“America’s favorite Cutlass for flair, value and price”
For 1981, the exterior of Oldsmobile’s Cutlass Supreme coupe 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 with any engine. Early eighties Cutlass Supremes were 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 $23,600 in today’s dollars) included power steering, power front disc brakes, and P195/75R14 steel-belted radial-ply blackwall 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.
Options & Production Numbers
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.
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.
The View From 2021
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. When I updated this blog entry in May 2021, there was a Sandstone Beige 1981 Cutlass Supreme coupe with sandstone vinyl seats, a 3.8 liter/231 ci V6 with a two-barrel carburetor, and 27,000 miles listed on Hemming‘s for $19,500.
Make mine Dark Blue Metallic, please.
Other rear-wheel-drive G-platform (designated A-platform before 1982) cars I have written about include the 1984 Buick Regal Grand National coupe, the 1983 Chevrolet Malibu sedan, the 1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Sport Coupe, the 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe, the 1980 Pontiac Grand Am coupe, and the 1987 Pontiac Grand Prix coupe.
Updated May 2021.