1975 Oldsmobile Cutlass

Though the OPEC oil embargo was lifted in March 1974, its effects rippled through the '75 model year, affecting all models, including the 1975 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Fuel economy loomed large in product decisions about everything from powertrains to tires. Beyond that, though, the embargo's inflationary momentum hurt the general economy, auto sales included.

Swiveling bucket seats were an option for the 1975 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
Swiveling bucket seats were an option for the 1975
Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Coupe.

The standard power team for most Cut­lass models became Chevrolet's 105-bhp, 250-cid inline six and a three-speed manual gearbox. The base engine in the Salon was a new 260-cid V-8, essentially a small-bore version of the 350 that Olds engineers whipped up in a few months at the urging of acting division general manager Bill Buxton.

Fed by a two-barrel carb and mated to the Turbo Hydra-matic, the 110-bhp engine was available on other coupes and sedans. Only the wagons retained the 350-cube V-8 and automatic as standard. This pairing, too, was optional on all the other models.

Even then, the 350 and optional 455 V-8s were scaled back to 170 and 190 bhp, respectively. The effects showed. In a Motor Trend test of a 350-powered '75 Supreme coupe, 60 mph arrived in 11.65 seconds; the quarter mile took a laggard 18 seconds at 78.67 mph.

Oldsmobile's fixation on gas mileage wasn't limited to engines. An economy-minded 2.73:1 rear axle was used across the board in Cutlasses. Steel-belted radial tires also were standardized on the intermediates, in part because of their reduced rolling resistance.

Optional air conditioners came with an "economy" mode that cut out the compressor under certain conditions to reduce drag on the engine. There was even an available dash-mounted economy meter for those interested in knowing when their right foot was resting heavy on the accelerator.

The U. S. government's posted figures for Cutlass engines were 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway for the six, 15/19 for the 260 V-8, 15/20 for the 350 (14/19 in the wagon), and 13/19 for the 455. MT averaged 17.8 mpg in its test car.

The auto industry was struggling to achieve better fuel economy while in the midst of meeting tightening federal regulations on exhaust emissions. The latest weapon in that battle was the catalytic converter, which Olds­mobile put into all its 1975 models.

As a division press release explained, "The catalytic converter is an emission control device added to the exhaust system to reduce hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide pollutants in the exhaust gas stream. It contains one-eighth-inch-diameter beads coated with a platinum-paladium catalyst which accelerates the oxidizing pro­cess and reduces most of the un­burned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide to water vapor and carbon dioxide gas."

The system included stainless-steel exhaust pipes expected to last 50,000 miles. Unleaded fuel was required. Engineering had been led by former Oldsmobile chief engineer (and future GM president) Robert Stempel, whom company president Ed Cole brought over to the corporate side to develop the converter.

From the styling standpoint, three new grille designs were created for the Salon (now a full series), Supreme and wagons, and Cutlass/Cutlass S. On all, ver­tical turn-signal lamps were located at the outer edges of the grille sections. "Secondary lights weren't subject to the same restrictions as headlights," Casillo said, "so the designers had a lot more flexibility to be creative." Taillights on the Cutlass and S had a dual over-and-under theme; the Supreme and Salon had a vertical side-by-side theme.

Supreme coupes adopted the swiveling bucket seats as an option, but with a twist. Reversible inserts let owners switch between vinyl and fabric upholstery, a gimmick that lasted just one year.

A Hurst/Olds coupe continued to be available, again with a choice of 350- or 455-cid V-8s. (As a sign of the times, the 350 edged aside the 455 in popularity.) This time, though, the H/O was built on the Cutlass Supreme body and featured standard "Hurst/Hatch" removable roof panels. The 2536 built turned out to be the last Hurst/Oldses until 1979.

Assemblies of Oldsmobiles -- includ­ing a new subcompact Starfire hatch­back -- inched up in '75 by 9506 units to 628,902, enough to finish third again. However, Cutlass orders shot back up to 319,531. The intermediate line now accounted for more than half of Oldsmobile's model-year output -- even if only by a fraction.

One unmistakable truth about the Cut­lass was the appeal of its formal-roof coupes. In model year 1975, the two-door Salon and Supreme combined for 58.8 percent of Cutlass production and 30.2 percent of all Oldsmo­biles made.

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