By on January 24, 2012

Now that we’ve looked at the corpse of a GM product that flopped in the American marketplace, let’s exhume an example of a GM product that sold like crazy: the Middle Malaise Era Olds Cutlass.
The downsized ’78-81 Cutlass didn’t sell quite as well as the previous generation, but it was still a solid showroom performer for The General. You could even get a 442 version!
These cars, close relatives of the jillion-selling Malibu, retain some popularity with the gangsta-style crowd, though not as much as the “box Caprice.” Clearly, these wheels weren’t enough to tempt an auction buyer prior to this car’s last tow-truck ride.

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43 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham...”

  • avatar

    If not for the Japanese and their big, round, legible gauges, I wonder how far the American makes would have gone? Maybe they would’ve just ended up with a warning light when you were low on fuel. Maybe the speedometer would’ve continued to shrink and stretch until it was just a line pointing to a few dashes, one for neighborhood speeds, one for city speeds, and an orange dash for “55”.

    Air vents would’ve disappeared too perhaps, air only blowing from the top and bottom of the dash.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “If not for the Japanese and their big, round, legible gauges, I wonder how far the American makes would have gone? Maybe they would’ve just ended up with a warning light when you were low on fuel”

    Wih the “Calais” trim you got a tach, oil, temp, & volt gage in addition to the speedo and gas. Also buckets w/floor shift.

  • avatar

    I had one of these (1978)…medium blue with light blue vinyl roof and light blue crushed velour interior. 260 cu inch V8. My last V8. My last reasonable GM car. My next car was a Cavalier and barely made it through a year of endless garage visits.

    • 0 avatar

      My sympathies on having the 4.4 as your final memory of V8 engines. I too had one of these gutless lumps in my 1980 Pontiac Lemans, and when it expired right on cue @ 70,000 miles I replaced it with a Camaro-derived 5.7. Although still a slug by today’s standards, the 5.7 did manage to make my last V8 memories slightly happier.

    • 0 avatar

      There are many more reasons for GM going bankrupt. I owned several more GM cars with I-4 and V-6 engines and they weren’t good. The 260 V-8 worked and was reliable – the I-4 and V-6 engines were remarkably not. I have not been a GM customer since. GM did not treat compact cars as a serious business and eventually all of their cars weren’t desirable.
      (of note, I had a Camaro 350 V-8 before the Olds and it was not a very good engine/car).

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        Ah, thanks for the correction: it was the one-year 262 which I was thinking of. I recall a bunch of 4-bangers were making more horsepower during that time.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Body By Fisher, Yeah Boy!!!

    Hmmmmmmmmm is that the “mighty” 260V8 under the hood? Maybe with a 307 this car would have escaped this fate…

    BTW the Brougham badge on my 1987 Cutlass sedan bleached to white also. You would think the suppliers would figure out how to fix that.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      I’m sure the suppliers knew exactly how to prevent the badge bleaching to white. Just not at the price GM was willing to pay.

      • 0 avatar

        The red on the huge Cadillac emblems on late model Escalades all bleach to white in a relatively short time down here in Florida. If they are unable/unwilling to make a decent emblem for a $60,000 plus flagship in the late 2000’s, it does not bode well for a $13,000 (i’m guessing) mid range car from the mid 80’s.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    These things were the automotive equivalent of ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’ Bette Davis: outdated, pathetic, and enough whore paint to redecorate the Great Wall of China. One wonders how many STDs are lingering in those moldy seats.

    GM kept building this crap for almost a whole decade more because people kept buying them. What the hell was wrong with America?

  • avatar

    Wow, that car looks completely ‘donk’-able. I’ve seen much worse roaming the streets of GR. Of course the stereo system and the wheels are worth much more than the cars they’re attached to…

    It never ceases to amaze me how well car bodies hold up in western climates. It almost looks like you could take this thing out of the junkyard and throw on some parts & pieces to get it street legal again!

  • avatar

    Great cars. I have a 78 and 79 Malibu, both two totally different cars. The Malibu’s more conservative style has aged a lot better over the years then the other GM products based on the same platform.

    These cars drive and ride great. my 78′ Sedan V6 cruises the highway without a hiccup from pot holes. My 79′ Coupe, V8, manual, with the F-41 suspension is a great handler that, with me behind the wheel at least, will let you do anything you want to it.

