In today’s automotive landscape dominated by crossovers big and small, pickups that rarely see cargo beyond grocery bags, and ever-fastback rooflined sedans, it’s hard to imagine that this two door, vinyl-roofed, bench seat-laden Oldsmobile Cutlass was once one of the most popular cars in America. Alas, like wood paneled walls, disco, and leisure suits, popular trends die out. Furthermore, who in 1978 could have envisioned now-ubiquitous features such as blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, and Apple CarPlay? A lot can change, and this is living proof.
In fact, the year after this newly downsized for 1978, post-Colonnade Cutlass Supreme coupe rolled off the assembly line, the Cutlass once again recaptured the title of Best-Selling Car in America, a title it first claimed in 1976, and one it would reclaim the aforementioned 1979, as well as 1980, 1981, and 1983.
In this era of economic uncertainty and rising fuel prices, buying a new Cutlass was a sign that you were upwardly mobile and had a few extra bucks to spare for a “nice” car, but a also a sign of sensibility. It was enough to make a statement, but not a big, ostentatious one.
Available in a wide range of configurations — including 9 separate models, 4 bodystyles, and 6 engines for 1979 alone — the Cutlass aimed to suit most budgets and lifestyles, making it a proverbial right car at the right time for this era.
While the notchback Cutlass Supreme coupe was the most popular body by far, it’s worth noting that a traditional notchback sedan wasn’t offered until 1981. Prior to this, buyers seeking a 4-door Cutlass were faced with an unusual looking fastback sedan, bearing the Cutlass Salon name. A 2-door Cutlass Salon fastback was also offered, though despite their looks, neither featured a true hatchback, but rather a traditional-sized trunk opening below the rear windshield.
In any event, the Salon models proved less popular, something solely attributed to their styling. Truthfully, they were ahead of their time, as just look at present-day sedan landscape. Most new sedans on the market do indeed feature fastback rooflines and low trunk for increased aerodynamics, making them appear to have full-hatch openings. In fact many of them do.
Furthermore, it should also be worth noting that the top six best-selling vehicles in America for 2018 were in order: the Ford F-Series, RAM pickup, and Chevrolet Silverado, each with over 500,000 sales, followed by the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Honda CR-V. Equally notable, while these vehicles offer trim levels from spartan to well-equipped and, in some cases luxurious, none are primarily marketed as premium vehicles, and none are “cars” in the sense of a sedan or coupe.
Today of course, there are very few true mid-range “premium” brands, falling between affordable mainstream brands and luxury brands. Much of this is the result of once value brands moving increasingly upmarket with ever luxury and feature-packed trim levels, and that of once exclusive luxury brands reaching ever downward with smaller, de-contented models.
Changes in industry trends and consumer preferences were becoming quite apparent even throughout this generation Cutlass’s run. Following the introduction of the front-wheel drive A-body Cutlass Ciera in 1982, all bodystyles of this rear-wheel drive G-body Cutlass, regardless of equipment level, were now called Cutlass Supreme — a move that further diluted the Cutlass and Oldsmobile nameplates, and one that further confused buyers.
The front-wheel drive Cutlass Ciera was initially intended as a replacement for this older featured generation Cutlass, but the latter’s strong sales prompted Oldsmobile to continue its production. It wouldn’t be until 1985 that the Cutlass Ciera overtook the Cutlass Supreme in overall sales, with its 4-door sedans fittingly more popular than 2-doors, while the rear-wheel drive Cutlass Supreme’s 2-door models remaining far more popular than its 4-door sedans until the very end, despite the G-body’s declining popularity.
By 1988, the compact N-body Calais (a name previously a Cutlass model) became the Cutlass Calais, and the new front-wheel drive W-body Cutlass Supreme debuted, though Oldsmobile kept this G-body Cutlass Supreme coupe around for one final year as the Cutlass Supreme Classic.
