From the last happy days of Oldsmobile comes this cherry example of a Cutlass Salon, found at a Trader Joe’s in SF.
In 1977, Olds hit a milestone of producing one million units in a single model year. Fittingly, the millionth ’77 Olds was a Cutlass, which had been America’s best seller the year prior.
Oldsmobile’s subsequent extinction was an object lesson of a company holding on to its past as the market changed around it. Personal-luxury coupes were the 1970s bread and butter, but the ’80s and ’90s brought an Asian-brand entrenchment and a shift in perceived prestige to European cars.
Meanwhile, the market for chrome and vinyl roofs dwindled by the year. But that didn’t stop Olds from producing the 1978 downsized Cutlass in its basic general form into the 1988 model year.
And why not? The tooling had long been paid for, so it made fiscal sense to continue its production, even as the car fell further out of step with buyers’ ideas of what a modern car should be. This Cutlass Salon’s badging reflected this, with an old-timey hood ornament perched next to non-serif block letters for the name.
This Cutlass is a 1987, the Salon’s last year. The aerodynamic headlights had debuted the year before.
The Salon was a small portion of overall sales; the Cutlass Supreme coupe sold about nine times the Salon’s 9,200 or so.
At those low numbers, why bother making the Salon at all? Olds answered that question by killing it for the abbreviated ’88 model year, after which this Cutlass’s aero-slick successor cast off the formality and went all-in the jellybean.
The Salon was the sporty Cutlass, and along with functional improvements like thicker stabilizer bars and a quicker steering ratio, the Salon added bucket seats and a console to the opera-windowed and velour-trimmed interior.
Lots of velour. And the steering wheel is leather-wrapped.
Salons came with purposeful Super Stock wheels, but this one has fake wires…
…which cue in with the formal landau vinyl roof.
Cutlasses usually had lots of trim…
…and lots of confidence in its lines.
Also lots of logos – one on each tail light, and one on the trunk lid.
Coincidentally, model years 1986 and 1987 were the beginning of the end for Oldsmobile; 1986 was its last million-unit year, and ’87 saw a drastic 28% drop, to 770K units. It was a steep drop from there, to 525K units in 1990 and 240K units in 1998. Of course, the worst aspect of the decline was the loss of a way of life for many people, as Olds no longer needed many of its workers and suppliers and dealers.
And then, Oldsmobile was gone. This clean Cutlass Salon from the very end of happy times at Olds tells the story well, with an over-reliance on the formula that had hatched yesterday’s successes. Ironically, those outdated styling cues make this Cutlass Salon all the more distinctive today, and so this well-preserved example was a delight to find.