    Light weight, full frame, roomy, RWD, potential v8 power, very straight forward and easy to work on. The G-body is best thing GM ever made.

    • 0 avatar

      I too had a 78 Malibu coupe, V8, 4-speed. I agree, great car, great handling. I upgraded the shocks and installed poly-bushings – wow just those simple changes and I could out corner most BMWs. I see that well-optioned Malibu’s are asking in the $8-10,000 range now!
      I always think the Pontiac G8 was what GM should have evolved the G-body into, but foresight is not GMs forte (oh yeah, forte is a KIA).

    • 0 avatar

      Full frame? G-bodies are unibody…

      • 0 avatar

        Really? That freshly powdercoated thing holding the front suspension and rear differential that I just put back under my ’83 Regal T-Type sure looked like a frame.

  • avatar

    Besides Ford and Chevrolet, only Oldsmobile joined the millionaire’s club. This happened in 1976. What made this happen was the incredible popularity of the Cutlass coupe, sedan and wagon. By the mid-1970s, Oldsmobile sat in the middle of the automotive sweet spot. Olds had the right image, the right car and the right price at the right time.

    So, it is not unusual that three years later when this car was produced, the market was still head over heels in love with this market segment. The 1978-1979 Cutlass Supreme had all the good things that helped make Oldsmobile a million seller, but in a newer, smaller size as dictated by industry trends and economics.

    The downsizing wasn’t all that cutting edge. Most of the technologies used to make this car, made the earlier generation of Cutlasses. Being smaller helped with weight loss, allowing for the smaller engines, some which experimented with new technologies. But there was a lot of wasted space in the million-selling Oldsmobiles of three years earlier. Finding and cutting out the bloat in the older model didn’t hurt. Folks comfortable in the older 1976 Cutlass coupe, would find the 1979 as comfortable.

    The challenge facing the Cutlass was the competition copying it’s success and the gradual market shift from this kind of car.

    For some odd reason, the 1978 and 1979 Cutlass Supremes didn’t use the same front clip headlight design that was so incredibly popular and handsome in 1976 and 1977. Oldsmobile fixed this problem in 1979 and the horizontal twin-rectangle headlight design remained within the brand until it’s demise. The clip this year also still retains the mid-1970 vertical formal front end. Within a year, a more aerodynamic scooped buffer would be placed between the front bumper and headlights, which would again remain as a Cutlass Supreme style signature until the end of the line a decade later.

    The sedans had a setback this time around, but since the vast majority of buyers were solely interested in the personal coupe, sales of the Cutlass Supreme weren’t effected by the edgy and unpopular Aero coupe Cutlasses new to this generation.

    There were a lot of different Cutlasses. For a long while, GM itched to drop the Oldsmobile name. Spreading the Cutlass brand from luxury coupe to nine passenger wagon, enveloping quite different styles and seating arrangements, GM seemed to be slowly replacing the name Oldsmobile with the Cutlass name. A lot of brands were being shuffled around in the industry at this time, so while it probably confused Oldsmobile buyers, at that time, Cutlass’ competition was just as jumbled and confused.

    This was a successful car for many reasons. While it is not as iconic as the 1976 Cutlass Supreme, it was a worthy offspring.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a ’77 Cutlass Supreme with T-tops when I was 20 or so. The roof leaked, it was slow, sucked gas, and handled like a garbage truck, but I felt very stylish in it.

      • 0 avatar

        “I had a ’77 Cutlass Supreme with T-tops when I was 20 or so. The roof leaked, it was slow, sucked gas, and handled like a garbage truck, but I felt very stylish in it.”

        Probably because you bought it used and abused. A co-worker bought a 1981 Gran Prix new with T-Tops and it was a wonderful car – until it was stolen!

    • 0 avatar
      I've got a Jaaaaag

      My Father was an Oldsmobile Man in the 1980s, I remember car shopping with him in 1988 at the Olds dealer in Bangor, Maine. The dealer was beside himself with the new model Cutlass Supreme, so much so he had stockpiled a few of the old RWD variants. (For a time they were selling both the FWD and RWD models) He kept going on and on about how GM had killed his best selling car. My father of course bought a 1989 Cutlass Ciera instead of the Black Cutlass Supreme with the T-Tops.

