I often hear my twenty-something children and their friends talk about “adulting”. Adulting seems to be the practice of what we of an earlier generation called taking care of business. Adulting involves putting aside all of the crazy, fun things that you would rather (or could otherwise afford to) be doing and being a responsible grown-up. For today’s millennials adulting involves things like keeping your bills paid instead of going to concerts out of town and shopping for things like tires or car insurance. Or in the words of those a generation or two beyond me, vegetables before dessert.
Adulting can also involve buying a new car. It does not involve buying the wholly impractical (if not bat-shit crazy) cheap stuff that starry-eyed kids fall in love with, like the 1970s Dodge pickup truck with its roof sawn off that briefly served the teenage son of a family in my neighborhood. Or the yellow and purple twenty-year-old Nash sedan that showed up with an older brother of my childhood next door neighbor before disappearing just as suddenly. In my case it was the well-worn $400 ’63 Cadillac that had been sitting undriven in a garage for a year. “What a great car, nothing ever goes wrong with these.” No, adulting requires that one choose something normal and practical.
In the 1970s, there was nothing more normal and practical than the Oldsmobile Cutlass. The car’s size, price, looks, performance and quality hit a home run, making it the most popular single car in America for several years. Adulting in the 1970s very often involved the purchase of a new Cutlass.
My cousin Butch adulted in just this way. When he was young and carefree he showed up at our house in a yellow 1969 M.G. Midget. He may have moved to something more practical than the Midget (and what wasn’t?) but I don’t remember. But I do remember that day when he had reached that point in his mid 20s where he had a stable job and was engaged. We had heard that he was looking for a new car and one day he showed up in it – a pale yellow 1978 Cutlass Supreme 2 door trimmed with a burgundy vinyl roof and velour interior. In other words, a car very much like this one. I can’t recall if Butch went all out with the Brougham – but probably not as broughaming was not usally a part of adulting. Adulting involved choosing a more restrained trim level, which was just one more bit of practice in the lifelong art of not getting everything you want.
I was conflicted. I was happy to see Butch moving on in his life, plainly on the road to happiness and success. But . . . damn . . . a Cutlass? To translate my reaction to something more identifiable today, think of a kid buying his first Civic or Corolla. Or maybe a CR-V or Escape. A completely acceptable choice, one for which nobody will criticize you. Other than that it was so . . . adult.
I did not mean “adult” in a good way either, the way we usually thought of adulthood at the time. I was thinking of it in the modern context of “adulting”. Poor Butch. He thought he had bought a new car. I saw him fastening the shackle around his ankle, consigned to the purgatory of velour and an overmatched 260 cid V8 which also came with a hefty payment book. Poor bastard. Jeez, for a lot less money you could buy a ten year old Ford convertible with a 3 friggin’ 90 and have something fun and unique (when you were not wrenching on it). But that wasn’t adulting.
I would never succumb to the anesthesia that was a Cutlass, of course. I had gotten a whiff of adulting a year or two earlier when I found myself alone, piloting my stepmom’s ’74 Cutlass Supreme coupe. I will never forget the sensation of being surrounded by brilliant white vinyl and thinking “OK Jimmy, this is what real life is like. One of these times you are going to join the great herd by wearing a tie every day and doing all kinds of shit you don’t want to do. You are going to have to eventually make your peace with a Cutlass.” It was not a good feeling. Perhaps that Cutlass moment of clarity hit me particularly hard because I had been riding in the Cutlasses (and F-85s) of parents since I had been a wee tot. If the ’61, the ’64, the ’68, the ’72, and that ’74 in which I had spent nearly a lifetime had conditioned me to anything it was that fun cars may be for some people, but not for the adults that my family was likely to turn out. Because we bought Oldsmobiles. I knew that one day, my unavoidable Cutlass-moment would come. And there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it.
But then a funny thing happened. Around the time I became an actual (as opposed to theoretical) adult, the Cutlass began to dissolve into irrelevance, at least as far as early-stage adulting was concerned. By 1985 the adulting concept involved a Honda Accord or a Toyota Celica instead of a Cutlass. Glory Hallelujah!
Some of us go into adulthood more easily than others, and as far as my automotive life went, adulthood did not get its claws fully into me for several years thereafter. The ’85 Volkswagen GTI was a thumb in the eye of adulthood and the ’66 Plymouth Fury III that followed it was a kick to adulthood’s groin. But grownupedness had the last laugh (as it always does) when I married a girl with . . . an ’88 Honda Accord. But thank the Good Lord it wasn’t a Cutlass.
As I got older and watched Oldsmobile swirl around and then flow down the drain I began to miss the Big O. Just a little. Then adulthood got its sweet revenge when I pulled up my big boy pants and sold my beloved ’68 Chrysler Newport for . . . an Oldsmobile. An ’84 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency, to be precise. It was the responsible choice, much newer and with fewer miles. Though this wasn’t so much adulting as it was pseudo-grandparenting. It was an OK car, but not anything that ever really got my juices flowing. How adult.
But now, nearly forty years on, I can say that I kind of like this little Oldsmobile. Except for the color. Egad, who can like that? I had to suck up wearing a tuxedo in that color when one of my cousins (was it Butch again?) got married around that time. It was the ’70s, that’s for sure. Today I can admire the clean lines of this car, particularly the way Oldsmobile’s stylists were able to capture the essence of Cutlass in the make-or-break stakes of the 1978 downsizing. The only thing the Cutlass lost in the translation to a smaller, slimmer version of itself was the smooth, torque-making 350 cid (5.7L) Rocket V8 with that signature Oldsmobile sound bubbling from the exhaust pipe. The wimpy little 260 (4.3L) V8 never possessed the ample, relaxed power of its big brother. Who knows, this alone may have begun the car’s fall from grace with those classes of matriculating adults whose field of view was wider than that of their parents. Or perhaps the car was doomed by parental popularity, which has been a killer of minivan and sedan sales in recent years.
Either way, it was a blast from the past to gaze upon this 79 Cutlass Supreme Brougham which, if not something that could pass for showroom new, is agonizingly close for a car going on forty. But if transported back to 1979 with a second chance, would I sign on the dotted line for a new Cutlass? Not a chance, Dude – after all, there was a white ’59 Plymouth Fury sedan that was delivered to its first owner on the day I was born, and calling my name from the used car lot of a Dodge dealer in Muncie, Indiana. Sometimes adulting just has to wait.
