By on September 30, 2015

1968 Comparison Test (23 of 26)

Confession time: I’ve never driven a car built before the 1980s.

Actually, scratch that. I may have driven a car built before the ’80s — likely late ’70s — but it wasn’t memorable enough for me to actually, well, remember.

Thankfully, my hobby-turned-career has afforded certain pleasures, such as driving two incredible examples of what Detroit had to offer the buying public more than 40 years ago.

It was time to right my dark secret. These two cars — a 1968 Ford Mustang GT and an Oldsmobile Cutlass S of the same vintage — would allow me to do just that.

1968 Comparison Test (1 of 26)

The Contenders
If you are looking for a head-to-head, take-no-prisoners comparison test of two affordable classics, you might want to click away — there are quotes around Test in the headline for a reason. Instead, this is about two everyday heros: The Mustang is of Hollywood provenance while its opponent, an Oldsmobile Cutlass S, is of commoner origins.

1968 Comparison Test (14 of 26)

Kevin MacDonald, the owner of the 1968 Ford Mustang GT, assures me his car is an original GT and not a clone. (Disclosure: I’m inclined to believe him without digging through his papers. I’ve known him long enough to recall he was the proud owner of a World Wrestling Federation action figure collection as a child, along with other embarrassing secrets.) The car is a former Hollywood star car, though it wasn’t this well dressed when it graced the silver screen.

In the 2005 remake “Assault on Precinct 13,” Ethan Hawke drove this very Mustang when it looked a little worse for wear. While you can’t see it clearly in this scene from the movie (below), the Mustang’s fenders were painted along the wheel wells with primer (on top of the paint) to make it look like it had a recent — or long forgotten — rust repair.

Mustang GT in "Assault on Precinct 13", 2005

Now, that same car looks primed for a spot in a Haggerty commercial. (And, just so you know, Kevin is my age. That makes him a Millennial. There’s still hope.)

1968 Comparison Test (2 of 26)

While this GT is an original, many of its parts are not, making this Mustang fit in as a moderate restomod. For starters, instead of the old three-speed manual, this car is now home to a T-5 five-speed manual gearbox mated to its original 302 V-8. A 600 Edelbrock carburetor, long tube headers and Flowmaster exhaust make sure it will be heard as it blows past you on the freeway. Its Vista Blue paint — a circa-2006 shade instead of the original Acapulco Blue — ensures its image will be burned into your retinas well after it’s been lost to the horizon.

The Mustang’s 302 powerplant has accumulated 40,000 miles in its 47 years of service, but it’s still as spritely as it was when it came off the line in Dearborn.

1968 Comparison Test (3 of 26)

The Cutlass S is certainly the more relaxed of the two cars and comes with an equally interesting — but maybe less impressive to non-enthusiasts — story of its own.

The Cutlass’ current owner, Greg Beaulieu, had been hunting for a winter beater in 1993 when he stumbled upon an ill-conceived ad for the car in a local Auto Trader. After checking out a Volkswagen Fox, ’75 Chrysler New Yorker 2-door, and an ’80s vintage four-cylinder Mustang, Greg test drove a pristine ’76 Buick Regal.

“(The Regal) was in perfect condition, drove really well, but the emissions-choked Buick V-8 had no power worth speaking about,” Greg said. “In fact, I had to look under the hood to confirm it was a Buick 350 and not a V-6.”

1968 Comparison Test (5 of 26)

After that, Greg dug deeper in the classifieds. Again and again, month after month, he saw an ad for a ’68 Oldsmobile Cutlass S with 28,000 miles. Accompanying the ad was a solitary, dark photo that “did (the Cutlass) no favors,” said Greg.

Asking price: $6,000.

It turns out the Oldsmobile was owned by a long-serving secretary who’d recently come on bad health. The then-owner’s brother explained the Cutlass had hardly been driven in years, but that it was a good car and Greg should make a visit to check it out.

“It was covered in dust, the paint was dull, it had some crappy bodywork done to it, and it was wearing bias-ply tires with snows on the back.” Greg still took it for a test drive.

Lacking the emissions controls that saddled the ’76 Regal, the Cutlass made full use of its 350 Rocket and two-speed Jetaway automatic transmission. “The drive was fun,” Greg explained, “but not for $6,000.”

1968 Comparison Test (25 of 26)

Upon returning home, Greg offered the then-owner’s brother $3,000 for the car. “‘I’ll take it’,” Greg recounted the man saying. “He wanted it gone, and was tired of having to deal with it. I wished I had said $2,000 — but I had bought myself a car.”

Due to neglect, the Olds’ oil had gone grey and was replaced immediately along with the filter. Ignition parts — distributor cap, rotor and points — were also replaced. Oldsmobile SSII-styled steel wheels were sourced, wrapped with white letter T/A rubber, and fitted to the car. However, the Cutlass’ big makeover item was paint. Greg transformed the classic from dreary turquoise to a bright, period-correct shade of red.

“My winter beater was suddenly too nice to be a beater.”

1968 Comparison Test (20 of 26)

Since then, Greg has owned the car for 22 years and he’s accumulated 22,000 additional miles on the car. And even with the work he did to the car when he first bought it, it’s still a project and not just a cruiser.