    • 0 avatar

      I worked the parts counter at a GM dealer in the 80s-90s and I remember the era when everything Olds made was a “Cutlass.” It would drive people absolutely nuts when I had to ask if theirs was the front-wheel drive model or the rear-wheel drive. First off, they thought I was a moron for not knowing what THIER car was, or they didn’t even know what wheels drove their car so, naturally, they would lay into me to compensate for their own ignorance. GM of course had no clue how badly they watered-down the Cutlass brand. Basically, I think that’s what killed Olds.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “Hmmmmmmmmm is that the “mighty” 260V8 under the hood? Maybe with a 307 this car would have escaped this fate…”

    Nothing wrong with the 260 V8. Even with tall gears in the rear end, the one in my ’81 Olds Cutlass pulled 3K of boat pretty decently. When I got rid of it(197K & 11 years of cold MN starts) it still ran like top. True it was no perfromer, the V6 had a higher HP rating, but it was indestructable.

  • avatar

    My 85 Cutlass had the 307 OLDS V8. Great performer AND 24 MPG highway.

  • avatar

    Never cared for the looks of the 1978-80 vehicles. As far as I was concerned, the 1981 restyle was nothing but good news for this car. Much more attractive front clip and rear window.

  • avatar

    My mother had one of these. It was a cream puff. Low miles, beautiful condition.

    When she passed, I inherited it. It didn’t get driven, so I gave it to my brother in law.

    Who trashed it and abandoned it. I still can’t think about it without getting pissed.

  • avatar

    There used to be a lot of these cars on the roads around here. It seemed to me that about half of them were brown with tan vinyl tops and driven by guys with mustaches and dirty t-shirts.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Waitaminute: those aren’t hubcaps, and I see no sign of wheel lugs. I forget who makes single-bolt conversions now, but that’s good looking set, albeit incomplete.

  • avatar

    Along with the downsized B-cars (Caprice, Delta 88, LeSabre, Catalina/Bonneville), these were GM’s best efforts from the 70’s. Yes, they made them too long and, by the time they stopped production in 1987, they were way long in the tooth. But, for the late 70’s, these cars were the most sane-sized, best-performing models around. Sure, the Cutlass Supreme (and the coupe version clones — Regal, Grand Prix, Monte Carlo) had less interior room and interiors out of a Moulin Rouge outtake — but they provided style and some modicum of performance to a large swath of middle class, middle America. GM could do, and did, a lot worse. (See Citation/X-cars, Cavalier/J-cars, et al) What killed GM in the 80’s wasn’t these models. It was the half-baked attempts at making “modern” cars that followed.

    Besides, I have memories of watching my neighbor across the street drive off in his 1978 Monte Carlo blaring Donna Summer music during the summer. To an 11 year old, if that wasn’t cool and sophisticated, I didn’t know what else could be.

  • avatar

    For me this car’s history and that of its siblings (Grand Prix, Riviera, Monte Carlo etc, etc)can be summarized as follows.

    Late 70’s – early 80’s – Sold mainly to guys with a resemblance to Disco Stu (well from my childhood perspective)
    Mid 80’s to early 90’s – Driven mostly by guys with mullet haircuts or shifted down to second car status.
    Mid to late 90’s – Degraded to gangsta wannabe cars driven by lame white kids in track suits and gansta rap blasting from stereos worth more than the car itself.
    Years ago I knew a guy at work who had this example as a daily driver with BF Goodrich Radial TA tires, mag rims, dual exhaust, a spoiler and a 100 foot paint job.
    He loved that car and spent way too much money on it, but rust never sleeps and bondo can only hold it back for so long.
    The writing was on the wall for that car when the rear bumper mounts rusted away and the bumper fell off.

    A surprising number of these cars survived into the late 90’s but they’re pretty rare today.