While these overlap allowed Oldsmobile to maximize its short term profit, it only emphasized Oldsmobile’s growing irrelevance and built up an inflated sense of success and security. This bubble soon would burst, and along with other key factors, led to the demise of both the Cutlass and then Oldsmobile altogether. Looking at this 1978 Cutlass Supreme today, it’s astonishing to believe that this was the most popular car in America 40 years ago. How the times have changed.
Photographed in Braintree, Massachusetts – November 2018
Nice article. On the popularity of these sport luxury coupes, I imagine its just a matter of perspective. I’m old enough to have lived thru the 60s and 70s and can recall just how popular these Cutlasses were. In fact I owned an 81 Cutlass Supreme.
Personal luxury coupes just hit the right spot for the time. Unlike today, there weren’t any middle-market sports sedans, other than the ones from Europe, which tended to be expensive and small.
I always thought these 78-80 models looked stunted – and the 81 re-style was much better balanced. The less said about those Aerobacks, the better…
Why did I buy the Cutlass? I thought it was styled very attractively, and best combined sport and luxury. I think that’s why others bought Cutlasses, and Monte Carlos, and Regals, and the other G Bodies and their Ford and Chrysler counterparts.
And it was a great car, pretty well screwed together, adequate power at the time with the 307 V8, gave me no major problems…
Nice, well preserved car except I wish the owner hadn’t put all those stupid bumper stickers all over it.
My Mom went shopping for a new Cutlass in the summer of 1982 but the dealer upsold her into a new Delta 88 coupe, which if you squint, looks like a big Cutlass. My brother later got an ’86 Cutlass and going to high school in the ’80s, any G- body was the car to have These things were everywhere back then and they were nice cars to look at and pretty well-built.
These, and the B-bodies, were the last of the great cars from the ‘old’ General Motors.
I’d draw that line a year later – the ’79 E bodies still felt like vintage GM, and like the B, C, and A bodies from a year or two earlier they fully captured the essense of the larger cars they replaced but in a new, more fuel-efficient, more manageable size. I was around then and a huge gearhead, and GM seemed on top of the world at the time. Then, the ’80s happened….
A lot of those bumper stickers are performance-oriented, aftermarket suppliers (Jegs and Summit). It makes me wonder if the owner has another, modded car (likely a Camaro) since the Cutlass appears to be quite OEM.
Great write-up, Brendan. I always liked the fact that the ’87 and ’88 Cutlass Supreme had composite headlamps instead of the 4652 and 4651 sealed beams. If I remember right these composites had glass lenses instead of Lexan lenses making them even better.
I was in high school when these came out and was truly disappointed in their styling compared to the previous generation, especially the 76 and 77 models. I was never a fan of the “formal” roof GM was sticking on virtually every car it made. As the front ends got sleeker with lower hoods, fared headlights, larger sloped windshields and smaller more integrated bumpers the roof lines kept getting more upright. The contrast was jarring and unattractive. This was especially apparent in the B body coupes. The Caprice and LeSabre coupes from 77-79 looked sporty with their sloped backlights compared to the redesigned models in 1980.
I will say that the Cutlass looked much better with its 81 reskin.
Agreed – the formal roof certainly looked incongruous with the increasingly aero styling at the front end. It looks okay on the featured car, but when the roof got more vertical, and the front ends got sleeker – no.
This car takes me back to my high school days. To this day I cannot gin up any enthusiasm for the 78 Cutlass. This car was all about shortages and compromise. Smaller size and less power for a world running out of resources. And plastic, lots and lots of plastic.
This car reminds me a lot of the early 80s Town Car we discussed the other day. Although the early models do nothing for me, the later versions were appealing cars. Is this the only recorded instance of an American RWD car with better powertrain options in 1984 than in 1978-79?
I should appreciate this car on one score: it made me appreciate the Colonnade models which preceeded it.
Is this the only recorded instance of an American RWD car with better powertrain options in 1984 than in 1978-79?
Mustang comes quickly to mind — ’84 Mustang GT with HO V8 (sometimes fuel-injected) and SVO turbo 4 (always fuel injected) were better than corresponding engines in ’78 or ’79 Stangs surely. The 3.8L Essex V6 was new in ’83, not sure if it’s better than the Cologne V6 used in ’78 through early ’79, but it’s definitely better than the late-’79, 88hp 3.3L inline six used after the supply of Colognes ran out.