“This winter I had the front seat upholstery and floor carpet renewed. At some point in the next while I’ll have the front end rebuilt and convert it to disk brakes up front. A three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 transmission sits in my garage waiting to be rebuilt and installed to replace the original 2-speed Jetaway. Someday.”

Involved, not separated
“I need to teach you how to drive the car first,” Greg said to me before setting out on a short drive where he was at the wheel.

“Really? It’s a car, right? It can’t be that difficult,” I replied.

While he sat in the driver’s seat, Greg instructed me to hold down the accelerator pedal slightly when turning the key. “If it doesn’t start right away when you do that, floor it.” As he’d anticipated my arrival, the Oldsmobile was already warmed up. Greg turned the key with his foot slightly depressing the throttle, the Cutlass came to life, and we pulled out of his driveway.

1968 Comparison Test (4 of 26)

Not two blocks away from his home, while sitting at a stop sign, the looks from passersby — whether conveyed by vehicles or by their own God-given feet — were of amazement. The Cutlass S didn’t wear 4-4-2 badges or sport a convertible top. In 1968, this car would have been a common sight — but that didn’t matter today. In 2015, this Olds is exotic.

Thumbs were up’d. Fingers were pointed. Hands were waved. In this car, you are connected with all those around you through a constant stream of real-life Facebook likes and Twitter favorites.

* * * * *

“What’s that smell?” I asked.

“What smell?” Greg answered the question with a question.

“It’s kind of musty. Organic. I don’t know how to describe it.”

However, I knew exactly how to describe it. It smelled like, well, old people. Specifically, it smelled like the home owned by an elderly gentleman who lived next door when I was a tyke.

Reggie was our shared neighborhood grandfather. That was perfect for me when I was young. I’d been born much too late to meet either of my grandfathers. On a fairly regular basis during the summer, Reg would provide ice cream to a few of us neighborhood kids. I think it was his way of caring for the younger ones around him, having no children of his own. He’d invite us in, put a single scoop in each bowl and hand them out to each of us along with with 40-year-old silver spoons. (I used to always wonder why Reg’s spoons looked “dirty”, but the silver was just tarnished due to age. Sometimes I would hand my spoon back to Reg and ask him why he didn’t clean it properly. I feel bad about that now.)

1968 Comparison Test (21 of 26)

The inside of Greg’s Cutlass smelled exactly like the inside of Reg’s home; the aroma instantly transported me back to those summers filled with vanilla ice cream provided by our shared neighborhood grandpa. The Cutlass even featured another item shared with Reg’s home — an 8-track player — that Greg had sourced after he bought the car. In Reg’s home, that 8-track constantly played honky-tonk.

“Seriously, Greg, the smell is taking me back to my childhood.”

“That’s funny. A lot of people say that,” said Greg.

After our “getting acquainted” tour, Greg released me — sans chaperone — with his Cutlass.

* * * * *

Our first short drive, after meeting Kevin and his Mustang, took us to Halifax by way of the MacDonald Bridge that spans Halifax Harbour. Kevin led the way as I followed his Mustang in Greg’s Cutlass.

With my windows down, all I could hear was Kevin’s exhaust and all I could smell was unburnt fuel being shot from the rear of the Ford — or maybe through the vents on the Cutlass, not that it mattered. The turning vent windows in the Cutlass aimed the late-afternoon air, and Kevin’s exhaust note, directly at my face. The gas fumes stung my nostrils with their sweetness.

1968 Comparison Test (13 of 26)

Normally, with a loud exhaust in the vicinity and the essence of gasoline in the air, I would roll up my windows and turn on the air conditioning — but not today. With my arm resting on the window frame of the door and my other hand steering the ship, I felt like I was transported back to 1968. I could hear, smell, and feel everything around me. As a motorcycle rider, I’m used to being more in-tune with what’s happening in my immediate environment when on two wheels. This was something wholly different. I could see why driving this car — or any car like it — could make someone fall in love.

And that’s really the best way to explain the time I spent with Greg’s Cutlass — romantic. It’s bright red paint, black interior and simplistic controls were a blank canvass for me to paint my own existence atop a time when this car — and the Ford in front of me — were commonplace, and the people that owned them truly cared and loved their cars.

The Cutlass didn’t fit like a glove in the same sense we now use that idiom to describe a seat’s ability to keep its driver in place. Instead, it fit like a friend.

* * * * *

Greg’s advice would come in handy, more than once, as we moved the cars around to shoot them in different locales. The Olds would crank but not catch, I’d floor the pedal, and the 350 Rocket would come to life.

In 1968, you really needed to know about cars to operate them. Instead of simply pushing a button, and the vehicle sensing a fob in your pocket, and an order being commanded by the computer to start the engine, it was up to you to remember each car’s Konami code. It was up to you to know, from a moderately technical standpoint, how to start a car properly.

* * * * *

After shooting the cars, I drove Greg’s Cutlass to a local gas station to fill it up with the best supreme I could find. Looking at the gas gauge on the dashboard offered no clues as to which side to fill the Olds — because there wasn’t a side to fill the Olds.

I made my way to the back of the car, flipped down the license plate and offered liquid essence to the 47-year-old coupe.

