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History of the 1978-1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass
Following on the heels of the 1977 Cutlass, which was one of America’s best-selling models, Oldsmobile downsized the mid-sized Cutlass due to increasing pressures to make more fuel efficient cars in 1978. This new Cutlass shared the same smaller A-body platform as the Chevrolet Malibu and the Pontiac Grand Prix. Available as either a two-door “aeroback” fastback coupe or a notchback coupe (both of which rode on a 112-inch wheelbase), or a four-door station wagon or aeroback fastback sedan (both of which used a 116-inch wheelbase). The 4-4-2 name also persisted, albeit as an option on the nothbacks.
Although a full foot of length had been removed from the Cutlass, the car’s interior felt as roomy as the year before. This was done by means of clever packaging. The coved rear door sides (which meant fixed rear door glass on four-door cars) added elbow room, and the engine bay was redrawn to fit only V-6 and V-8 engines (not the longer inline sixes that prior A-bodies had been designed to use). The ironic part is that the car was nearly the same size as the Cutlass had been when it was introduced in 1961.
A Buick-supplied V-6 was now standard instead of an Oldsmobile produced V-8, which resulted in a weight savings and improved mileage while producing similar overall performance to the 1977 model. Olds 260- and 350-cid V-8s were optional, as was a Chevy 305-cid V-8.
For 1979, Oldsmobile’s heavily touted Diesel V-8 (at either 260 or 350 cid) was optional. Enthusiasts were more excited by the Hurst/Olds W-30 package, which included a Hurst dual gate shifter, special gold-over-white paint, unique alloy wheels trimmed with gold paint, and an Olds 350-cid V-8 equipped with a four-barrel carburetor. Of the 2,499 built, 537 also added a T-top.
For 1980, the “aeroback” four-door sedan was replaced by a more conventional sedan, and the 4-4-2 package carried over, adopting many parts of the prior W-30 package from the year before. For 1981, the “aeroback” coupe was dropped, as was the 4-4-2.
This era Oldsmobile Cutlass is a surprisingly nice car to drive. Handling, steering feel, and general driving characteristics are better than most would expect, and the overall feel is quite solid. Rust is always a problem, but production numbers were high enough that plenty of cars from warmer climes remain.
The fifth generation Oldsmobile Cutlass that debuted for 1978 saw the model downsized to the shorter GM A-body platform. The '78 Cutlass could be had as either a fastback coupe or a sedan in Salon and Salon Brougham models, as well as Supreme, Supreme Brougham and Calais coupes. Performance wasn't exaclty a priority, but a 4-4-2 appearance and handling package added strips on the lower body, decals, 4-4-2 seats and badges as well as tighter suspension, bigger tires and quicker steering ratio.
The 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass continued without many changes, although a diesel 260 engine was added. In 1981, the fastback Salon coupe and 4-4-2 package were discontinued and there were other minor cosmetic updates across the range.
The 1982 model year was a critical one for the Oldsmobile Cutlass series. The nameplate was split into two distinct lines, with the newly created Cutlass Ciera (Series 3A) line receiving a smaller front-wheel-drive chassis. The larger Cutlass Supreme (Series 3G) line retained the traditional rear-wheel-drive intermediate size design.
Engine options in the early years of this era started with the base 231-cid V-6 at 110 hp, but buyers could opt for the 260-cid V-8 in gasoline at 100 hp. The engine lineup also included GM’s diesels – a 4.3-liter V-6 at 85 hp or 5.7-liter V-8 at 105 hp. A 5.0-liter gasoline V-8 option at 140 hp was available on Cruiser wagons and occasionally seen on other Cutlass models. Transmission options included three- or four-speed automatics, while a five-speed manual transmission was available on diesel-equipped cars.
Trim levels included the Cutlass Supreme and Cutlass Supreme Brougham, and body styles included a basic coupe and sedan, Calais coupe, and the Cruiser wagon. Grille designs varied with body style.
As the 1980s progressed, the 260-cid V-8 was dropped in favor of the 5.0-liter V-8 on all models. The diesels remained available through 1985.
In 1983, Oldsmobile brought out a 15th anniversary Hurst/Olds coupe, with a specially-tuned 5.0-liter V-8 at 180 hp, plus a host of desirable options including a tachometer, a specially tuned automatic transmission, dual exhaust, and a sticker package. The same package was offered again in 1984. In 1985, the Hurst/Olds package was dropped, but replaced with a revived 442 package, in this incarnation featuring essentially the same modifications – high output 5.0-liter V-8, exhaust, sportier features, and a sticker package. This option was carried through the 1987 model year.
The Cutlass line was changed greatly in 1988 as the rear-wheel-drive sedans were dropped at the end of the 1987 model year, while the coupes continued production until mid-year in 1988 when the new W-body Cutlass line was introduced.
During this era, enthusiasts tend to seek out the performance oriented 1983 and 1984 Hurst/Olds revivals, as well as the 1985 to 1987 4-4-2 revivals, mainly because these cars stand as the last chapter in Oldsmobile’s rear-wheel-drive muscle car history.
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