The Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme was a mid-size car produced by General Motors for the American market. It was always at the top of the Cutlass range. It began as a trim package, developed its own roofline, and eventually was mechanically divorced from the later, smaller Cutlasses.
The Cutlass Supreme name lasted from 1966 until 1997. There was no direct replacement for the Cutlass Supreme itself, although the Intrigue introduced for 1998 was designed in size and price to replace all the Cutlass models.
First generation: 1964–1967
The name first appeared in 1966, the first year of GM's new intermediate four-door hardtop sedan - also known as the Holiday Sedan. In addition to the new body style (also available on the midline F-85 Deluxe series), the Supreme featured a plusher interior that included a notchback bench seat with armrest, full wheel covers and deluxe door panels among other items including "CS" emblems on the rear C-pillars and trunk lid.
The Cutlass Supreme was only offered as a four-door hardtop sedan (Holiday Sedan) in 1966. For 1967, the Cutlass Supreme line was expanded into a full series that also included a two-door hardtop coupe (Holiday Coupe), two-door pillared coupe (Sport Coupe), four-door pillared sedan (Town Sedan) and a convertible. Generally, interior appointments in Supreme models were more luxurious than lesser F-85 and Cutlass series cars and included a cloth or vinyl notchback bench seat with armrest in sedan models and all-vinyl Strato bucket seats in coupes and convertibles.
For both years, the standard Supreme engine was Oldsmobile's 330 cubic-inch "Ultra High Compression" Jetfire Rocket V8 rated at 320 hp (239 kW) with a four-barrel carburetor with transmission offerings including a standard three-speed manual with column shift, floor-mounted four-speed manual with Hurst shifter or a two-speed Jetaway automatic.
In 1967, the high-performance 442package with the 400 cubic-inch 350 horsepower (260 kW) V8 was available on three Cutlass Supreme models including the sport coupe, Holiday coupe and convertible. Also available on each of those three Supreme two-door models was "Turnpike Cruiser" option that included a more economical 400 cubic-inch V8 with two-barrel carburetor and 300 hp (220 kW) rating along with a numerically lower rear axle and Turbo Hydramatic transmission. The Turnpike Cruiser option package was designed for high-speed highway cruising.
Second generation: 1968–1972
The Cutlass and other GM intermediates were completely restyled for 1968 with wheelbases shortened to 112 inches (2,845 mm) for 2-door coupe models and lengthened one inch to 116 in (2,946 mm) for four-door sedans and station wagons (with the exception of the glass-roof Vista Cruiser wagon, which rode on an even longer 121-inch (3,100 mm) wheelbase). The Cutlass Supreme, now the top-line Olds intermediate series was pared down to two- and four-door hardtop models with the pillared sedans and coupes dropped and the convertible moved to the lower-priced Cutlass "S" line, upon which the 4-4-2 muscle car was now based. Also the standard Rocket V8 was enlarged from 330 to 350 cubic inches with 310 hp (231 kW).
The 1969 models received only a minor facelift such as a new split grille and vertical taillights with the same model and engine offerings. A new three-speed Turbo Hydra-matic 350 was added to the option list to replace the two-speed Jetaway automatic. Headrests were made standard equipment due to federal safety mandate and the ignition switch moved from the instrument panel to the steering column, which also was designed to lock the steering wheel. This ignition/steering wheel interlock, found on all 1969-model General Motors passenger cars, debuted one year before the federal government mandated it on all 1970 models.
For 1970, the Cutlass Supreme nameplate was switched to Oldsmobile's equivalent of the downsized Pontiac Grand Prix on the A-body, to give the division an entry in the burgeoning market for smaller personal luxury cars. As such, the two-door hardtop had a new notchback roofline, while lower trim-line Cutlass coupes had a fastback style roof. The model remained in this role for virtually all of its production life. Unlike the Grand Prix and the also-related Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which had wholly separate bodies and names from their less expensive siblings, the Supreme shared front and rear body parts with the standard Cutlass line and was always marketed as part of it. In addition to the two-door hardtop (Holiday Coupe), the Cutlass Supreme series for 1970 also included a four-door hardtop (Holiday Sedan) and regained the convertible bodystyle.