The pleasure of problems
After the Cutlass had been returned (with a minor shedding of tears) to its rightful owner, Kevin and I returned to my home where I would take the reins of the pony car. However, there was a slight hiccup.

Even though the wiper switch was firmly in the off position, the wipers were doing their best to ruin their rubbers by batting back and forth across the dry glass. Jiggling the wiper switch didn’t help.

“If you don’t want me to drive the car tonight, I fully understand. You should get this home,” I said to Kevin.

“Just gimme a minute,” he replied.

1968 Comparison Test (26 of 26)

That minute turned into 10, then 20, then 30. Kevin, armed with some basic tools from my garage and lacking any gumption traps that would certainly stop me in my tracks, was now taking apart the dash of the Mustang to inspect the switch. Panels were removed and the gauges were flipped up and out of the way. Kevin fiddled with some of the electrics out of my view.

“Mark, look at this.”

Kevin held out his hand and dropped the wiper switch in mine. It was an original part wearing a FoMoCo stamp that did duty under the dash since it rolled off the line in Dearborn. At least, for now, the wipers would be off.

After the dash was reassembled, we all piled into the Mustang. Kevin rode shotgun while our girlfriends took the back seats. I sat myself behind that big, wooden steering wheel and fired up the Mustang.

Then I stopped to think about this moment — for a moment. There was something very old school in the scene besides the car itself. The boys were up front talking cars while the girls were in the back talking about whatever girls talk about. Only a convertible top, dropped down to open up the night sky to us, could have enhanced the experience.

Once we got moving, the Mustang proved itself to be a raucous machine. It wanted to go — and now! The clutch, while not heavy, didn’t have much travel in its engagement — like an on-off switch. Same with the throttle, though to a lesser degree.

I egged on the old Ford with a tender but heavy foot, rolling into the throttle instead of stomping it to the floor. It responded in kind with lumps of torque pushing us into the bucket seats.

Damn, I want to live in 1968.

Attention Millennials — this is authenticity.
Let me be clear, fellow Millennials: There is nothing authentic about the modern automobile outside of some choice examples.

The Mazda MX-5 Miata, the automotive journalist collective’s car of choice in perpetuity, is a copy of British sports cars of yore. Today’s Mustang, Camaro and Challenger come close, though the latter sits atop a cast-off Mercedes platform while it awaits something bespoke and more befitting its name and history. A current Mustang, sporting a turbocharged four-cylinder engine to make it palatable for European consumption, is little more than an idea that started in a marketing meeting before being executed by engineers. Same applies with the soon-to-be available Camaro.

This experience has made me think that maybe, possibly, I have this enthusiasm aimed in the wrong direction. Why am I considering a new Charger? Why don’t I just get an old one? It’ll sound better. It’ll drive like it’s being held aloft by clouds (modern suspension engineers should really benchmark this Cutlass when it comes to ride quality). And if you are just going to drive it a couple of times a week, who cares how much it costs to fuel it up?

Most importantly, a car like the ones featured here makes you really, truly love the automobile. And it makes everyone around it love automobiles, even if they swear by public transport.

The Mustang and Cutlass are two very different answers to the same classic question. The Ford is eager to move and wants the chance to vulcanize Mickey Thompsons into something resembling road tar. The Oldsmobile is more laid back with its front bench seat, offering its driver and passenger to sit close together as they cruise down Main Street window shopping.

Which car is for you? I know my answer. But, that’s a story for another day …

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62 Comments on “Comparison “Test”: 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass S and 1968 Ford Mustang GT...”


  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I’m glad to see that you support tasteful restomods, as I do as well.

    Any classic car I plan on driving is getting 12V electrics, a modern distributor, power steering, and front disk brakes. Unless, of course, it has all those things already. And new exhaust plumbing is definitely a must.

  • avatar

    In high school, I owned a 1968 Cutlass S, a silver coupe with a black vinyl top, bucket seats, console, and equipped with the same 350 Rocket and 2 speed Jetaway transmission. The car was beat, it was a hand me down from my dad who bought it new. But it was magical.

    I know the exact smells you wrote about–the musty old smell, the smell of un-burned fuel, and there was also the smell of hot oil and rubber.

    Thank you for writing this article and featuring the Cutlass as well as the trip down memory lane.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    Authenticity comes at a price. My own 1967 GT fastback was not a nostalgia machine. It was a daily driver, and if you had to use one of these cars, Mark, to get yourself to work every day in all kinds of weather, while dealing with the dozens of analog systems that were prone to failure on an aging midcentury car–you would be thrilled with the modern fuel-injected, electronic ignition, rack and pinion goodness that has come standard with every new car for the past twenty years. As I was. My first new Honda was a revelation. Braking, steering, suspension, fuel economy, safety … it’s ALL better now. That wiper switch? It’s something like that all the time. Today these cars are good for exactly what you used them for: brief pleasure cruises. Drive it to the car show on weekends. Anything more than that, and authenticity is gonna bite you in the arse on a regular basis.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Lynch

      Exactly.

      Our 68 Mustang 302 J Code coupe always starts and runs great, but there is always something small breaking or bits falling off.

      No way would we ever use it for a daily driver.

