The cars we loved.
The fifth and final generation of the Cutlass was introduced mid year in 1988, while the out going rear wheel drive car was still available at dealerships. The new Cutlass was based on GM’s W-body platform, also the basis of the Gran Prix, Regal and Lumina. The new car was a radical departure from the old world look of the 87 model with its boxy shape. The sleek fifth generation coupes resembled a larger version of the Chevrolet Cavalier , a car that was influenced by the Calibra coupe in Europe.
As a sedan the Cutlass resembled the Saturn SL2, with its distinctive ‘C’ pillar and folded rear window. The 6 headlight front end treatment was similar to the Gran Prix, but the Oldsmobile lacked the excessive body cladding found on Pontiac’s of the time. The Cutlass was offered in three trim levels S/SL and sport/luxury oriented International Series. Convertibles were their own line.
There were also a few advances made under the hood, like the use of 160 hp DOHC in the “Quad Four” engine and later a multi valve 3.4-litre V6. GM’s multi valve engines were rough, especially the Quad Four compared to those in Hondas and Toyotas of the era. Many of GM competitors had almost a decade head start in using smaller more powerful DOHC power plants. Oldsmobile was more innovative on other fronts. One of the most interesting of those innovations was the use of a heads-up display, the first use in a passenger car.
The Cutlass Supreme was chosen to be the pace car for the 1988 Indianapolis 500. Instead of making thousands of replicas as most manufactures do, Oldsmobile had Cars and Concepts of Michigan hand build just 50 special edition convertibles that featured the heads-up display. The cars were sent out to dealers and quickly recalled, with only a few dealers resisting. As a result, about 10 of these super rare cars exist, making them very collectible. Oddly enough, it was Pontiac that was most widely known for offering head ups displays in some of its larger and sportier cars.
The Cutlass Supreme did brief but successful stint in NASCAR between 1989 and 1992. The success of the Cutlass on and off the track often resulted in it pacing various races in International Series or Convertible forms. Oldsmobile’s racing program ended in 1992, but the racing heritage of International Series cars were still promoted for years afterward.
Enthusiasts often sought out the International Series models with its FE3 suspension option. They featured leather interiors, heads up displays and the 200 hp DOHC 3.4 litre V6. Some even had a 5 speed manual Getrag transmission. Later years saw refinements in the dashboard, giving it a curved look similar to the Auroras. Over the years the changes were subtle, the biggest perhaps being the streamlining of the headlights into one continuous design and changes to the bumpers and tail lights.
When the Cutlass ended in 1997, there was no direct replacement as Oldsmobile itself was gone. The Cutlass name carries a lot of weight with muscle car fans and lovers of modern American iron. The range of options and trim lines offered something for everyone and was loved by grandmas driving SL sedans to ghetto boys rolling on 18in chrome rims in their IS coupes. The Cutlass will be missed.