Car of the Week: 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme

Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Rod Ryan might never completely get over “the one that got away.” But when it comes to his favorite collector car, it’s very unlikely he will make the same mistake twice.

“I took delivery of this car in May of 1971,” he says of his one-owner 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible. “I had a ‘66 Chevelle convertible that I traded in and had remorse immediately. I tried to buy it back from the dealership where I traded it in for a ’70 Chevelle. I just thought I did the wrong thing. So I ordered this car about nine months later to kind of replace that. The Chevelle was a silver-blue convertible with a black top, but I liked the Olds better than the Chevy, so I bought the Olds and not the Chevy at that time. I’ve had it all my [adult] life. I got out of college in ’70 and I could finally afford a decent car, and I’ve had it ever since.”

Ryan used the beautiful convertible for his daily transportation for about four years, but it wasn’t long before the Cutlass Supreme graduated to collector car status. It has never been off the road for very long, even when it was restored a while back. These days the odometer reads 96,000 miles and change.

“It never sat. It’s funny, I just bought a car that sat for 40 years, but this one never did,” Ryan says. “It was always driven to at least some extent every year, even if it was only a couple hundred miles.”

Ryan insists one of the main reasons he bought the Cutlass Supreme in the first place and elected to hang onto it all these years is the drop top. If the Olds was a hardtop, it’s very possible it would have been long gone by now.

“Back then what was happening in the early ‘70s, it was, ‘Hey, they are going to quit making convertibles.’ … So I bought it with the idea that I was going to keep it because they were going to quit making convertibles. I always had the idea that I was going to keep it. I never thought about selling it. I was always fortunate — over the years I’ve sold other things. I sold some motorcycles and sold some cars to finance things, but never this one. I never considered it. Not this one.”

 

CLASS WITH FLASH

The Cutlass Supreme was in the third year of its second generation by the time Ryan went shopping for one in 1971. The nameplate began in 1966, then really took off with the second-gen run that lasted from 1968-’72. The Cutlass Supreme became a kissing cousin of the Pontiac Grand Prix, Pontiac LeMans Sport and Buick Skylark, for the 1970 model year when it was moved to the downsized GM A-body. The move helped solidify the handsome Olds as a leader in the personal luxury car segment. Five years down the road, in 1976, the model took home the title of biggest-selling car in America.

The top ’71 Oldsmobile intermediate was available in three body styles: two- and four-door Holiday hardtops, and the convertible. Standard equipment included: armrests, cigarette lighter, V-8 engine, carpeting, woodgrain dash, interior light package, moldings, seat belts with shoulder harnesses, Deluxe steering wheel and chrome hubcaps. Standard tire size was F78-14. Upholstery was vinyl or cloth. The Cutlass Supreme had new rear end styling for ’71. The twin vertical grilles with twin headlights made the models easily recognizable from in font and added to the car’s upscale personality. The base engine was  350-cid, 260-hp V-8 with a four-barrel. A 455-cid V-8 with 320 hp was on the options list for buyers who weren’t conceding the impending end of the muscle car era.  The two-door hardtop was by far the most popular body style in the Cutlass Supreme lineup with 60,599 examples built. The four-door and convertible had similar production figures — both having slightly more than 10,000 built.

Overall, sales in Oldsmobile showrooms were down, but Ryan and a lot of other folks took a shine to the Cutlass Supreme convertible — many perhaps sensing that the drop-top pickings would be slim in the future. The 10,000-plus sales of the convertibles represented a jump of more than double from the previous year.

Ryan says he actually had his eye on a 4-4-2 at the time, but he figured he’d save money and maybe get in less trouble with the Cutlass Supreme. “I had too many tickets so I couldn’t afford [the 4-4-2],” Ryan chuckles. “The insurance was better on the Cutlass Supreme. I ordered it with the four-barrel and the duals and the four-speed. I really wanted the four-speed. There weren’t many made with the four-speeds. People tell me now that you couldn’t get that, but I know you could because I ordered it.

“It’s not real loaded. I was going to put air and power windows and a tilt steering wheel on it, but I remember my mother saying to me, ‘Oh my God, that car is over $5,000 and it’s not even a full-size car!!’ So I backed the air conditioning off and I backed a couple other options off. The 350 with the four-barrel was standard. It’s got power steering and power breaks, but it’s not loaded. It’s pretty average equipped.”

 

FROM GOOD TO BETTER

Ryan only drove the blue Olds ragtop regularly for about four years, then it became a seasonal car. He says he was always kind to his convertible and figured he’d do as much as he could to preserve it. Eventually, after the odometer rolled past 90,000 miles and the car began showing its age, he decided the Olds deserved to be made young again.

“It needed to be restored eventually. It wasn’t terrible, but it was starting to get a little lackluster looking,” he says. “ So it went to Vintage Vehicles in Wautoma [Wis.], whom I’ve known for years. They did a wonderful job on the restoration, A to Z. The paint was done by an auto body shop right down the road in Wautoma. He did a wonderful job on the car. All those years in the interim, all those years before we restored it, De Pere Auto in De Pere [Wis.] has kept it up to where it needed to be for me. I did some work, but I’m not a mechanic.

“When we had the motor apart enough to put all new seals in and repaint it, all the compression checks were good and it didn’t need anything. All the oil changes over the years really paid off.  It just needed seals and gaskets and paint. The front seats were recovered. The carpeting was replaced. The door panels are original. The top was replaced. Other than that it’s pretty original. If fact, the old top boot fits better than the one that’s on there!… We put a little sound-deadening insulation and a little resistance insulation in before we put the carpeting in, and boy does that make a difference. The car is cooler than it’s ever been. And then we added the tinted glass to the side windows, and it really makes a difference.”

Ryan got the car back on the road in June of 2017, and his first trip down the street in his restored ride was a happy trip down Nostalgia Lane.

“It was just exceptional. Just getting in it, it had the new smell in it with the new covers on the front buckets and you could smell the new paint,” he says. “Starting the engine up and the paint was kind of curing on the engine. It bought back a lot of nostalgic feelings. I remembered back when it was sitting in front of the dealership for a few hours before I picked it up in ’71, and the salesman who I bought it from said ‘I could have sold that car five times!’

“I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m just fortunate that I’ve been able to live this long to have it so long! I bought it to kind of replace the Chevelle that I sold, but I was never going to sell this one. I always had the idea I was going to keep it.”

 

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