    • 0 avatar

      This. Our family kept a 1968 Cutlass and 1971 Dodge Demon on the road until 1989. They were easier to fix and more reliable than cars made in the 1970s, but once EFI and disc brakes became standard, it was game over.

      The Cutlass carburetor flooded all the time and it needed a full tune up every year. You had to let it warm up in the winter before you drove it or it would hesitate and stall.

      But on a warm day it was fun to cruise around with the windows down and listen to the Rocket V8.

    • 0 avatar

      I would never use one of these as a daily driver. With the constant flow of press cars, this would definitely be a sunny day set of wheels for me.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Nicely done. I fondly recall my first car (in 1982-83) a 1970 Cutlass Supreme convertible. Rocket 350, Hurst shifter (stock) and three speed manual. White vinyl seats. Ahh the joy of that thing.

    Once I retire, I’d like to get a third garage and a classic car of that era. Not sure which one, or that it even matters. Giving it attention and driving to car shows on weekends would be a blast.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s funny that you say that you aren’t sure which one you’d have. I was fully expecting to like the Mustang more than the Cutlass. After driving them both in the same day, the Cutlass spoke to me in ways the Mustang couldn’t.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        I know exactly what you mean. When I was young I actually owned two very similar cars to these – a ’67 Cougar and a ’69 Cutlass “S”.

        There was something about the Cutlass that really bonded with me in ways that no other car has since. Parting with that car was painful and decades later I’d do almost anything to get it back.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Great review – reminded me of my first car, a rusted out 1968 Firebird 350 with a 2-speed powerglide. The original 350 had been replaced by a ’74 Pontiac 400 – hardly worth the effort. It wasn’t particularly fast, but compared to most of the cars in the 1980s – when I was a teenager – it was a real demon.

    It too had a certain smell – coolant, oil, waterlogged floors – that I still get a whiff of when I sit in an older GM car.

    The closest I got to my first car was a ’86 Monte Carlo SS that I bought and restored/upgraded twelve years ago. I had the 200-4R rebuilt, put in a new stock interior, and built and installed my first engine: a roller-cammed 355. It was quite fast, to the point where the stock suspension and brakes were overwhelmed. The car became almost to much to handle if there was moisture on the road. I ended up selling it at a loss.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’m sure the old-timers of TTAC will be around soon to tell us about how terrible every car was before 1995, but I really enjoyed this piece.

    I’m fairly young, am fortunate to have some cash, drive about 7500 miles a year, and don’t have a ton of outside responsibilities. Why not daily drive an older car I actually like owning over some punk Charger or 328i?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Oh, they weren’t terrible. They were what they were, and by today’s standards, they’re going to come up lacking in a lot of key ways that we’ve come to expect.

      But they did have character, and that’s something missing in all but a few modern cars.

      • 0 avatar
        rocketrodeo

        Oh, I agree on the character. But the nature of nostalgia is to revel in the pleasant memories and gloss over the bad stuff. There’s bad character too, and some of my cars had that in spades. It’s like that young hotness over there–I guarantee you that someone is sick of her crap. I spent a lot of time being actively angry at cars that make people all misty-eyed today when I pull out the photo albums.

        My first car, a 1962 Fairlane, had bias ply tires, unboosted four wheel drum brakes, and about six inches of also-unboosted play in the steering. Steel dashboard and aftermarket lap belts. I recall it as being pretty reliable for its 45,000 miles, but seriously, it was a potential deathtrap for an inexperienced driver. I think we forget that a LOT more people used to die in their cars.

        • 0 avatar
          Willyam

          So true. I hate the ye art olde description, but with experience comes some wisdom, at least. The deathtrap thing was true, my 1965 Chevy truck vapor-locked (may you never know this experience) in the middle of crossing a four-lane with downhill traffic barrelling toward me to my right. I needed underwear after that.

          Not that long ago (1988) my father became sick of cars expiring at 50k miles and bought a little blue Accord LX. What a revelation (as was said above). It started every morning, heated, cooled, carried people, and ate very little gas and zero parts. 130k trouble-free miles and he sold it for a newer one because he got tired of the color.

          You needent be that old to have experienced some of this. By the early nineties there were really solid cars on the market. Did I learn? No way. Bought a nearly new 1989 Wrangler. The LAST carbuerated passenger vehicle for sale, I believe. Every cold, rainy morning it was an exercise in frustration and flooding. The A/C never worked. It got maybe 14 mpg with a tailwind. The top blew off. One of my last really fun cars, but living with it every day as the only option was exhausting. Thank goodness my roomie had a beat Corolla, or I would have missed a lot of roadtrips and work.

          But, yes, if you can afford it, get one of these and treasure it. Keep at least a few out of the hands of the rich guys in Hawaiian shirts at the auction.

        • 0 avatar
          slance66

          Indeed. My 70 Cutlass eventually proved ineffective for reliable transport in the New England winters, and when the clutch burned out, we let it go. An 83 Accord Hatchback replaced it and functioned flawlessly for a long time.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        No, they were pretty terrible. But they are fun when properly restored, in moderation, and when you have something modern when you actually need a car.

    • 0 avatar

      I drive my own car even less than that, and I share the same thoughts. As a true daily driver, I would never use one of these outside of Florida — but then I’d have to live in Florida.