A good point on the Mustangs. But for the most part, it seems like 1978-79 was the end of a golden age where you could get a 360 or a 400 in your Mopar or a 403 in your Olds or a 425 in your Caddy. But wow, the awful selection of V6s (in Buick Centurys) and 260 V8s in these Gutlasses make these seem now like cars to have been avoided. These were pretty decent with the 307s.
I don’t know if I agree that the 1985 Cutlass had a better engine line-up than a 1978-79 Cutlass? The 1978-79 Cutlass, had the 3.8L, the 260 Olds but don’t forget the 305 Chevrolet V8’s. I’d argue the 305 V8’s were better overall engines than the sluggish Oldsmobile 307’s.
Inerestingly, while in 1977 the 350 Chevrolet being installed in some 1977 Olds Delta 88’s caused a big upset, no one seemed to care that the 1978 and 79 Cutlass’ had Chevy 305s. Olds did eventually switch back to the Olds V8 with the introduction of the 307 in 1980. However, up here in the great white north, most of our Cutlass’ came with 305 Chevy’s even in the 1980’s.
IMO, the nadir engines for American cars was 1980-82. While not the lowest power per cubic inch, most cars had significantly reduced the engine size by this time and they produced very little actual power. It was also the era of the oddball small V8’s like the 255 Ford, 267 Chev and the 265 Pontiac. The worst time for horsepower per cubic inch was probably 1975, but this was offset by the generally larger engines being used during that time.
Interestingly, while in 1977 the 350 Chevrolet being installed in some 1977 Olds Delta 88’s caused a big upset, no one seemed to care that the 1978 and 79 Cutlass’ had Chevy 305s
Marketing probably had alot to do with this. 1977 was the last year when GM engines were marketed as belonging to a particular division. Olds 88 buyers were promised “Rocket V8s” and thus buyers expected an Oldsmobile engine under the hood. When not having one in an 88 led to a big kerfuffle, GM henceforth excised any verbiage mentioning divisional engines or nicknames like “Rocket V8” or even “Iron Duke” from brochures and advertising, instead just describing them generically as 5.7L V8 engines, along with disclaimers that “Oldsmobiles may be equipped with engines and other parts sourced from other GM divisions or suppiers”. These disclaimers warned buyers their GM car may not be all-GM or at least all-Buick or Pontiac. The automotive press continued to call engines by their old divisional names, but to General Motors they were henceforth just corporate “GM engines”. A few years later, real divisionial engines came to an end as GM Powertrain built all GM engines in the future.
Vince, I did not recall that the Chevy 305 was offered in the Cutlass in 78-79. I remember walking through an Olds dealer lot when these were freshly out and every one I saw had the 260. I agree that the 305 would make one of these decent to drive. But it didn’t sound like an Oldsmobile the way the 307 cars did. ☺
True enough, the 307 did have the Olds sound. Up here in Canada, it seemed almost all of this generation of Cutlass had 305 Chevy, other than the early 1980s when the 267 was the an option. So we were used to Chevy powered Oldsmobiles. The 260s seemed rare.
1981-82 were the single worst years for this car as far as engine performance was concerned. 1978 had the option of a 160 Hp 305 4BBL and 1979 introduced the 170 HP Olds 350 for the Hurst cars. The 305 carried over up until 1980 along with the 350 on the Hurst. For 1981 the most powerful engine option on coupes and sedan for 49 state cars was the 100 HP 260 V8! The 307 was restricted to wagons making 140 HP. That was a full 60-70 HP down from a year or two before!
It wasn’t until 1983 that they cleaned up this mess by dropping the weak 260 and instead offering the 140 Horse 307 or the 180 HP version in the Hurst and later 442 cars. The difference in power between a 1983 Hurst and just one year back was huge and a nod to the end of the Malaise era.
Inline was a better engine. The 3.8 ford blew head gaskets all the time.