Supreme interiors were more luxurious that those of other Cutlass models, with a choice of a Custom Sport notchback bench seat with armrest in Osborne cloth or Moroccan vinyl or, at no extra cost (on coupes and convertibles only), Strato bucket seats in Moroccan vinyl. Available at extra cost with the bucket seats was a center console with floor-mounted shifter for which the Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission could also be had with the Hurst Dual-Gate shifter commonly found in the division's musclecar, the Oldsmobile 442.
For 1970 and 1971, both the Cutlass Supreme coupe and convertible were available with the Code Y-79 high performance SX option package. The "SX" option included several versions of the larger 455 cubic-inch Rocket V8 borrowed from the Olds 442 along with the cutout rear bumper and exhaust trumpets, 442's rallye suspension (optional), distinctive SX badges and other features.
A W31 option added distinctive stripes and badging, and a camshaft with increased lift and duration for the 350 engine. The W31 option was offered on Supreme coupes only in 1968, but continued on lower-line F-85 and Cutlass S coupes through 1970.
1972 was the only year in which the Cutlass Supreme notchback hardtop could be equipped with the L75 455 and M20 four speed transmission, and only 77 of these cars were produced. All 1972 L75 455/M20 cars used the larger 2.07 valves and the W30 automatic camshaft. This gave the L75 455/M20 cars 270 net horsepower, as opposed to the TH400 automatic-equipped L75 cars, which produced 250 net horsepower.
The 1972 Hurst/Olds was based on the Supreme two-door hardtop and convertible, powered by both versions of the 455 Rocket offered on the 4-4-2, along with a Turbo 400 transmission with Hurst Dual/Gate shifter. The H/O convertible also served as the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car in 1972.
1972 was also the final year for Olds to offer the Cutlass Supreme convertible, until 1990. In its final year, it was the best-selling convertible in the U.S., with 11,571 sold, or 16% of the market, beating the Fleetwood Eldorado and Corvette. T From 1973 to 1975, the only Oldsmobile convertible offered was the full-sized Delta 88 Royale.
Third generation: 1973–1977
In 1973, the Cutlass Supreme, like other GM mid-size cars, was redesigned. Hardtop models were replaced by new "Colonnade" styling with fixed center pillars. Concerns over proposed rollover standards caused many automakers to phase out their pillarless hardtops and convertibles throughout the 1970s, and the Cutlass was no exception. Cutlass Supreme coupes had a unique roofline with vertical opera windows not shared with other Cutlass coupes, as well as unique front end styling. For 1976, a new front fascia design with quad rectangular headlamps debuted. This new Cutlass design was highly successful, becoming one of the best-sellers of the time. The Cutlass line as a whole was America's best-selling car in 1976, helping Oldsmobile to become the only marque outside of Ford and Chevrolet to break one-million units sold. By 1977, however, GM had downsized its full-size models, and the Cutlass Supreme was now nearly identical in size to the redesigned Delta 88. That situation would last only that one year, as GM planned to downsize the Olds Cutlass and other intermediates for 1978.
In addition to the Colonnade hardtop coupe, the Cutlass Supreme was also offered in a four-door Colonnade sedan (with six-window styling and frameless door windows) as well as six-and-nine passenger station wagons - the wagons with the woodgrain exterior trim were marketed under the Vista Cruiser nameplate previously used on Oldsmobile's stretched-wheelbase station wagons with raised roof and skylights from 1964 to 1972.
