By on June 6, 2019

Hearing the Cutlass name inspires visions of 442, of color-key rally wheels, or perhaps thoughts of tacky aftermarket ruination and glittery paint.

This grey fastback sedan doesn’t often come to mind, but perhaps it should. Presenting the 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon. Likely, Olds called it Salon because you can fit big hair into it.

Or not. The history of Oldsmobile’s Cutlass was a long one, and by the 1978 model year the midsize nameplate was in its fifth generation. As it was the late Seventies, downsizing and saving fuel was the name of the game. For its fifth edition, Cutlass lost six inches in wheelbase and offered considerably smaller engines than just one year before.

Cutlass still rode on GM’s A-body, but it was a lighter, leaner, shorter variant. Designed to handle several body styles and engines, the new A focused on flexibility. Seven other vehicles aside from Cutlass utilized the new A-body, representing cars from Buick, Chevrolet, and Pontiac. The base engine for Cutlass was the 3.8-liter Buick V6, but customers could get their hands on larger engines, including the 5.0-liter Chevrolet 305 V8. Two diesels were made available for buyers who were into that sort of thing.

At the start of its new generation, the Cutlass family included four separate lines: Supreme, Salon, Cruiser, and Calais. Supreme and Calais wore more traditional formal roof styling in sedan and coupe styles, while Cruiser represented the five-door wagon. Salon was the alternative choice. Split between base Salon and upmarket Salon Brougham, the new name brought fastback styling to the table. Two- and four-door options made up Salon offerings, and the A-body went in a new direction.

Customers spoke with their wallets. All other Cutlass offerings were immediately much more popular than either of the Salons. The sedan was the first model dropped from the new Cutlass line, living only through 1980. A year later the Salon coupe followed suit. Oldsmobile continued with a wide variety of Cutlass models, splitting the lineup between front- and rear-drive varieties in 1982. Ciera switched to front-wheel drive on a brand new A-body platform, while Supreme stayed sporty on the rear-drive G-body.

Today’s Rare Ride is a simply stunning 1978 example of the Cutlass Salon. With the Olds 260 V8 (4.3L) and a five-speed manual transmission, the Salon had just 34,000 miles on the odometer. We say had there, as this Salon asked $10,000, and was listed for a short time before being sold.

[Images: ]

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99 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Pristine 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon, Shift-It-Yourself Edition...”


  • avatar
    APaGttH

    This…is…glorious. Manual and the indestructible 4.3L V6 that bows at the altar of torque, bordello red interior, stupid clean, and for what it is, a non-fussy clean design.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      I might give you the non-fussy design, but to me it looks like someone just gave up.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      It’s the Olds 4.3L V8. Not the Chevy 4.3L V6 (which didn’t come out until ’85).

      I don’t know much about the 260 Olds. It might be reliable but at 105hp/200tq it wasn’t much for power.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        A friend had a Salon V8 back in the day. It was about as quick as the slant-6 Duster it replaced.

        The fixed rear side windows were one of those GM decisions that gave credence to the idea that they punished people for not buying full-sized cars. Smoking wasn’t considered anti-social behavior and people had bigger families and social lives that weren’t virtual, so fixed side windows were even more egregiously obnoxious then than they would be on a midsized sedan today.

        • 0 avatar
          dukeisduke

          GM claimed in the marketing materials that the fixed windows increased rear hiproom (the door panels had recessed armrests). In reality, it was cheaper. I’ve read in the past that GM had a roll down design ready and could have tooled up for a switch to that, had too many buyers been turned off by the fixed glass.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            I’m pretty sure that by 1982 every surviving four-door variant of the A-body had roll-down rear windows.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          “A friend had a Salon V8 back in the day. It was about as quick as the slant-6 Duster it replaced.”

          Hahahaha… 0-60 in about 15 seconds and topping out around 100mph. Oh joy.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Sorry, I was a little off. 110/205 ratings on the 260 for ’78.

        lov2xlr8.no/brochures/olds/78oldmo/bilder/17.jpg

        • 0 avatar
          dukeisduke

          It’s a good thing it didn’t have any more torque, at this 5-speed wouldn’t handle any more. The 5-speed here would be the Borg-Warner T-50 dogleg 5-speed, known in the service manual as the “77mm 5-speed”. I’m not sure where the 77mm comes from. My second Vega (’76 GT) had this transmission. The original one had a tricky engagement into reverse (took a little clutch work and finesse to go into reverse), then some idiot at 4Day Tire (anyone remember them?) tried forcing it into reverse, bending an internal fork and chipping teeth on the countergear.

