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Car of the Week: 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass S

A Cutlass S purchased as a teenager remains fresh as ever. Forty-five years later this low mileage Olds is still a head turner.
Car of the Week 2020
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For a 17-year-old high school kid, Mike Jaecks landed himself a pretty darn nice car back in 1977. So nice, in fact, that he decided to keep the car virtually unchanged and in like-new condition.

Permanently.

The handsome 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass S that the young Schofield, Wis., resident took home as a teen is the proverbial “time capsule” car 45 years later. With only 14,000 miles on the odometer, you’d swear the Olds still has that new car smell inside.

It’s not exactly the way Jaecks expected things to play out for the beautiful two-door landau-style coupe.

“I had a ’73 Charger and loved that car, but back then I was always having to do something on it, keep working on it,” he recalls. “So I graduated from high school … and I liked these cars when they came out, and I wanted something that didn’t have a lot of issues with it and was kind of new. Actually, my dad found this car in a little dealership here in Wausau, and that’s how I got it. I was 17."

“It was $5,300. I had my trade-in, but I still had to take a loan out [laughs].”

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At that point, Jaecks did what any other red-blooded American male teenager would do — he cruised around and enjoyed his hot new Oldsmobile. For a little while, anyway.

“I drove it like a daily car. I drove it a lot and washed it a lot — as much as I could. But I actually took it deer hunting!,” Jaecks laughed. “The next year my dad was looking at it and said, ‘You know, you shouldn’t drive that a lot anymore. Just drive it in the summer.’ So I went and got an old pickup truck and I’ve had them ever since. They drive better as a daily vehicle anyway, so that’s what I’ve always had. And we put [the Cutlass S] away and we just drove it in the summer."

“And then later when I got onto a bowling league I got on a team with these guys who were from All-Car, which used to be a parts place here in town. And they started doing car shows, and they said, ‘You should take it to a car show! And that’s how I got hooked on [car shows]. That’s what I’ve used it for ever since. This is my hobby all summer. I get in hot water with my wife because it burns up a lot of weekends!”

MID-SIZE MARVEL

Oldsmobile’s long-running Cutlass moniker was first applied to the company’s lineup of new unibody small cars in 1961, but by 1964 the Cutlass had morphed into the body-on-frame midsize offering that became a stalwart of the brand. The ‘S’ name was born in 1968 and referred to the shorter two-door Cutlass coupe.

The all-new 1973 “Colonnade” A-body was introduced one year late due to a strike at General Motors. The Cutlass was the entry-level intermediate, which had two models: a coupe and a sedan. The Cutlass bodies had creases that ran rearward from the front fender opening all the way down the rear quarterpanel. The Cutlass S offered optional high-back "Strato" bucket seats similar to the sporty 442 model. All two-door models had fixed rear side windows that could not be rolled down. Standard equipment included: armrests, front disc brakes, cigarette lighter, dome light, interior hood release, moldings, windshield radio antenna, Deluxe steering wheel and chrome hubcaps. Upholstery was cloth or vinyl.

For 1977, the Cutlass S used the same quad rectangular headlamp design that had been introduced the year before. Different grilles were again used on S and Supreme/Salon models, accenting the sportiness of Cutlass S. The S model had a front end with vertical-bar twin-section wrapover grille style similar in concept to the 1976 version, with bold, bright dividers forming eight wide “holes” on each side. At the rear again were dual stacked taillamps. The removable hatch roof was optional again on coupes, redesigned with improved latching. Two tinted glass roof panels could be stored in the trunk.

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The Cutlass S could have the 4-4-2 appearance/handling option with special striping. All Cutlasses had a restyled instrument panel with the clock moved to the right side and a rectangular air outlet replaced the former round units on the passenger side.

The base engine was the 231-cubic inch (3.8-liter) V-6 rated at a pedestrian 105 hp. Three V-8s were on the options list. A 260-cid (4.3-liter) provided 110 hp; the 350 (5.7-liter) bumped the output to 170 hp; while the 403 (6.6-liter) V-8 squeezing out 185 hp.