This car takes me back to my high school days, too, albeit for probably a different reason. In the mid 1990s when I was in high school, these Cutlasses had become hand-me-down cars given to teenage drivers. My high school parking lot was full of these cars. Which is not surprising since they were best sellers in their day.
Our family car around 1990 was a 1978 Cutlass Supreme, burgundy with matching interior and a vinyl half roof. It was the first family car that I can remember and provided my earliest memories of riding in a car. My younger sis came along shortly after and the Cutlass was replaced with a pale yellow 1982 Dodge Aires wagon. I thought both were handsome looking cars at the time. In fact, I kind of miss that era of cars which still retained such distinctively American styling.
It is amazing to chronicle how tastes change. I remember these cars fondly, as I was a very pro-Oldsmobile kid at the time when they were new. The Supreme coupes were spot-on for the needs of the day (even if a disappointment compared to older, more powerful Cutlass Supremes) and tastefully styled in a way that looked modern and appealing–a look made even better with the “aero” re-skin for 1981.
As the ad from YouTube points out, I think a big part of the appeal was the ability to personalize the cars with a broad choice of colors and trims, where you could pick a two-tone, or a vinyl top in matching or contrasting colors, multiple wheel choices, an array of interior trim choices–the net result was a high volume car line that still was able to reflect a bit of the buyer’s taste and personality, rather than being totally standardized clones.
My cousin Steven, for example, was a trendy guy in his 20s who bought a ’79 Supreme Brougham in Silver with a black interior and Super Sport wheels–the right look for him, and clearly different than a “granny special” Supreme in beige with standard wheel covers. That one car managed to appeal to such a cross section of buyers was pretty impressive–there aren’t many models today that can make a similar claim.
An observation realized while reading this….
The Cutlass Supreme was the best selling car in the US for numerous years between 1978 and 1983. It was rear-wheel drive and a buyer could choose between a V6 or V8 under the hood. Many featured gear selectors on the column and three-across seating was possible.
The Ford F-Series is currently the best selling vehicle in the US (and has been for years) with the Silverado and Ram nipping on its heels. Each of these three is rear-wheel drive and a buyer can choose between a V6 or V8. Many feature gear selectors on the column and three-across seating is possible.
So have things really evolved? Is this a reflection of the passenger car market splintering while the pickup market is still pretty much among three core contenders? Does this indicate the market still wants some key ingredients that are no longer being found somewhere else? Is this comparison a sign of how priorities with buyers have changed? Might this indicate what people use to make some type of statement has evolved? Does it mean the market has become more practical, a perception reinforced further when including the RAV-4, CRV, and Rogue? Is something else at play?
Brendan, thanks for this. It’s always good to see a Cutlass Supreme, particularly one from 1978 to 1980, examples of which were always less plentiful than the 1981 to 1988 versions.
I was thinking the same thing about full-sized pick-ups. That category offers more options for personalization than any other–vehicles can go from basic workhorses all the way to luxury vehicles with all kinds of choices in between. Very much like the Personal Luxury segment 40 years ago. I do think a big group of buyers does still like to pick their “own” vehicle, and the migration to standardization was manufacturer driven (easier and more cost effective to build) rather than market driven. For big trucks with more traditional buyers, the manufacturers left the “old way” of personalization intact (probably because of the inherently rich margins in pick-ups), and the market results speak for themselves.
In the digital age of impersonal devices that essentially look alike, it’s interesting to note the abundant use of cases and covers to express personality and individuality. It’s a fundamentally human need, and probably represents a turning point in the age of the automobile. Will we still want to own rolling expressions of ourselves (even the blandest Toyota makes a statement about its owner)? Or will we succumb to simply “subscribing” to our “share” of interchangeable electric-powered mobility pods–in essence the 21st century version of a bus–mindless, forgettable, impersonal transport? The only difference is unlike the bus, your every move and sound in the EV pods will be captured, chronicled, analyzed, resold. Personal privacy rather than personal expression may well become the defining issue of the next era of the automobile.
