Home » Mid-Week Malaise: 1977 Ford Granada vs 1978 Olds Cutlass

Mid-Week Malaise: 1977 Ford Granada vs 1978 Olds Cutlass

Sbsd 10 18 2023
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Good morning, Autopians! On today’s Shitbox Showdown, we’re checking out a couple of cars from a low point in the US automotive industry. Yes, they’re objectively “bad,” but I contest that they are not without their charms, and at these prices, worth consideration as a fun side project.

And speaking of projects, I suppose we should see the final score from yesterday’s faded gray coupes.

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I am completely unsurprised. And yes, the Conquest is probably the better car, but I have to go with the EXP. And I know exactly what paint job I’d give it: the box-art from MPC’s model kit version.

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The thing is, I didn’t grow up around Japanese cars. I lived in a Midwestern town straight out of a John Mellencamp song, with a dash of Bruce Springsteen thrown in for good measure, and nobody drove Japanese cars. My dad’s Volkswagens and Fiats and British sports cars made him an outsider, and were only acceptable because they shared the driveway with a string of Dodge sedans. Most of our neighbors had either Pontiacs or Mercurys, because they were the two dealerships in town, or Fords or Chevys from the next town over. A Mitsubishi Starion was something that only existed in magazines. But a Ford EXP? One of my Cub Scout den mothers drove one. So did the cute girl who worked at the Dari-Hut.

You don’t get to choose your nostalgia; it forms in its own patterns, like stalactites and stalagmites in a cave. We are the sum total of our experiences, and for better or worse, my early automotive experiences were mostly with American cars, right smack-dab in the middle of the malaise era. And so, once in a while, I seek cars like these out, not because they are good, but because they remind me of home. White Castle hamburgers are objectively terrible, but those who grew up with them will cross state lines to get them, just for the nostalgia. Think of these cars as soft greasy sliders in cardboard sleeves, comfort food for your driveway, nourishment for your inner child.

Or something like that. Look, I just like them, all right? Let people enjoy things. Jeez.

1977 Ford Granada – $1,950

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Engine/drivetrain: 302 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD

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Location: Fontana, CA

Odometer reading: 169,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but hasn’t been registered in 10 years

This is, for all intents and purposes, a Mercedes-Benz. Or so Ford’s marketing department would have you believe. This jumped-up Maverick was a pretty nice car by 1970s Ford standards, but a fine German luxury car it was not. If Ford had compared the Granada to cars downmarket, they would have had a case; it was nicer than a Chevy Nova or a Dodge Dart – not that that was saying much.

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This Granada coupe looks like a pretty fancy model, with velour bucket seats, air conditioning, and a 302 cubic inch V8 instead of an inline-six. The V8 in question only put out 134 horsepower, so don’t expect tire-shredding performance, though you might be able to get a good solid chirp if you really romp on it. In these days before overdrive automatics, automakers lowered highway engine speeds by using absurdly tall axle ratios, in this case 2.47:1, which did nothing for acceleration. Believe me, my friends and I tried all manner of ill-advised tricks to “do burnouts” in cars like these, to absolutely no avail.

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This one runs all right, it sounds like, after having been reawakened from a long sleep. The fuel system was cleaned out, the brakes have been gone through, and the exhaust has been replaced. The air conditioning compressor is shot, but other than that everything works. The seller says the carburetor needs work or replacement, but I suspect a good old “Italian tuneup” might do it a world of good.

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But before you can do that, you’ll have to straighten out some paperwork. The seller has lost the title to this car, or perhaps never had it, so it comes only with a bill of sale and the old owner’s name and address. Whether that’s enough for the California DMV, I don’t know. I do know that it will also need to pass a smog test before it can be registered if it stays in California.

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1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon – $3,400

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Engine/drivetrain: 305 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Vacaville, CA

Odometer reading: 98,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

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The boxy, newly-downsized 1978 GM A-bodies (later renamed G-bodies) were literally the shape of things to come: within a few years, nearly all American cars would look pretty much like them. Following in its predecessor’s footsteps, this generation of Oldsmobile Cutlass was the best-selling car in the country for four years, finally being dethroned in 1982 by the Ford Escort. And I do remember these things being absolutely everywhere–some friends of ours even had his-and-hers Cutlass Supreme coupes in dark gray and sky blue.

