Home Car Stories One Family 1969 OLDSMOBILE Cutlass S- Ron Ciraulo
1969 OLDSMOBILE Cutlass S- Ron Ciraulo PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Monday, 27 December 2010 21:39

1969 OLDSMOBILE Cutlass S- Ron Ciraulo

oneownercollectorcar.com

Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

69 cutlass s nameplate

I once test drove a bronze 1972 Olds Cutlass Supreme being sold for $500.00. It was a one family car recently retired from service and quite rusty. As I drove into the upscale neighborhood where it was advertised I got a sense of the kind of family that owned a Cutlass back in the day. Coupled with the myriad option list the owner had rattled off over the phone it was obvious that in 1972 this had been a top line car.

The intermediate Cutlass was not a full-size car, but it was outfitted like one. It had a vinyl top, power windows, power seats, power door locks, power steering and brakes, A/C, AM/FM stereo, clock, cruise control, and remote driver's mirror. It rode well with a smooth ‘Rocket 350’, but the brakes were shot. The owner fondly recounted many family road trips the car had taken. In the end, he didn’t want to sell the car.

69-cutlass-s-ron-side-view

I mentioned the car to a group of people, and almost all of their families had owned a Cutlass at some point. This isn’t so surprising. At one time the Cutlass was one of the most popular American cars made. This is easy to understand when behind the wheel. I felt secure and solid in that 1972 Cutlass Supreme. Every other intermediate Cutlass I have owned or driven also imparted that feeling to me. Not too big, but with ample room: full of extra touches, tasteful style.

The looks had symmetry with the full size Olds lineup. The styling progression over the years was gradual enough to impart a sense of continuity with previous Oldsmobiles. The resulting impression is refined, restrained and enduring.

Cutlass created a trend for family cars in the 1970s and became the best selling domestic American car at one point. Funnily, for a car that became a sales leader in the late 1960s and most of the 1970s the Cutlass was not a trendsetter, but originally created to cash in on a trend. The Cutlass was first introduced as a late addition to the ranks of the American compact car category.

On Oct 6, 1960 Oldsmobile joined other US manufacturers in response against the proliferation of foreign compact cars by introducing the 1961 F-85 unibody compact based on the Corvair platform. The Corvair body shell was also shared with the other ‘A body’ GM cars: Pontiac’s Tempest and Buick’s Special. Each division experimented with these cars, offering various innovations such as rear engines, transaxles, aluminum engines, lockup second gear automatics and turbo charging. The Cutlass appeared as an option on the F85 Deluxe midway through the season in May, 1961. It offered a little more pizzazz: instead of the 155 HP version of the 215 it had 185 HP, two doors and buckets.

In 1964 the economy was strong enough that most people could afford upscale cars. The ‘A bodies’ were enlarged using body on frame construction. Chevrolet introduced the Chevelle on this new platform. Experimentation was over: ‘A bodies’ used a conventional drive train. This ‘Intermediate’ line sold to people who wanted the room, ride and style, but not the expense and parking difficulty of the full size cars. In fact these new 'intermediates' were almost exactly the same size as the 1955 full size Chevrolets. The Cutlass had proved popular enough to warrant its own series as an upscale F85. Many Cutlass buyers chose the newly developed Olds V8 330.

The Cutlass became the basis for the Olds muscle car version of the GTO called the 442 which eventually earned its own model line. Cutlass also spawned other spin-offs like the Vista Cruiser, Cutlass Supreme and the ahead of its time road trip special Turnpike Cruiser. There are articles about these cars in the GAS LOGS and ALLEY FINDS section of this website.

69-cutlass-s-dash

In 1968 the ‘A bodies’ were redesigned to look more like ‘personal cars’ using long hood/ short deck proportions. The curvier new ‘A bodies’ had two wheelbases, a 112” wheelbase for two door models and 116” on four doors. Of all the divisions, the Cutlass had the most obvious fastback. Cutlass wasn’t as extreme as the Marlin or Barracuda but for a family type car it was pretty radical. The new for 1968 Olds 350 replaced the 330 which had been the Cutlass engine since 1964.

1968 was also the introductory year for the Cutlass S, which lasted as a model for several years. The ‘S’ meant that it was a 2 door, while the plain Cutlass name now designated the 4 door. The ‘S’ was separate from and not to be confused w the Supreme nameplate.

Many people mistakenly believed that the Cutlass S denoted Cutlass Supreme but they are different models. The Cutlass S is a lower end version of the Cutlass than the Supreme. An early ad for the 1968 Olds 442, Cutlass S and Toronado on page 58-9 of HOT ROD Oct 1967 situates the 'S' as a sort of poor man's 442. Both 442 and 'S' were available as 2 door Holiday Coupe, Sports Coupe and Convertible. The 'S' came with the low compression 2 barrel 350 (250 HP) which could be substituted at no cost for the inline 250 c.i. 6 cylinder engine.

