By on August 5, 2011

Yes, GM kept making Cutlasses with 442 badging long after the end of the muscle car era. Between 1970 and 1978, the 442 lost about 400 pounds of curb weight and (at least) 205 horsepower; the top 442 engine in ’78 was a 160-horse Chevy 305 V8.

This junked example has been wrecked horribly and then picked over pretty thoroughly, so it’s unlikely that anyone will be shedding any tears over its demise.

Still, the paint and graphics are pretty wild-looking for the era. A nicely restored 442 in this color scheme would be fun to have.

The Cutlass was quite a hot seller during the late 1970s, more or less the high-water mark for Oldsmobile sales in the United States, and the car was a pleasant enough, if thirsty, driver. I’ve had a couple of Cutlasses from this era, and (aside from the nightmarishly leaky T-tops on one) my memories of them are mostly positive.

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52 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Slantback! Too bad it’s in such horrible shape – Paul ran a CC on this body style over on his site, I’m one of the few who actually had a desire to ever own one.

    • 0 avatar

      @EdDan: I’m right behind you bud. For some strange reason, I really liked the slantbacks, even though they’re not hatchbacks.

      This would have been the King of the Downsized Mid-Size Malaise Oldsmobiles. Even though it has a regular Cutlass interior (bench seat with column shift).

      Makes my pine for my 1972 even more…

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t explain it, but something told me you’d be the first commenter, Dan!

      This thing is a 4-4-2? A Roachback©? Split bench seats? Compare this to my favorite 1968-69 Cutlass 4-4-2 and tell me what’s wrong! I remember these cars all too well, and cars like this sent me straight into Chrysler’s camp for almost 20 years. I’ll still take a K-Car over these travesties any day of the week. I hated GM for what they did to the American automobile beginning with the ’73 models and some of that anger is still with me, but this, this, THING above brings it all back!

      Dan, if you had a desire to own one, well, I suppose that’s a generational thing and I understand that. I am sure in certain ways, these cars had their advantages over the old, classic iron, and, looking back, sort of paved the way for the generic vehicles we have today. In that light, these were ahead of their time in many ways, executed well or not.

      Now I’m done!

    • 0 avatar

      Saw my very first live/dead example of these 2 weeks ago, an awful looking car and Dan you must be one of the few who like em.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        I like it because it’s weird. I think I slept one too many nights during my teenage years with the “Dare to be Different” issues of Hot Rod Magazine under my pillow. Thanks, Dad!

  • avatar

    OOOh – that is NOT a 442!
    That is an icky Cutlass with 442 graphics pasted to it.


    The Slantback was a dud before it even hit the streets. Oldsmobile crapped out these “442” in a lame attempt to get them off their lots. Few were fooled into thinking this car was something other than a poorly designed ugly Cutlass coupe. Oldsmobile couldn’t move fast enough to kill off the slantback design immediately after they were forced to take them.

    Wow. What a pitiful car. The front end doesn’t look like it belongs on the back end. The slantback angle is too vertical and cuts down into the rear fenders too severely to balance the front fenders. It is too long to look muscular. The front fenders were designed for a plain jane GM sedan, while the rear end was originally shown with little fins to balance off the fender lines. Those little fins had to be dumped, leaving the rear fender lines looking abused.

    The 442 graphics do not help. The overall effect of this car is similar to seeing a 64 year old street walker in fish net stocking and red pumps. This car looked best after it was redesigned losing the slantback, and left alone with a normal paint job suitable for a dull GM sedan.

    As to desirability, I suppose some guys are into that. They probably also kind of like the 1974 GTO, the 1979 AMX, and other similar graphic tributes to once great cars pasted upon plebian compacts designed to be farted in while dropping the kids off at school.

    • 0 avatar

      “OOOh – that is NOT a 442!
      That is an icky Cutlass with 442 graphics pasted to it.”

      Which is a perfectly accurate description of a genuine 442 in 1978. Like it or not, that what a real muscle car was by the end of the decade.

    • 0 avatar

      @Vanilla: Such was life in the mid-malaise era (although that particular car was probably not the best example of the line). We really didn’t have a lot of choices back then. This is why I belive we are living in (a) golden era of automobility right now.

      OTOH, I know several people who like the X body GTO, and the ’79 Spirit AMX could be ordered with a proper V8 & 4 speed. It even raced on the Nurburgring in 1979, precious few other cars could say that back then.