  • avatar
    madman2k

    Nice article, I enjoyed it.

    I would also like to get a chance to drive some of those old cars in good working order someday.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I don’t know how much of that wiper switch story is “old car” and how much is just Ford being Ford. My ’89 Taurus SHO ownership experience was a lot like that. There was always some electrical component flaking out, on the good days when there wasn’t power steering fluid or coolant all over the garage floor.

    But I couldn’t daily drive something that old. I like good brakes, modern tires (along with chassis made to handle them), electronic engine controls, and the absence of unburnt fuel too much.

    Very fun, though, to admire others’ hard work in keeping these machines running and shiny.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “It was up to you to know, from a moderately technical standpoint, how to start a car properly.”

    Welcome to the wonderful world of carburetors!

    Great story, Mark.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    Every car is “authentic.” Every car is made out of metal and rubber and plastic and glass and has wheels and some way of powering those wheels. Trying to go any deeper than that is just mindless circlejerking.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I would have picked the 1976 Regal. Saying it’s 350 V8 felt like a V6 is probably speaking in current context because there is no way in hell it felt as slow as a 1986 Buick 105 Hp 231 V6. If it did then it had one seriously plugged catalytic converter or the timing advance was not functioning and it was in desperate need of a tune-up.

    Being a car guy for nearly 40 years has taught me that most 1960’s cars are great to look at, fun to talk about and some are now worth a king’s ransom. But they suck to drive, have lifeless power steering if so equipped, have lousy brakes scary handling and are decently quick in a straight line with one of the larger sized big inch V8’s but also horrendous on fuel and have stinky rich smelling exhaust.

    I owned a 1979 Olds Cutlass Calais years back that wasn’t nearly as well regarded as the 1968 S model here yet it outperformed it in every way save straight line performance which was easily remedied by dropping in an Olds 350 Rocket in place of the wheezy 260.

    I still love the 1960’s era of muscle machines but when asked to actually drive the cars I would pick the 1970’s era Cutlass/Regal

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Your conclusion really speaks to me, I had the same thoughts in regards to motorcycles a few years back after buying a temptingly cheap ’01 Triumph Bonneville, the modern remake of the classic parallel-twin ‘brit bike.’ Having ridden a variety of 60s and 70s Japanese steeds up until that point, including across the continental US and back, I was very much familiar with vintage bikes and how they rode. The new Bonneville was just not right. Way too smooth, too sanitized, too artificial. When I bought the bike I was hopeful that I’d get the upright ‘classic’ air cooled motorcycle in a reliable package that I could ride anywhere without packing tools. I sold the Bonneville shortly thereafter for a massive profit (bought for $2k, sold for $4500).

    I was invited by a friend to a Triumph owners get together in Vermont a few years back, my brother and I rode our two air cooled twins (me on my black and gold ’77 Yamaha XS500, him on his Jade green ’74 Honda CB360G) to better fit in with all of the old parallel-twin limey iron we anticipated being there. Imagine our surprise when we got there and it was all modern Daytonas, Street/Speed Triples, and new/remake Bonnevilles and Thruxtons. We were the only guys there leaving oil stains and using kick starters, and doing some minor maintenance at the campground in the evening. Mind you, there was no lack of cafe-racer wannabes with low bars and checkerboard pattern helmets, scarves, etc. These guys talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk (fwiw I wear a simple synthetic riding jacket and a regular fullface helmet). The ‘dangerous’ lifstyle of riding an old bike is desired, but not the inconvenience that comes with it.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Ah, the XS500. I had the multi-hued brown model of roughly the same vintage (I seem to remember that brown marked a ’76). Pity the looks wrote checks that the motor couldn’t even come close to cashing. Hint: Do not ever try to run that bike against a like year T100R Triumph Daytona. He’ll hand you your ass in a basket.

      As you’ve discovered, there is a difference between the decades. Despite approaching late 90’s reliability, a 70’s Japanese bike has more in common with a 60’s British steed than anything of a later date. And, contrary to the all too often told stories, those old bikes were all that unreliable. Yes, you had to do a lot more fettling work before putting it away than anything modern, but if you took the time you were rewarded with a very reliable, supremely enjoyable ride. I’m no great mechanic (hell, I’m a bicycle mechanic) but I got twenty years out of a 1969 Triumph Bonneville cafe racer that I’ll never forget.

      And while I really want a Bonneville Thruxton, repeated rides have shown me that Hinckley’s greatest virtue is that they were able to come up with a motorcycle that rode even vaguely like one of Meriden’s best. Yes, its way over sanitized. They couldn’t sell them today if they weren’t. But it still plays in the same ballpark as the original. Which I’ve yet to see anyone else accomplish, Ducati included.

      Someday, just for the experience, get someone to let you ride a pre-WWII motorcycle. The ’29 Indian 101 Scout I owned gave me one hell of an appreciation of how anyone could ride a motorcycle back then.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        The 500’s weight is what holds it back IMO, the motors themselves, aside from the earlier ones with two-piece crack-prone heads, are gems in terms of smoothness and reliability. It’s a physically large bike, which makes it a very comfy tourer. But 450lb and 48hp doesn’t really cut the mustard, I agree. I rode mine across the US from NY to California, up the coast, then back. A few 500 mile days but we kept it all to back roads and state highways in interests of keeping the bikes in one piece (all 5 bikes on the tour were cheap 70s vintage Japanese steeds that we cobbled together with minimal cost). Vibration for a parallel twin is minimal (for the era), the counterbalancer does its thing. FWIW, mine has 55k miles on it, i bought it for $50 as a barn-find basketcase with a torn timing chain with 31k miles. We had to tear into the motor in Kansas to lap/clean the valve seats (with toothpaste with sand mixed in), as carbon was preventing a good seal on one cylinder.

