GM erred in tacking the same roofline onto all the sedans for ’81. While the fastback may have been…unique, I always preferred the six-light side treatment with the comparatively slimmer/steeper C-pillar used on the ’78-’80 Malibu and LeMans sedans to the heavy, upright “formal” C-pillar that went across the board for ’81. It did work well on the CS though.
Good point on the six window Chevy and Pontiac versions. It looked particularly good on the Malibu. The should have retained that roof for the Chevy and Pontiac.
Hello, i saw your post about the Cutlass Salon Brougham. if you still have any interest in owning one, i have a 1978 that was my dad’s. cinnamon brown color 36,000 miles 4 dr, 231 v6 engine.
That’s an interesting selection of European fastbacks / fast hatches. It was all the rage on that side of the pond. Sales were so brisk that even BMW released a half assed rendition of the theme. It did not do so well. The differential and rear axle made for a very small luggage space.
Some brands offer a conventionally styled 5 door hatchback while their 3 door hatchback has a more sporty/fastback look.
Like this Renault Megane 5 door hatchback:
And this Renault Megane 3 door hatchback, presented as a coupe.
The ’78 Olds fastback comes dangerously close to falling into the “What were they thinking?” camp, almost like the Aztek. Surely, someone in charge at GM had to know the car simply didn’t look right. It was like a big, ungainly hatchback, without the hatchback benefits.
It was as if GM simply couldn’t figure out how to make a properly slanted rear window on the new downsized cars. It was either the bolt-upright, 90° ‘formal’ rear window, or this.
I agree with you that the syling is decidedly off, not like the Aztek, but it looks cheap somehow. The Buick and Olds versions should have looked better than the Chevy and Pontiac versions, but the reverse is true. The Chevy and Pontiac (Malibu and LeMans) do not look great either, but better than the Buick and Olds.
I agree. The market flop of these cars was masked by the wild popularity of the Supreme coupe. Otherwise, it would have been a story more akin to the Aztek.
Upon re-reading this CC I have to disagree with Paul’s assertion that the Buick/Olds share malproportions with the Austin Maxi. The downsized aeroback A’s proportions actually are pretty nice, especially on the two door. With the right colours they could look pretty sharp. It’s a shame that when GM backtracked they didn’t graft a larger trunk onto the 6 window design, and instead went the heavy-handed formal route.
I wonder why they didn’t make 2 door wagons.
These were the Pontiac Aztek’s of the late 70’s. An answer to a question never asked.
Considering the importance of the A body to GM and their acknowledgment of that with the investment in a new roof, I’m always a bit surprised that they didn’t give in on the grumblings on the fixed rear door window on the sedans and wagons. I drove a few of the formal roof Cutlass sedans, and in the higher trims they were quite nice. I was too young to be a new retail buyer at the time, but I would have been slowed into purchase by that window. Ford was kind enough to compete with the really awful Fox based Cougar sedan, which undoubtedly helped GM with that damn window.
Outside of the brief attempt of the fixed window stunt with the first versions of the K car, which Chrysler corrected fairly quickly, I can’t think of any volume selling car that did this.
The theory of the fixed rear windows on GM cars was that it was a trick to make the rear interior seem larger on the downsized cars. By omitting the window lowering mechanisms, they could move the interior panels further out into the door cavity, giving the illusion of more elbow room.
It didn’t work. Instead, the fixed rear window became just another example of how GM took their once rock-solid consumer base for granted. The executives of the 14th floor simply felt that it didn’t matter whatever greedy, cheap-ass, move they made with their new cars, people would continue to buy them, unabated, and certainly long enough for the executives to retire with full and lucrative pensions, at which point it would be someone else’s problem.
Considering the sort of things they did since the seventies, GM really should have went out of business decades ago.
That rear door panel with the cavity was sorta ugly, way too small as an armrest for my long arm, and made the panel even more plasticky. The power window cars ended up with a power vent in the rear doors, negating any weight savings. Unfortunately, I think your comments on being cheap are accurate.