    • 0 avatar

      I put up a post about “real” 442s and other Olds cars not long ago. I’ve seen about a half dozen late ’60s early ’70s 442s at different car shows this summer including the Indy Pace Car.

      Speaking of the 1979 AMX, there’s a Hornet with a body kit here:

      I guess AMC figured that if the big companies could degrade legendary brand names, so could they.

  • avatar

    A close look at the shifter pattern on that dash reveals “PRNDSL”. “S” for sport perhaps? Were there different shift points for the slushbox in this selection? At least the allusion of sporting pretensions are present!

  • avatar

    Probably the best of the ’78-’79 Cutlasses was the Calais. Not only did it have the “performance” bits of the 442 but it also had the nicest interiors, more goodies, a specific grille, and a real gauge package instead of a strip speedo. However, it was only a notchback, not a slantback.

  • avatar

    Although I don’t know the exact transmission used in this Olds, the “S” position on Olds shift quadrants referred to “Super” not second. But this “Super” terminology was from an earlier era (60’s I believe) it may have been continued through this time.

  • avatar

    Looks like a basic slant back coupe turned into a 442 which was pretty common in this time era. The real car to get was the Hurst W-30 coupe in 1979-80 vintage with a stock Olds 350, better than normal rear gears, special shifter, guages, sport suspension, sport steering wheel and sport alloy wheels. A good friend has a 79 white and gold W-30 car with a high flow catalytic converter, tweaked quadrajet, true duals and the silly emissions related spark delay removed and that car wil smoke em for a city block and is a ball to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s the thing the everybody forgets about malaise era cars. With an adjustment of timing and freeing up the intake and exhaust, not to mention trashing all of the emission controls, they could be made to run much better than the stock numbers would lead you to believe possible. They still had low compression and bad head design but they could at least get out of their own way.

  • avatar

    “In 1978, no one ever heard of a “sporty” setting for a transmission. “S” stands for second gear.”

    Either “second” or “slow/slower”, never sporty. All GM “A” bodies, at this point, used either a Turbo-Hydramtic 350 or 200 depending on the engine. Chevrolet’s quadrant was PRNDL2L1, Pontiac & Oldsmobile used PRNDSL (S=second or slower) and Buick went with PRND2L. Same gear box in each case; no change in gearing.

    I would have prefered to see Oldsmobile end the 442 in ’72 (’70 was the pinnacle with the 380 HP 455 C.I. “W-30”) while it still had some guts. These later models always seemed like curiosities more so than an attempt at a muscle car.

    • 0 avatar

      not to start a flame war over “S” but according to Wikipedia….This explanation matches the Oldsmobiles that I drove from the mid-60’s to late 70’s….

      “The Roto Hydramatic was used in all full-sized Oldsmobile models including the Dynamic 88, Super 88, Ninety-Eight and Starfire from 1961-1964 as well as the compact Oldsmobile F-85 from 1961-1963. Pontiac used the Roto Hydramatic from 1961-1964 on its shorter-wheelbase full-sized cars including the Catalina, Ventura and Grand Prix, but continued with the older four-speed Super Hydramatic design in the longer-wheelbase Star Chief and Bonneville models.
      In the familiar Oldsmobile and Pontiac shift quadrant, P-R-N-D-S-L or P-N-D-S-L-R, the “S” quadrant was for “Super” and not second. In the earlier four-speed Hydra-Matic, the “S” or “Super” quadrant was actually third gear, allowing 1-2-3 shifts. This nomenclature was also used by Mercedes-Benz with the introduction of the four-speed type-3 automatic transmission. As with the Hydra-Matic, the “L” position was actually 1st and 2nd gears, holding the transmissions from shifting above 2nd gear.”

  • avatar

    Can the graphics be any larger and uglier for all the Big 3 products in the late 70’s? Can you say “COBRA” half way across a Mustang II and make it look good? sheesh!

    Now another question…
    Does the original 442 designation = four barrel, four speed, dual exhaust?
    Does the original 442 designation apply to this graphic wannabe in any manner?

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      442 stood for whatever Oldsmobile’s marketing department desired that year. I think for most of the car’s production (till 1987) it did stand for 4 barrel, four speed, dual exhaust.

      As a child of the 80s I still can’t help but like the 1987 models even if they’re neutered compared to the greats of the 60s.

