Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Life with a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon

Driving back to 1976. 
My garage find Cutlass Salon really isn’t pure me. But, you know, it grows on a guy. Then, after I put some thought to it, I realized it really isn’t that far off. It’s from the seventies. That’s me. It has a V8 with a Rochester Quadrajet. That’s really me. It has 15-inch Oldsmobile SS3 Rally Wheels. That’s totally me. The more things I list, the more Ron Kidd materializes in this blue Colonnade Coupe. 

  Hang on a minute! It’s not even the car I wanted. I wanted a '74 Grand Prix SJ or a '75 Grand Prix LJ. She just kind of came along and followed me home. Now she’s made a nest here. What can I do? I checked the short list and the long list must-own cars and almost found her there. I did find a seventies Colonnade style Cutlass. It was a 1977 Olds 442 in burgundy with silver trim. This car is almost that. Being a Salon model, it has a rear sway bar and very, very, comfy, reclining bucket seats. Checking the Salon option box also got you a way cool floor shifter, reminding you of 442 days gone by.

I call my Olds Nanny Dean

  I go to work stupid early. Probably the coldest part of the entire clock, and I am out there asking a 350 Olds engine to come to life. I must say, Nanny Dean (her name) is not happy about this. She is a little grouchy and lethargic. With about an 1/8-of-a-mile of right foot persuasion, she comes completely to life and idles and shifts like it’s an eighty degree day outside. The non-rim style, fat, padded steering wheel feels super good in my hands, and did I mention how incredibly great those seats feel?
Living with a 36-year-old car 
  So, I decided to see what it would be like to live day-to-day with a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon. It would be my primary car for a week. "Why not?," I thought. Jody had a 1976 Buick Century that was an everyday car until it nearly met its demise under a city bus. Anthony has a fabulous 1979 Grand Prix that has taken him everywhere lately. Was Nanny Dean up to the task? Could she handle around town errands as well as daily commuting? What about traveling? Dare I? Also, could I handle it? One week without the spacious room of my SUV or my wagon? Can a trunk replace cavernous cubic feet of hauling capability? What about a car trip? That traveling thing I mentioned? Ron Kidd is a brave man.

Ron pulled over for a photo of his 1976 Cutlass Salon on the way to a car show in Lineville, Alabama. 

More than a handful
  Nanny Dean has no cup holder. She’s a Salon, not a saloon. This does seem to get in the way. I have learned to balance a fast food drink on the console. Speaking of that, there is not one, but three inside storage compartments. Unfortunately, the center console door doesn’t want to stay down. It will slowly open itself and you will casually rest your hand in the midst of receipts, pens and Tic Tacs. 
  As far as luxury accents are concerned, the radio won’t pick up FM channels, but it has a nifty Sony car stereo that someone installed in the 1980’s. Anyone remember cassette tapes? Out from the depths of my rock and roll closet a massive pile of cassettes! I don’t mind some of the cool retro tunes I collected back in the day. I keep playing Dire Straits “Heavy Fuel” and Tom Petty with Stevie Nicks doing a live cover of “Needles and Pins.” It’s all I can listen to by force.
A paint job you can live with
  Maneuvering down the road with a large Dr. Pepper on the console can test my tight rope-like, balancing abilities, but I don’t mind sitting the drink on the paint while I fumble to unload. This kind of outrageous activity is unheard of on my Trans Am. I don’t even let bugs hit that car. However, with this one, I can lean against it all I want. You can too, because the paint is terrible. It’s all one color with the remnants of the factory pin stripes

Bright ideas
  So here is what I got and what I don’t got... I got a trunk light. It works great! No losing anything in there. I had a deer get caught in that light once. I don’t have a dome light. I don’t need one. I have what GM called "opera lights" in the rear interior panels and lights under both sides of the dash. I even have a map light on the dash. They thought of all kinds of things in 1976! As rough as this beater’s interior is, with a rip cut here and a split place there, I still don’t eat in it. That’s weird, I know.

Roll up windows
  Nanny Dean doesn't have power windows. I kind of like that. When the Cutlass got caught outside in the rain, I raised the window without having to apply the ignition key. But then again, if you have power windows, you can roll them both up at the same time. So I guess that’s a wash.

Peppy but watch your whoa!
  I feel somewhat extra cool when I go to put that 442-style, muscle car-era, floor shifter into gear. Nanny Dean moves with authority and shifts accordingly. I have a witness that she smacked second gear with a firm chirping of the rear tires. You can really feel it respond by the seat of your pants when I give it just a little more pedal than necessary. I don’t know what to compare it to? It just feels like a much more powerful car under all circumstances I have encountered. I always seem to run out of road before I run out of motor or gearing. When the inevitable happened and I had to get down on the brakes, she stopped like a much lighter car with the absence of any pulling to either side. 
  I would feel like I withheld information on you if I didn’t mention the cornering pleasure the rear sway bar offers. I am not saying it’s ready for the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee, but it really surpasses my expectations of a mid seventies mid size sedan.

Nanny Dean, a 1976 Olds Cutlass, rolls on white walls to an out-of-town car show. Her 350-V8 purrs like a kitten.

Road tripping in the Cutlass
  We hit the road to an out-of-town car show. Not incredibly far, only about two hours each way. I filled the trunk with a cooler and two lawn chairs as well as the usual tool kit. Yes, a tool kit, because I am brave, but not stupid. Interstate, state highways and back county roads and even sitting in traffic, Nanny Dean performed like a champ. I got great gas mileage, too. I am not going say just how much, only because I don’t know. I am still cruising on that same tank of gas. She may not be a Prius, but I will compare it to most SUVs out there. It’s really not bad. The whole trip went swimmingly, without a hiccup and was really comfortable.

Living happy '76 style
  So Life with a '76 Cutlass Salon? It was great! Despite the rather bland color, it’s spicy and fun. I get a lot of compliments and stories on similar cars that were a part of people’s lives. At Junkyard Life, we really dig stories like that. Road trip? Done. Cold mornings? No problem. Gas mileage? Decent, if not downright good. Errands? Fun. Sitting still in drive-thrus and boring traffic congestion? It doesn’t mind a bit. Life with a '76 Cutlass is not bad. I would even go as far as saying life is really good.

— Ron Kidd,

Know of a junkyard we need to visit or want to send us photos and info about a car or junkyard?  Send emails to Ron at or Jody at


Gary said...

You never see these cars on the road anymore! Some people consider American cars built after 1972 as not worthy to put money into, but kudos to you for getting this one back on the road Ron. Looks very clean for a survivor, I'd drive it.

Anonymous said...

Nice car Ron, I know what you mean about the life with a '76 Olds Cutlass Salon. I have one with the original t-tops and a powerful 455 cu in engine. Even with all that power, it still rides like an the way have you gone on 73-77 Olds Cutlass Registry for your car?


Anonymous said...

Had one of these. 30k original in 1982. Georgeus car but everything broke but the engine. I do have to admit it was a great car to drive when it was running and very quick for a 76 smogged car. Ice cold air too. I kind of want another one. Go figure...

Katie said...

Memories is it for sale