The Supreme Colonnade sedan was available in 1973 as the Cutlass Salon, which was an option package that included radial tires, upgraded suspension and reclining bucket seats upholstered in corduroy or vinyl trim along with color-keyed wheelcovers - designed as sort of a European-style luxury/touring sedan similar to the Pontiac Grand Am of the same period. For 1974, the Salon package was also made available on the Supreme Colonnade coupe and in 1975, the Salon was upgraded to a separate series available in both sedan and coupe.
For 1973 and 1974, the 350 Rocket V8 with four-barrel carburetor and 180 horsepower (130 kW) was the standard Cutlass Supreme engine with a 250-horsepower 455 Rocket offered as an option. Both three- and four-speed manual transmissions were offered in 1973, but the greatest majority of Cutlasses (including Supremes) were built with the three-speed Turbo Hydra-matic automatic transmission which became standard equipment in 1974, along with variable-ratio power steering.
The 1973-74 energy crisis resulting from the Arab Oil Embargo led Oldsmobile to introduce two new smaller engines to the Cutlass line in 1975. The Chevrolet built 250 cubic-inch inline six and three-speed manual transmission were reinstated as standard equipment on the Supreme coupe and sedan with a new Olds-built 260 cubic-inch Rocket V8 (standard on Cutlass Salon and optional on all other Cutlasses except wagons) offered as an option. However, the majority of Cutlass Supremes in 1975, 1976 and 1977 were sold with the now-optional 350 Rocket V8 and Turbo Hydra-matic automatic (still standard on wagons). The 455 Rocket V8 was optional through 1976, and replaced by a smaller 403 Rocket V8 in 1977, the same year in which a Buick-built 231 cubic-inch V6 replaced the Chevy inline six as base power in most Cutlass models.
For 1976, the Cutlass Supreme Brougham coupe was added to the line, featuring a more luxurious interior trim than the regular Supreme model with pillowed crushed velour upholstery and 60/40 bench seats similar to the larger Ninety-Eight Regency. It also received quad square headlights. For 1977, the Brougham was also available as a four-door Colonnade sedan.
A five-speed manual transmission was available as an option with the 260 V8 in all models except Supreme Brougham and station wagons for 1976 and 1977.
Fourth generation: 1978–1988
The Cutlass Supreme was downsized for 1978, along with the rest of the Cutlass line. An upscale Cutlass Calais model was added, differing from the Cutlass Supreme only in minor trim details. The new notchback Cutlass Supreme proved to be far more popular than the controversial fastback Cutlass Salon coupe and sedan introduced at the same time.
The Cutlass Calais, essentially replaced the previous Cutlass Salon series, as far as model position and content were concerned. The Calais featured reclining Strato bucket seats, center console, sport steering wheel, full instrumentation, tuned suspension with front and rear sway bars, color-keyed wheelcovers, and more.
Both the Cutlass Supreme and Calais were optioned with T-tops and/or a factory sunroof, even on the base Cutlass Supreme coupe with the factory radio delete option.
From 1978 through 1980, a high-performance 442 model was available, and for 1979, a special-edition performance model, the Hurst/Olds was offered. These used the Supreme's notchback body, rather than the standard fastback coupe's. Around 2,499 Hurst/Olds were produced - all were powered with an Oldsmobile 5.7L (350 cubic-inch) Rocket V8 (not the diesel engine) sourced from the full-size Delta 88 and Ninety Eight Regency. Also included in the Hurst/Olds package was the Hurst Dual/Gate shifter for the three-speed Turbo Hydra-matic transmission.
In 1978, the Cutlass line featured taillights which had a lighted Oldsmobile rocket logo in the center.
In 1979, the taillights on the Cutlass line dropped the rocket logo.
In 1980 the two-door models went back to four headlights. A 4-door notchback sedan (known as Cutlass, Cutlass LS, and Cutlass Brougham) replaced the unpopular 4-door "aeroback" Salon, which continued in two-door form for one more year. The Supreme Brougham package was available on and off throughout 1978-1988 production. This was also the first year GM introduced the OBD-I computer controlled engine management and emission control system.