A base model 1977 Cutlass S with the six-cylinder carried a window price of $4,350. It was the cheapest offering on a big Cutlass menu that also included two- and four-door Cutlass Supremes, Cutlass Supreme Cruiser and Vista Cruiser wagons, two- and four-door Cutlass Supreme Broughams, and the fancy Cutlass Salon. Model year production of the ‘S’ coupe was a healthy 70,155. Even more impressive was its sibling Cutlass Supreme coupe, which topped out at 242,874 assemblies.

After 16 years on the market, the Cutlass nameplate was still a strong performer in a crowded mid-sized field that included formidable competition from the Buick Riviera and Century Regal; Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Chevelle; Pontiac LeMans and Grand Prix; FoMoCo’s Cougar XR-7 and Thunderbird; Dodge’s Charger and others.

The Olds sports the 350 V-8

The Olds sports the 350 V-8

SHOWTIME EVERY SUMMER

Jaecks said he found two different flavors of Cutlass S at his local Olds dealer when he and his father started poking around in 1977. 

“This car was on the lot when we got it. There was another one just like this, but white with a red top and red inside,” he recalled. “I just liked this blue . My parents had a Plymouth kind of like this color years ago and I just liked it."

The Cutlass S coupe had the 350 V-8 under the hood, which appealed to Jaecks. It also had a split-folding bench seat, crank-down windows and a host of other goodies that were standard, or very common, on the S models. 

Jaecks added, "The Y76 package had that stainless steel band and the chrome mirrors and half-vinyl top. This one has the small windows like the 442s had. It had the big window but they filled that in and you actually can kind of see where it was inside. … It’s got the woodgrain dash, clock… It’s got a little garbage can that you can empty, which is kind of different. Tilt wheel. It didn’t have a ton of stuff on it. It had more stuff on the outside, I guess, than anything.”

One somewhat unusual add-on is the white mudflaps behind all four wheels. They were on the car when Jaecks first spotted it, and he has elected to go with originality.

 “The dealer put them on,” he noted. “They were on the car when I got it and I left them on.” Perhaps not surprisingly, he also has the original blue GM floormats. “Those you can’t find!” he laughs.

The only concession to non-originality that Jaecks has ever really made to the Cutlass S is the new paint job he decided to give the car a few years back. He had always kept the Olds clean and waxed, but he felt the original factory paint job didn’t do the car justice, especially at judged shows. 

“That was four or five years ago,” he says. “I had to get it painted. It would have been OK for a driver can, but not for a show car … Back then the primers didn’t like each other and you got little dots on them. It was just bad, you know?"

“The guy did a great job [on the repaint]. They had it all winter and took it all apart. The stripes were repainted and everything. It really turned out great.”

Since he’s only averaged about 300 miles a year on the car for the past 45 years — and most of those were in the first 12 months — it’s not likely Jaecks is going to be out doing a lot of cruising and joyriding in the Cutlass S anytime soon. But the car would certainly be a comfortable, enjoyable companion if he ever gets the urge.

“It’s not bad, it’s got the four-barrel in it. Back then they didn’t have a lot of hp, you know. But it doesn’t do too bad. It rides pretty nice,” he says. “[I worry] a lot, yeah. When I bring it out in the spring, I have to check it all over to make sure nothing has gone wrong with it. It gets me nervous, yeah.”

Jaecks admits that he the thrill of chasing some trophies and recognition for the car hasn’t worn off in more that four decades. All the pampering and extra effort to keep the Cutlass S in pristine condition has its rewards when the car get recognized and appreciated at car shows.

“You don’t see any this original, not at all,” he says. “And we’ve done really good at shows. In 2020, that was a Covid year so we didn’t show it, but in 2019 we had two Best of Shows! That was a shock!"

“We’ve had such good luck with and it’s been fun, so I really try to take care of it.”

Jaecks and his Cutlass S

Jaecks and his Cutlass S

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