          I ended up putting a junkyard 5-speed in it ($350), and it was better, except that it would jump out of second gear on deceleration (engine braking). They were pretty weak transmissions.

          • 0 avatar
            TR4

            77mm refers to the distance between the input/output shafts and the countershaft. Not really meaningful except to the engineer(s) who designed it, although I suppose a bigger number may indicate a stronger unit.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          5.7 “litre,” how sophisticated, using the old world spelling!

      • 0 avatar
        TCowner

        My first car was a brown metallic Cutlass Supreme with this engine and the 3 speed automatic. We called it the Nutless Cutlass. The engine was very smooth and reliable, but talk about no power. On the highway, if you floored it to kick down to pass, you could hear it rev higher and downshift, but it almost seemed to slow down.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Even my 307 QuadraJet Cutlass was called “Gutless Cutlass”

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            The 307 feels like it makes about 100hp so I can’t imagine what an actual 100hp rated BOP engine is like.

            For some reason the Chevy engines of this era seem to punch a bit above their weight though. These were all new well before I was born so maybe they were just better taken care of.

        • 0 avatar
          dukeisduke

          The POS THM200 automatic, no doubt. My mom’s ’78 Malibu Classic (305 2-bbl) had one, it was nothing but trouble from new. In and out of the shop numerous times, subject of a class-action lawsuit (she got a $150 settlement – big whoop). Eventually an internal case support broke, and it would no longer go into third gear.

          The eventual fix (at 36,000 miles) was a swap to a rebuilt THM350, which required a new mount and driveshaft, moving the crossmember, and adding a new throttle lever on the carb, to accommodate the THM350’s cable-operated kickdown, along with a vacuum line to the THM350’s modulator. The THM350 transformed the car, making it drivable without having to put up with the THM200’s odd quirks. That’s what happens when you put a tranny designed for the Chevette into *everything*.

          The thing had other recalls (a/c system leak recall, rear axle shaft recall, rear spring recall). They also ran the dome light wiring right over the parking brake foot pedal mechanism, so eventually the insulation on the wires wore through, causing a short and blowing fuses – an auto electrical shop fixed that.

          She died in 2012, and we sold the car for $1,000. It still only had 73,000 miles on it, after almost 35 years.

        • 0 avatar
          ChiefPontiaxe

          I think I had the same car as you. 1978 Cutlass Supreme Brougham in baby poop brown.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          As I’ve stated in many threads on these cars, it may have been that my 1978 Salon was simply used up, but that 260 I had in it barely made more power than the 231 V6s that powered the Cutlass and Regal Sedans on which I cut my driving teeth, but it drank gas like there was a poorly-tuned 350 under the hood! And I’m sure that the THM 200 behind it didn’t help matters!

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        it’s fairly reliable until the nylon cam sprocket gets too worn and the timing chain begins flopping around. Then one day you go to start it and *zip* there go all the teeth.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        @ajla

        Torque is almost 2X HP – that engine bows at the altar of torque. I never said it was powerful, only that it bowed at the altar of torque. Plenty of sinners and human POS bow at altars, it doesn’t make them pure or holy. The Buick 4.3 was as reliable as the sunset.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          There should be some sort of award for developing the worst-breathing cylinder head. I can develop 200 ft/lbs of torque with a small lever. I don’t think that it means there is a single situation where I could do a better job propelling my car than its engine that makes about 70% as much peak torque can.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            No, that’s about right- a lot of mid-late 1970s American engines would wheeze when you wound them up between 3000-4000rpm. That’s just the way it was. TCowner’s comment about kick down to second and the car “almost seemed to slow down” describes a lot of cars from then.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          @APaGttH and Ajla – I remember seeing a proposed “performance build” of an Olds 307 V8 – basically it said “if you’re starting with the non-HO version of the 307 (140 HP) you can do the things that Olds did to make the HO version (180 HP) and that’s IT.

          • 0 avatar
            tankinbeans

            I’m still young and am constantly agog at how little power the large engines made and the cars they were shoved into. I know it’s technology, priorities, regulations and any number of outside influences but holy jeebus.

            I vaguely recall the Curbside Classic about the Ford Laxative 500 with the 7.3 liter which made 145hp and a torque figure I can’t recall. My only thought was that that should have been higher.