Very interesting article, JP. One doesn’t think of it, but every generation does their version of “adulting”.
For me, it was getting a sales job that required me to look more presentable than a 16 year old rusty Valiant could pull off when arriving at a clients. The 1974 Dodge Monaco Brougham that replaced it was used but it was my first bank loan on my own and my first car from the “good” section of used cars, not the really used stuff over the hill in the back.
This week at CC is a pleasant trip back memory lane
Not crazy about that interior color, but I’m OK with the exterior, and at least this one doesn’t have the stupid ‘landau’ half-vinyl roof that was almost mandatory on these cars. Plus, I’d take the wimpy but smooth 260 V8 any day over the rough & rattly 231 V6!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Either engine is far preferable to the diesel.
Happily, I’ve been able to avoid the worst hits of adulting while still becoming more responsible (I’m a bookkeeper, for chrissakes!). My big thumb in the eye of responsible adulthood is that I did not: 1. Have children. 2. As a result of #1, have the wife nag me into selling my motorcycle, buy a minivan, and become a good father.
Instead I: 1. Filed for divorce shortly after the wife hit me with, “When are you finally going to grow up and get rid of that damned motorcycle?”. 2. Once the divorce was final, started out hanging out at biker bars, which led to a twenty year involvement and three different M/C patches. 3. Started doing medieval tournaments, and historical reenactment.
Oh yeah, I got the minivan – but it was a Caravan C/V finished on the inside with a subtle graphic on the outside, and used it to transport my gear to historical reenactments. And turned my involvement in that hobby into a profitable business.
So yes, it’s possible to become responsible in adult life without becoming yet another dull Oldsmobile-driving drone. Just don’t have kids.
And while I’m not crazy about the color, that Oldsmobile is quite attractive. I wouldn’t mind owning it, and starting to hit the antique shows all over again. As Mark D. mention, the lack of a vinyl roof is a big saving grace on that car.
And there was a point when I was looking at the equivalent Pontiac as a possible next car when it came time to replace my Monza Kammback with what eventually became our ’82 Dodge Omni.
That series was one of the last GM successes before everything went to hell in a hand basket.
Motorcycling with my kids is a special kind of fun.
You’re a lucky guy to be able to combine the two.
My dislike of parenting comes from the firm belief that, no matter how you plan, try, attempt, whatever a noble, planned method of raising children . . . . . . when everything starts to go wrong you instinctively fall back on the method your parents used to raise you.
Under no conditions would I ever put a child thru my childhood and adolescence. (To quote my first two wives, one who had to live with them, and the other who heard all the stories from both of us, “After your mother, I’m amazed you ended up dating girls.”) And my sister obviously felt the same way. Our side of the family name dies with us. Willingly.
I have to agree on the no kids plan. I’m 51, no kids either. The freedom it rewards you with is amazing. But I didn’t miss anything, as I have 2 sisters who have 3 kids each. All of whom I babysat. I probably have changed more diapers than most parents. All great kids (Ok, they are mostly adults now) Nice find on the Oldsmobile, now we need to find the FoMoCo equivalent, the Mercury Monarch, like my oldest sister drove in her mom years in the ’80s, when cash was tight for them.
A man after my own heart. I too realized that ‘opting out’ of having kids was THE right thing to do. Like most human beings, I can be selfish irresponsible and impulsive. UNlike most people, Im also pretty self aware and realistic about that. Bouth my sisters had kids–2 and through for both of them so as a result Im an uncle 4 times over. Love em to death but that’s in part because being the “kickass cool uncle” insulates one from the harsh realities of poopy diapers, a fat bill for college, total lack of freedom, the inevitable baby mama drama, child support and alimony. A minivan, cammacord or some other soul crushing appliance wouldn’t even be a consideration since desirable rides like a Magnum R/T, Hemi Grand Cherokee, 4 door Wrangler, etc can easily handle kid drudgery without a malestrom of F bombs everytime the payment is made.
I get criticized often for my somewhat man-childish and rebellious ways often. And yet I own my home, have nonexistent credit card debt, have 11 years with my employer, and (by the sheer grace of God) have somehow never been arrested despite deserving it many times. As a result, I’ve never changed a diaper in my 43 years, the most boring and ‘normal’ vehicle I’ve owned was a red 2 door with a manual and the biggest motor available. My take on adulting: as much as necessary, as little as possible.
Count me as part of the ‘no kids’ club too. Oh, I would have happily had them and been a good father, but both my ex wives are ex wives for long-term reasons (that I freely admit I should have seen beforehand) but I read the writing on the wall soon enough into each fiasco to avoid adding little 64s to the world. The freedom is nice, and seeing the things my friend’s children have put them through lessens immensely the desire to extend my own DNA into the future. My car dreams are only limited by my ability to pay the monthly note.
Besides, if I had kids now, I’d be raising teenagers when I’m in my mid to late 60s and I don’t think I can handle that.
36 and no kids here. There are advantages to both ways of doing it undoubtedly, and they give one different things to take pride in. For me, it’s two houses, six cars, a motorcycle, lots of other “toys” and zero debt. Add to that ten years of marriage and 19 with my employer, and I don’t have much to complain about.
Interesting terms for growing up and being responsible, never heard any of them previously. My first “mature” care purchase was an 11 year old Altima, which I still own. Though it’s practical and reliable, I still insisted on a stick 🙂 Despite being tempted from time to time, I don’t see any new cars in my future though.
I guess I’m an old soul, but as a kid I actually looked forward to the day when I’d get a Cutlass. While perhaps not quite the home run of the downsized ’77 B- and C-Body full-size cars, I still think GM did a nice job with the downsized ’78 A-Bodies–especially the personal luxury coupes. During an era obsessed with fuel efficiency, the Cutlass Supreme (not the aerobacks) effectively migrated American style to a smaller package. Adult? Sure, but in my eyes being a “grown-up” was a good thing, so the Cutlass Supreme was too. Funnily enough, one of my older cousins–Steven, got a ’79 Cutlass Supreme Brougham, which was very similar to the featured car (except for the color, his was Silver with black inside), so minimally equipped, no power windows or landau roof, but included the corduroy “loose pillow” seats and super stock wheels. It was the proverbial “nice” car and seemed very “smart” for a guy in his twenties who was at the beginning of his career. I looked at him and that car and thought it would be great to be able to do the same thing one day and get a Cutlass of my own–though my “wild side” would have wanted a loaded Calais.