The 442 option moved from the aeroback Cutlass Salon coupe body to the notchback Cutlass Calais for 1980, with content upgraded from a mere "appearance and handling" package back to a legitimate performance option with content similar to the 1979 Hurst/Olds including its 350 Rocket V8. This would be the last 442 until that model was revived in 1985, again on the Cutlass notchback body, as a successor to the 1983-84 Hurst/Olds.
In 1981, the Cutlass Supreme coupe received an aerodynamic restyle (with a "shovel-nose" front header panel), which, along with a higher rear deck, decreased air resistance by 15%.It would continue with this basic design until the final rear-drive Cutlass was produced in 1988. A 4-door sedan was added to the Supreme lineup, with a new front end and a slight taillight lens restyle (resembling a touch-tone dial or Rubik's Cube - this lens style was used until 1984). It was this restyled body that (along with the Monte Carlo, Buick Regal, and Pontiac Gran Prix) ushered in the down-sized cars into NASCAR cup competition. While the Cutlass looked almost identical to the Buick Regal (which scored 35+ victories in the 1981 thru 1985 seasons), the Cutlass (like the Dodge Mirada) didn't take one checkered flag, and many teams moved away from it in 1983 to the Regal, Grand Prix, and restyled Monte Carlo SS. This was a rude awakening to Oldsmobile, which was getting used to wins on the NASCAR circuit.
The Cutlass Supreme parted mechanical company with the rest of the Cutlass line in 1982, when continuing high sales convinced GM to continue production of its rear wheel drive mid-size cars alongside the new V6-powered, front-wheel drive A-body, known as the Cutlass Ciera. The rear-wheel drive sedan and Cutlass Cruiser wagon became part of the Cutlass Supreme line in 1982. The wagon was dropped for 1984 as a new Cutlass Ciera-based model was introduced.
The Hurst/Olds reappeared on the Cutlass Calais coupe for two years, first in 1983 as the black over silver 15th anniversary, and then as the silver over black 1984 model. Both featured chrome wheels, red striping and a high output Oldsmobile 307 V8 with 4 barrel carburetor, dual muffler exhausts and Hurst's then new three stick Lightning Rods shifter (the latter eventually becoming a magnet for thieves.) All Hurst/Olds were automatics.
When the Oldsmobile Calais became a separate model on the GM N platform in 1985, the rear-wheel drive Cutlass Calais was renamed Cutlass Salon (taking its name from the upscale Supreme coupe and sedan that preceded the Calais).
1987 was the final year for the rear-wheel drive sedan, and both coupe models received a restyled header panel with composite headlights. A Buick 231 was the base motor alongside the Oldsmobile 307. For its final year, the 442 package was moved to the Supreme model.
1988 was the final year for the rear-wheel drive Cutlass Supreme. It was badged Cutlass Supreme Classic, and 27,678 were built. The 2-door coupe (produced alongside the Chevrolet Monte Carlo at GM's Pontiac, Michigan plant) continued, until the new front-wheel drive version was released in December 1987. The Olds 307 was the only available engine.
Fifth generation (1988–1997)
A front-wheel-drive Cutlass Supreme based on the GM10 platform (W-body) was introduced as a coupe mid-year during the 1988 production run, while the final year of Cutlass Supreme RWD coupes were still being produced. This new FWD model shared its 107.5 in (2,730 mm) wheelbase with the Pontiac Grand Prix, Buick Regal, and Chevrolet Lumina. As part of introducing the all-new FWD Cutlass Supreme, Oldsmobile secured their place to be the 1988 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car, the car that introduced the head-up display to the world. 250 pace car replicas were produced, including 50 custom-made convertibles; some or most were used as festival or parade cars before and during the race. These 50 were turned into convertibles by Cars and Concepts of Brighton, Michigan. These custom convertibles were the first 50 cars released to the public with a head-up display, and then subsequently recalled for reasons that remain unclear. The 1988 and 1989 models were 2-door coupes. This Cutlass body style proved to be a winner for NASCAR competition and it visited the victory circle 13 times between 1989 and 1992, when Olds ended its racing program. A sedan and a production convertible were added in 1990. Models included base (later called S), SL, and the sporty International Series. Throughout its run, the convertible was considered a separate trim level.