            *I know my perspective is colored by what I see today. My plain Jane Mazda6 with 185hp/186tq from 2.5 litres.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “I’m still young and am constantly agog at how little power the large engines made”

            They didn’t know how to deal with exhaust emissions requirements so they changed the engines in the simplest ways possible:

            Much less spark advance
            Much less compression (7.5:1 or 8:1 in a lot of family car engines)
            Cam timing with much less valve overlap
            Mediocre intake and exhaust designs to strangle breathing some more
            Catalytic converters of the day would restrict about another 5-10% torque and horsepower as compared to a section of straight pipe
            Air injection pumps were quite common and those were a parasitic load of several more horsepower (companion to the oxidation-only catalytic converter *and* a great way to game the emissions test, by diluting the exhaust, when carbon monoxide content was scored in concentration).

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “I’m still young and am constantly agog at how little power the large engines made and the cars they were shoved into.”

            nothing to it, it was just the result of trying to make old, big engines run cleaner instead of spending the money to develop newer, cleaner ones.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      I was a kid at the time, and while fairly knowledgeable of cars then, I only recall seeing one of these regularly, It was a coupe and I think it had orange stripes (?). Always thought these were strange. Correction, stupid. You have the form of a hatchback, but non of the utility. What was the point?

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      Wow, not just clean but “stupid” clean! That’s pretty darn clean. I think.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    A lot of these Buick/Olds/Pontiac/Chevy A-bodies also had absurdly high rear gear ratios, often 2.29:1 or higher. Coupled with a smaller engine they did manage to get decent mileage at the expense of any sort of power. The two door A-bodies had heavy doors making them prone to sag on the hinges. Anyone who has ever been around these cars know the sound of the doors closing, a tinny thud followed by the sound of the window shaking in the tracks.

    I do love the 1978-1981 two door Malibus though.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    260-V8. A de-bored Olds 350.

    It made 110 hp and 205 lb-ft at 1600rpm. 5 hp more than the 231 (3.8) Buick V6, the same hp as a 250 Nova in line 6.

    I learned to drive on one. It was smooth and reliable; it was not powerful.

  • avatar
    redgolf

    Back in 74 I came within $100 of striking a deal on a new Cutlass 4 dr. trading in my 69 Camaro, a sacrifice to my growing family, neither I or the salesman would budge so I walked away and as I headed out to the parking lot the salesman was shouting something at me, I turned around and asked “what did you say”? he replied “I said you’re gonna rot in that Camaro”! Hahahahaha! the old boozer reecked of alcohol.I sold the Camaro and bought a used 72 Buick Limited.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      At least he didn’t throw your keys on the roof.

      (That was a thing among dealers where I grew up.)

      • 0 avatar
        redgolf

        it wouldn’t have hurt my roof, it was hugger orange with a black vinyl roof!;-)

        • 0 avatar
          Ol Shel

          I think he means on the roof of the building!

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            Yes!

            Whilst picking up my new car the other day, I asked if they (Thayer Honda in Bowling Green, OH—a family-run group of dealers in BG (Chevy, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Toyota, Ford; VW in SE Michigan) had some sort of system I’ve read about in some of the “worst-case scenario” stories of BIG groups that use cameras to read license plates to create a CRM “profile” of everyone who pulls onto the lot; even doing credit pulls and the like! (Thankfully, no!) My salesman and a colleague of his both said that they could do well just driving by the dealership randomly on Sunday afternoon and pass out business cards to people browsing the rows of vehicles uninterrupted, as there’s usually at least two cars full of potential “ups” around at any given time.

  • avatar
    don1967

    My father bought a brand-new 1980 Cutlass sedan with the 3.8 V6, and quickly dubbed it the “Gutless Cutlass”. Zero-to-sixty acceleration (as measured by me when I turned 16) was somewhere around eighteen seconds. The only thing “blistering” about that car was its paint, which started peeling off in sheets almost as soon as it left the showroom floor.

    On the bright side, the sticking choke gave you an excuse to get your fingers dirty in the perpetually oil-soaked engine bay every morning before work.

    The good old days… what a crock.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      But, but, but it had rich Michigonian leather – ette, some dyed in Boudoir Red mimicking a K Mart deluxe folding card table top like this example.

      The real miracle of this survivor is that the door-close pulls still seem attached to the hardboard door card. All the ones I ever saw came adrift after a few years, although the long heavy doors on two-door cars failed earlier.

      The ’78 A body cars weren’t a patch on the year earlier introduced B body full sizers, and were almost as heavy, anorak web sites notwithstanding. But they sold extremely well being cheaper, and Ford and Chrysler had the Volare and Fairmont as competition – not really in the fight at all. Yes, you had to be there.

