Curbside Classic: 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham Sedan – Why Brougham When You Can Supreme Brougham?

(first posted 11/12/2012)     I know that a couple of our regular contributing writers–and they know who they are–will be most interested in my latest CC find, a G-body Cutlass Supreme that happens to be–get ready, friends and neighbors–a Brougham as well. After the GM A-bodies became G-bodies, each division did its own thing when it came to deciding what models stayed in the lineup. Consider the sedans: The Chevy and Buick versions departed after ’83. Pontiac’s G-body Bonneville lasted until 1986, after which it became an H-body. But Oldsmobile, arguably the purveyor of the best A/G-bodies in the corporation, kept its sedans going all the way to 1987. All in all, not a bad run for an Olds model that had flopped (at least in four-door form) when it came out in 1978.

And just why did the Aeroback Cutlass Salon two- and four-door sedans bomb? Well, er…the Aeroback styling, perhaps? While the look was rather European, in a Broughamy kind of way, most folks just didn’t take to it. Their traditionally-styled, three-box LeMans and Malibu cousins did a fair bit better. Still, Oldsmobile probably wasn’t terribly broken up about that, since at the same time they were selling truckloads of (also) newly-downsized Cutlass Supreme coupes.

As well as the CS coupes were selling, though, a laggard like the Aeroback in the lineup was bad for business–especially when buyers who didn’t want a fastback sedan could walk across the street and buy a Grand LeMans or Malibu Classic. As a result, for 1980 Olds treated the four-door to a makeover cribbed from the first-gen Seville, and the restyled version sold much better.

While it may have been derivative of the pricey Caddy, it did look nice. Certainly Olds buyers didn’t mind the resemblance, but the effect of such brand dilution on all GM divisions wouldn’t turn out to be all that wonderful, as an even more blatant corporate sameness permeated all GM divisions during the ’80s.

In 1986, the Cutlass Supreme coupes still looked fresh after an attractive 1981 makeover, but aside from annual updates to trim, wheel covers, grill and tail lights, the sedan hadn’t changed much since 1980. Nonetheless, the CS line was still going gangbusters, and plenty of folks–young folks, even–wanted a Cutlass Supreme in their driveway. These were comfortable, cushy cars, particularly in Brougham trim. Wanna ride through town in your favorite chair? One of these could make it happen.

How did Olds do it? Plush, floating-pillow seating. Although this a coupe interior, the Brougham sedans got the very same thrones. Not everybody wanted BMWs in the mid-’80s, and particularly not Midwesterners. When I was a little kid, Cutlasses like these were absolutely everywhere.

As was previously mentioned, the other GM divisions essentially replaced their RWD A-bodies with FWD versions. Big wagons were history after the ’83 model year, having been replaced by new Chevrolet Celebrity, Pontiac 6000, Buick Century and Olds Cutlass Ciera wagons. The Buick Regal and Chevy Malibu sedans also made their last appearance that year. The A-body LeMans disappeared after 1981, but a face-lifted version took the Bonneville mantle in 1982 and kept it through 1986. But if you wanted a four-door G-body in 1987, you’d have to pay a visit to your friendly local Olds dealer. Just ask for Jerry Lundegaard!

The final changes to the Cutlass Supreme sedan came in 1986. The new federally-mandated CHMSL identified ’86s from the back, while a smoothed-out eggcrate grille was prominent up front. As had been the case since 1980, the 3,320-lb. (3,341 pounds in Brougham trim) sedan’s dimensions were quite tidy compared with those of the current Delta 88, not to mention the previous decade’s Colonnade Cutlasses.

Like the coupes, the sedan measured 200.4″ in length and had a 108.1″ wheelbase. Interestingly, the coupes had one more cubic foot of trunk space than the 15.2 cu. ft. capacity of the sedans. By the 1986-87 period, Cutlass Supremes came standard with a 231 cu in, 110 hp V6; the optional four-barrel 307 V8 added 30 horses to the tally. Also standard was a three-speed automatic. A four-speed automatic with overdrive was optional.

The 1986 CS sedan, which started at $10,872, was the most popular varaint with 41,973 copies sold. Less popular, but more plush, was the $11,551 Brougham sedan, of which 24,646 were sold. And by the way, our featured CC here is either an ’86 or ’87. I know of no way other than the VIN number to ID the year, so let’s just call it an ’86 since Olds built more of them that year.

