Vintage R&T Road Test: 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon – “Just How Much Like A European Sedan Is It?”

Road and Track tested three of GM’s new 1973 not-so “mid-sized cars” that were clearly trying to be more European, or had some aspects of European qualities in their make-up ; the Pontiac Grand Am, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon and the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. This is the Salon’s turn.

In a number of ways, the Cutlass salon was the most overtly “European” of the three, with its array of international flags and only available as a four door sedan, although that changed later in the model year.

Once again, R&T points out that these cars essentially full-size cars, given that it’s almost 18′ long (212.9″) and weighs well over two tons (4305 lbs curb wt; 4610 “Test weight”). Obviously these had gotten as big as they were going to, and would be substantially downsized in 1978. But in 1973, big was…big.

R&T notes that the Salon’s 180 hp 5.7 L V8 and three-speed THM automatic puts it in the same league as the vastly more expensive Mercedes 450SE/SEL, but that its performance don’t quite match the Benz, and fuel economy is worse. Car and Driver took that comparison to the next level, actually comparing the Salon with a 450SE, which we posted here a few years back. And if that 5.7 L wasn’t enough, there was a 250 hp 7.4 L version available. Now that would have made an interesting comparison to the Mercedes 6.9.

The Olds V8 was praised for good running manners and ready starting from cold, qualities not to be taken for granted in 1973.

The Salon broke some serious ground with R&T in its interior accommodations, in that the front seats were deemed the best seats of any American car to date. Most controls also got good marks, but the shoulder belts didn’t, apparently designed by GM to make it unlikely that anyone would be willing to put up with them in actual use.

The back seat was roomy, able to carry three adults reasonably adequately. Of course the downsized 1977 full-sized cars, which would sit on the same 116″ wheelbase, would be even more commodious, as their space efficiency was better than these “mid-sizers”. The trunk was not as roomy as it might have looked. Needless to say, bit the HVAC system and the AM/FM radio were typically excellent, something the imports were still playing catch-up on.

R&T was “disappointed” in the Salon’s handling package, which was unique to it; slotting in between the standard and optional Cutlass suspensions. It did include a rear anti-roll bar, and had Goodyear steel belted radials. But it was marred by the typically dead power steering, which made cornering something done closer to “remote control”.  Straight line stability was “pretty good”, but it lacked the “on center” feel that imports like the Mercedes have. In pure cornering power, the Salon approaches that of the MB 280 recently tested, but there’s more understeer.

The Salon’s ride “is disturbing”; too much like American cars of yore. It floated badly of undulations at moderate to high speeds, and the suspension bottoms out too readily.

The brakes were also poor, exhibiting what R&T suspected was a lack of boost, although that was more of a guess than a definitive assessment. There was extreme fade in the six-stop test, with pedal effort tripling. Oddly, the Grand Am did significantly better on what was presumably the same basic brake system.

The final verdict? The Salon is a viable alternative to the more expensive import sedans, given its significantly lower cost, and permanence is quite competitive. But demerits in handling, ride, brakes and a few other issues keep it from being truly competitive.


Related reading:

R&T Road Test: 1973 Pontiac Grand Am

Car and Driver Comparison: 1973 Olds Cutlass Salon Vs. Mercedes 450 SE