As you point out, the pendulum swung in a different direction in the 1980s, and the new “grown-up” choice became cars like the Honda Accord–very nice all around, good looking but not too flashy–essentially “just right” (exactly the same as how the Cutlass was perceived in the 1970s). So in reality, my first car was a Honda (an ’88 Prelude–perhaps the spiritual equivalent of a ’78 Cutlass Calais?) and I loved it. Olds in ’88? Forget about it–they’d lost the plot at that point, and had minimal appeal for 20-something and 30-something adults–which ultimately proved to be lethal for the brand.
I guess I was an older soul than you because I would have been fine with a Chrysler Newport. The Cutlass was just too conformist for me. What kind of kid wants to rebel with a Chrysler Newport? If you can figure it out, let me know. 🙂
Our young years seem to shape what we see as conformist. Growing up knee deep in Cutli made it very familiar to you.
I mentioned the other day regarding the 1967 Low Price Three article that 9 of the 12 homes on my block featured an Impala, Galaxie, or Fury. Adulting seemed to involve sensible, price conscious transportation.
With the presence of the upscale Oldsmobile so close – my dad’s company car, and the cars of our better off neighbors, I really wanted to own an Olds when I started driving, and the Cutlass offered a very socially acceptable car for a young person from an older person’s brand. My high school parking lot was full of them, a Chevelle had better be a ’72 or older, or it wasn’t cool to drive such a basic car anymore. In the malaise era, the Monte Carlo had become the cool Chevy, the more options, the better.
Several years later, I found the charm of the simplicity of a non broughamed out 1967 Galaxie 500, and enjoyed a return to the sort of car I grew up in. As it turned out, those practical people on our block knew what they were doing.
Good point about our young years, Dave. My rebellion consisted of buying a nine-year-old car in base trim and hanging onto it for another twenty-something. It got me from here to there and back. Why get a new car with all the inflated payments when the old one goes just fine? 🙂
Until it didn’t pass a roadworthy and cost too much to fix!
Nice article. I’ve always been an Olds fan, and had a ’69 Delta 88 and an ’81 Cutlass. I always thought these first gen downsized Cutlasses looked stunted – that applied to the Monte Carlo and Gran Prix also. The ’81 re-style brought back more of the flowing, leaner look of the 60s and 70s models.
They were fairly well screwed together though, a fellow LT at a class I was attending had a new ’79 Cutlass and another had a 78 Futura – the difference between the two couldn’t have been more noticeable. The Cutlass was quiet and smooth – the Futura was a rattle-trap.
Very interesting article, hitting upon a subject everyone has had to face at one point or another.
Being a member of the habitually overlooked Generation X, I really don’t remember there being any particular signs or milestones for reaching adulthood, other than maybe signing up for the selective service at age 18. Or maybe there was and I just didn’t notice; we Gen X’ers tend to take care of business without any drama. 🙂
By the time I bought my first adult type car in 1996, Oldsmobile was certainly not the place to be. Personal luxury coupes had rather ran their course, but that didn’t stop me from purchasing my ’96 Thunderbird. I was chastised by family for purchasing one with a V8 (“a six is just fine, boy”) despite it getting the exact same fuel mileage as my 2.3 liter four-cylinder Mustang.
Lord knows I’ve done a lot of adulting since then.
Well said Jason – Taking Care of Business “TCB” and no drama! I also like to think us Gen X’ers are a good mix of “Senior Millenial” and “Baby Boomer” – essentially the perfect generation.
Regarding adulting .. I thought I was adulting when I got married the first time. Thought I was adulting when I got married the second time. Now I realize I’m adulting by not getting married..
All of it! +1!
Virtually every marriage of my childhood family and friends either ended in divorce or descended into a rut, or worse. I knew what I *didn’t* want to do when I grew up.
Marriage is work. It’s rewarding, too. After 38 years, I won’t do it again – I did it right the first time. 🙂
What’s the difference between Millennials and Gen X?
Gen X has a lawn to tell you to get off of!
(Born in 1977 here)
’62 here. I fit between “Boomer” and “Xer”: I can only say:
Xers are more independent and reliable?
Boomers had better music ?
These are stereotypes for sure. YMMV!
Although we all have to be careful about generalizations and stereotypes☺, as a Boomer who used to have a significant number of GenXers on my staff, I think the TCB self-characterization is entirely accurate: hard working, quick to learn, no drama, adaptable, i.e., the best employees/colleagues anyone could ask for.
Succeeded now by the likes of the Toyonda Camcord. For those who like that sort of thing, that’s the sort of thing they like.
Adulting? I guess I sorta did that when I traded in my last old high mileage Mercedes for a new, stripped down Metris passenger van.
But then, being an adult has never been my strongpoint.
Off topic hot read:
The only young adults that I know who I’ve heard say “Adulting” do it to essentialy mock their parents. Specifically, you say it to avoid deference once accountability is expected. Full stop.
Nobody cares a 19 year old pays their own cell phone bill (who isn’t 19 themselves). Got your own apartment? Great! That’s what normal people do!
(rant over, and I’m not even that old…)
I’ve only seen it used by lifestyle-column writers.
Trust me, I hear it from a lot of my younger sister’s very privileged friends. It’s not cute, nor is it meant to be when it’s said.
*my sister and I are fairly far apart in age; I love my sister dearly and as such, her friends seem to like me also as a result. I hear way more than I want to. My sister is also quite a bit past my baseline “19”*
A lot of people my age use it and I tend not to hear it in a mocking fashion. I might say, “I got tired at 8:30pm and went to bed” or “I spent my weekend cleaning the house” or “We bought so much furniture from IKEA” and someone will typically reply, “Aww, you’re adulting”
Well I just may be an outlier then, and know some bitchy 20 something’s? Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut (like I do with them!).