Very well put. Being able to pick and choose from 50+ item lists of factory options, typically including different engines, transmissions, body styles, seating configurations, interior colors, upholstery, trimmings, and all sorts of equipment was a big part of what made buying a new car enjoyable. Now it’s take what they make or buy something else, except to some extent with full-size trucks. Unfortunately, I don’t want to drive a big truck…
The German cars also offer heaps of optional equipment – at a price! Think they’re about the only ones who do.
Not only that, pickups trucks offer Coupe (SuperCab) and Sedan (CrewCab). And the Coupe still features roll down windows even for the 2nd row, and is usually a HardTop without a B pillar …
I always liked these. They were decently built, attractive looking and drove smoothly. Just a good American car. Of course they rusted badly here in the snow belt, but everything did, and often still does.
+1, I’m not astonished at all that these were very popular. I don’t think anyone who was there at the time would be.
Never owned the Olds version but we had a Buick Regal and I liked it better than my Uncle’s FWD Cutlass Ciera (with Iron Duke)
These were everywhere in the late ’70s. I actually preferred the aero-back sedans, but not too many others did as they weren’t very popular. My uncle had a ’78 aero sedan in the late ’80s and I quite liked it.
I remember reading predictions about the future in Motor Trend back then; much of what they predicted they got wrong because forecasting the future based on current trends is a fool’s game.
GM’s 1-2 punch of downsized cars in 1977 (full size) and 1978 (mid-size) was a formidable blow, and really made an impact in the industry. 1978 would be the last hurrah for GM’s market share, which went up for the last time to 46.3%. And the Big 3 had their last combined peak over 80%, with an 82.5% share. Those numbers are a very distant faint memory now.
In my memory, GM’s downsized mid-sized cars like this Cutlass were a relatively bigger jump than the B/C bodies, as everyone knew they had been way too big before. But these 108″ mid sized cars were pretty petite at the time.
What I find fascinating is that GM perpetually tended to make newly downsized cars too short and stubby, then after a couple of years adjust the styling to add a bit of length to the nose and tail and smooth out the styling to make them look longer. This came in 1981 for the Cutlass.
But then they made the same mistake even more egregiously in 1985/1986, with the new FWD C/E bodies. And they had to fix that asap. Odd. Especially since a bit of added length invariably improves the aerodynamics of a car, meaning no real fuel mileage penalty.
Excellent write-up on a car and era that does seem far in the past.
These really were “America’s Car” at the time. Not too expensive. Not too cheap. Decently stylish with enough options to meet a range of budgets. I knew so many people whose parents drove them, and one family in the neighborhood even had His and Hers, after the ’81 restyle. She had white/navy vinyl top and he had beige/beige.
It’s funny how families now must have multiple doors and individual captains’ chairs for all occupants, while we kids were always stuffed into the rear of 2-door personal luxury coupes back in the day (my mother drove a ’79 Grand Prix).
Child seat laws undoubtedly cut deeply into sales of coupes with larger back seats. Most remaining coupes have tiny back seats that the owners never use. Did anyone catch the much-ballyhoood intro of the new Supra? Everyone talked about the BMW innards; nobody seemed to notice Toyota didn’t even bother with a rear seat this time.
I had a 1979 Cutlass Supreme Brougham. Kermit the Frog green with a pastel green 1/4 roof. 260V8, rallye wheels, loaded except for power locks oddly. I bought it used in 1984. I loved that car. The downfall was the 200r4 (?) transmission. I sold it at 104,000 miles. It was spotless.
Call me “un-cultured” or whatnot. If offered this car in reasonably good condition, I’d take it in a heartbeat over much of what is offered now. Especially at this car’s market value versus current price points. Decent size, decent power, decent handling, decent looks. Nothing to write home about, but then again…nothing to write home about. Adequate all around.
Sounds good to me!
“…the Cutlass once again recaptured the title of Best-Selling Car in America, a title it first claimed in 1976, and one it would reclaim the aforementioned 1979, as well as 1980, 1981, and 1983…”
There seems to be a lot of conflicting information on the web, but it’s always been my understanding that 1976 was the Cutlass’ only year atop the sales chart.
