1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe

 “America’s favorite Cutlass for flair, value and price”

For 1981, the exterior of Oldsmobile’s Cutlass Supreme was substantially revised, with a lowered front, a slightly higher decklid, and quad headlamps. With the new styling, aerodynamic drag dropped by about 15%.

The standard engine remained the 110 bhp 3.8 liter/231 ci V6 with a Rochester M2ME two-barrel carburetor. The optional engines, a 4.3 liter/261 ci V8 with a Rochester M2MC two-barrel carburetor ($50) and a 5.7 liter/350 ci diesel V8 ($695!), both had (this makes no sense) five less horsepower than the V6. A three-speed automatic transmission was the only transmission available. The Cutlass Supreme was stylish, but slow—0-60 came in a little under 15 seconds. Mileage with the V6 was 21 city/30 highway by the standards of the day (17/22 by today’s standards); with an 18.1-gallon fuel tank, a Cutlass Supreme owner could expect a range of about 315 to 415 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard equipment on the $7,484 Cutlass Supreme (about $22,200 in today’s dollars) included power steering, power front disc brakes, and P195/75R14 steel-belted radial-ply backwall tires (a size still available thanks to Hankook and Kumho) on 14-inch wheels. Inside, a deluxe steering wheel, an instrument panel with simulated butterfly walnut veneer, and a custom sport bench seat with a choice of vinyl or cloth were included.

Moving up to the $7,969 Brougham added snazzier exterior moldings, full wheel discs, and a divided cloth velour tufted bench seat.

Optional exterior and mechanical equipment included cast aluminum wheels, tungsten halogen high beam headlamps, engine block heater, limited slip differential, power antenna, dual sport mirrors, electric rear window defogger, and removable glass roof panels ($695). Inside, you could add either Four-Season or Tempmatic air conditioning, Tilt-Away steering wheel, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, bucket seats, digital or regular electric clock, and a series of radios.

Cutlass Supreme page from the 1981 mid-size Oldsmobile brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

The Cutlass Supreme sure was popular—Oldsmobile sold almost 189,000 of them in the 1981 model year along with another 94,000 Cutlass Supreme Brougham coupes for a total of over a quarter of a million. Olds made it well known that the Cutlass brand overall continued to be the most popular car in the United States.

A few folks are collecting these cars, but they still aren’t common at shows. You do see Cutlass Supremes for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors: as I update this blog entry in February 2019, there’s a Dark Claret Metallic 1980 Cutlass Supreme Brougham coupe with dark claret velour seats, a 5.0 liter/307 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor, and 162,000 miles listed on Hemming‘s for $13,900.

Make mine Dark Blue Metallic, please.

Updated February 2019.

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