  • avatar
    ect

    I can’t help but cringe a little when I see a car that was on the market when I was in my late 20s sporting an “antique” licence plate…

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Cutlass, Cutlass, let me count thy names, Supreme, Calais, Salon, 442, Vista Cruiser… Did I miss any?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Another example of a poor decision by GM. Willfully ‘destroying’ any retained value in the Cutlass name/brand by offering it in so many different types of vehicles. Cutlass had acquired some ‘prestige’ as a PLC, for a while in the early 70’s being the top selling vehicle in Canada.

    Then offering it in a ‘hatch’ style with no hatch. And as others have posted ‘fixed’ rear windows.

    Have to admit that I like that interior colour. And the cloth upholstery. And the idea of that robust engine, linked to a MT.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yeah, the fastbacks were so awkward, but I do love this car. Weird styling, bordello interior, and a 4-speed. Truly a malaise unicorn. Kudos to whoever snapped it up.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      Absolutely right Arthur – it was a sin to not give this hatchback looking body the actual utility of a hatch. They might have saved themselves on the rear window issue by making A/C standard, which 90% of the public ordered anyway, but then they wouldn’t have been able to advertise some low base price.

      But GM was still smart enough not to go all in on this body style, and the more traditional Cutlasses were still top sellers well into the 1980s.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I remember when GM “fixed” the rear windows of these mid-sized sedans people were really mad about it, I mean REALLY mad

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      It also did a stint as the best selling car in the US in the mid 70’s.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        It’s hard to believe that the Cutlass Supreme was the Honda Accord of it’s era, but EVERYBODY had a Cutlass or knew someone who did. In 1973 Olds debuted the personal luxury Supreme coupe with the opera windows and America fell in love with it. Within 2 years every car company had a coupe with opera windows

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Yes indeed!

          The “Aerobacks,” as these were called, lived through 1980 in Olds and Bruick trims, but the Cutlass and Century Sedans went to the “formal”-roof notchback style beginning in 1980; the Malibu and Pontiac LeMans went from their 1978-1980 design with a C-pillar flip-out window to the flip-out-vent-in-door of the Olds and Buick in 1981. Then Pontiac dropped the B-Body Bonneville for 1982 and brought that name to the G-Body sedan, replacing the LeMans. The Malibu sedan lasted one or two more model-years, I don’t recall when Pontiac killed that Bonneville, Buick kept the Regal sedan through 1984 (only one year with the revised interior with the rectilinear speedo instead of the three gauges — fuel, speed, clock — across the top). Olds kept the Cutlass Supreme Sedan until 1987, and killed the G-Body Cutlass after 1988.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Yeah, the styling on this one made me shake my head when it came out. Thankfully for GM, the only models that got whacked by this fake-hatch ugly stick were this car and the Century. The Pontiac and Chevy notchback sedans actually looked pretty nice.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    I would love to see Sajeev do a Vellum Venom on this.

    The slight upward curve of the rear quarter window is quite bizarre, it makes it feel like someone bent the rear of the car upward about two inches.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Did they call it the “Salon” to save money on the extra o in saloon?

    I would love to pick the brain of whoever kept and preserved this thing for 41 years.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    “Hearing the Cutlass name inspires visions of 442, of color-key rally wheels, or perhaps thoughts of tacky aftermarket ruination and glittery paint.”

    or, if you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s like me, it dredges up memories of the sound of an Iron Duke unhappily trudging its senescent owner to whatever nearby destination they had in mind.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    One friend of mine owned one of the Cutlass Supreme 2-doors with the 260. Another had one of the fastback-styled 4-4-2s. That was truly a cruel joke.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The car for sale here has the dealer-installed, riveted on bodyside molding with the vinyl core that was so popular then. The vinyl core would be badly sunburned after just three or four years in the sun, and in the case of this red color, turn brown or black.

    This car has spent all its time in a garage – this was when GM starting switching from the Magic Mirror acrylic lacquer, to single-stage enamel, and plants switched over to downsized models. With this silver, along with light metallic blue (like my mom’s Malibu), after just a couple of years the paint wore badly, lost its shine, and flaked off, revealing the red oxide primer below.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Indeed, my buddies folks had a Chevette, GM paid for a new paint job when it was just a couple years old. My dad’s Citation had paint issues after a few years, but I had the misfortune of inflicting some minor body damage on it and we split the cost of a new paint job. Then a couple years later he gave it to my brother. But I’m not bitter.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    I miss red and burgundy interiors.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Agreed, and other colors as well (I’m partial to blue). Some manufacturers try to pass off red seats as colorful interior, but without the matching dash, carpet, and doors it just doesn’t work.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      But this was such a cheap cheesy red, though

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        …just like red should be in 1978.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I have to disagree. As a Mark IV Pucci fan, I love burgundy interiors. And this red is not bad at all. Just make sure that you buy your date some ‘Babe by Faberge’, put on your puka shell necklace and you’re set for a night on the town.