1978 and 1979 – Chevrolet Caprice/Impala
1980 – Chevrolet Citation
1981 – Chevrolet Chevette
1982 and 1983 – Ford Escort
I missed your comment before I posted, but I noticed the same thing. I was pretty sure off the top of my head the full-size Chevy was the best seller 77-79 so I checked the numbers for those years from the Standard Catalog of American cars and it was. However, they did sell more Cutlass Supreme 2-doors in 1978 and 1979 than any one full size Chevy model. So I am assuming that’s where the discrepancy comes from.
These cars and their stablemates were everywhere when I was kid. They were THE car to have, especially the Cutlass and Monte Carlo. I remember one of our neighbors had one just like the one in the picture but it was blue and I remember my parents making fun of them because they were a family of 7 piled into a two door coupe. One morning, the car just exploded in the middle of the night. I don’t remember the cause of it because I was like 9 years old, but I clearly remember the explosion and being outside watching the firemen put out the resulting fire.
“Most new sedans on the market do indeed feature fastback rooflines and low trunk for increased aerodynamics, making them appear to have full-hatch openings. In fact many of them do.”
I can’t think of many fastback-style sedans right now that actually have bitten the bullet and gone full liftback like they should.
The Buick Regal has. The Volkswagen Arteon, too, and it directly replaces the CC. The Kia Stinger doesn’t have a predecessor but it’s adopted the liftback format. The Tesla Model S seems to have really kicked off the trend.
I found it puzzling that Ford didn’t do a liftback for the current Fusion. The Fusion sedan looks damn near identical to the Mondeo liftback. It was the same for the last generation of Mondeo sedan and hatch. Maybe the Fusion might have sold a bit better had it offered this relatively unique selling point.
Detroit still thinks Omni/Escort/Chevette when they hear “hatchback”. They haven’t noticed that these days hatchbacks could well mean a BMW, Mercedes-AMG, Porsche, Audi, or Tesla.
I also was thinking of cars like the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and Audi A5 Sportback.
The years either side of 1980 were peak personal luxury car and the GM G bodies were top of the heap. This happens to coincide with my teen years but I never wanted these cars. Maybe it’s just where I grew up but I associate these with tacky clothing and excessive quantities of hairspray and cologne.
My ideal was a small sporty car like a VW Scirocco, Celica GT or old BMW 02 since the 3 Series was still too pricey.
Actually, the most popular recent sedans, like the Accord/Camry/Fusion/Sonata/Altima, are awfully close to these GM A/G bodies.
The Cutlass was 200.1 inches long, 71.3 inches wide, 108.1 inches of wheelbase, and had a curb weight depending on options of about 3200 lbs.
The 2018 Accord claims a length of 192.2 inches, 73.3 inches of width, 111.4 inches of wheelbase, and a curb weight of about 3300 lbs.
The Cutlass really set some sort of golden median/mean for car size and design. It’s large enough inside and out to be comfortable, even for four adults, but not possessed of the ridiculous and pointless overhangs of the larger cars. It had a good sized bench/pair of buckets at not quite chair height but not sitting on the floor either up front and a good sized bench at a good height in the back with good cushion depth and pitch. It’s parkable and maneuverable and was reasonably powerful and economical for its era and was what the Accord and Camry eventually grew up to be. Now that most sedans have four doors, it’s possible to fit a baby seat in the back, although for those of us who were born in the 1970s, the two door car was what kept us safe.
I can really understand why these things were such hits; like today’s Accord and Camry, they may not have excelled at any one thing but they did enough very well to be the best choice. Like today’s Accord and Camry, young people, old people, single people, married people, all drove or aspired to drive a Cutlass. They seemed better made than their GM siblings, the Oldsmobile dealer treated you better than a Chevrolet or Pontiac dealer, they were generally better equipped than the Chevrolet equivalent, and they were much better than the often woeful Chrysler or Ford equivalents. They were very much like the Lexus of the day in that they were more luxurious than the competition, held their value well, and were well built for the day.
