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Oldsmobile Cutlass Ends 38-Year Run

July 3, 1999

DETROIT (AP) _ The Oldsmobile Cutlass, the long-running nameplate that graced some of General Motors Corp.’s most popular cars in the 1970s and 1980s, was retired Friday as the last of the slow-selling 1999 sedans rolled off the assembly line.

Like GM itself, the Cutlass’ glory days were long behind it.

In 1976, the Cutlass was the top-selling car in the nation and made Oldsmobile one of the hottest car lines. Back in those days, Olds sold more than 1 million cars a year, half of which were Cutlasses. Last year, the division sold just 330,000 vehicles.

The last ’99 Cutlass that rolled off the assembly line in Oklahoma City was a compact midsize sedan that lacked the style and power of its ‘60s and ’70s predecessors. Introduced in 1997, the car was barely indistinguishable from the Chevrolet Malibu and lacked the advertising support of its better-selling twin.

``What GM is doing is looking to differentiate their various brands,″ said analyst Ron Pinelli of Autodata Corp. ``One way to do that is to remove the Cutlass, since it’s so similar to Chevy’s offering. It was just another one of GM’s cars that did nothing.″

Olds also has a new offering, the Alero, which is similarly sized and has many of the styling cues of larger models in the Oldsmobile lineup that the Cutlass lacked.

Pinelli said the move to kill the Cutlass made sense. ``I don’t see what Cutlass added to the showroom. ... GM has so much product out there, it just gets confusing.″

The Oklahoma City plant will increase production of the Malibu. GM’s other Malibu plant, in Wilmington, Del., was recently converted to produce Saturn’s new L-series midsize sedan.

Oldsmobile spokesman Vince Muniga said the last Cutlass, black with leather interior, would be shipped to the Oldsmobile Museum in Lansing, Mich., for permanent display. The underside of the hood and trunk lid were signed by about 5,000 plant employees.

Muniga said there were no plans to revive the Cutlass name on a later model, but ``you never say never in the automobile business.″

In its 38-year run, Oldsmobile sold more than 11.9 million Cutlasses. The name was used on sedans, coupes, convertibles and station wagons.

The Cutlass was introduced in 1961 as a compact coupe version of the F-85 and featured a 185-horsepower, 215-cubic-inch aluminum V8 engine. A muscle-car version in the mid-1960s was known as the ``442.″ In 1968, it was available with a scorching 455-cubic-inch V8 that produced 360 horsepower.

In the 1970s and ’80s, the Cutlass was most responsible for Olds’ explosive sales growth as other GM divisions withered under the onslaught of Japanese imports. Various versions of the Cutlass were produced in that era, including the Cutlass Supreme, Cutlass Calais and front-wheel-drive Cutlass Ciera.

One trade magazine editor at the time summed up the secret of Olds’ success: ``Whatever it is, call it a Cutlass and it will sell.″

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