        I’d argue the short lived Kawasaki W650 was a more genuine homage to the Bonneville than Triumph’s own re-hash, albeit I’ve never ridden one of the Kaw’s just going off of word of mouth. I always thought of the XS650 (pre-“heritage” crap) was a good, cheap way to get the classic brit bike experience on the cheap, but clean early year XS650s are quickly climbing in value as well it seems.

        Cool to chat with other moto-people on TTAC, it’d be neat to have a “truth about motorcycles” sub-site.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    When I was in college, a friend of a friend showed up in a ragged ’65(ish) Mustang convertible with the V8. We cruised around, attracted attention from hot college chicks, got thumbs up from exotic car drivers, and otherwise had a blast of an afternoon. Guy mentioned he bought the car for some silly amount of money ($5700 sticks out in my mind? this in 2000-2001ish) and I remember looking at my $16k newish Civic thinking “WTF am I doing?!?”

    I still don’t care much for classic 50s-60s American cars, but the Mustang sticks out as something potentially really fun with universal appeal for less than $20k.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “is little more than an idea that started in a marketing meeting before being executed by engineers. Same applies with the soon-to-be available Camaro.”

    That’s kind of what these cars were in 1967 though, really. Just marketing – different, simpler marketing.

    Camaro was response to Mustang, which was cheap response to Corvette, which was a response to the AC Cobra, which was the response to an ox cart. Or something.

    • 0 avatar

      Fair enough. And I thought about that after I wrote it. Everything is a marketing exercise. Maybe I just see the wants of ’60s twnety-somethings as being superior to the wants of today’s twenty-somethings.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Actually the Mustang was Lee Iacocca’s styling thumb in the eye of Robert McNamara and his utilitarian Falcon. The first generation Mustang body was on the Falcon frame, with the same inline six as standard engine. Iacocca was pleased as punch that first full year sales of the Mustang topped the record of the Falcon. True, the Camaro was meant to capture part of the market that the Mustang created/revealed.

  • avatar
    Chris Tonn

    “.. it was up to you to remember each car’s Konami code.”

    One could argue that the Cutlass and Mustang are 8-bit cars in a PS4 world.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Heh. I’ve owned/driven a half dozen 1960s cars. They were more Captain Marvel secret decoder ring tech. The 8-bit was way in the future. The old push button Torqueflite buttons had no wires, just small rubber tubes, two per button – they went right to the transmission, and operated on vacuum!

  • avatar
    GS 455

    Ah yes, the art of finessing the gas pedal on a car with a carb to get it started. It varied depending on how warmed up the engine was and on the ambient temperature and every car was different. Just like women….

    • 0 avatar
      Chris Tonn

      Meh, single-carb cars were easy. Dual-or triple-carb cars could be an absolute bear to keep synced.

      I haven’t owned a carbureted car in years, but I still keep my Uni-Syn in my tool chest.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      No, the tip Mark got for the Cutlass worked for just about every car – if it was tuned regularly. For winter starts, just floor the pedal before you turn the key so the choke is reset. It never took me more than 10 seconds to get a car started in a New England winter, but I always got a Veterans’ Day tuneup for winter driving.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I’ve been lucky to drive my uncles 56 Chevy Sedan Delivery ( think Nomad with panel sides, no windows). He restored it in the early 80’s and let me drive it once in the 90’s. 283 with a mild cam, it was originally 3 on the tree, but he moved it to four on the floor before I drove it. Large pig of a car, but still a hoot to drive. Lifeless steering, and 4 wheel drums ( he did a front disc conversion last year) made quite a difference from even the 81 Regal I was driving at the time (231 V6).

    I was also lucky for a brief experience in a friend’s late 60’s Porsche Cabrio (912?) It wasn’t a 911, but looked very similar to it (I know, loaded statement). Just the raw experience with no roof and simple controls, many controls in German, was just fun. My brother or myself will probably inherit the Sedan Delivery at some point and we’ll see what happens then . It does fulfill my station wagon preference, but I’d rather be driving the early Porsche instead. I’d like to have one of the last air cooled 911’s.

    I feel fortunate to have owned and driven cars you had to finesse to life and down the road. But I don’t want one for a daily driver. It’s like flying an older airplane with “steam gauges ” vs a “glass” cockpit. I learned on steam gauges and enjoy being able to scan a panel and see all the needles pointing where they should at a glance. But the situational awareness provided by glass cockpits and the automation usually involved does make flying safer ( mostly). Anything, analog or digital can kill you if you don’t use it right.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Speaking as another Millennial, I find the idea of authenticity an odd one. There’s nothing inauthentic about a commuter-spec Corolla. It’s a car, built to do car things, for people with no pretensions or further aspirations as to what that means. It’s anti-septic, but not inauthentic, and generally speaking, any quirks we’re romanticising from the past exist because that was what worked in its era. We’ve found new stuff that works better.