In contrast to the 'S' the Supreme was equipped with a plusher interior and a 4 barrel high compression 350 (310 HP) as standard equipment. The 1968 torpedo shaped intermediates sold well despite price jumps due to added safety and emissions equipment.

/69-cutlass-s front

US auto production in 1969 was 8.4 million cars and 25% of these ‘69s were intermediates- the same amount sold as the full size family car. The intermediate was the future, and the Cutlass was the quintessential intermediate. For 1969 The Cutlass S was visually the same, but incorporated some new details like side impact beams, head rests and antitheft ignition interlock.

This is where Mary Ciraulo enters the picture.

At the end of January, 1969 the Fremont, California GM plant produced this Cutlass S Holiday Coupe and shipped it to the Van Ness Oldsmobile car dealership at 1700 Van Ness Ave, a major north/ south road in San Francisco. Van Ness Avenue's car dealer row traces back to the elaborate buildings constructed to showcase cars back in the 1920s. To see as story about Van Ness Olds see CALIFORNIA/ SAN FRANCISCO in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website.

Mary T Ciraulo was a spinster living on 3268 Folsom St in downtown San Francisco across from the Immaculate Conception Church, which she attended frequently. Mary needed a new car to get to and from work at The Emporium Billing Department. On Feb 6, 1969 she bought this Cutlass S from nearby Van Ness Olds.

69 cutlass s paperwork

The 350 4 barrel automatic Cutlass S has minimal options, just some trim and a radio. Commonly seen in California cars, the Cutlass S doesn't have or need a rear defroster. Surprisingly for a California car the Cutlass S is not only a non A/C car, but it combines this with a black interior, which absorbs heat. The heat is held at bay slightly with tinted glass. The blue two door is very stylish, disguising its utilitarian attributes quite well. The Cutlass S has ample interior and trunk space, yet shares the same silhouette and ‘feel’ as the impractical personal cars like the Firebird or Mustang.

Mary later moved to 244 University in the Berkeley area. This move likely saved the car from having rust issues. A friend of mine who grew up in San Francisco downtown recalled that the extent of car rust followed a predictable scale according to the distance the owner lived from the seashore. The amount of rust differed in as little as a hundred feet distance towards that salt air coming off the ocean.

Unfortunately the drive train didn’t fare as well. Both engine and transmission were professionally rebuilt while Mary owned the car, despite mileage below 140,000 miles. With today’s advanced oils and fuel injection keeping gasoline out of the crankcase it’s hard to fathom an engine expiring in 100,000 miles. It was common in the 1960s and 1970s for engines to wear out in as little as 75,000 miles, especially if a lot of stop and go driving was done. An engine that passed the 100,000 mark was doing extraordinarily well.

By the time Mary settled in Berkeley she needed dialysis thrice weekly. Her cousin drove her faithfully to her appointments using the Cutlass S. In 1988 Mary died and willed the one owner car to her cousin. The Cutlass S moved away with him, but he didn't have much opportunity to enjoy the car. Sadly, he died at only 38 years of age, three years after inheriting the Cutlass S.

The car was kept in the family when Mary’s nephew, Ron Ciraulo inherited it in 1991 showing 140,000 original miles. The unrestored original car was still solid with sun worn paint. Ron had the car repainted and color matched as best as possible, given how faded the paint was. Despite California sun and a black interior the dash and door panels held up nicely and still look fresh. The driver’s seat is original with a rip that was repaired. The headliner, carpet and rear package tray were replaced. The engine and transmission were rebuilt years previously in accordance with stock specs. The odometer reads 93,000 miles, which translates to 193,000 miles. Everything else is original except for the change to dual exhaust with Flowmasters and of course mag wheels. Ron saved the original steel rims.

69-cutlass-s-ron-bumper

Ron drives the ‘S’ a few times a month in rotation with his other cars. Ron has another car profiled in the ONE FAMILY section: a 1965 El Camino that also came to him via inheritance. Ron also owns the 1964 Chevrolet Impala profiled in the ONE OWNER section of this website. Everytime Ron takes his Cutlass S out for a spin he is reminded of Mary.

A recent sad update to this story: I'm sorry to report that Ron died September 29, 2012. Ron was very gregarious with a terrific personality and will be missed by his family and anyone who had the pleasure to meet him. Ron's cars will remain in the family. Much the way that Ron was reminded of Mary when he took his Cutlass S for a spin, his son Mike will enjoy fond memories of Ron whenever he takes the Cutlass S out for a cruise.

oocc-dragon-end

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 March 2016 19:05 )