They could go all the way from vinyl bench seated Avis stripper to right sized Cadillac to single man’s sporty car with different option packages. After 81 I think the last really stripper models disappeared and everything got a decent grade of cloth and it would have been hard to find one without air and some comfort. Even as lowly optioned cars, they had a substantial feel, much more so than anything underneath them in the GM or other lineups. A Fairmont may have been a few hundred dollars cheaper, but there was no mystery as to how or why Ford got it to be a few hundred dollars cheaper; you FELT every penny that had been taken out.
I had a Grand National most recently and parked it next to something like a late model Sentra, and although some of the dimensions are similar, the Sentra seemed much larger. I think it’s the height and the way the Sentra greenhouse swelled that made this car seem almost petite.
1956 Bel Air Sport Coupe Specs:
length: 197.5 in, width: 74 in, wheelbase: 115 in, curb weight: 3420 lbs
1970 Chevelle with a 307 V-8
length: 197.2 in, width: 75.4 in, wheelbase: 112 in curb weight: 3366 lbs
All are very close to the aforementioned Cutlass and Accord.
This seems to be the sweet spot that Americans love, doesn’t it? Big enough to haul your family and yet not be a leviathan and small enough to park and maneuver easily.
Truer words have never been spoken regarding the difference between a Fairmont and an A-G body of the time. Having owned one Fairmont and numerous examples of the GM A/G cars it was obvious the moment you closed the door on the Ford which one was made cheaper. Everything from wafer thin window glass to wafer thin doors with little to no sound insulation to the tinny clunk the doors made when closing and opening them to the roar of tire noise driving at 55 MPH screamed cheap on the Ford. My car even had the dreaded dash vibration resonance at 55 MPH that drove me bonkers, also noted by various car magazine reports at the time. Even the small plastic interior door handle releasees felt and were cheap, the trunk was very shallow enough where it crushed a bag of upright groceries and the lamentable placing of the horn on the turn signal stalk screamed cost cutting.
The GM mid sizers had there issues too starting with the no roll down rear windows on sedans and wagons, weak Metric 200 transmissions, the diesel fiasco on so equipped versions and the silly weak 200 Chevy V6 and 196 Buick version of the 231. Speaking of the 231 it wasn’t a really great engine either, especially in the earlier years. What all this meant was that optioning one of these correctly was essential (Ditto the Fairmont) and one could have a really nice car. A/C was essential on sedans and wagons, a V8 was the path to a longer lasting smoother and more powerful engine and finding one with the superior 250/350 THM transmission was a good find indeed. Suspension upgrades were almost necessary on lower V6 models, which seemed to have the weakest and softest springs and suspension ratings and this was one area the Fairmont was better as it’s base suspension and rack and pinion steering did indeed make for a nippier car.
A buddy of mine in college had a ’78 Cutlass Supreme with all the options. He was the “Big Man” on campus at the time.
Once he got married, he switched to a Mercy Colony Park wagon with wood grain paneling. Later, he expressed regret in letting go of the Cutlass. 🙁
Just a quick comment on the production numbers. According to the numbers I have seen, Chevrolet Silverado is number 2, and Ram is number 3.
I am also assuming you are calculating comparing the Cutlass sales to other single model names? It should be noted that if you compare to the full-size Chevrolets (Caprice and Impala), they outsold the Cutlass line in 1978 and 1979.
I thought the Cutlass notchback sedan was available during the 1980 model year, not 1981 although the 1980 did have the single headlights, I do agree the 1981 restyle of the Oldsmobile Cutlass as well as the Buick Regal looked better than the 1978-80 counterparts.
The Cutlass notch sedan did appear in 1980 after only two years of the aeroback. For some reason the fastback coupe lingered on for a third year in 1981 before being axed, even though notchback Cutlass coupes were available all along.
Rented one of these in Bismarck, North Dakota for a work trip to the Antelope Valley coal gasification project to repair some electrical equipment (they heated low grade lignite coal to make artificial natural gas) a nice car as I recall, but had to pressure wash the entire car before returning it due to the layers of caked on Dakota red mud
The biggest thing that I absolutely hated about these cars, as well as their Chevy, Pontiac, and Buick cousins was that the radio and heater controls were almost on the floor. Why do the vents get priority over components that actually need to be looked at?