Befitting their position in the GM hierarchy, these cars were pretty well-equipped even in standard, non-Brougham trim. Standard features included AT, deluxe wheel discs, power front disc/rear drum brakes, power steering, deluxe bumper guards and rub strips, dual outside mirrors, and bright roof drip, rocker panel and wheel opening moldings. All in all, a rather solid choice for young families in Minneapolis, Kansas City or Cedar Rapids–even if the rear windows didn’t roll down.

The flossier Brougham, on the other hand, got lots of extras. Its niceties included chrome belt-reveal moldings, wide rocker moldings (with front and rear fender extensions), the aforementioned plush seating with a 55/45 split front bench in Summit knit velour (in place of the Bronte velour in the basic CS), and the Convenience Group, which added an under-hood light, a trunk light and all-important visor vanity mirror.

If all that additional equipment wasn’t enough, you could load your Brougham up even further with A/C, cruise control, power door locks, power front windows/rear window vents, opera lamps, vinyl roof, front and rear lamp monitors, Soft-Ray tinted glass and intermittent-pulse wipers. You could even get Sierra grain leather inside. The Cutlass logo mudflaps pictured above were most likely dealer-installed.

If you didn’t care for the deluxe wheel covers or virtually ubiquitous wire wheel covers (I estimate 95% of Cutlass Supremes had the wires), attractive chrome Super Stock wheels (digitally modeled above) were available, as were lacy-spoke alloy wheels and our CC’s color-keyed wheels with chrome trim rings.

The alloys were particularly good-looking, and I was surprised to find them in the brochure. I don’t think I ever saw these wheels on the street. They look nice, but all those little die-cut slots must have been a bear to keep clean.

Like so many ’80s domestic cars, you really had choices when it came to interior trim. Among the five Cutlass Supreme interior colors were dark red, saddle tan and the dark blue seen here. Also offered were a wide variety of exterior colors, including Light Teal Blue, Light Sage Green, Medium Red Metallic, Yellow Beige, and our featured CC’s classic white.

The Brougham’s back seat was just as cushy, although perhaps a bit claustrophobic with that fixed window. I imagine Zackman would have a few words to say about this! Fortunately, this didn’t become a trend; the GM10 Cutlass Supreme sedan, which finally debuted in 1990, had roll-down rear windows.

I first spotted this Brougham on the road near the Deere Works, in East Moline. All I could tell was that it was in really nice condition. Fortunately, I recently spotted it again just a stone’s throw away from my old alma mater, Augustana College. The Quad Cities might be a sort of Midwestern Eugene when it comes to cool old cars still in service, but this one was especially nice–and also rare, as I don’t see many A/G-body sedans. Coupes, yes, even these days, but not sedans.

It looks like the owner is a Cubs fan, which makes sense–lots of Cubs and Cards fans in these parts. From  the original dealer tag–Cuculich Olds, in Berwyn, IL–it appears to have come from the Chicago area. When I attended Augie, lots and lots of students (probably three-quarters) were from Chicago and the surrounding ‘burbs. As a local, I was the odd man out. Every Friday, you could see a stream of older vehicles full of students, all heading for “Scenic 88” and the Windy City.

As nice as this one is, there are just a couple of things I’d change. I’d have to have whitewalls–it’s a Brougham, for crying out loud–and I’d fix that minor rust on the rear-quarter panel. And there, now it’s perfect!

After the last G-body Cutlass Supreme Classic came off the line in 1988, Olds really started to struggle with what to do next. The swoopy new Cutlass Supreme was nice, but their questionable “not your father’s Oldsmobile” ad campaign did more harm than good: It not only alienated Oldsmobile’s traditional customers, but didn’t fool the younger buyers they were trying to attract, many of whom probably wound up buying Acura Integras. After trying repeatedly to recapture that old Olds magic during the ’90s and early ’00s, Olds finally entered the history books after a brief 2004 model year. I still miss them today.

So let’s look back fondly on the Cutlass Supreme Brougham. It may not have been perfect, but it was a real Olds–with all the traditional Oldsmobile comfort, reliability and style–for its time.