Car of the Week: 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Indy 500 Pace Car

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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Ken and Pat Swenty really had only one thing in mind when they bought a car from their son-in-law, Doug Kuchinski. “We just wanted an ice cream car,” Patricia laughed. “Now we can’t even do that.”

“Nope, no ice cream anymore,” Ken concurred. “I had ice cream last night and I dribbled some! We don’t want that [in the car.]”

Indeed, the Swentys’ appreciation for their 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible Indianapolis 500 Pace Car replica has grown over the years, in part because it’s just a very fine all-around automobile, and in part because it’s a far rarer machine than they ever imagined. GM built only 626 of the flashy ragtops to celebrate the Indy 500 that year, and just 358 of those were Cutlass models – the rest were 442s, which were the actual cars used for race duty on the track. Of those 358 Cutlass ragtops, a scant few — only about 60 — were propelled by the smaller 350-cid, 315-hp engine. “The rest of them had the big 455 in them,” Ken says. “These are a lot rarer, with the 350 in them.”

The Y74 Indy Pace Car option meant you got a white convertible with black stripe decals and decal stenciling for the door commemorating the race. The package also included a Hurst Dual-Gate Shifter connected to a Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 transmission; power front disc brakes, steering, brakes and windows; power trunk latch; Super Stock II wheels; Rally gauges and a few other cool goodies.

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The woodgrain inserts on the dash and console gave the Cutlass Indy Pace Car interior a touch of sophistication, while the sport steering wheel, Hurst shifter, black upholstery and carpet, and pleated high-back bucket sets gave it plenty of pizazz. The car’s front end also blends class and flash. The wide Ram Air scoops are integrated into the hood and are trimmed with wide black stripes. The refined split grilled and quad headlight arrangement with Cutlass script on the front left hint that this Olds is no low-budget pavement pounder.

“It’s an eye-catcher, and it’s more than we planned for, that’s for sure,” Ken added. “It’s better than I planned, but not what I had planned.”

The original owner of Swenty’s car plunked down $5,551.01 on July 3, 1970 when he took delivery of the Cutlass. The convertible was outfitted with an AM radio, Sport steering wheel, tinted windshield, variable-ratio power steering, and Rally suspension.

The lovely convertible is reserved now for a few car shows every summer and some occasional weekend exercise, but that hasn’t always been the case. Together, the car’s four owners have rolled up more than 101,000 miles on the clock. The car was bought new by a doctor at Renner Oldsmobile, a long-running dealer in Wauwatosa, Wis. He owned the car until about 1990, when it was sold to a second owner, who did some restoration on the car, including a repaint and painted stripes that replaced the original decals.

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Kunchinski bought the car from another Olds dealership in the Milwaukee, Wis., area, and his wife’s parents eventually became the fourth owners. “He wanted to build a shed and had this car and he never used it,” Ken Swenty said. “It was in his dad’s garage and I was looking for an old car. We looked and we looked and didn’t find anything we really wanted, and then my son-in-law said, ‘Well, buy mine then.’ So we did.”

The couple put a new black interior in the car and stumbled into a chance to put nicer stenciling on the doors, but otherwise haven’t had to do much with the drop-top Olds. Before the dealership closed six years ago, they were able to take the Pace Car back home to Renner Oldsmobile, where one of the employees was able to give them a copy of the original bill of sale.

Even if you didn’t pony up for the Indy Pace Car version, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme was still one of the nicest midsize cars around in 1970. Aside from its much-loved 4-4-2, Oldsmobile didn’t cultivate much of a sporty car image or clientele at the time. The brand’s bread-and-butter offerings remained the Eighty-Eight, Delta Eighty-Eight, Ninety-Eight, Vista Cruiser wagon and Toronado — all of them heavyweights.

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At the bottom of the Olds lineup was the relatively bare bones midsize F-85. The slightly fancier Cutlass was next in line, one step below the Cutlass Supreme, which in turn was one step down from the 4-4-2. It had been 10 years since an Oldsmobile had been chosen to lead the field at the Brickyard, and when the 4-4-2 was selected for ’70, GM opted to make the replica package available on both the 4-4-2 and its Cutlass Supreme sibling — a decision which sometimes causes confusion.

In addition to the hefty 3,614-lb. convertible, the Cutlass Supreme series included two- and four-door Holiday hardtops. Only 4,867 of the convertibles were built in all — less than half as many as either hardtop model. They carried a base price of $3,335, which made the Cutlass Supremes a couple hundred bucks steeper than similarly equipped convertibles in the Chevrolet Chevelle and Ford Torino GT, and slightly cheaper than a Pontiac GTO ragtop.

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The Swentys weren’t all that well-versed on Indy Pace Car history or how unique their car is when they bought it, but it didn’t take long for them to decide on the car’s future. “Yeah, we didn’t know a lot about them at the time, but we know you don’t see them very often,” Ken laughed. “It drives real nice. It’s heavy enough if you are going down the  road, it’s a perfect-riding car. In fact, it’s so nice we bought another ’70 Oldsmobile to do the ice cream runs.”

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2 thoughts on “Car of the Week: 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Indy 500 Pace Car

  1. ragtop69

    While there were fewer of the 350 powered pace car convertibles made, that doesn’t make them more valuable. I’ve seen the same argument proposed regarding a 6 cylinder 69 Mustang SportsRoof. Maybe there were fewer made because the public did not like the idea of a base V8 in an up optioned car. Why would that make them more valuable today?

  2. 69W31

    All of the Cutlass Supreme convertible pace cars were 350/310 hp equipped, the standard engine in the ’70 Supreme. 442 versions were 455/365 hp equipped (No W30’s) though a couple of the 442’s were tweaked for actual pace duties.

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