Oldsmobile Brougham

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Keywords: cars, automobiles, collector items, car stories
Description: One Owner Collector Car offers something for every car enthusiast.

The winds of time erase the line drawn in the sand by collectors attempting to define a classic. Years ago car guys asserted that everything after 1970 doesn't count because that's when compression went south. By the late 1980s collectors had extended the time-line to include the 1971 and 1972 cars which retained the balanced good looks of the existing platforms. The 1972 crowd regarded the 1973s saddled with five mile per hour bumpers as a steep drop- off point. Others point to the catalytic convertor in 1975 as the year cars died. As the stretch of time expands the available history to look back through, collectors are allowing more leeway.

There was a time when car nuts wouldn't look at any A body made after 1972. The classic lines of the GM intermediate line from 1968 until 1972 incorporated a long hood, short deck fastback styling that mimicked a ponycar but still provided a back seat and trunk space. In 1973 the new 'Colonnade' body style dispensed with convertibles and hardtops due to new safety roll-over standards. The wheelbase was the same at 112" for a two door and 116" for a four door version but the new 'A bodies' looked huge and bloated compared to the lines of the earlier cars.

Chevelle managed to retain some vestige of the prior body style although it was much bulkier. The Pontiac version of the A body, the LeMans was universally criticized for its radical new shape. No one liked its sloping rear trunk line. Buick's new A body so little resembled the prior Skylark that they renamed it the Century, but it was a very good looking car. Only Oldsmobile managed to come out a sales winner with the new Colonnade body style. Granted, the 1973 Cutlass didn't have the taut racer looks of the prior Cutlass, but the new Cutlass did seem to be an evolution of the earlier car. The Cutlass Supreme went on to become the top selling domestic car in 1976 when designers mastered the Colonnade body style by redoing the front end with a squared off grille and headlight design.

That squared off grille and front end re appeared on the downsized 1978 Cutlass establishing a strong connection between the best selling large old Cutlass and the small modern version. All of the GM 'A body' intermediates were downsized to a 108 inch wheelbase in 1978 and each of the divisions came out with excellent looking cars.

Yes, these were small cars with big 5 MPH bumpers which should have made the bumpers even that much more offensive, but the bumpers were better integrated into the design. Yes, the new A bodies were smaller than the established 'intermediate' concept, but interior dimensions were maintained. Yes, they were squarer and more modern, but enough tradition was incorporated to make them seem familiar. The downsized 'A bodies' were regarded as classics, just not as well regarded as the amazing 'A bodies' of 1968-72.

The new 1978 downsized body style recreated some of the body proportions that made the 1968-72 A bodies such beautiful pieces of sculpture. The long hood/ short deck in no way resembled the compromise designs of small boxy front wheel drive import cars with their huge greenhouse in relation to the body, or discordant lines that jarred the viewer. These cars were still form before function true domestic cars. Like the past GMS, the new intermediates were inefficient designs when compared to an ugly front wheel drive import that returned double the MPG figures. Compared to their predecessors, these new GMs managed to preserve a sense of the old heritage while offering the same interior room in a downsized vehicle that was more gas efficient than the old Detroit beasts. They were a compromise that worked.

With a return to the original balance of the car designs, the smaller intermediates were embraced by car magazines and public alike. Hot rodders loved the downsized 'A body' and 'G body', providing further proof that this design had some classic elements in it. An Oldsmobile buyer was provided with all the re assuring features he had become accustomed to. It made the transition into a smaller platform easier to handle for the typical older security minded buyer of an Olds.

Vinyl tops and chrome trim and elaborately ornate interiors maintained the visual image. It seems hard to believe today, but in 1980 GM was still putting hood ornaments on their luxury oriented cars. The new A body was about as small as a car could be and still carry a hood ornament with aplomb. The center chrome strip on the hood harkens back to the early Cutlass models.

For the loyal Olds buyer who traded in his Cutlass every few years, nothing was amiss with the downsized Cutlass. The interior was plush, the ride was smooth and the exterior was instantly identifiable as an Oldsmobile. In 1980 a Oldsmobile salesman named Jess had seen this Oldsmobile on the lot where it was a demo car for a Ypsilanti Michigan Oldsmobile dealer. Jess was able to swing a reasonable deal for the car due to his dealership connections. Jess always drove two cars, keeping one as his 'nice car'. This 1980 Cutlass Supreme Brougham was picked as his new 'nice' car.

Jess bought his Cutlass March 18, 1980. The Cutlass Supreme is already a fully loaded car, but Oldsmobile managed to pile on some extra froth with the Brougham. Aside from the Brougham chrome badges on front fenders, the side of the vinyl roof (see top picture) and above the trunk lock the interior was plusher. The Brougham had 'loose pillow look' cushions on the soft velour seats.