        I’ll never forget My Old Man’s ‘associates’ mocking one of their ‘crew’ who showed up in a BMW, for its plain black interior. For them that BMW was the opposite of luxury.

  • avatar
    ChiefPontiaxe

    My first car was a 1978 Cutlass Supreme Brougham. I sadly did not respect it. It had the 260 V8 like this one (had a Rochester 2BBL, which was basically the front to BBLs of a Q-jet). Low on power, but put up with all the abuse a 16-year-old punk could offer, and then some. Sold it after 120,000 miles and it still ran like a champ. Miss that car.

  • avatar

    Special present incoming (probably tomorrow) since you all love this Salon so much.

  • avatar
    johnnyz

    Yeah, I had one of those for sale when I was flipping cars back in the 90s. It was the slant back in 442 guise.

    I had several excited collars but when they realized it was that particular model they lost interest quickly.

  • avatar
    johnnyz

    Callers, w/o Craigslist or the benefits of the internet you would just have three black and white lines in the newspaper.

  • avatar
    CammerLens

    This article got me to thinking — what car engine of the malaise era had the lowest rated specific output? This Olds put out 0.423 HP/cu. in. but I’m sure there were worse ones. I imagine someone around here has that data at their fingertips.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      225 Slant 6, 90hp in the early 1980s
      500 Cadillac V8, 190 hp in 1976 (everybody always says “but it had torque!!” yeah, well, the Toyota Prius also has torque)
      L65, the nadir of the Chevy 350 V8, 145 hp in the mid-1970s

      There were a few more out there…

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        500 Cadillac V8, 190 hp in 1976 (everybody always says “but it had torque!!” yeah, well, the Toyota Prius also has torque)”

        But at least it wasn’t the HT4100.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “what car engine of the malaise era had the lowest rated specific output?”

      Probably the later Olds diesels. 350CI with 105hp.

      • 0 avatar
        CammerLens

        Well, yeah, NA diesels are obviously going to beat their gas counterparts for low specific output. I guess I was thinking of gas engines. Another contender might be the Ford 250 inline 6, which in 1973 put out 88 HP for 0.352 HP/ cu. in. Beats even the Cadillac 500.

  • avatar
    7402

    We had a 1980 Cutlass wagon with the diesel 350. What an absolute POS — it was so bad that it drove me and my siblings to a still-running streak of never buying cars from the big 3 “American” manufacturers. Oddly our dad continued buying Cutlasses until he stopped driving 20 years later.

    The gutless diesel did have one advantage: if a tailgater got too close we’d just drop it into neutral and floor the accelerator pedal. Nowadays that would be akin to rolling coal, back then it got even the most aggressive tailgaters off our behind.

  • avatar
    Michael S6

    My mom bought a 1979 blue Cutlass Saloon with 4.3 L V8 automatic. I inherited the car three years later and it was slow with loose steering that had about 3 inches of free play. I forgot how ugly it was until you posted the picture. Drove it until 1988 and traded it for $500 for a down payment on an Acura Integra manual.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      My Pastel Blue 1978 Salon Coupe had something weird with the steering where the car would drive straight while holding the wheel straight at parking lot speeds, but as you exceeded 20mph or so, the car would start to track to the right, so you had to have the wheel turned at roughly a 45-degree angle to the left while driving at any normal street speed! (In this example here, the right spoke of the steering wheel would be parallel to the top and bottom of the IP surround.) It made for a tiring drive, because I couldn’t just drape my hand over the wheel and relax, since it required a two-hand 10-and-2 grip at all times! My Mom’s 1980 Cutlass Sedan (Salon-equivalent base car) and 1983 Buick Regal Custom Sedan always tracked straight and true unless an alignment was needed, and I remember that the recirculating-ball steering in both cars was a little tighter, if still sloppy, so that Salon of mine could have had a first-year bug, or the issue could have been a result of the general neglected condition of the car by the time I inherited it from a chain-smoking aunt who died in a nursing home three months after she presented the keys to me, complete with an inch of cigarette ash on the floor, and yellow-tinted windows! Included in that wacky steering was a substantial dead-zone where you literally had no idea where the wheels were pointed!