William, is that used in Australia as well as America? I’ve never heard it, but then I’m a boomer who doesn’t go out much these days, with kids in their late 20s.
Yup Pete, friends of mine in my office here in Brissie used it the other day. I’ve definitely heard it from other Aussies too.
Ask your kids. They’ve probably heard it around, too. It’s probably something we’ve absorbed from American culture, like so many other colloquialisms.
Very insightful article JP! The parallels of adulting 40 years ago and today are spot on, and your views towards the Cutlass back then mirror mine to a new somewhat economical yet rather boring car today. I guess I’m a little bit of an outlier with the car I have now, but given the choice of car payments on say, a new Hyundai Sonata or Toyota RAV4, I’d much rather take a 15-year old BMW E39 5 Series for a few thousand cash and then have some money for maintenance 🙂
So, did you? And how handy has that employee discount on genuine parts come in?
Trust me, I’d love to buy an E39, but I’m saving up to buy a house within the next 2-3 years so taking on the expense of a second “fun car” isn’t in the cards for me right now. I would get a discount on parts and service if so, but right now I’m happy with my low lease payment on my 2 Series. It’s hard not to go ahead with buying a second, older BMW as a fun car, but it isn’t a good investment if not necessary but rather an expensive hobby.
As a matter of fact, I guess you can say by doing the responsible thing and saving for my future, I am indeed “adulting” 🙂
Great way to start the day. I too appreciate the exterior color of this Cutlass, but it does look very odd that the chrome isn’t peeling off a deeply rusted rear bumper. Every one I’ve seen since about 1982 was like that.
My moment came the day I realized “Oh no, I’m a briefcase carrying, minivan driving, plaid shirt wearing Dad” as I was driving to work.
Luckily my practice of driving cheap daily drivers has always allowed keeping motorcycles, guitars and an old hobby car, so I don’t think I’ve fully “adulted” yet 🙂
Loved this, both the car and the text!
I’m not ashamed to say that this generation of Cutlass Supreme was one of my very first “favorite cars” in life, being new when I was a preschooler. They still look good to me (even better than the Colonnades), and if I was my current age when this car was new or slightly used, it would have been on my list.
I like that you referenced the particularly well-executed downsizing of the ’78 Cutlass (non-Salon), as it has always seemed (to me) at least two rungs above it’s platform mates in terms of style.
As for my perception of “Adulting” in the late 1970’s, I actually kind of like that young adults then aspired to liking “nice” things (like this Cutlass), versus the constant self-deprecation and negativism that seems so pervasive today.
“As for my perception of “Adulting” in the late 1970’s, I actually kind of like that young adults then aspired to liking “nice” things (like this Cutlass), versus the constant self-deprecation and negativism that seems so pervasive today.” – That, folks is the quote of the week ??
I think you hit the nail on the head that this is the equivalent of the CR-V/RAV4/Escape class; not basic transportation (Chevette, Pinto, Mirage, Versa) or even something a step or two up like a Mailbu then or Civic now that still carries echoes of that ’68 Chevelle or ’99 Civic you alternately tinkered and beat on in high school. The Cutlass or CUV is taking a step up from *that* in price and payments in a deliberate attempt at Looking Like A Grownup.
That being said, if I had to name an Official Car Of Twentysomething Adulting it would be a gen 9 Toyota Corolla or its’ (desirable for their extra utility) Matrix/Vibe derivatives, because with college as expensive as it is now, a lot of people are defining responsible as not taking on yet more consumer debt, especially on a depreciating asset.
And I agree, the Cutlass’ pale greenish-white exterior is meh…but oh, that glorious green pillow-tufted velour, the very embodiment of “they don’t make ’em like that anymore”!
As a child of the 60’s Olds always seemed like it would be the answer when I grew up enough to be an upwardly mobile young member of management. My ideal adult automotive path as daydreamed with a friend while in high school (say 1968 or so) was a first-good-job hot Pontiac, followed by a series of middle-management Olds, and finally when really successful -wait for it- a Lincoln. In those days there was only one Mercedes in town, and was viewed as rugged and reliable but spartan; certainly not luxurious. Twenty guesses wouldn’t have brought the right answer to the meaning of “BMW”.
My life, and automotive life ended up looking nothing like the plan (said everyone, ever), and my first ever ain’t-nobody-drove-it car didn’t arrive until 1986. It was an Acura Integra.
As for the moment of recognition that I was ‘adulting’, mine was very clear. As a toddler my ‘Aunt Cookie’ (don’t ask please) had given me some savings bonds totaling $1,000 upon ‘maturity’ (heh). Those bonds were my dream money: ever the ticket to some magic trip somewhere ‘in a few years’. Instead, I cashed them in for a washer and dryer for my new bride. Sigh, here we go Mr. Adult.
Very good article JP. I live very close to where this car is parked for sale and looked it over last night. I have owned a dark camel 1978 Camaro Z28 since April, 1978 and live in Ivy Hills. My car is mostly original. I am frequently seen tooling around in it in the Castleton area as well as being parked in my driveway on display. I would enjoy seeing it in a story on your site with some photos. Keep an eye out for it.
You are definitely in my neck of the woods, so I will be sure to watch for it. Congratulations on your long-term ownership! I saw it last week and did not know if it was still for sale or not, so I did not post any pictures with the sale info. If it is still available, I have the owner’s phone number, which I hate to post for fear that he will be getting calls in four years. If anyone wants to contact the guy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. But you having seen it, I think you would agree that it looks as good in person as it does in these photos. And feel free to email me, I would love to come by and see your car some time!
J.P., I loved this piece and I think you’ve summed up the Cutlass very well.
While I like the Colonnade Cutlasses, these downsized models look right. Very clean lines, elegant proportions, nice and simple detailing. This one is in remarkable condition, too. I don’t mind the exterior colour, it’s certainly different. And I do like these loose pillow-ish seats, the 98 also had seats like these available. That interior is pristine!
If I was in my 20s and wanting to buy my first respectable new car and it was 1978, I feel my need to root for the underdog would have steered me away from a Cutlass – pah, I don’t want to drive what everybody else is driving! – and into a nice Grand LeMans or Grand Am coupe or sedan. Nicer dashboard in those too.
