Your humble servants here at Totally That Stupid have been on a bit of a nostalgia trip lately. Not just for the cars we or our families owned when we were young – that’s going to be a separate post or three – but more broadly the cars of the era. You see, your authors fall squarely into the RADwood/Generation X vintage of human being, with all the independence and irreverence thereof. We like our moo-cow rare, our humor edgy, and we know that for the most part good music died with the advent of Auto-Tune.
Or, like, whatever. As Douglas Coupland noted, “You’d last about ten minutes if you were my age these days.”
The fifth-generation Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme launched in two-door coupe form for the 1988 model year. It was known as both the W-platform and also by its internal code, GM-10. Two years later, the four-door sedan and two-door convertible appeared. You can bet we will be covering the targa-barred drop-top soon.
Typical of GM cars at the time, a plethora of features and drivelines were available. 1991 was getting toward the end of a la carte vehicle ordering, a magical time when you could custom-build an International Series coupe with a 3.4-liter V6 and proper 5-speed manual transmission to go with your four-place bucket seating and mega-button tape deck.
Did we admire these cars when they were new? Did we look upon them as a wise use of the $7 billion (with a “b”) the platform burned up during development? Would this modern direction from the frequently staid General finally bring the fight to our beloved German bahnkreuzers?
In a word, no. Performance, as the term pertains to GM’s mainline vehicles of the time, was merely fine by American midsize car standards. The physical proportions were weird compared to the contemporary GM A- and G-body cars. Front-wheel drive was something that happened to other people. (Yes, my Volkswagen Rabbit and Reed’s Volkswagen Quantum station wagon, not to mention my family’s Audi 5000S and later both of our Honda Preludes, were all FWD. Shut up, you millennial philistine.)
Most of the bread-and-butter GM-10 sedans were used up and discarded without thought. Many of them inhabited retirement communities and rental fleets. Others were passed down to family members or wound up in the back row of buy-here/pay-here used car lots. However, some survived, and did so in ways that surprise today.
Before we get to our 1991 feature car, we need to talk for a moment about this 1996 Cutlass Supreme SL in Reidsville, North Carolina.
I actually found this example first. While it doesn’t stray too far from rental-car specifications, I still marveled at its bright red on gray color combination and overall condition, lacking both obvious rust and clearcoat peel.
The interior is exceptionally clean for 120,000 miles, with no noticeable wear to the cloth seats or carpets. The headliner isn’t saggy, and I’ll always take analog gauges over a Windows 1.0 electronic display. Under the hood looks fine; nothing spooky, not too clean, but not too dirty, either. If this thing was $700 cheaper, and with its recent brake repair and other maintenance, it would be stellar CHOTW material.
But let’s now turn our attention to this as-new 22,000-mile 1991 example, by some freak coincidence also bright red on gray cloth. The ad – from Ron Ferrari Auto Sales, of course – is light on details other than to say the car was clearly cared for by the previous owners and that everything from the way it runs and drives to the included factory brochures is like new. Hate to say it, but I’m going to have to agree with Mr. Ferrari.
The paint is uniformly shiny, and based on the claimed mileage and correct placement of the “Oldsmobile” badge on the hood I have to believe it’s all original. The plastic bumpers are remarkably warp-free. Deep gloss black trim offsets all that red. The 15-inch basketweave wheels appear mostly unmarked, but they do look a bit small compared to the later 16-inchers. They’re wrapped in the finest Eldorado Golden Fury tires Walmart had on special last Tuesday.
Definitely a more highly optioned car, it sports the aforementioned Windows 1.0 dashboard, the silliness of which is offset by bucket seats (the driver’s chair is electrified) and a glorious gearshift on which to rest your hand. I’d like to see the headliner on this one, and hope it’s defying gravity like that of the 1996 above.
Under the hood looks even better than that 1996, mostly because it’s undoubtedly been detailed. The 140-horsepower 3.1-liter V6 won’t blast rock-star performance, but it would run for fairly long miles with minimal attention. Just avoid drag races with anything this side of a base-grade Hyundai Kona. That said, if you were around GM V6 engines back in the day – and these engines were absolutely everywhere – you remember the sound of one being flogged. It’s not a 426 Hemi, but it’s not entirely unpleasant.
The question – well, one of them, anyway – is this: Assuming you’re spending money on either of these, which do you choose? Is it the well-cared-for 1996 for $2,700 with 120,000 miles, or the basically new but older 1991 at a spendy $6,599 but with way less than a quarter of the miles? The cheaper one you’d probably be okay driving all year, whereas the one with no miles would depreciate with every mile and parking lot ding.
Speaking of damage: Would Hagerty write an agreed-value collector car insurance policy on a 1991 Cutlass Supreme based on crazy clean condition and rarity, or would they kick you to Farmers or Liberty Mutual to take your fair-market-value chances?
I can’t answer any of these questions. While not in the market for a car my father would not have actually purchased, I marvel at the fact they’ve survived in this condition. And I do quite like both cars more or less equally, albeit for different reasons. If I were looking for a guilt-free driver, something I could drive and park anywhere, I’d look at the 1996. If I wanted to make a RADwood statement, there’s no doubt I’d snap up the 1991.
Or just buy both. Personally, I’d rather have two GM-10-era Cutlass Supremes for just about the same princely sum as an off-lease Nissan Versa.