      • 0 avatar

        442 meant a lot of different things:

        1964: 4 barrel carb, 4 speed trans, dual exhaust
        1969: 400 CID engine, 4 barrel carb, dual exhaust
        1993: 4 cylinders, 4 valve per cylinder, dual exhaust…

        I really don’t what it meant in mid-malaise era, $400 down, 4 wheels, 2 tailights?

        The 442 died as a model in 1971. By the time Lansing pooped out my 1972 version, it was an option package on the Cutlass 2 door hardtop. Mine had the 350/4 barrel, TH350, posi rear end, etc., etc. But a friend of mine had one that appeared very similar to mine, but with the 2 barrel 350, single exhaust, no posi.

        The 1978 model shown here is the simply the exterior option package, not unlike my buddy’s 1972 version.

    • 0 avatar
      red stick

      This car reminded me of the Mustang II Cobra also. Oh, the 70’s. Volares with Road Runner graphics. Mustangs with tape and stripe packages. This was a 442. Ick!!!

      But the A-Body Grand-Am didn’t look bad . . .

    • 0 avatar

      4 wheels 4 doors 2 bloody ugly to sell there fixed it

  • avatar

    I don’t care what you call it, there are simply no redeeming qualities here. Square headlights, slant back and a strip speedo.. This car is like kissing your sister.. yuck!

  • avatar

    I was pumping gas and changing oil at the corner Shell station then; we refered to this as the Gutless; almost makes miss the malaise era.

  • avatar

    S= sluggish

    One of the near brain-dead human-like infestations at the Omaha yard de la wrecking insisted the late 1970s 442 was a valuable muscle car.

    I can imagine the A-Team chap declaring “I pity the fool.”

    I believe the manager kept the imbecilic lad around to keep him employed, off the streets and thus less of a threat to the general public.

    Thinking back, I can not recall what useful function that simpleton performed to explain his presence and pay.

    I was too busy performing actual profit-making functions.

    Foolish me.

    Hard work is for fools; making wealth for others.

    Smart work is what makes wealth for one’s self.

    But, it takes time to shrug off the indoctrination conferred upon a chap reared in the economic quagmire and low social standing of the working-poor.

    Don’t begrudge a Disgruntled One whose typical school day included contending with one or more of the many local gangs that the schools refused to contend with.

  • avatar

    Did any other 442 wear its numbers quite so large as they’re plastered all over this family car? As far as I can tell, the 4 barrel engine took a vacation for the 1978 model year, so this car had no more than 145 hp. The 442 trim package may even have been available on cars with 105 hp V6s. It seems like the 442 package amounted to tape and wheels. It obviously didn’t include seats, instrumentation, or a performance engine. Were there dual exhausts?

  • avatar

    Here are some “real” 442s including the Indy Pace Car.

  • avatar

    Yuck, that interior! People today complain about Sebring’s or Caliber’s or new Civic’s interior. They look and feel like Bentleys compared to a 1970s GM interior. I think the other American makes are pretty much the same either. The Japanese interiors are more durable, but aren’t really that much better in term of feel. We have come a long way.

  • avatar

    Hey look, it’s N10 Datsun Cherry’s morbidly obese cousin!

  • avatar

    At the time, this car was a disaster. Now however, it would be a fun crate motor project. So few still exist, it would make a nice cruiser.

  • avatar

    On the Utter Crap Tape-stripe Special scale this thing would probably rank a 9.5 out of a possible 10. The only thing worse would be a Chevy Monza Spyder.

    • 0 avatar
      red stick

      I’d forgotten about that one. But I still believe the top (bottom?) of that scale is nailed down by the Mustang II Cobra II, which managed to combine fasterfaster graphics, a no guts motor, and the thorough desecration of a bona fide American icon.

      • 0 avatar

        Yet the Monz Spyder a, and the Mustang II Cobra, and the Hornet & Gremlin based AMXs all have their fans. I got slammed by some of the B&B for gently poking fun at a guy who put historical plates on a K-Car “woodie”. Do Mustang II owners not bleed when pricked?

        FWIW, I met Howard Mook, who designed the Mustang II among other work for Ford, at the recent Eyes On Design show.

        I’ve shot pictures of most of those car at one or another car event or museum this year.

        If, and that’s a big if, you can find a Monza shell that’s not eaten by the tin worms they can be made into a nice sleeper car. Cosworth Vega suspension bits bolt on, and you can fit a SBC under the hood and between the shock towers. A Pinto (and Mustang II) will bolt in a Lotus Twin Cam, a Cosworth BDA, and I know that the Mustang II had a 302 shoehorned into it.