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This, however, is no Cutlass Supreme – it’s a Cutlass Salon, the two-door fastback model that only lasted a couple of years. It looks like it should be a hatchback, but it isn’t; it has a normal trunk lid. This bodystyle may not have sold as well as the more formal coupe, but it is vastly superior in my eyes, because it is the basis for one of my favorite Hot Wheels, the “Flat-Out 442”:

Flat Out 442

If only the real car performed as well as this one did in my imagination. This Cutlass is V8-powered, at least, but it’s a mild-mannered Chevy 305 small-block. It has had quite a bit of recent work, but the seller says it has developed a tick on the left cylinder bank. They think it may need a new cam and lifters, but I used to have a Nova with this same engine, that made the same noise, and I know exactly what it is– the mechanical fuel pump. The pump is driven by an eccentric lobe on the camshaft, which moves a pushrod that operates the pump. A spring in the pump holds tension on the pushrod, and when that spring gets weak or fails, a gap opens up between the cam and the pushrod, and you get a tick. A new pump is fifteen bucks from RockAuto, and takes about half an hour to install.

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Cosmetically, this Cutlass looks pretty damn good for its age. The paint is dull, but the body looks straight as an arrow, and the interior is clean, based on the one photo we get. And I love the color combination; back when this car was built, you could order pretty much any color exterior with any color interior. Hence, sky blue with burgundy. I think it works.

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The seller says this car was a daily driver recently, and it doesn’t sound far off from being one again, if you so choose. But I think I’d save it for a nice weekend cruiser, though I’d maybe warm up the small-block a bit, and give it an exhaust that makes just a bit more noise. It’ll never be fast, unless you do something drastic like an engine swap, but fast is overrated.

Today’s cars are light-years ahead of these old relics in every way, of course. Hell, cars ten years newer than these were a huge improvement. But these cars speak to me. Maybe one of them speaks to you, too.

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers, and me, for the Hot Wheels photo)

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Sklooner
Sklooner
8 months ago

I had a 69 Cutlass, called the Cuteass, this one is not, a buddy’s brother in high school had the regular model upholstered entirely in Crown Royal bags

Brooks Fancher
Brooks Fancher
8 months ago

My grandmother had t that same year Granada in Baby Blue. I will pass on it and take the Cutlass.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
8 months ago

That Cutlass steering wheel cover takes me back to my parents’ 197something Plymouth Horizon. Three shades of brown! (Dark brown, tan, rust)

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
8 months ago

The main difference between a w116 and a contemporary Granada is that the w116 still runs fine, whereas the Granada became rebar and soda cans between Reagan and GHW.

Timothy Swanson
Timothy Swanson
8 months ago

Even though I think the fastback is more butt ugly than every style except the bustleback, I’m going Olds. I’ve had a 305, and it’s fine, even though slow. Also, interesting interior color.

Cal67
Cal67
8 months ago

You can do burnouts in a Granada. A ’79 was my first car – with a 200 six, C4 auto. Reverse gear, to drive at the right throttle position would give you a pathetic short burnout. I then pulled the 200 and installed a ’71 302 – now that would do burnouts easily. Used to go through a set of rear all-seasons each winter through spring, and a set of BFG Radial T/A’s each summer. 275/60-15’s on the rear and even with the factory high rear end ratio it would roast them at will.

Oldskool
Oldskool
8 months ago

I also grew up in a heavy American car area. Mainly because to find a foreign dealer was hours away. Parts were more expensive and local mechanics didn’t know how to work on them.

I’m already primarily a GM fan of the malaise era. But my god, the Cutlass looks light years ahead of the Granada. The Granada is in excellent shape but by design it looks junkyard bound right off the lot. Shaped like a turd boat, colored like bodily secretions inside and out. The Cutlass has sharp clean lines and colors and is also in excellent shape. As a child of the 80s this is a real eye catcher. With the huge G body following, I could keep it going, or drop any number of engines into it like a Lego set. Cutlass FTW!

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
8 months ago

Cutlass!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago

I dare you waste my time with these cars.

Luxobarge
Luxobarge
8 months ago

Gimme that gutless Cutlass. Who cares about driving it–I’ll take naps in the back seat like I’m a 4 year old in grandma’s car again.

Doug
Doug
8 months ago

I had as a Winter rat a Granada, one of what I assume was very few with 3 on the tree. Got it real cheap because the clutch was shot and I replaced it in the driveway. Man, I was ambitious when I was young. It was a gutless turd of a car but it did survive a couple snowy seasons, thereby saving my line of slightly less crappy cars from a salty rusty death. Thanks for the memory.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
8 months ago

Ooh, I have always found the body style of the Olds Cutlass Salon to be weirdly attractive. Everything looks in pretty good shape on it and it would be a great starting point for a hilarious restomod sleeper.