      I believe that a bad steering box would have resulted in this problem, as I found out later.

  • avatar
    Wodehouse

    It’s fascinating in a “Dang! I remember when those came out and they were soooo ugly” way, but otherwise, a same generation Grand Am coupe would be 137 times more cool.

  • avatar
    threeer

    I’m always totally fascinated when I see a car such as this kept in this condition. You expect this of true collector cars and exotics, but a Cutlass? That interior…glorious! I would have considered it on that detail alone. Much more interesting to me than seeing yet another sports car that has been kept in a garage under strict climate control.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      ^ This!

      A forty-one year-old grocery-getter in this shape, only needing a respray in a two-stage paint process according to the seller Web site, is something rare! I wonder if we’ll see well-preserved 2019 Chevy Traverses or Toyota Camries in 2059? (Bruick Invasions? Bwahahahahahaha!!!)

  • avatar
    redgolf

    So since 2008 it’s had an Antique License Plate (30 years or older in Florida) here in Tennessee (25 years or older) and can only be driven on weekends according to the MVD, this rule is never enforced from what I’ve seen!

  • avatar
    ltcmgm78

    What a well-preserved Cutlass! That was a generally bad time to buy domestics. The domestic manufacturers tried to increase gas mileage in many different ways, but sorely lacked the engineering to make small, efficient engines. It was easier to try to maintain interior room (to a point) and make the car smaller on the outside without regard to proportion. As a result, a lot of the GM products looked like they’d been washed in hot water and just shrank. I bought a brand-new 1978 Plymouth Horizon with a 4-speed and it was an OK car, except for leaking transaxle seals. It also had a lot of faults as it was new that year. I then traded that for a 1981 Ford Fairmont coupe (cheaper than a GM X-body or a Chrysler K-car) with a 2.3L tractor engine and a five-speed manual. Yeah, mileage wasn’t bad. Roomy interior. It was a more sophisticated car compared to the Horizon (nowhere to go but up). Could not get out of its own way. A true 55 mph car with semi-good gas mileage. The speedometer had the government mandated circle around the number 55 to remind us of the painfully low National Speed Limit. Cars like this gave an entree to the Japanese manufacturers. Such memories!

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      Oh man, I would take an Omnirizon all day every day over a Fairmont. If you ordered your Omni/Horizon with the “big” 2.2 liter engine and a manual it would haul some arse. It was essentially a rebadged Simca IIRC — that is, a shameless French copy of the first-generation Volkswagen Golf, but with slightly more room, power, and comfort. The steering was awful, but if you stuck with manual steering at least you got some back in the form of effort. I enjoyed the heck out of a white-on-tan Omni until a drunk in a 1960s Lincoln Continental ran a red and slammed into the right side. I’m just glad it wasn’t the left.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Consumer Reports made hay out of the steering in those cars that, when you whipped the wheel to the right, followed by the same to the left, the car would zig-zag down the road on its own if you let go of the wheel! Chrysler corrected the problem with a lighter steering wheel and the addition of a steering damper, according to Wikipedia.

  • avatar
    ltcmgm78

    The Horizon could move aggressively when you gave it the gas. It was my first new car. It was a stripper model. No A/C. No tinted glass. It had the standard 1.8 engine.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Business up front. Party in the back.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Profile looks a bit like the current Civic.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    @ltcmgm78

    THAT was a rare Fairmont!

    I wonder if Ford made the ratios a little tighter before adding 5th (I had a 1980, 1st was tall, and the gap to 2nd was too big…) or if they just added 5th

  • avatar
    ltcmgm78

    The ratios didn’t seem to be spread unreasonably. I must admit that I never saw another 2.3L Fairmont with a manual transmission again. I took the car to Germany when I was assigned there. The fastest it would go on the Autobahn was about 75. It caught fire in my driveway one morning. Had a leaky fuel line going into the carburetor and the ignition coil lit it up one morning when I was trying to get to work. Cooked everything under the hood. Took the insurance check after it was totaled and bought a 1985 SAAB 900 Turbo sedan.

  • avatar
    ltcmgm78

    I remember seeing the news footage of the Horizon steering wheel swinging from one direction to the other. I never tried to replicate the issue. Keeping my hands on the wheel seemed to dampen any possible ill effect. Driver in the video turned the wheel to full lock left and let go of the wheel. It cycled far back to the right and back to the left again.


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