1968 and 1969 Oldsmobile Vista-Cruisers

Safety received greater recognition for the 1968 and 1969 Oldsmobile Vista-Cruisers, which were very similar models, along with their cousin, the Buick Sportwagon.

Shoulder belts with pushbutton buckles and special overhead storage provisions were offered for the driver and right front passenger. All cars also had energy-absorbing steering columns that compressed up to eight inches upon impact.

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1968 Buick Sportwagon
A flowing creaseline emerged on the 1968 models.

"We had our first [fully] pa­dded dashes in 1968," said Blaine Jenkins, chief interior designer for Oldsmobile from 1967 to 1970. "There was padding all around. It was the beginning of the safety stuff. The head-swing test was important. It was the first time we had to have padding on the instrument panel, and even behind the instrument panel. There couldn't be anything to contact.

"Oldsmobile was good about spending money on the interior. It made my job easier. The interior was very important to Oldsmobile. They gave us a lot of freedom."

The cosmetically touched-up 1969 versions of both wagons became a bit more user-friendly when equipped with a newly optional dual-action tailgate. A feature first seen on 1960 Ramblers, the tailgate could be opened from the side like a door, or drop down like a conventional tailgate. When opened as a door, a portion of the bumper came with it, exposing a built-in step that aided access to the cargo area.

Otherwise, change was fairly limited for the year. The side woodgraining on Sportwagons was now placed above the sweepspear, and the vertical center bar in the '68 grille was replaced by a horizontal piece.

Vista-Cruiser appearance revisions center on the front, where the barbell look was out in favor of a divided grille to match what was becoming the new divisional styling identity. The headlights were moved back together, and the grille consisted of two groups of nine vertical slats separated by a portion of the hood that dipped down to meet a raised section of the front bumper.

Powertrains were mostly unaltered, though Sportwagons could now be ordered with the three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 transmissions; the 290-horsepower version of the 400-cube Olds V-8 did not return from '68.

Then, for 1970, there was only one flavor of the GM high-roof wagon available. Buick revived a full-size station wagon, the Estate Wagon, on the 124-inch LeSabre/Wildcat chassis, and made it avail­able with a choice of two or three seats. This seemingly squeezed out the 121-inch-wheelbase Sportwagon.

"There was a lot of competition among [division] general managers," Koenig remembered. "Can­cel­ing the cars when they did was a general-manager call, not a marketing call."

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