Further Narrative on Indy Pace Cars: In 1988 the Indianapolis Motor Speedway chose Oldsmobile to pace “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, with retired United States Air Force General Chuck Yeager behind the wheel. Traditionally a manufacturer builds many pace car replicas, often thousands. But in 1988 Oldsmobile chose to build only 50 Cutlass Convertible Indy Pace Car editions. All 50 (used on track on race day and in 500 Festival activities) were essentially hand built. General Motors/Oldsmobile contracted Cars and Concepts of Brighton, Michigan to build each of these 50 unique cars. Following the race 50 very select Oldsmobile dealers were given the opportunity to purchase one of these cars. The price was set at full invoice price for a standard International Series coupe (~$14,000) plus the cost of the convertible conversion (an additional $13,997). Each was highly optioned including the first ever application of Heads Up Display in an American production vehicle developed by Hughes Electronics. After the 50 were claimed, paid for and delivered to the lucky Olds dealers who said yes, the story of these cars gets more interesting. After the 50 were in the dealers’ hands across the country General Motors discovered some issue with the certification of these one-off models. Each dealer was asked to return them to GM (where they were to be destroyed) and receive full credit of their purchase price. Most of the 50 were returned for credit, but a few dealers objected and kept their cars leaving (by all accounts) less than 10 in the general population. Mr. Thomas Knobloch, a second-generation Oldsmobile dealer in Erie, Pennsylvania was one of those dealers who refused to relinquish his car. He instead held on to it as a collectible. Realizing its incredible rarity and place in both GM/Oldsmobile and Indy 500 history he drove less than 800 miles (1,300 km) over his many years of ownership. The Knobloch family sold the car after his death.
International Series models could be equipped with unique features such as quad bucket seats with dual center consoles, the driver information system and a heads-up display. A very rare Muncie 5-speed manual transmission option was paired first with the 2.8-litre (170 cu in) 60° V6 in 1988 and 1989. In 1990, a revised Getrag 5-speed manual transmission option was available for the high-output Quad-4 I4 and the DOHC 3.4-litre (210 cu in) 60° V6 in 1991 and 1992. The entire line was restyled for 1992, with coupes and convertibles gaining distinctive "mini-quad" headlamps shared with the Pontiac Grand Prix. A driver's side airbag became standard in 1994, and a new ergonomically curved dashboard with dual airbags debuted in 1995.
The lineup was gradually pared down over time. The Quad-4 was last produced during the 1991 model year; the manual transmission option during 1992; the International Series during 1993; the S Series during 1994; the convertible during 1995; and the 3.4 L V6 engine option during 1996. The Cutlass Supreme ceased production at the end of the 1997 model year. That same year, an N-body Cutlass (actually a badge-engineered Malibu) was introduced to replace the Ciera, but this model lasted just three years. The Cutlass Supreme's place in the Oldsmobile line was taken by the 1998 Intrigue, built on the next version of the W platform.
The W-body Cutlass Supreme was built in Doraville, Georgia from 1988 to 1995, and at the Fairfax Plant in Kansas City, Kansas from 1996 to 1997. The first 1988 Cutlass Supreme rolled off the assembly line on January 13, 1988. The last Cutlass Supreme convertible was completed on February 15, 1995. The reason for this is that the last 34,743 cars built in Doraville were sedans, the coupe production was sent to Fairfax, Kansas around March 1, 1995 and Cars and Concepts did not have a facility near Fairfax. The last Cutlass Supreme rolled off the Fairfax assembly line on February 21, 1997.