These were what “everyone” wanted when I got my license in the late 80’s. (OK, late-teen new drivers in The rural Midwest…) They were everywhere, if you looked hard enough you could find one without a V6 or a bench seat (but they all looked the same from outside) and if you did settle for a 6, the insurance wasn’t THAT bad… at least 3 of my friends all had “G bodies” as first cars. If you looked hard enough, you could find one with “T-Tops”, which was as good as a convertible for then! (They all leaked, though, so expect rusty floors and musty upholstery) The only problem with the G-bodies was, they rusted (like everything did in the upper Midwest) and they were stupid easy to steal. I remember helping two of my friends install “Chicago Collars” on the steering columns (stainless steel covers to help make it slightly harder to punch out the area around the ignition key, although one of said cars got stolen anyway) All you needed to do was pry the frameless window out enough to get a coat hanger onto the lock button, and you were in. Then, a screwdriver could punch through the plastic steering column and you could unlock the steering and start the car… Less than one minute for an experienced thief. So insurance rates for these were much higher than most other stuff available to us new drivers. I still wanted one though… a neighbor had a forest green, T-Top Regal with buckets and console, V8 powered and I actually had enough cash for their asking price for my first car, but the insurance agent we had refused to cover me, and the car had multiple holes in the trunk and passenger floors… Oh, and I knew the kid who bought it, and it got stolen the first time he drove it to Milwaukee…
A 1982-86 G-body Cutlass Supreme is still high on my wish-list of cars I didn’t get in High School but should have. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find one that hasn’t been trashed but also isn’t so original that I would feel guilty about pulling the drive train and putting a warmed up SBC/700R4 setup in it.
The Cutlass Ciera was meant to replace the Cutlass sedans and Aeroback coupe, but the 2 door got axed after ’80, and not replaced till ’82. Ciera coupe ended up fading away.
The N bodies were truly meant to replace the formal roof G body PLC’s. Car & Driver had a pic of one with ‘Cutlass Supreme’ badging. Chevy passed on this and went for the Beretta.
But another thing to consider is the ’78 body lasted 10 years, almost unheard of in previous decades. Imagine a ’64 Cutlass still for sale in ’74? [may have been a good idea now that I think about it]
I had a ’78 Cutlass Supreme coupe w/260 V8. It had the performance of a fully loaded school bus going uphill AND the fuel mileage. The 3 sp. auto tranny was programmed to get into 3rd (drive) as soon as possible and stay there no matter if you were pushing the accelerator through the floor trying to get it to downshift. At a time when the speed limit was still 55 mph, this car’s best acceleration range was between 65 and 80.
It had a unique ability to sense when I really needed it to run (during finals, for example), and that’s when it would fail to start and leave me high and dry.
No matter what brand of tires I put on it, the back end would NOT stay stuck to the road if there was the slightest bit of moisture. For a California boy who had only been driving 2 years – and virtually NONE of that in rain – but who was now in college in Dallas where the weather changes every five minutes, it was quite an experience. I was convinced my father’s company had sold me the car cheap so he could kill me off and collect the insurance.
The engine had to be rebuilt at 57k miles because it was ready to throw a rod and it finally just died altogether at 111,000.
What a POS.
What was the time frame of your ownership?
My dentist has a hard time selling off his old iron. Here’s a photo from nearly 3 years ago showing his 79 Cutlass Supreme and 83 Nissan pickup (the Cutlass was still there last week when I went in for an appointment).
“While the notchback Cutlass Supreme coupe was the most popular body by far, it’s worth noting that a traditional notchback sedan wasn’t offered until 1981. ”
That is incorrect. In 1980, both the Cutlass & Buick Century were available in four door notchback sedans. They were also body on frame & rear drive.
Perhaps Current cars would sell better if not fast back/10year old Audi rip offs. I hate fast backs and no trunk look. It’s no wonder people buy trucks.