STREETSIDE: 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme – Rococo Formality

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The year 1979 was a performance low point, so cars had to grab attention in other ways. In the case of this Cutlass Supreme, it was with rococo formality.

Previous Cutlass Supremes had laid-back rooflines, but this downsized version had the back roof hacked off to create an expanse of trunklid and a general upscale ambiance.

It was an upward shot into the mainstream, a bid to appear worthy than the Cutlass Supreme’s competitors. It worked; the fastback Cutlass that sold alongside the formal Supreme was a flop in comparison.


Of course it was shared with three other GM divisions, but compared to the swoopy Chevy Monte Carlo, the retro Pontiac Grand Prix and the decorous Buick Regal, the Cutlass Supreme was unabashedly rococo.

In this case, we think of rococo as defining a group of ornate touches, with some so strong  that they conflict with those around them.

The Cutlass’s odd mix of a rear side window next to a fender sweep that juts up sharply has always been a mystery, but that discordance didn’t deter buyers, not one bit: Olds made just less than 278,000 of these Cutlass Supreme coupes in 1979, making it a top seller.

The above view shows the festival of moldings that could adorn a Cutlass. From the bottom, there’s the under-door shiny trim that meeting the wheel opening chrome. The side rubber molding is framed in shininess. The beltline has trim that form the basis for a landau bar that loops the roof, and it terminates in the aforementioned upward sweep that borders the padded vinyl roof.

If details were dialogue, then the Cutlass Supreme had a lot to say.

The waterfall grille was another bit of ornateness that makes us think rococo. There’s no purpose to there being skyward-facing grille tines, but here they are. Because as in the rococo style, the Cutlass Supreme’s details aim upward. The hood ornament that’s tall and thin falls right in line with that.

Note how low the Cutlass is in comparison to the Jetta in front.


One aspect we miss from ’70s cars are the thin windshield pillars. Today’s rollover standards would never allow modern pillars to be this wispy, but back then, the view forward was remarkably unobstructed. The rounded sport mirrors on an angular car were another stylistic curiosity.


The Cutlass‘s angularity comes into greater focus when viewed from behind.


Here’s where we see that the pointed and angled fender pinstripe logically terminates in a similarly angled tail light panel. From here, it makes sense – it’s both formal and jaunty.

Tell us in the comments – what do YOU think of this Cutlass Supreme’s rococo formality?