    Going even further, just how authentic has a Mustang ever been? That ’68 isn’t too far removed from the plebeian Falcon it was based on, but with a body designed to invoke contemporary European GT cars. Is that more or less authentic than a Fiesta ST, another performance Ford based on something pretty cheap and humble, but does far less to disguise its roots?

    It’s not to say I don’t get it – my motorcycle is 30 years old, it’s carburated, air-cooled, and the rear brake is a drum. It’s simple, it’s slow, and I like the pure mechanicalness of the engine thrumming away underneath me. The cold starting routine is even fun in its own way. That’s great for toy, and I’m comfortable enough pressing it into daily driver duty when the weather allows for it because it’s still a Honda, and hasn’t stranded me yet. But there are days I’m very, very glad my new econocar demands nothing more than a turn of the key, and I’ll never need anyone to fiddle with or tune the fuel injection, because it works perfectly fine every day.

    For the record though, I’d take the Olds.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Nice article, pity you didn’t get to drive a real period Mustang. You know, one with the three or four speed on the floor, the drum brakes, all those things whose replacement may make it a better daily driver, but take away from the experience of what that car actually was.

    Yes, I’m one of those old-time hard-asses who grew up in antique car shows that were for cars restored to the factory original, and nobody had heard of a guy named George Lucas or a movie called “American Graffiti” (after which the vintage car hobby started to go badly wrong).

    I despise resto-mods. They’re mistaken efforts to give you a combination of modern reliability and the feel of “what the car was like” . . . . . when in reality you’ve killed the feel of what the car was like, and you’re not going to get that feeling back until you replace all those modern upgrades with the parts that the car originally came with.

    My first car, given to me as a present upon my 1968 graduation from high school, was a 1937 Buick Special 2-door sedan (luggage back, not the hump trunk). It was essentially a car for the local AACA shows, but during the summer it was my daily transportation. And I never would have considered “upgrading” it with a small-block Chevy, or swapping over the wheels to fit radial tyres, or even so much as adapting the 39 Buick three-on-the-tree shift linkage to replace the three foot long floor shifter. I figured if the 65 year old school teacher who was the first owner could live with that car on a day-to-day basis, so could I.

    And that attitude has always stayed with me. I can respect the hot rodder and his craft (although I’m always praying his car came from a junkyard and was too far gone to economically do a proper restoration) even though its not my style, but the current trend of “improving” antique cars and then passing them off as proper representations of what those cars were . . . . well, I can remember the reaction of the Flood City Region AACA at a 55 Chevy (“lightly improved”) that showed up at one of our car shows in 1972.

    “Take your hot-rodded piece of crap off the property. This show is for antique cars. Real cars.”

    • 0 avatar
      CobraJet

      I drive my 69 mustang weekly. I’m used to the cold starts, imprecise steering and other things that most younger people have never experienced. I wouldn’t change a thing.

    • 0 avatar
      WildcatMatt

      I struggle with this sentiment.

      On the one hand, I get the idea of keeping a car original.

      On the other hand, after blowing out a brake line on my ’65 Wildcat while on the highway, I was more than happy to swap the stock single master cylinder for a dual unit out of a ’68 LeSabre.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    A story like this gets a man to dreamin’ again. Oh, how I wish I could get my hands on a decent ’59 Impala 2-door coupe or hard-top. Yep… Bash you knee real good on that overhung windshield frame, but oh, what a beauty she is, rolling serenely down the road with those flowing wings and big, teardrop taillights.

  • avatar
    Chi-One

    http://i167.photobucket.com/albums/u125/howlee4651/100_0430.jpg

    Mine.

    Mark’s experience with these fine cars was what life was like for those of us who were alive back then. Life was more tactile back then.

  • avatar
    Curt in WPG

    2 speed Jetaway transmission? I’ve always heard that tranny called a Powerglide, or is this a US/Canada thing? My Beaumont, which is about as Canadian as you can get, has a Powerglide (Slip n’ Slide!) – nothing like downshifting into 1st at 48 mph to get that neck-cracking fun (no head rests either).

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The Chevrolet Powerglide and the Cadillac/Oldsmobile Hydramatic/Jetaway were two different auto transmissions. The Hydramatic was the first fully automatic transmission, first used in 1940, and used in tanks during WW2. The Olds version was the Jetaway and was substantially upgraded in the 1950s.

      Powerglides were first available in 1950, and were used in Pontiacs in Canada. The Powerglide was cheaper to make, but both 2-speeds could handle the torque of big V8s. GM didn’t make a good high torque limit 3-speed auto until the ’70s and the turbo-hydramatic, no relation to the earlier 2-speed. They didn’t need one, since gas cost 36 cents/gallon as late as 1974.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    As an owner of my 2nd classic car that has been Resto modded…I highly recommend it.

    Too much fun to be had. Yes things can be a pain the arse at times. This is why you have a DD. a friend of mine has a 69 c 10 short bed that is the best of both worlds. Total muscle car (LS3) and a weekend work truck for around the house.

