Junkyard Find: 1996 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme SL Sedan

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

From the 1966 through 1997 model years, American car shoppers could walk into an Oldsmobile dealership and drive out in a new Cutlass Supreme. During its peak sales years of the middle 1970s through the middle 1980s, the Cutlass Supreme reigned as one of the best-selling cars in the land. Today's Junkyard Find, found in a Denver-area car graveyard, comes from the often-overlooked twilight years of Cutlass Supreme production.

Starting with the 1988 model year, the Cutlass Supreme moved from the rear-wheel-drive G platform it shared with the Pontiac Grand Prix and went onto the new front-wheel-drive W platform. That's where it stayed until the very end.

Just to confuse everybody, Oldsmobile kept building the G-Body Cutlass Supreme sedan for 1988, badging it as the Cutlass Supreme Classic.

Confusing everybody had become a Cutlass tradition by that time. Thanks to the sales triumphs of the Cutlass family during the second half of the 1970s, it seemed to make sense to slap the Cutlass name on multiple, unrelated car models.

During the 1980s, Olds shoppers could buy a Cutlass Ciera (A-body Chevy Celebrity sibling), a Cutlass Calais (N-body Pontiac Grand Am sibling), and various flavors of G- and W-Body Cutlass Supreme. There was also the Cutlass Cruiser wagon.

By 1996, the Cutlass Calais was long gone and the Cutlass Ciera had become just the Ciera. That left the Cutlass Supreme as the last Olds Cutlass standing, but then GM created an Oldsmobized, Cutlass-badged version of the Chevy Malibu for the 1997 through 1999 model years. Oldsmobile itself was gone after 2004.

By this time, the Cutlass Supreme was a somewhat upscale Chevy Lumina sibling. For 1996, it was available as a coupe or sedan, with a single trim level (SL) and four series of equipment levels.

This car is missing the wheels and factory radio, so determining the series is difficult. The presence of a leather-wrapped steering wheel and lack of touch controls on that wheels tells us that it's a Series II or Series III car.

Assuming that it's a Series III Cutlass Supreme, its MSRP was $18,960 (about $36,737 in 2023 dollars).

Just two engines were available in the 1996 Cutlass Supreme, both members of the GM 60° V6 family: the base pushrod 3.1-liter rated at 160 horsepower and the optional DOHC 3.4-liter rated at 215 horsepower.

This car has the 3.1.

Amazingly, the W-body Cutlass Supreme could be had with a manual transmission all the way through 1992. After that, it was mandatory four-speed automatics for all Cutlass Supremes until the end.

It ends its career with 162,166 miles on the odometer.

You'll find one in every car, sure, but Supernova is a very rare Little Tree scent. It "pops with bursts of bright bergamot intensified by notes of dark berry, ozonic florals, and musk."

The Cutlass Supreme sold pretty well during its last couple of years, with nearly 75,000 sold for 1996 and more than 50,000 sold for 1997. That beat all other Olds models except for the Ciera in 1996 and all non- Eighty-Eight models in 1997.

Marketing for the sedan was all about price. It's your money!

Thousands less than the leading imports, plus just $239 a month to lease.

The '96 Cutty Supreme coupe got more exciting TV commercials, though the defensive-sounding "it's your money" bit sneaks in at the end.

[Images: The author]

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Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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2 of 29 comments
  • Mike-NB2 Mike-NB2 on Mar 07, 2023

    That's some pretty impressive rear legroom on display in that shot of the rear seat. What would that be? Two, maybe three inches?

  • Mustangfast Mustangfast on Aug 06, 2023

    My aunt and uncle had one of these as both a coupe and later a sedan and they called it a “helicopter car” because of all the wraparound glass. It’s amazing GM never made money on this platform given how many of these were foisted onto American roads. My only recollection is that the seats were very soft, but in a “I feel the metal underneath” sort of way

  • Richard Poore Sure, as the article itself notes (hence my ire) California has mandated that all new vehicles sold in state be EV by 2035. They require EV or hybrid by 2026. Since the author admits to this mandate it seems that the article title is clickbait... was really hoping that there was some sort of changes in the CA position since the state is sorely behind on where they need to be with charging stations for this sort of requirement.
  • VoGhost When will Audi eliminate the fake, oversized grills that impede aerodynamics?
  • Kelley It's about time! I was so discouraged to see those poor Chevy Bolts stuck at the charging station receiving level 2 speeds after 80%, it was ridiculous. It would be nice if EA would had more level 2 chargers, also, at the same locations for people to top off above 80% on the fast chargers.
  • Tane94 Carmela Harris is supportive of EV adoption, so government incentives will be continuing under her watch.