Hey, William, two of my friends shared your view back in 78. This Grand Am was a factory ordered car that definitely was far less common than a Cutlass in SoCal.
I remember you posting that picture before, and I remember saving it because, well, how many ’78-79 Grand Am 4-dr sedan photos are there on the net?
I’d love one of those.
I had no idea that a Grand Am sedan was even available in the downsized cars. Very cool!
One of my very first clear automotive memories is getting myself locked into my grandmother’s ’78 Cutlass in a shopping mall parking lot. My three-year-old hands couldn’t move the plunger up to unlock, and her frantic attempts to explain where the power lock switch was (and how it worked) were futile. I was eventually rescued by a security guard with a coat hanger.
Despite this, I also remember it being a beautiful car – basically a clone of the above, right down to the wheels, but in burgundy inside and out. Alas, it was almost certainly powered by the 260.
Well, even closing in on 50 I’m rarely considered a true “adult”, but when I did finally (and briefly, if I’m being honest) take my turn at “adulting” in my mid 20’s around 1994 it was a Honda Accord that was the de facto adultingmobile, so that’s what I bought.
Today’s version of the same transition seems to have little to do with cars in many cases. My partner, who turns 29 this year, has seemingly begun the process of molting into adulthood. (Note that while we “adulted” somewhere between 22 and 25, this metamorphosis has clearly been pushed back to around the 30th birthday for most of the millenials I know) In his particular case the process does include the customary ordering of credit reports, agonizing over cleaning up and clearing out the sins of the past and taking on new responsibilities to establish one’s self as a viable prospect for even more adult responsibilities like mortgages and retirement accounts, but there’s as yet no thought of taking on a 5 year loan for a Civic or Corolla or whatever the proper adulting vessel might be at present. The replacement is a hefty contract with Verizon for a new iPhone whateverthehellnumber to sync with and match and communicate with an equally heavily leveraged MacBook Pro. Adulting has indeed changed since the Cutlass Supreme era.
Now get off my lawn.
I “adulted” when our first baby arrived. But I didn’t completely adult, so I went with a 1995 Chevy Impala SS. Plenty of room for baby + gear, and 305 (modified) HP on tap. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.
I re-adulted in 2002 and bought a Chevrolet Avalanche, which I still have. I successfully avoided the Accord, Camry, or minivan habit 🙂
I still have a special place in my heart for color-keyed Oldsmobile Rally Wheels.
I wish that automakers would offer painted steel wheels with trim rings and center caps.
+1 on those rally wheels! For a few decades, pretty much EVERY factory wheel from GM was an eye catching winner. These are a prime example and I remember when there was a LOT of pilfering between models for a custom look–these routinely showed up on S-10 pickups/Blazers.
A few years back, the 6th gen Camaro RS wore steelies clearly influenced by these. Very refreshing to see that style return.
I, too, have always been in love with the Super Stocks. Maybe because i grew up in an Oldsmobile household, or maybe because they just objectively look great.
If they’re paying attention to their customers, automakers just might bring back painted steel wheels on some cars.
A friend’s son asked me for guidance about buying his first car two or three years ago, and I accompanied him as he car shopped. He bought V6 Camaro with the first step up trim package above the base model (not sure what Chevy’s calling that these days). The step up in trim added lots of nice features, including some very attractive alloy wheels. This young man was disappointed in the wheels. He really liked the steelies on the base model, and he even asked the salesman if they could swap a set onto his car. I tried to convince him of the advantages of lighter allow wheels, but he wasn’t hearing it.
Agreed–color-keyed wheels have always been a favorite of mine. Shame they no longer exist.
” Except for the color. Egad, who can like that?”
It’s an acquired taste, but I do. Probably the most elegant company car my dad brought home was a 1974 Oldsmobile 88 Royale in a midnight blue metallic, slick top and midnight blue interior. No tight in the groin white polyester here, it absolutely flew in the face of the disco era and was quite the proper banker’s car. Adulting at its finest.
But, in fall ’79, that same Pastel Green graced the new Delta 88 Royale Brougham that came home with my dad, it had same green interior as the subject car as well. All the company cars had slick tops, so it had that going for it.
I was initially, shall we say, challenged by that car. But, having spent quite a bit of pleasant time traveling with my dad in that car, It grew on me in a good way.
The subject car features some of the effects of GM Multi-Fade (TM) materials, but isn’t too bad. As they say, you can’t go home again; I always thought that if I had a classic Delta 88 in my life, I’d like to have this color combo, but I guess it would likely never look right.
I believe the color combo may have been 1979 only, and I only recall maybe the Grand Prix wearing it outside the Oldsmobile family. The color was featured on a Ninety-Eight in the ’79 brochure, so Olds seemed to hope it might be popular………
This color does indeed seem to have been a 1979-only affair, which is how I first nailed down the year. It must not have been very popular as it was gone for the 80 models. I guess I’m just not a “70s pastels” kind of guy. I really do like the lack of vinyl on this roof. That navy blue 88 that you describe would have been a pretty car.
I think the 1980 GM green was one-year-only too. My ’82 Pontiac was a ’81-’82 only more subtle light green that looked blue to some people.
Guess it’s a generational thing but I wouldn’t at all consider this Cutty to be the normal, adult, or boring choice at all. For one, it has 2 doors–which means the person choosing it wouldn’t have completely sold out to responsibility or practicality. And when I was in high school (’88-’92) a 2-door G body was a respected choice among gearheads. Preferably it would NOT have a V6, bench seat, column shift, vinyl roof, dorky wheelcovers/whitewalls but even then it had potential to be something cool. A lucky few had a Regal T type, Olds W-30, Monte SS etc which would be an absolute score.
OTOH, several unlucky kids got saddled with various dumpy 4-doors or rickety econoboxes like Celebrities, K cars, tempos, chevettes etc. from my perspective, those were a backhand right into the drudgery of ‘adulthood’.
Take heart, after a couple decades of adulting you get to move on to post-adulting.
