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Thread: Details of a 5-speed 1978 Olds Cutlass Calais I used to own

  1. #1

    Details of a 5-speed 1978 Olds Cutlass Calais I used to own

    I decided to repost this as the beginning of a new thread as it may have been sort of "off tangent" providing my car's info in the post about the Oldsmobile marque's disappearance.

    I once owned an extremely rare 160,000 km '78 Cutlass Calais with an Olds 260 V8 motor and a 5-speed Opel sourced transmission. I bought it from a trailer park resident in the middle of nowhere. The price? $600. It had a lot of other strange features. It had a Sanyo am/fm cassette player with a 'record' button on it and a jack at the rear of the unit in which I could plug a microphone into. I later learned that I could dictate into it or hit the record button and save anything that was playing on the radio to a blank tape. I was astonished. The car also got amazingly good fuel economy for a car of that vintage. I was getting 32-34 mpg on the highway without any problems

    As you can see by the dash, my car was equipped with both idiot lights and a gauge package. When you used the radio, a green idiot light would illuminate that read "RADIO". On the left you can see the tach redlines at a measly 4,400 RPM. To other owners of a '78 Cutlass: were these cars equipped with both idiot lights and gauges?

    The radio picture shows the Sanyo AM/FM cassette player with the "RECORD" feature. Beneath the green light it reads "TAPE" and below the red light it reads "REC". The buttons "PAUSE" and "FFWD" are on the left and "RWD" and "REC" are on the right. You could plug a microphone in the back and record whatever you want to say or you can record whatever was playing on the radio and play it back. I used to get girls to give me their name, number and 30 seconds to tell me why I should call them. I recorded the information and saved it for later so I never had to write down numbers. I still have some of those tapes in storage today.

    Once, I used it to exonerate myself from a militant police officer by recording our entire conversation. The tape was enough evidence to prove my innocence and all charges were dropped. The officer wound up with a suspension. It was a life saver.

    I wish I kept this car.

  2. #2

    Re: Details of a 5-speed 1978 Olds Cutlass Calais I used to own

    When I did some more research on this car it turned out that it was one of 11 Cutlass Calais cars used in a Canadian Economy Test Program in 1977-1978. Apparently they used the radio to dictate and record results as they were driving.

    Here is an interior shot. As you can tell, the short throw European Opel based transmission looks very out of place with the rest of the car. The shift pattern is unusual in the fact that Reverse is located where 1st would be , and 1st is located where 2nd would be on North American cars. To get into reverse you had to move the shifter to the far left and forwards and not to the far right and rearwards. The first few weeks of ownership were confusing as I instinctively kept trying to put it in reverse and found myself in 5th gear, stalling out.

    The car was strangely optioned too. No power windows but power side view mirrors and a power trunk. No air conditioning but a power moonroof. Fuel economy was outstanding as mentioned before - somewhere in the region of 32-34 mpg. I had a couple of friends I went to school with who had a '78, '79 Cutlass and an '80 Cutlass, and my gas tank would always last 50% longer than theirs. They just couldn't understand it. Even the local Oldsmobile club spent an entire hour crawling over, under and around it. I had no problems letting them test drive it either. Every time I took it to GM for service the mechanics were all over it.

    These are the things that I miss that were associated with Oldsmobile. Technical innovation, experimentation, and the boldness and daring to 'play around'. It's a real shame.

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    The Land of The Edentulites

    Re: Details of a 5-speed 1978 Olds Cutlass Calais I used to own

    Really cool!

    I remember these cars like yesterday... though ours (US) usually came with small Chevy V-8 (305 CID) or the Olds 307. I think the Buick 3.8 V-6 was available at some point as well....

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2006

    Re: Details of a 5-speed 1978 Olds Cutlass Calais I used to own

    Interesting shift pattern - probably a Getrag box.

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