The call to let the sunshine in and dawn the Age of Aquarius was a decade turning herald call. However, the sun was about to set on the American Convertible as the 1970’s plowed on. In the personalization and self-actualization days of the early 1970s, the coddling comforts of Air Conditioning, tinted glass and vinyl roofs conferred more savvy than free in-the-breeze sporty, top down motoring. Sunroofs and too many sunburns lead people away from top down motoring in the way it had been embraced in the past.
As sporting life gave way to laps of luxuries, convertibles fell on their swords one by one. One of the last rousing relative successes of the genre was the burgeoning darling of the middle of the market, the much beloved Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
Had it not been for a few UAW strikes, the Cutlass Supreme convertible wouldn’t have returned for 1972 in the first place. Due to production and development delays of the Colonnade Coupes and Sedans to replace the late 60’s exuberance, the open air mid sized Oldsmobile got a stay of execution for one additional season.
Oldsmobile had spent the majority of the 1960’s crafting a mix of “follow-the-leader” with tangible innovations that made spending 15-25% more than a comparable Chevrolet more worthwhile. Better tangible assembly quality, stout V8 engines in different sizes and competencies, and options to create sedate cruisers or bar brawlers incrementally elevated the brand past former peak performers. Winning a multi-generational middle class respectability made purchasing an Oldsmobile a mutually beneficial act between customer and brand.
Within that middle-class/middle aged reality, where does the fun in the sun frolicsome nature of a convertible fit in? In the reality of 1970’s motoring, it really didn’t. The movement towards trickle down exclusivity had started in the Mid-60’s with bevy of Four Door Sedans that traded on a “Little Limousine” ethos. That slogan was actually used for the all new for ’66 top-of-the-line Cutlass Supreme 4 Door Hardtop some 6 seasons before this convertible was produced.
The smallest official “brougham” on the market sought to bring luxury in a more manageable package than LTDs, Caprices and VIPs with the cachet of a beloved premium brand. In a number of ways it worked, but to the detriment of the sporty themes that sold a number of Cutlass Coupes and Convertibles.
By 1970, the Cutlass Supreme Coupe, basking in the benefits of blind quarter roof formality and elegant sporting of the convertible proved the right formula, as sales surged each year. It left the true flaming flamboyant fun of the ragtop ever diminishing in sales.
However, by 1972, a number of competitive players had fled the market. Over at Ford, the only direct comparable convertible was the far less roomy Mercury Cougar. Chrysler never bothered with a soft top at this point of the market until the 1980’s. In all surprises, without any consideration to continue a good thing, the 1972 Cutlass Supreme Convertible ended up being the best selling ragtop of 1972. In a laundry list of success for Lansing in the 1970’s, this miniature feat in a dying field of offerings is oft overlooked in history books.
Any remaining open-air carefree convertible ambitions were handed over to the Delta 88 for the next three seasons. The ambition never really died either; there were the Hess & Eisenhardt Cutlass Ciera convertible from the 1980s and the reborn GM-10 Cutlass Supreme convertible from the 1990s that tried again at this particular “Oldsmobile Feeling.” The days when the mid-sized American convertible symbolized ultimate freedom behind the wheel were long gone by 1990, though. The American automotive market had become quite fractured with too many consumer choices.
That said, it is somewhat of a humble legend; carrying on the open air torch into a very dark age in American automotive history and doing so with class, poise, charm, quality and bravado that once were distinctly Oldsmobile traits. Like many an unsung music legend from the state of Michigan, the penultimate Cutlass Supreme convertible is a greatest hit that’ll never get old.