I don’t know, were they really any worse than anyone else then? At least GM cars would keep running, Toyotas from that era would rust to dust, VW’s would fall apart faster than you could put them back together, Mercedes had their alloy V-8 issues (GM did a fantastic job using the MB 3.8L as a benchmark for the HT4100, nailed it in every respect!). Ford? Chrysler? Datsun?
I always had a soft spot for these too and still watch for them today. The Olds must have sold far better than the Buick because while I see Oldsmobiles fairly regularly Buicks are a rare sight. I recently saw on eBay a very clean Olds Salon 2 door fastback with a 260 V-8 5speed manual. I thought about it for awhile but then I came out of the ether.
In 1978 there was one of these Oldsmobiles on my paper route.
I always thought it was odd compared to everything else on the road.
It belonged to a French-Canadian family. Maybe that says something.
As for speed, my father’s ’78 LeMans with the DualJet carburetor 94HP 200 V6 and 2.79 gears would consistently do 0-60 in 16 seconds.
I also had an ’81 Malibu 231 V6 and ’81 Cutlas Salon 260 V8 as drivers’ ed cars. The Cutlas was great. The Malibu was pedestrian by comparison.
However the best I ever drove of these A bodies was an ’82 Regal sedan with unknown V8 power. It belonged to the dealership service manager and he loaned it to me so I could get back to school when they couldn’t return my father’s LeMans to me in time. Very sweet ride for a 17 year-old prairie boy.
When these things came out, I thought “What the #@$!%!!” Seeing these, I continue to think the same.
Yes. When I was just out of high school, I had a summer job at a place where a young married guy bought one of these new. All I could think was how depressing life as a real adult must be.
Perhaps the closest styling similarity is the Lancia Beta sedan that was also a fastback without a hatchback.
Incidentally there were pre-WW2 fastbacks by Holden known as Slopers, I think from 1937 or so.
VW Passat? The first generation.
Our ’78 Gutless Salon was a slightly darker shade of blue than the car at the top. It drove and handled all right, and mechanically it was quite durable – we got 12 years out of it with few problems, and that included three teenagers (myself included) learning to drive. That said, I sometimes wonder what my dad was thinking when he bought it. Besides no power from the 3.8 litre engine, the build quality was just plain sloppy and we had to take it back to the dealer for a paint job three months after we bought it because the paint was flaking off. I’d prefer the later notchback sedans or a Supreme coupe. Still, I could live with one of these if it had a more modern drivetrain…a newer 3800 V6 or small block Chevy comes to mind. Don’t forget A/C and a decent stereo instead of the crappy Delco AM radio ours had.
When the 2015 Sonata was introduced it was clear that they raised and extended the roofline for more interior room. The Sonata’s roofline now extends all the way to the end of the trunk -and it struck me as vaguely familiar…and then I remembered these GM designs.
Now granted, the new Sonata is far from ungainly but still I think a true sedan needs a defined trunklid. Maybe I’m too parochial but when a sedan looks like a hatchback a line has been crossed.
I thought these were cool looking cars sadly I recall seeing one in that maybe avacado fridge type green first spotted at a repair shop and I think the same car spotted at a salvage yard. I was sure I had a photo of it too but can’t find it now
I u Max has som similarities and I like that one as well
I still have 2 of these fastbacks in my possession. First one is a 78 Olds Cutlass Salon Brougham 2 dr equipped with the Chevy 305-4bbl. Came well equipped with cloth bucket seats, console shifter, gage package, sport steering wheel, pwr windows and locks and the aluminum styled wheels that became part of the Hurst 442 pkg in 79-80. This was my first new car!
The 2nd is the 442 version similarly equipped except for the powertrain. It came with the Olds 260 V8 but is being replaced with the Olds 350 V8; same vintage engine used in the 79-80 Hurst 442 package.
I have 2 salons as well, I have a 442, and a regular salon 2 door. Love these cars . Trying to find parts is very difficult. Keep them running and rocket on brother.
Love these cars.
Hello, i saw your post about the Cutlass Salon Brougham. if you still have any interest in owning one, i have a 1978 that was my dad’s. cinnamon brown color 36,000 miles 4 dr, 231 v6 engine. has always been in a heated/cooled dry basement.