At the center of the 1960’s, Oldsmobile was starting to find out Where The Action Is. Swinging at the automotive discotheque with a full line of models of in sizes medium and large, Oldsmobile was poised to gain ground on the lessons they had learned during the first part of the 1960’s.
With two versions of their next generation Rocket V8’s soon capable of quite savage outputs, Oldsmobile, and their F-85/Cutlass line in particular, was ready to build a legacy that would storm the gates of the domestic family market. They were amply equipped to dominate it for the next 20 years. With a reputation for excellent quality, engineering and more than a minor bent towards total performance, the budding Cutlass line soon came to be synonymous with Middle Class Success.
One of the main areas for success with the Cutlass was emulating the virtues of larger Oldsmobiles that had built a solid reputation ripe with delights during the Post-War years. Building on the 7/8th’s Eighty-Eight experience established by the original Y-Body F-85/Cutlass, the 2nd generation cars took it a step further.
Gone was the Uni-body for 1964, replaced with a more isolated body-on-frame design not part and parcel of other Domestic Compact and Mid-Sized offerings. Also out the door for the second generation cars was the misunderstood 215 Aluminum V8 and its cooling complications. Neither did the clunky, befuddled Series 5 Roto-Hydra-matic see the transition to bigger is better again.
In their place in the driveline came the stout re-working of Oldsmobile’s Rocket V8 backed by either 3 or 4 Speed Manuals or the simplified 2 Speed Jetaway Automatic. The new brute force of the Cutlass V8, in 330 Cubic Inches and up to 315 horsepower, could decidedly make up for the lack of gear ratios in the optional Automatic. Even with the “Switch Pitch” torque converter similar to the one used in the larger, more premium 88’s, Ninety Eights and Starfire’s, the Jetaway wasted some valuable get up and go from the muscle bound V8 engines Oldsmobile offered in their junior series. The competition from Dearborn and Highland Park, and even Kenosha had upgraded to 3 Speed Automatics. It was a far cry from being the pioneer in the Automatic Transmission field Oldsmobile once was.
Customers cared less, between the styling, the suave interiors and the more accessible price points that the Cutlass offered compared to the larger 88’s and Ninety Eights. Although the F-85/Cutlass wasn’t the sales champion among the General Motors A-Body intermediates, the value at purchase and dazzling resale values spurred loyalty to the Oldsmobile brand that grew mightily in the later half of the 1960’s. That loyalty snowballed once the decade turned, rising the resolutely middle class Cutlass, and the whole Oldsmobile stable to #3 on the sales charts behind Chevrolet and Ford. Despite some awkward transitions into Automotive maturity, the F-85/Cutlass offered the “right stuff” to consumers to grab a hold to.
It’s often said that the dream size of American Family cars is around the sweet spot of 115 inches of wheelbase and 200 inches of length. Time and time again champion cars that steal the heart of the American Automotive market sit within spitting distance of those measurements. The Cutlass would stick nearby that, and add an excellent blend of elegance, sport and sophistication relative to the cultural norms of the time to continue to draw in a bevy of customers with a little bit extra cash to spend on their ordinary conveyances. It’s not too clear how Oldsmobile exactly lost the plot from this smart template from the 1960’s, perhaps the increasing lack of autonomy with all GM brands, badge engineering and platform sharing eventually watered down the Gold that Olds once had.
But for a short period of time, The Olds Cutlass was a Prince waiting to ascend to the throne. Michigan Magic like it will rarely capture the hearts of America like this Lord of Lansing once did.