Lily and I have been empty nesters for awhile now, and one way we’ve been enjoying it is by accumulating cars. I guess the 2010 Prius qualifies as an adult car nowadays, even though its plate says “LOW CO2”. I got my hobby car for top-down days, a ’92 Miata. Lily drives her 2003 Mini Cooper S every day, it was her reward for getting her first novel published. And I just got the delightful ’17 electric Fiat I keep talking about for the daily commute.
I guess it’s just me, but back when this Cutlass was new or even just a few years old, I wouldn’t have considered it as an “adult” choice…per se. Yes, it’s more adult than a Camaro or a Triumph Spitfire, but nearly every one I knew who owned one of these Cutlasses or it’s sister cars, the Regal or Monte Carlo was a young, single person. When this car was new, being an adult would have meant buying a 4 door sedan….even if it was “only” a 4 door Cutlass.
My boss owned one of these Cutlasses back in the mid 80s. I drove it a few times, and it was a PLEASANT car, I guess being my boss’s I never stretched it’s limits, so I can’t say if it was a great car. It was certainly better engineered, equipped, and assembled than any Fairmont or Zephyr.
It’s very unusual to see one of these car WITHOUT a vinyl roof. I saw one of these Cutlasses in a movie being driven by a bad guy. His had the vinyl roof but very oddly had whitewalls on a set of body colored wheels….with DOG DISH hubcaps.
BTW, according to The Encyclopedia of American Cars you could get a Cutlass with the 350 from 78 through 81.
That would be the diesel 350.
Funny, it seems like GM eventually put the gas 350 into anything it would fit, but I’m not sure it ever made it into the A/G body. I guess fuel economy concerns were brutal in the 80’s. It certainly would have made all those Monte SSes and 442s less “adulting” than they were.
My grandmother had one, although not factory. Her black ’78 Monte Carlo (think Training Day) blew it’s lowly 305 somewhere around 1990. A family friend of a friend of a friend ran a big-rig repair business and offered to swap in a low mileage 350 out of a wrecked Caprice for a more than reasonable price. That car lived on for another 8 years or so before it left the family and was replaced by a 1990-whatever Lumina 4 door, quite possibly the most boring car ever conceived. I still miss grandma’s hot-rot Monte Carlo.
I woke up one morning in October of 1977 (I was 24) and I said to myself “I’m now ready to get married”. Seriously. But I had not even a GF at the time, so I had to find a suitable partner. I pursued one former GF who turned me down, even though she had wanted to commit earlier. Than I realized the answer lay close at hand, my landlady, whose name was Stephanie, as I was renting a garage studio apartment over her mom’s house (mom was off in Europe). To make a short story shorter, we were married on January 7, about 6 weeks after we fell in love. Which means it will be 40 years this coming January. And we started having kids two years later. I loved being a dad, and was very involved. No one had to nag me to get married, or have kids, or change diapers.
Does being this impulsive count as adulting? Maybe that’s the reason it worked out so well. Getting nagged into adulting is not a recipe for long term happiness.
Oh, and I sold my ’68 Dodge A100 van nad bought a well-used Peugeot 404. My version of an adulting car.
Ironically, being that impulsive seems to be very much the new normal for adulting.
I’ve got more than a couple 20-somethings in my life and periphery, and while it’s a difficult concept to get comfortable with as one who’s been programmed to cautious over-analysis, impulsiveness seems to work for them. I’ve seen many a Millenial make a pronouncement such as “I have decided I should…”, or “I feel like it’s time to…”, and then quite successfully execute the stated plan. Clearly you were a man ahead of your time.
I find myself frequently wishing I’d formally studied sociology. As an early gen X-er helping my early Baby Boomer mother (1947) care for my aging and ailing Depression/WW2 generation grandmother while trying to successfully navigate a relationship with a Millenial, I’m learning things every single day. Some lessons I’m sure I’ll be deeply grateful for. Others not so much. But it sure as hell is interesting, to say the least.
You’re not the only one! When my parents met, in the early 1960s, my father apparently thought that this woman he loved would take him more seriously if he had a sensible car. So he bought a Peugeot 404.
The trick worked, and they were married a few months later. But sensibility got tiring, apparently, since they sold the Peugeot about a year or two later for a Triumph TR-4. They didn’t buy another sensible car until about 10 years later.
Another Millennial here who’s an old soul – my “sensible” car is a 1998 Crown Victoria LX. Maybe it’s because I always lust after big old boats like Fleetwoods and 98’s, but I never could quite bring myself to buy an automotive appliance like a Corolla or a CR-V. From my 1st car (a 84 Sedan deVille) to my current daily driver (1996 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham), padded vinyl roofs and loads of chrome just speak to me.
Maybe one day I’ll put the veggies before dessert and buy an Accord…but that’s a bridge too far. My steady job and 401(k) will have to suffice until then.
Great article – my pap had a 1983 98 Regency, and that car really did have a special feel to it. It would have been my first car had PA winters not taken their toll on the floorboards and rusted the car out. Even the blue padded vinyl roof was tear free until the end.
Had it been 78, my choice would have been a full brougham AMC Concord D/L 2 door.
But my “adult” choice was actually an 86 Olds. Calais 2 door, first car payment, first “nice” car [not counting my $1600 84 Citation II. This wasn’t purchased with money I saved from stopping smoking, but a real car loan]. Followed by the purchase of a modest condo with a Hollywood Hills zip code two years later.
Ironically, as Mike PDX commented, post adulting, I have just gotten that 86 Olds Calais back from my little brother. The ONION is my adult car and the Valiant and now the Olds are my “fun” cars. Though I may take the Olds to visit my older brother and his wife in the fall just for the adventure of taking a 31 year old car on a vacation trip. 2nd teenhood, right here.
And I’ve been having a blast hearing that Iron Duke 92 Gerbilpower 4 growl. I’m so happy, I may have to lay down till it passes. I’ve been on a high for a week now, with no signs of it letting up.
Great insights, JP. I keep waiting to feel like an adult, but I guess it happened without my realizing it.
Great find, and write-up! I’ve been looking for a suitable Cutlass Supreme to write up for some time, but — kind of like when I went fishing last month — they keep getting away from me.
I did find this nice 1980 Cutlass recently, but didn’t have the chance to take many pictures (you know, I had adult responsibilities to attend to, instead). But I do like the color in your featured car more than the icky-brown of this one.