        Drive By Truckers: Daddy’s Cup

        Before I turned 18 Daddy said “Now pretty soon
        You’ll be old enough to drive but I’ll leave it up to you
        I taught you all about it, taught you everything I know
        You gotta have a car to do it and you gotta work and buy your own”

        The first one I bought was a Mustang #2
        Nobody kept’em any longer than they kept a pair of shoes
        They started showing up at every used car lot in town
        A V-8 on a go-cart, easy terms, no money down

  • avatar

    Another reminder of just how bad the Malaise Era really was. When somebody who is 35 grouses about the poor quality of a car today, I just remember the junk from this era. And while a mid/late 70’s Japanese car may have been more reliable than most American cars of this era, their interiors sucked too. This is one thing I don’t miss about my early years…

    • 0 avatar

      The mid to late ’70s was truly the worst. It wasn’t until Soichiro Honda decided to make his version of Alec Issigonis’ Mini that Japanese cars became contenders from a technical standpoint. For the most part they were boring RWD sedans that understeered and rusted and had crappy automatic transmissions. The Japanese imitated bad British cars. They were, however, more reliable than the domestics. Japan didn’t take the market away, Detroit gave it away.

      • 0 avatar

        So did Europe. VW stuck with rear engines too long and when they finally got modern and embraced FWD, the quality went to hell. Fiats and Renaults sold in big numbers in the US until the mid-’70s, then people discovered that they could have reliability along with small-car virtues by going Japanese. That was the end of cheap European cars other than VW, and they struggled too.

    • 0 avatar

      What the new 2012 Focus transmission? And, the 2011 Mustang manual transmission? How about the Edge and Explorer securing near last place positions in the Consumer Reports CUV tests? The Malaise Era is well and alive in detroit.

    • 0 avatar

      When I was in high school, I drove a 12 year old 79 Toyota Celica. What a car. The interior was very nice. You detroiters will never see light.

  • avatar

    Never mind the Faux-Four-Two, I want to see more of the ’73 Cadillac that is behind it!

  • avatar

    If it were possible for a company to rot in hell, this alone would be enough of a reason to send GM there.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    This right here, is a prime example of dealers that don’t have a clue as to how to properly order a car. This thing should have come with the burgundy interior and bucket seats, full gage package, and power windows and locks, not a tan interior with a bench and crank windows. Yuck!

  • avatar

    Best to let detroit cars stay in the junkyard. Safest to leave them there to protect the public from excessive repair bills.

  • avatar

    While this version of the Olds 442 was not the best out there even though they sold in large numbers, I actually like the graphics plastered on the side and rear of the car, it’s so 70’s.

    Yeah, I know, many don’t find the 70’s exactly the high water of fashion or interior design either but I tend to disagree, on at least SOME of the interior design elements. I also like many of the graphic design elements of that era too.

    Even I noticed the pedestrian split bench, column shifter and strip speedo combo inside, ugh. I’ve never liked that about so many of the domestics until more recent years and thankfully, that’s all gone now.

    • 0 avatar

      The trapezoid-nose Cutlass doesn’t do anything for me, but the 76-77 waterfall nose most definitely does. Highly underrated design, the roofline was pretty neat too.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    This car is an AEROBACK and if anybody else refuses to give the body style proper respect I will Murder. You. To. Death. I luuuuvvvvv aerobacks.

  • avatar

    The GM downsize of the full-size cars that rolled out in ’77 was a huge hit, and deservedly so. They had deliberately let the big cars go to hell with obese styling and horribly rust-prone sheetmetal because they knew the next generation would be so different, they’d never be held accountable by the time the old ones rotted. The ’77 and newer ones drove worlds better, looked better, hardly rusted (many, many survive in nice shape today), and sold like hotcakes, especially for Chevrolet.

    The next year, the equally bread-and-butter midsizers came up for the same downsizing treatment. Aesthetically and commercially, it was not as successful. One reason was that GM seemed to self-consciously try to make the cars an obvious size class smaller than the new full-sizers. I remember C/D commented at the time that the dashboard was small, the speedo was small, as if to scream that the whole car was now smaller. As noted, they were also woefully underpowered, which generally wasn’t the case with the full-sizers and their perfectly adequate Chevy small-block V8s (across nearly all divisions, which figuratively blew up in their faces later — but that’s another story).

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