What If? 2021 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme
Welcome to What If, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. We’ll be taking you back in time—and possibly forward into the future—to meet alternative-universe automobiles. Even better, our time machine is working well enough to bring “short take” reviews along with the photographs and advertisements. Buckle up and enjoy the ride! — Jack Baruth
(Originally published in McKeel’s Magazine, September 2020 issue)
As we enter the 2021 model year, there’s plenty of uncertainty in the business, but one thing is for sure: Oldsmobile is stronger than ever. Most people don’t realize this, but prior to his 1999 disappearance into the jungle during a Peruvian ayahuasca ceremony, General Motors executive Rick Wagoner had actually been the most likely choice to run GM in the 21st century—and Wagoner had actually planned to shutter the Oldsmobile brand! Imagine that!
After Wagoner’s disappearance, the surprise choice of Bob Lutz as CEO in August of 2000 was, in the minds of many industry analysts, the moment when the General truly began to turn around. We all know what happened after that: the one-two punch of second-generation Aurora and Antares sedans that quickly became de rigeur in California corporate parking lots, the astounding V-8-powered Bravada that completely changed the sport-utility game, and the application of the “Ninety-Eight” nameplate to an ultra-luxury version of the Chevrolet Suburban that has utterly dominated the upscale family wagon segment for the past 18 years.
Thanks to Oldsmobile’s showroom blitz, GM’s financial strength was such that it didn’t need President McCain’s “bailout” in 2009, leaving it free to develop its traditional six-brand strategy under CEO Mark Reuss to the present day. Reuss’s prescient decision to discontinue the third-generation Aurora and Antares in favor of a Lambda-based “Eighty-Eight” luxury seven-seater just made the brand stronger, to the point that Oldsmobile is now the fifth best-selling brand in America, with dealerships regularly changing hands for $40 million or more.
After a brief scare about a “COVID-19” epidemic and the politically unpopular decision by President Sanders to shut down all airline travel for ninety days, there was some concern that we wouldn’t see any new product from GM this year—but the scare quickly passed, leaving Oldsmobile dealers hungry for inventory. The current lineup (Omega compact crossover, Salon two-row crossover, Eighty-Eight three-row crossover, Ninety-Eight full-sized crossover, Regency extended-wheelbase full-sizer, and the surprisingly popular Firenza electric city car) didn’t appear to have any holes in it, but Reuss came up with new product nonetheless … and it looks like a sure-fire hit.
Based on the GM “Alpha” platform that underpins everything from the Pontiac Grand Prix to the Cadillac Fleetwood full-sized sedan, the new Cutlass is most obviously related to Chevrolet’s Camaro, which along with Plymouth’s Barracuda has sole rights to the “ponycar” market following Ford’s bankruptcy in 2011. In a brief interview, Reuss explained the differences.
“This was a quick program, so we kept some of the stampings pretty similar to Camaro—but the differences we did get are pretty amazing.” The nose applies traditional Olds styling cues to the Camaro proportions, but it’s the B-pillar that will really shock you, because it isn’t there. The Cutlass uses the Camaro convertible as a starting point, allowing it to have true hardtop functionality with all four windows rolling completely into the body. A pair of carbon arches connect the corners of the windshield frame to the rear crash structure. They are covered with Alcantara, as is the rest of the ceiling. The only drawback: There’s no available sunroof. “Stop asking me about the sunroof,” Reuss noted, “or I’ll tell you about it again … with these fists.”
The news beneath the hood is just as fascinating. GM’s “divisional engines” strategy, implemented by Lutz and faithfully continued by his successor, means that the Cutlass, like all Oldsmobiles, should have an engine unique to that brand. So the base Cutlass S comes with a 4.8-liter variant of the second-generation Aurora DOHC engine as seen in the Ninety-Eight SUV, putting out 400 horsepower at 7200 rpm and coupled to your choice of Tremec seven-speed manual or 10-speed automatic. In 2022, there may be a plain-Jane Cutlass with an Oldsmobile-fettled version of GM’s popular inline-six, but for right now the only other choice is a real whopper: the Cutlass Supreme, shown on these pages.
The Cutlass Supreme, which has already turned a 7:32 at the Nürburgring, adds twin turbocharging to a destroked 4.2-liter Aurora V-8 for a remarkable 710 horsepower at 8000 rpm. The redline is at 8300—”Porsche can suck on that,” Reuss snarled, making a hand motion that cannot be described in this family-oriented publication—and in our testing the Cutlass Supreme streaked through the quarter mile in 10.91 seconds with a trap speed of 131 mph. The optional F41 handling package makes the most of the power, with active aero front and rear plus 305-width Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 tires.
Oldsmobile is, of course, the most popular GM brand on social media, so it’s been no surprise to see that the first year of Cutlass Supreme production was sold out before the line at Lansing even started cranking, helped in part by the endorsement of streetwear brand “Supreme.” James Jebbia, the CEO and founder of Supreme, was eloquent. “Oldsmobile is where we want to be right now,” he stated. “It’s the hottest brand on the streets, helped by years of rap songs about the Ninety-Eight and Eighty-Eight. A lot of street-style people are, like, ‘Soon as I’m really making money I can trade this Lexus in on a Ninety-Eight.’ They might not get there, but Supreme will be waiting for them if they do.”
Our initial drive of the Supreme revealed a track-focused monster that was nevertheless a delight to drive on the street thanks to supple leather and GM’s MagneRide suspension. Unfortunately, testing was cut short when the Supreme was actually stolen from our parking lot in Traverse City by a fellow who was later identified (from his dental records) as a senior editor of a competing publication. He was doing an estimated 188 mph when he, in the words of a Michigan highway patrolman, “yeeted that sucker into space over the Mackinac Bridge.” We’re waiting for another Cutlass to complete testing. In the meantime, you’ll want to connect with your Oldsmobile dealer via Friendster 2.0 and get a 2022 model reserved, pronto!