It is interesting to me how these Cutlasses went quickly from being a sensible Adulting car of the late 1970s to being the quintessential retirement car for the Greatest Generation by the mid-1980s. Even more interesting is how sales increased in the process. These Cutlasses do have an interesting story to tell — and the Adulting angle fits perfectly with this car.
In the 70’s, a Cutlass 2 door was a ‘young adult’ car and even well off teens got them for Graduation. While the full size cars/wagons were fading gradually. By early 80’s, many former big car owners got a “small” Cutlass instead.
Next generation of young adults then wanted Accords, and we know the rest of the story…
The transition from the Impala to the Cutlass to the Accord in some ways was the end of the mass market being quite so concentrated. My sister and her husband, with their engineering degrees, studiously read Consumer reports, and ended up with ’89 and ’93 Accords. Followed, by of all brands, a Plymouth, but that minivan and children sure mixed in that era. As their kids reach early adulthood, a full-size pick up, a four door hatchback, a CUV and minivan of various foreign and domestic brands grade their driveway – diversity indeed.
My former roommate started his Adulting in a loaded ’92 Chevy S-10 extended cab pick-up, and that’s another story that has gone many miles during the United State’s long visit at the CAFE.
I think I’m doing this “adulting” thing backwards. As a 16 year old I drove a Buick Park Avenue (I obviously didn’t pick that car myself). Then in college I moved on to a cheap and fuel efficient but not particularly exciting Saturn. Now I have a Corolla, but I have pretty much made up my mind that my next car will be a Miata.
Actually, when I was in high school in the mid-1990s a 1970s or 80s Cutlass was a fairly common car for a 16 year old to be driving, probably as a hand-me-down car from the parents or other relative. Actually, a friend in high school had a ’79 like that one, until the head gasket blew.
Dad had one, a ’79 Supreme, black with a red velour interior. He special ordered it as he had an aversion to vinyl roofs and it seemed that 90% of them on the dealer lots were Brougham’s. He went for the color-keyed Olds ‘Rally’ wheels, and it was a very nice looking car. He also ordered the 3.8L Buick V-6, which proved to be wise in the wake of the second energy crisis. The car was well built and gave little trouble. He put a lot of miles on it..
Cool write-up. A ’78 Cutlass was my first car.. This photo was taken in 1991. It had 65,000 miles on it, a 260 V8 w/2 bbl carb, A/C, and the same interior as the featured car. It was light blue though to match the swanky landau top!
Unfortunately this car had the frame rotting issue many of these suffered from, and you can see in the photo the bumper is sagging. That was a huge bummer for me, and the seller never mentioned it to us when he sold it. Oddly enough the rest of the car was quite rust-free, but it did have the Ziebart treatment.. which apparently worked on the body.
I sold this car probably 1 year later and bought a 1982 Chevy C-10 pickup which was a pile of junk compared to this, but it was a TRUCK, and 3 speed on the column! Woo hoo!
Funny, my one automotive flirtation with adulting (BTW I’ve never heard either of my 20-something kids use that term) also involved a Cutlass, but indirectly and somewhat unadultingly. In late ’81 I ended my short-term fling with a TransAm and bought a new Civic. I suppose that was the most practical automotive purchase I’ve made (at least without spousal influence) … I replaced the Civic with a couple of 4wd pickups, then a Land Cruiser and a turbo Forester, then back to trucks (the cars I chose and primarily drove, not my wife). Anyway, the dealer gave me a 4 door Cutlass loaner of that final A/G generation while they installed the stereo on the Honda, dark blue, vinyl top, the loose pillow velour, probably a 260 V8 or maybe just a V6. Anyway, it was my first experience with cruise control and naturally I had to experiment with it on the crowded Nimitz Freeway in the San Francisco East Bay at rush hour, substituting wild 3 in 1 lane changes for speed adjustments each time I caught up with a slower car in front of me. One of my craziest drives, definitely not adult, but I was young and coming off a couple of seasons of SCCA racing and auto crossing, so thought I was invincible. Dont remember much else about the Cutlass.
A great write-up on car that was everywhere during my high school and college years. My first job was at a family-owned restaurant, and the owner’s daughter drove a light blue-on-light blue 1980 Cutlass Supreme. It was quite a sharp car for the time.
I believe this shade of green was seen on GM cars for about two years (1978 and 1979), and then it quickly vanished. I’m not sure that Ford or Chrysler ever offered this shade of green.
A Cutlass Supreme in our neck of the woods, however, was more than an “adulting” car. It was the “successful adult” car, as it showed that the owner could afford something ‘”better” than a Chevrolet or Ford. Oldsmobile – at least with the Cutlass Supreme, Delta 88, Ninety-Eight and Toronado – still had that image in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During the 1980s, GM management worked overtime to undermine that image.
That’s an exceptionally clean example. It had to have been garaged its whole life. You can tell not only from the condition of the paint, but also from the lack of Sagging Headliner Disease. The foam backing on the headliner GM used in this era would eventually dry out, releasing the headliner from the roof. This process was presumably accelerated by parking in the sun on hot days.
There must have been a boost in thumbtack sales in the mid-to-late 1980s when these headliners first began to droop.
At the Carlisle car shows, most of the GM A-bodies of this vintage offered for sale are worn-out clunkers with sagging headliners and rear bumpers, along with interiors that have faded to 50 Shades of Whatever Color.
Except for these Cutlass Supremes, along with the Buick Regals. A large number of them have survived in excellent condition.
Adulting. Vegetables before dessert. Not getting everything you want. Neckties for the workplace “look” (for the women, girdles). Oldsmobile Cutlasses. Marriage…
Is there anything you missed? Great piece!
I have been married 38 years. Every car since has been a four-door…sedans, station wagons. Except the 1963 Corvette. And no minivan, though I looked.
Hopelessly adult here…since about age 10. My car choices have always been about practicality…low cost, fuel economy, comfort/space, reliability, ease of service. –Nope, I have never owned a European car! First car was a Pinto wagon..plenty of room for hauling all my stuff to college and back each year. Sure, it was a nerd-mobile…but it took my (now) wife and I on our first date…so who cares?