Jess's Cutlass VIN first few numbers run as follows: 3M47FAM. To preserve owner privacy, the sequence number isn't printed.

On April 14, 1980 Jess had Zeibart applied to the car as a rust preventative. Jess kept it spotlessly clean. Jess was a meticulous owner and preserved his nice new Cutlass by mainly using his beater car for the work commute. The Cutlass received tune-ups and oil changes but paint, interior and drive-train remained untouched for the 27 years that Jess drove the car.

Oldsmobile small block V8s use the same stroke with differing bores over a span of several decades. The amazing 330 from 1964 was capable of great performance from such a small engine. Olds came out with a 350 by boring out the 330. When the fuel crisis of the mid 1970s struck, GM retained the same stroke in many engines while using a smaller bore (as seen with Chevy's de-boring of the 350 to create the 305).

Preserving the same stroke retains torque while the narrow bore improves economy. Olds took the 350 all the way down to 260 in 1975. The window sticker on the 1980 Cutlass with the 260 claimed 19 City MPG and 25 Hwy MPG. The new EPA system downgrades this mileage to 17 and 23 which agrees with real life owner results printed in the August 1981 issue of POPULAR MECHANICS. Owners saw 16.9 City MPG and 22.5 Hwy MPG. To read more about the fuel efficiency of the 260, check out the story on this car in GAS LOGS in the TRAVEL STORIES section of this website.

The 260 engine provides adequate power for relaxed cruising and only shows its shortcomings when asked to accelerate. At that point you know you don't have a 'Rocket 350' under the hood! The Cutlass is actually a nice high speed cruiser; it just takes awhile to get up there. The engine was hassle free and has the characteristic Olds smoothness.

The second set of tires below reproduce the appearance of the original tires with the now rarely found whitewall style.

Oldsmobile had a really nice set of 'mag' style wheels. They bridged the gap between luxury and sportiness. Many owners of 1960s Oldsmobiles seek out these wheels in junkyards to add some flash to their cars.

In 1988, GM moved the Cutlass off the familiar A body (later called G body) rear wheel drive layout and tried to stay current with imports by creating a front wheel drive 'W body' Cutlass. The car was too small to accommodate the additional Oldsmobile body chrome and landau top identifiers without creating a cluttered look. By this point the velour interiors and vinyl roof look was heavily dated and passe. Ricardo Montalban and his 'Corinthian leather' commercials for Chrysler were mocked everywhere. The day had passed for the antiquated domestic luxury car style that originated with the sales success of Monte Carlo in the 1970s. The BMW restrained style of luxury was taking over and inspired the clean looking Lexus and Acura. Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles were out of step with this new trend.

Aside from falling behind the new sensibilities of luxury buyers, GM couldn't successfully merge all the traditional extra baggage onto the limited available space of a FWD compact and come off with a refined look. Many of these later FWD Cutlass editions seemed like Chevy compact econo cars with an overlay of chrome that leaves inadequate amounts of sheetmetal to balance out the glitz.

For many critics the Cutlass identity dissolved after the rear wheel drive platform ceased to be, leaving the downsized generation of the Cutlass Supreme as the final 'classic' Cutlass. Amongst the true believers in the Oldsmobile mystique was Jess, the original owner of this 1980 Cutlass Supreme Brougham. When he decided to move onto a new car, Oldsmobile had lost its identity during the FWD emissions and fuel efficiency driven 1990s. All GM cars, and in fact all cars in general looked exactly the same. Without the Olds identity, why buy one? Because of the Oldsmobile identity crisis, Jess stood pat with his Cutlass and never traded it in.

Jess kept his rear wheel drive 1980 Cutlass Supreme Brougham because it represents the final incarnation of the Oldsmobile formula where everything seemed to mesh properly. Another Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme ONE OWNER, Margaret who is also profiled in this column kept her 1969 Cutlass Supreme through the years instead of trading in, because the 1990s 'plastic cars' all looked the same to her. She couldn't recognize the Oldsmobiles anymore.

Olds died in 2004 right at the time that they successfully put together a nice new modern car, the Alero which debuted as a 1999 model. Given time, Olds might have been able to create a modern identity for themselves with cars like the Alero. The Alero combined up to date styling with classic Oldsmobile smoothness and comfort and just enough size to carry itself off as an upscale vehicle.

Update: Several years after the Oldsmobile division was dead and gone Jess yielded to the yen for a brand new car. The pristine original paint Cutlass Supreme Brougham was sold on June 1, 2007 to Jess's brother in law, Ed Schuhart with 62,147 miles. Jess owned the car for 27 years, 2 months and 13 days. Ed has driven the car sparingly and taken it to a few car shows. He intends to keep the car original while enjoying drives on nice days.



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