  • avatar

    To mention bailouts or going into bankrputy and talk about these cars in the same sentence really brings out the ignornace of some. Bailouts and bankruptcy was due to the more recent car lines and lack of focus and direction from GM. A car line such as the A/G or B-bodies had absolutely nothing to do with anything that has happened 30 plus years later. These were the cars that outsold litterally everything else and with good reason. Yes the 260 V8 wasn’t a powerhouse. Yes the 200 Metric transmission used in certain models wasn’t known for it’s longevity. But these cars offered more actual rear seat legroom and trunk space than the 73-77 era cars did in a 600 LB lighter package with much improved mileage. It’s worth noting that it took Ford and Chrysler 2 more models years to downsize and catch up it’s own mid size and personal luxury coupes to even compete with these cars and still didn’t even come close in sales. The fact that this car lasted until 1988 spoke volumes on it’s popularity even though by this point it was wanning. If one excersized a modicum of intelligence when filling out the order sheet, a true great car could be had for a very competitive price for the time. F-41 suspensions were a must and std fare on all Calais and Salon models. Then there was the Hurst and 442 versions which were even taughter yet. The 79-80 Hurst came with Olds’s excellent 350 and was a reasonable performer. The later 83-84 and 85-87 Hurst/442 cars were given an HO 307 with a then decent 180 HP and 3.73:1 rear set of gears.
    My family, friends and myself all had numerous versions of this car in coupe, sedan and wagon forms and most were long lasting reliable cars that drove quite well. They had a flair that the common Malibus, Fairmonts and Volare cars lacked. My best friend still has a 79 Calais coupe with the 260 with bucket seats, guages, floor shifter and the rear swaybar sport suspension. It drives as good as some more modern cars, handles really well, runs like a watch and gets 24-25 MPG on his trips to pick me up for a Saturday cruise. We can’t go anywhere without someone commenting on it becuase it is almost mint. His 260 woke up considerably with some timing advance and carb tweaks and a better set of rear gears and will cruise all day long going 80 MPH! I had an 81 tan coupe with 260, bucket seats and F-41 and litterally couldn’t kill the darn thing. Then I inherited Grandpas 85 gold base coupe with 307 and that was a really nice car that got better mileage than my folks 1982 coupe with the 231 V6! I look back with fond memories of those cars and the times and find myself longing for some of that simple flair and elegance that the 80’s offered.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    FWD killed the American car, I don’t care how many people think I’m talking crap!

  • avatar

    Test drove one of these, black, with T-Tops, with the short-stroke, super-malaise-y 401 swapped in.

    I could see how someone would like it and think it a great car…and I could see how it clearly was not. In black with the smoked T-tops, it was indeed super stylish (with a gangster flair), but didn’t hold a candle to my ’67 Ford Wagon’s 390, performance-wise.

  • avatar

    GM did such a good job with first the downsized B bodies and then the downsized RWD intermediates (smaller on the outside, bigger on the inside with more trunk space and hundreds of pounds lighter than their predecessors) that the mediocrity of the X cars and FWD intermediates that followed was dramatized.

    No, these cars had nothing to do with the bankruptcy of 30 years later, but the cars that replaced them are one reason why some families will never again by a GM product.

  • avatar

    I got one of these used back in ’85, it was a beautiful car. Had the bucket seats, rally wheels, low miles and a V-8. I pretty much bought it based on it’s looks. I wanted the Hurt addition but they were hard to find even back in 1985. It looked, drove, handled and rode great but it was still the worst car I had ever owned. I had a love/hate relationship with it. As others have said the Olds 260 V8 sucked, very un-Oldsmobile like engine. I was expecting it to be as reliable as the ’76 Cutlass I had prior to this one. My buddy had a ’78 with the Chevy 305, much better engine even though the 305 had a bad reputation. After almost 30 years he still has that car, just with a Chevy 350 now.

  • avatar
    its me Dave

    I bought one of these in the late 90’s. They were calling it a 2wd S-10 by then.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    My favorite years design-wise for these was 78 – 80. These years had elegantly defined rear fenders and fold over waterfall grilles.

  • avatar

    Please won’t someone at Lemons HQ start keeping track and scoring the results of any car entered with a Brougham in the name. At the end of the year they ought to get a prize, something brown and covered in velour.

  • avatar

    Grandparents had a green w/ white half vinyl top with matching green interior.

    I think that that is one of the biggest losses to the old ways- crazy car interior colors. Now it is black, grey, or tan(ish) due to parts commonalization. You used to be able to get floor mats in red, blue, green, black, brown, and clear- now just grey, tan, black and clear and funky designs on black.

  • avatar

    I’ve never seen a pre-shovel nose G-body Cutlass, but I did find a fiiiiine 1976 Cutlass Supreme Brougham for sale today!

    Sorry folks, but you can’t have it. I NEED this car.

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