How Oldsmobile Cars Work

Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera

Number-two on Lansing's 1980s hit parade was the midsize Cutlass, which involved two distinct lines: continuations of the 1978-vintage rear-drive series and its erstwhile front-drive successor, the A-body Cutlass Ciera, new for '82. Each accounted for upward of 200,000-300,000 sales in their best years. Rear-drive Cutlass coupes received a sloped-nose "aero" facelift for 1981 (similar to the full-size cars' 1980 redo).

Model years 1983 and '87 saw the end of Cutlass wagons and sedans, respectively. Two-doors adopted flush-mounted "composite" headlamps for '86. Signaling the imminent arrival of a new front-drive Cutlass Supreme, the rear-drive '88s -- produced in a short run -- were renamed Supreme Classic.

Of interest to collectors is the trio of low-volume, period muscle-car revivals based on the rear-drive Cutlass coupe: a 15th anniversary Hurst/Olds commemorative for 1983, a similar 1984 follow-up, and a reborn 4-4-2 option package offered for 1985-87.

The H/Os wore special badging and modest decklid spoilers. All three packed a four-barrel, 180-bhp version of Oldsmobile's 307-cid small-block V-8 (170 bhp in 1987) and were quite fast. Their mild engine tuning would have seemed laughable in the '60s, but nobody had to be concerned with corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) in those days.

CAFE was a definite motivation for the smaller midsize Olds, the Cutlass Ciera. It was, predictably, much like Buick's new-wave Century, derived from the front-drive corporate X-car compact and initially offered as a notchback coupe and sedan; glass-hatch wagons arrived for 1984.

Engine choices included a standard Pontiac-built 151-cid four-cylinder, 181-cube gas V-6, and a 262 diesel V-6. For mid-1986, the Ciera coupe gained a smoother, slightly abbreviated roofline. Sedans got a similarly rounded backlight for 1989, when a new 160-bhp 3.3-liter V-6 replaced the 231-cid Buick V-6 optional since '85.

The rear-drive Cutlass and front-drive Ciera typically offered a choice of plain and fancy trim (the latter usually dubbed Brougham). There were also sporting versions: GT and Euro-style ES Cieras through 1987, plus Calais and Salon Cutlass coupes -- all with fortified suspensions and less traditional interiors.

From 1988, the enthusiast's Ciera was retitled Inter­national Series, but retained the usual black-finish exterior trim, bigger wheel/tire package, and special body addenda (front and rear spoilers, later matched by rocker-panel skirts).

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