As Oldsmobile rose to their zenith in the 1970’s, it started to do so by playing musicial chairs with the various marketing images that made for being the toast of the town image that it had fostered since the 1950’s. The Olds-multiplicity of the brand had been a constant mix of practicality, performance and posh since the end of World War II. For the Elegant Ninety Eights there were the Superlative Super 88’s. For the practical F-85 there was the swashbuckling Cutlass. For the sword of intermediates, a crowned princess Supreme started an ascent to the top of the charts like Diana, Mary and Florence starting in 1966.
The “Little Limousine” sparkled the most when it focused on a formal roof’d coupe. Where did that leave it’s athletic, buxom and liberated sister ship the Cutlass S? In a curious place as Oldsmobile never wanted to commit to one specific identity.
Indeed, when you stepped towards the Intermediate side of your Oldsmobile Showroom from 1970 and beyond, you were confronted with a curious variety. While the Supreme Coupe crowned itself with the formal roof shared with the Monte Carlo and Grand Prix, the Cutlass S retained the slick wind-cheating fastback shape that caused a stir back in ’68. Where the Cutlass Supreme Coupe and Convertible kept a formal character line to define the rear fenders, the Cutlass S coupe kept the graceful arch over the those hips that indeed was more buxom, more playful, and ironically shared with both the Sedans and Station wagons.
The pure sport aspect was de-emphasized as the Muscle Car era came to a grinding halt against SAE net Horsepower ratings, higher insurance premiums and EPA emissions controls in the early 1970s. Nevertheless, Oldsmobile’s Rocket V8s, with their positive Valve Rotation, came in strong, stronger and strongest still in 350 cube and 455 cube offerings.
At least in 1971, the true impact of the emissions equipment hadn’t started to blunt any Cutlass’s ability to cut through the scenery with a forceful grace and rowdy yet refined exhaust note that continued to make them the preferred way to get around for a number of Americans.
Oldsmobile invested decently into making their interpretation of General Motor’s A-bodies the least soggy in stock form, and always encouraged their handling packages as well. In addition, options like front disc brakes continued to improve on the proven tactic, proving diversity equaled showroom satisfaction for buyers.
1971 was a flashpoint of sorts. At this stage people were moving up and away from sport in search of isolation. Not only were buyers moving further upstream to Cutlass Supremes, but they were abandoning the Convertible version of that fantasy as well.
63,145 buyers chose the sporty S Cutlass in 1971 to 60,599 Supreme coupes. By 1972 however, Supreme Coupes went out the door at a rate of 105,000+ to the Cutlass S’s 78,000+.
Oldsmobile nevertheless never truly gave up on the middle sporty rung Cutlass though, as a semi-fastback “S” found its way into Olds Showrooms for the Colonnade generations.
The “Slantback” Cutlass Salon continued the mantle during the 1978 downsizing as well.
After that, the sporty Cutlass wouldn’t necessarily be the priceleader, but ES and International flavored Cutlass Cieras stood cheek to cheek with the Brougham’d vinyl top versions in pricing and available equipment levels.
In fact, it was a split personality Oldsmobiles of all stripes carried well into the Nineties, as we got the Ninety Eight Touring Sedan as we got Regency models, as we got Eighty Eight LSS models growing from the ears of Eighty Eight Royales. Oldsmobile more often was our two lovers, we didn’t quite love them just the same. And that’s really a shame.
2 thoughts on “(Found In) Mission District (San Francisco, California): 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass “S” Hardtop Coupe”
If I was going to be really picky, I like the ’72 grill & taillights better, but otherwise this is pretty much peak Cutlass. Don’t need an over the top Hurst or 442, and if I want I vinyl top, I’ll look at an 88.
Agree on the grille and taillights of the ’72. And yep, definitely peak Cutlass.