“… I began to miss the Big O.”
My first couple attempts at “responsible” cars didn’t really hit the mark–first car I made payments on was the ’96 Mark VIII, a low-mileage one-owner car that did prove reliable but I don’t think one can consider a V8 Lincoln coupe that is full of potentially troublesome parts and gets mediocre gas mileage to be truly “responsible” for a 24 year old. After that, my target budget would have allowed a brand new compact or maybe even mid-sizer, but instead my $20K went to an ’03 Marauder. Again, reliable, not too exotic, and it even had 4 doors. I got 5 great years out of that car. But I don’t think big polished wheels, an aggressive exhaust note, and a max of 24 MPG on a good day captures the adulting spirit either.
Adulting came home to roost when I traded the Marauder in on a new ’12 Kia Forte Koup. First brand-new car and it wasn’t even for me, it was for my girlfriend (though we were long-term and the title was in my name). Even then, though, it only had 2 doors. It was a good decision, and it’s still in our driveway, but I still miss the Marauder.
I went too far with my current car. Once the hand-me-down Crown Vic finally failed inspection, I decided that it was time to buy something modern and reliable. With 4 doors, 4 cylinders (non-turbocharged), good gas mileage and practicality being the order of the day. And ended up going over budget on what is, essentially, a lightly used version of the prototypical soul-crushing appliance. Except that drivers of other soul-crushing appliances look askance at it because it’s a domestic. If true adulting is about not making the fun choice I think I made a pro-level move, but I’m doing extremely poorly about shutting up and not second-guessing myself!
Rant mostly over. As to the subject car, I’ve always been a fan of that generation of Cutlass supreme, and this really is a fine example. I like the green, even, though had I been the one signing on the dotted line in ’79 I probably would have gone with dark blue.
I had this EXACT car when I was 19. The one and only difference was the body was a darker green. Same color top and interior. 260V8 and that horrible 200r(?) transmission. Loved that car. Even at 19 I loved broughams! That slipping tranny (no pun intended) caused me to rent a car when I needed to travel. That lead to a 20+ year career in the car rental business.
That era Cutlass, 88 and 98 will always be dear to my heart. Drive a Cadillac ATS now
These first generation downsized GM intermediates are my least favorite. With that said, the Cutlass was the best of the lot. If I were in the market in 1978, considering the alternatives, I might have went for one.
OTOH, my first new car was a 1980 Fiesta, and they were first available in 1978, too, so I probably would have just gotten the earlier version of that.
This generation of Cutlass seemed to be everywhere. My father bought an 80 LS sedan I factory ordered from him as his 70 Cutlass Supreme wore out. His longtime friend also bought a Cutlass 80 or 81? I remember an uncle on my mother’s side was a big Cutlass fan too and aspired to have one, but had financial troubles prevented that from happening.
In the late seventies and early eighties Oldsmobile certainly got the styling right on these cars. If well cared for, they lasted quite a while. My father’s LS sedan served him until 1990 when he bought a Plymouth Acclaim. Curious now why the change?
JPC, you made me laugh – I think everyone in Indiana had a cousin Butch back in the day – I sure did!
Having Greatest Gen parents seared by the Depression and WWII made it hard to escape thinking about “adulting” even when I was a kid – it was kind of pounded into you. That’s what led to conflict during the 60’s/70’s when we rebelled against the establishment. But everyone knows the Boomers got down to business pretty quickly once real adulthood set in. Now that we’re headed into retirement, we can be kids again, buy some toys and play.
This Cutlass really hit the sweet spot, the very last generation of Oldsmobile I loved. So many friends (young adult professionals – you got that right) had them and they were very nice cars. I’m always amazed at how popular they still are – here’s a guy who loves them:
When I was younger, I almost always bought the GT or Sport model of whatever car. Until kids came along, there was no way I was going to even get a four door car! Even when kids did arrive, I got the Sport model, with turbo, Eagle GT tires and Level 3 suspension. I loved my old Lancer.
In the last several years, however, my mind has changed. I consider my 2009 Pontiac G6 Sport Sedan (see?) the 00’s equivalent of the 1983 Pontiac 6000 STE and a minivan has come and stolen my heart. Chevy Volts are looking awfully good these days, now that I’m an empty nester. In the era of 400+ HP being the norm for muscle cars, something that looks like Steve Urkel on wheels has become the stuff of dreams.
What has happened to me?
Love that green.
An of-the-time review of this car:
To anyone who wishes that they lived in the 70’s,
The green interior of this Olds might grab your attention, but this color was everywhere in the 70’s. Car interiors, car exteriors, living room furniture, wall to wall carpet, kitchen appliances, dishes to match those appliances, formica counters to match those dishes, and green paint, so that the walls would match too. Pea soup anyone?
A fascinating thread on ‘adulting’, even at the expense of almost ignoring the car. I’m amazed it’s so clean after all these years.
I guess that my first adult car was my three year old ’77 Coupe de Ville. It was my gift to myself after graduating college, getting a job with the County, and thinking that I was a young adult on the way- somewhere. After getting married I bought my first new car, an ’84 Cougar, Dark grey metallic paint with a light grey cloth interior. I was running back in forth between So Cal and the Bay Area and needed a reliable car. It was a let down after the Caddy, but I rejected the thought of an ’81 Eldo, but only barely. After this, it was three kids and two minivans. For about the next twenty years. Still, I managed to hold onto my ’77 Sportster through all this and even rode it a lot. About twenty years ago I started in with the “hobby car” thing, and I’m still at it.
I was likely born an old man, LOL, As a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up! I couldn’t imagine staying “at home” past age 18. My first computer was an IBM-PC XT because in my head; “Kids had Commodores and Apple was for schools” Adult businessmen bought IBMs! (Ok, It cost more than my car at the time -1983!) As far as cars, My first car was a Buick – Most of my cars have been Buicks. I was a “Buick guy” since falling for a 63 Electra 225.
Beautifully written piece, thank you! Really made me think about some hard choices I’m facing. I know what the adult, responsible, option is but every fiber of my being is fighting it. Adulting indeed!
Regarding the featured car: I just love it. Looks wonderful. And that interior! Maybe because it’s so foreign to me.