Chewcudda
Chewcudda
8 months ago

I would contact the DMV asking about the process to register a car that is missing the title. If I didn’t like their answer, I would not buy either of these.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
8 months ago
Reply to  Chewcudda

It’s a mess.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
8 months ago

Was leaning towards the Olds already, just because I prefer GM in most contexts, but with the title status being a nightmare I ran far far from the Granada Grenade.

Clear_prop
Clear_prop
8 months ago

I was all ready to choose Granada for nostalgia factor since my grandparents had one, no title and the Cutlass being interesting adjacent tipped the balance.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
8 months ago

A friend of mine drove one of the three US Granadas in the city when I was a teen in the mid ’90s. An awesome piece of turd. We had lots of fun in it, though.
The Olds is functionally boring as fuck, but at least looks slightly cooler. And no rust, too.
Cutlass it is, then.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
8 months ago

Definitely in the minority here, but I’ll take the Grand-dada (and yes, Grandpa had a misty blue 4-door Granada). But Dad had a pretty nice 77 Monarch coupe with the 351W and all the options except a sunroof (he never trusted them not to leak, which in the 70’s was a wise choice). I eventually got handed the Monarch in high school and it was a perfectly cromulent car for the time, a lot nicer than, and just as (un)reliable as, most of my friends cars.

In any case, everybody and their mother knows how to get power from a Ford 302. And since the chassis is from the ancient 65 Falcon, upgrade 1st gen Mustang suspension parts should bolt right in (I think?).

Cal67
Cal67
8 months ago

Yes, any early Mustang suspension mods would work in the Granada. Granadas were actually available with a 9″ rear with disc brakes for a year or two, and it would bolt into a late 60’s Mustang with about a 1-1/2″ wider track. Oval track racers also grabbed every one they could find with that rear end so they are virtually impossible to find now.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
8 months ago

There are….things….going on with that Salon. First one I spotted was the instrument cluster. I don’t remember “rally gauges” on these cars until farther along – a ’78 would have had the single sweep speedo, a couple idiot lights, and nothing else. The cassette/radio is also an upgrade from ’78. My guess is that both of these things came out of a junkyard Monte or Supreme from the mid/late 80’s.

Delta 88
Delta 88
8 months ago
Reply to  Pneumatic Tool

Good eye in that not being the correct cluster(another give away is that it indicates Overdrive, which a 78 wouldn’t have yet), but a Monte or Supreme from the mid/late 80’s with proper gauges would have the smaller ones (fuel, temp, etc) positioned between the speedo and the tach, not to the right

MikuhlBrian
MikuhlBrian
8 months ago
Reply to  Pneumatic Tool

Actually, the 1978 had an optional Gauge Cluster that is shown.

https://xr793.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/1978-Oldsmobile-Midsize.pdf

Scroll to the bottom, page 27 (brochure page, not pdf page)… item labeled 10 in the options available.
Also shown

  • prominently on brochure page 9 for the Cutlass Calais
  • prominently on brochure page 13 for the Cutlass Salon Brougham
  • just barely visible on brochure page 17 for the Cutlass 442, interior shot you can see the round dials in the dash
  • just barely visible on brochure page 17 for the Cutlass Cruiser, interior shot you can see the round dials in the dash
Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
8 months ago
Reply to  MikuhlBrian

Well hot damn, you got me! I honestly don’t remember seeing these in the early models. I also don’t ever remember seeing ANY of these with a sunroof…like EVER, but apparently that was a thing too. Double thanks for the link to that brochure for the side profile shot of that Supreme on page 6 – it’s pretty close to what mine looked like in a lot of ways (albeit the grille and lights were different, but you can’t see that from the shot). Yeah, they didn’t have a ton of power, but these were solid, reliable and very comfortable cars – and I always liked the way it looked (esp with those wheels/rings!). I kept mine for a while for those very reasons.

MikuhlBrian
MikuhlBrian
8 months ago
Reply to  Pneumatic Tool

Oldsmobile Rallye wheels, especially in body color, are some of the best factory wheels ever made (IMHO). They look so good with the chrome trim rins and a good set of white letter tires. When i was a kid, a guy down the street had an 85 G-body Cutlass. White, Ttops, white rallye wheels with white letter tires and a custom exhaust. To 11 year old me, that thing was amazing.

Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
8 months ago

Make the hotwheel IRL with the Cutlass! Not a fan of the Grampada (yes, i meant to spell it that way).

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