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The first Cutlass began as an upscale, coupe version of the 1961 F-85, a “senior compact” model aimed at buyers of the momentarily popular compact market of the late fifties. Oldsmobile borrowed the name Cutlass from its 1954 concept car, in turn named after the Vought F7U Cutlass jet fighter. 

When the F-85 Cutlass first came out, the economy was on the upswing and buyers started opting for more upscale and sportier models. The F-85 and its Deluxe trim weren’t meeting sales projections, so Oldsmobile hoped the release of the F-85 Cutlass would help improve sales. Sporting a V8 with an output of 185 horsepower, the Cutlass surpassed the F-85’s standard V8 output by 30 horsepower. It helped a little, but sales were still low. The release of a convertible Cutlass, including the Jetfire with a turbocharged V8 capable of 215 horsepower, generated a better buzz with its fast acceleration and powerful engine.

For the next generation, Oldsmobile dropped the whole senior compact strategy. Olds switched the model over from the Y-body to the A-body, allowing the Cutlass to grow in size. Nearly half of the F-85’s increased sales came from the F-85 Cutlass, but the competition between GM makes and the popularity of Pontiac’s GTO inspired Oldsmobile to create one of the most cherished American sports cars today: the 4-4-2, named for its four barrel carburetor, four-speed transmission, and dual exhaust. 

Oldsmobile offered the B01 City Cruiser Apprehender package for police use, so it used many of the parts to build its own performance package. Most buyers opted to fit the 4-4-2 package to the F-85 Cutlass’s body, but a few fitted them to the base F-85 sedans. These ran on a V8 engine with 310 horsepower, not nearly as powerful as the GTO but enough to keep buyers interested.

Minor changes occurred throughout this generation, but the most notable happened in 1966 with the introduction of the Cutlass Supreme. Available as a four-door hardtop sedan, buyers could opt for the high trim that included an upscale interior and a ‘CS’ emblem on the outside.

Sharp Legacy

For the third generation, beginning in 1968, the bodies were restyled in a fastback shape. Trim options offered included the base F-85, the Cutlass S, the Cutlass Supreme, and the 4-4-2. For 1969, Oldsmobile split the grille down the middle, a move that later became its signature style. For 1970, trim options improved. Buyers could choose from various body styles ranging from a two and four-door hardtop, sedan, convertible, and a station wagon depending on the trim. The 4-4-2 also gave the option for a 455 cubic inch V8 with an output of 370 horsepower on the W-30 package. 1971 essentially changed the fascia as well as the rear bumper and tail lights. For the final year of the generation, the base F-85 was discontinued due to low sales.

For the fourth generation, the 1973 “Cutlass” name replaced the F-85 as the base model. The Cutlass S, Supreme, Salon, 4-4-2, and the Vista Cruiser station wagon followed suit as options. The 350ci Rocket V8 with an output of 180 horsepower came as the standard engine. Buyers could opt for a Rocket V8 with an output of 200 horsepower with dual exhaust, or a 455ci Rocket V8 with 250 horsepower or 270 horsepower. Output was fairly low compared to past models, largely in part to emission standards. Thanks to the 1973-74 energy crisis, Oldsmobile offered economical 250ci inline-sixes.  Making the Cutlass available as a family car in the station wagon, an economical car, or a sports car attracted many different kinds of buyers. This might have been partly why the 1976 Cutlass became America’s bestselling car, a title it held for a number of years.

Final Years

For the fifth generation, GM downsized its A-body, and so the Cutlass shrank too. Trims ranged from the Supreme, Calais, Salon, Cruise, and the 4-4-2. The Supreme and Calais also offered the upscale Brougham trim. This generation was much like the last in the sense that buyers could find whatever type of ride that fit their needs, including a diesel version. The Salon sedan was later dropped by 1980.

By 1982, the Cutlass’s had become so versatile (exemplified by  the 4-4-2 jumping between being its own vehicle, a high trim level, and performance option for certain trims such as the Cutlass Calais) that the name Cutlass had come to stand for many types of vehicles that really had few similarities other than the name. The 1982 Cutlass Ciera sat on the front-wheel drive A platform, the Cutlass Supreme sat on the rear-wheel drive G platform, and the 1985 Cutlass Calais sat on the front-wheel drive N platform.

It did, however, reunite its parts for 1997.  The name had still been in existence in one form or another by that time. Known as the sixth generation, the 1997-1999 Cutlass was hardly special compared to the previous models that bore its name. Some felt it was simply a rebadged Chevy Malibu decorated in Oldsmobile fashion (such as the split grille). It didn’t last long and was never intended to, solely existing to fit into a certain price tier left absent after the discontinuation of the Ciera. When Oldsmobile released the Alero, Cutlass production came to an end.

Oldsmobile is a registered trademark of General Motors Company. 1A Auto is not affiliated with or sponsored by Oldsmobile or General Motors Company. See all trademarks.

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