    I would go for the olds, drop a junkyard 5.3 drivetrain in it, hook up the AC and have a glorious time!

  • avatar
    JMII

    So I learned old school cars smell funny and are hard to start but get thumbs up from passer bys. I was expecting a review of how they are to DRIVE compared to modern rides. Kind of bummed because I too have never driven anything older then cars from the 80s/late 70s. My dad had a British Racing Green ’65 Mustang convertible but it was traded in before I was even born. Shame he didn’t keep it. I love resto mods, manly because I think the older body styles were great but modern parts (engines, brakes, transmissions) are clearly better. For example I’d give my right arm for a C3 ‘Vette body dropped on top of C6 internal bits.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Probably easier drop C6 internals into the C3.

      With the aftermarket suppor that exists today most of the old stuff can be modernized to today’s deriving standards. I’m a huge fan….

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      As I’m sure you would expect, with limited exceptions they drive like boats… sloppy and washy in so many ways but all the power in the world (or so it seemed). Modifications like putting them on 65-series steel-belted radials improved the handling incredibly but they were typically heavy and soft–though not nearly as bad as a three-ton rig like the Buick Elektra 225. Remember, back then a 55-series was considered extreme low profile at the time. Now a 45-series is common. This makes a big difference in how it handles.

      The seats are typically reasonably comfortable, though not nearly as supportive as modern buckets. That said, these cars were great cruisers but not really built for the race track.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Mark, if you find yourself on this side of the Gulf of Maine, or I ever manage to do the tour of Nova Scotia I have wanted to do for 20+ years, you are welcome to have a go in my Triumph Spitfire. And see what a nicely sorted olde Britishe Crocke is like for variety. It’s interesting in that it is all original Triumph bits, just the best of the various bits that were never put together in a single car by the factory, with all the atrocities done in the name of FMVSS undone. It is the definition of driving a slow car fast being a lot of fun.

    Of the Mustang and the Cutlass, I’d take the Mustang, I think.

  • avatar

    Ford Mustang GT is one of fastest, most famous, most wonderful and most desired sports cars in world.

  • avatar
    CriticalMass

    Found your article a little late Mark but thank you for the idea and words. I had a ’68 442 bought new. My part time college student income just about paid for it and the gas and insurance to operate it and no more. Bought with summer job money I think it was about $3200 and bought on a budget meant it had the 325 horse motor instead of 350 as well as the two speed auto…on the column. Oh the shame. Your words and the remembrances of some others here brought it all back. Part of the character of Oldsmobiles throughout the mid-60’s was a very distinctive exhaust note at idle. It was a powerful yet restrained sound that I can’t really put into words but it was unmistakable. I had also had had a ’65 442, once wrecked and sold to me off an impound lot. Made the same sound. I always imagined they had this one old guy somewhere in back that was responsible for exhaust sounds. I hope he got his special place in Heaven. They had another guy too who did nothing but design ashtrays because every year in the mid 60’s the Oldmobiles had a different but interesting ashtray design. He probably got his place in Hell…..

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    For me it’s the Olds. I remember one I used to see years ago, it was silver and a later model with the vertical tail lamps. Gorgeous.

    I’d probably swap the engine for with the above suggestion or put EFI and an overdrive transmission. When I was growing up I smelled plenty of unburned fuel and prefer to pass on that.

  • avatar
    cantankerous

    I was working in South Korea when this article was published, and my efforts to comment on it at that time were stymied by an intermittent Internet connection. The pictures of the beautifully restored Cutlass dredged up a whole host of memories.

    I eventually became the proud owner of a 1968 4-4-2 that my family acquired as a used car late in the fall of 1969 as a replacement for a tired 1963 Cutlass that had been my mother’s daily driver. It was a little more money than my father was prepared to spend, but 15-year-old me sealed the deal by contributing $250 toward the down payment — the entire contents of my savings account — which lowered the monthly payment to something Dad felt more comfortable with.

    All 1968 4-4-2s had 400 cubic inch engines. However, only the “highway special” 2-barrel carbed, 290 h.p. model came with the two-speed slushbox. The regular 4-barrel motor, when equipped with an automatic as was mine, was rated at 325 h.p., 25 h.p. less than the manual transmission variant, but it still had the same monstrous 440 lb-ft of torque as its stick-shifted cousins. God, I loved that car, even though the crappy, heavy, high-friction stamped steel rocker arms caused it to float the valves 100 rpm short of the 4600 rpm at which its peak rated horsepower was achieved. I installed a B&M “quick shift” kit, which allowed me to catch rubber when the floor mounted shifter was used to shift the three-speed Turbo Hydramatic from 1st to 2nd at 4500 rpm (i.e., from Low to Super in Oldsmobile’s marketing parlance of the time). B&M claimed that the quick shift kit actually extended transmission life by reducing slippage. That may or may not have been true, but I’m pretty sure that the driveline shock induced by the hard shift contributed to the early death of at least two driveshaft front u-joints.

    The thing that moved me to comment on the article was the rear bumper on the Cutlass. It is notched to accommodate trumpet-tipped dual exhaust pipes, which only 4-4-2’s had in 1968. It wasn’t until the W-31 Cutlass appeared the following year that notched bumpers were extended to select members of the Cutlass line.


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