Home » Projects You Can Drive Home: 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass vs 1971 Dodge Van

Projects You Can Drive Home: 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass vs 1971 Dodge Van

Sbsd 2 28 2024
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Welcome back! Today we’re looking at two older vehicles that you can actually, you know, drive. I mean, they’re not perfect, but not having to call a tow truck to bring home a new car is a wonderful thing. Yes, I know, most people take that for granted. They shouldn’t.

Yesterday, we looked at an overweight Mustang that hasn’t run in years and a big ol’ Lincoln with no brakes. There was just no stopping that Lincoln anyway; it ran away with the vote. I have to agree; I don’t dislike that era of Mustang, but for four grand it had better run and drive, and be rust-free. I think someone saw old car prices climbing and is trying to cash in.

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Besides, that old Lincoln is just so cool. Too cool for me to pull off, I think; you’d have to be a bass player in a rockabilly band or something to do that car justice. I’m pretty sure you could fit a stand-up bass in that back seat.

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All right. As promised, today we’re sticking with pre-smog-test cars, but both of today’s contestants run and drive. One needs a tiny bit of work before it’s ready for a long journey, but nothing a good backyard mechanic couldn’t handle in an afternoon. Let’s check them out.

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1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Holiday Sedan – $3,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 350 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Everett, WA

Odometer reading: 48,000 miles (probably rolled over)

Operational status: Runs and drives well

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FIrst, let me preface this by saying that this is another one I may get a few tiny details wrong on. Oldsmobile offered no fewer than seven body styles of Cutlass in 1970, with multiple trim levels for each one, for a total of fifteen different combinations. You had your base-model F85, your Cutlass S, your 4-4-2, which came with a 455 cubic inch “Rocket” V8, and your top-of-the-line Cutlass Supreme, which came with sour cream and diced tomatoes. Then you had your Sports Coupe, your Holiday Coupe, your Town Sedan, your Holiday Sedan – it just went on and on. This is definitely a Holiday Sedan, since it’s a four-door hardtop, and I think it’s an S model, not a Supreme like the ad says, based on reference photos I found. But it’s hard to find reference photos of four-door cars from this era online; most folks want the coupes.

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Like probably the vast majority of 1970 Cutlasses, this one is equipped with a 350 cubic inch version of Olds’s Rocket V8, with a two-barrel carb and an automatic transmission. It runs and drives well, according to the seller, but that’s all the information we get. I note that it does not have power brakes or air conditioning, more indications that it isn’t a Cutlass Supreme. It could even have drum brakes in front. That’s the scary part of cars from this era; they were really good at going, but stopping and turning were not their forte.

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The beige paint outside isn’t too exciting, but inside it’s a nice dark green. Once again we’re reminded that cars used to be available with a much wider array of color options, both inside and out. The driver’s seat is covered in a sheet, which doesn’t bode well for its condition, but new reproduction upholstery is available if it needs it.  And the rest of it looks all right.

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Outside, it’s the color of oatmeal, but it’s straight and more or less rust-free. All the trim pieces, even the wheel covers, are present and accounted for. Maybe that 48,000 miles is accurate after all.

1971 Dodge Sportsman 100 Van – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 225 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, three-speed manual, RWD

Location: Kennewick, WA

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Odometer reading: 190,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives great, but has recent damage to the oil pan

Vans are funny things. Some are unbelievably cool, some are creepy, some are tacky as hell, some are just noble workhorses. The cool factor can be hard to define, but I think this old Dodge has it. It’s an early Dodge B-series, which were good-looking vans anyway, and it’s the short-wheelbase model, which is always cooler than the longer variants. Those cop-car-style steelies and dog-dish hubcaps help a lot, too.

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Powering this little blue box is a legend: the 225 cubic inch Slant Six, backed by a three-on-the-tree manual. It was rebuilt at 100,000 miles, and purrs like a kitten, but the seller’s elderly father recently dented the oil pan on a rock. It has been parked since the incident, probably out of fear of a damaged oil pickup. It makes sense. As long as it’s making good oil pressure, everything is probably all right, but pulling the pan and replacing it, and inspecting the oil pickup and pump, isn’t a bad idea.

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Sportsman vans had windows, and usually rear seats, as opposed to Tradesman vans, which were panel vans with nothing in back. We only get the one photo of the interior, and I can see that the rear is trimmed out, but I don’t know if there are seats back there or not. The seller does say it would make an “awesome” camper van, so my guess is that if it had rear seats, it doesn’t now.

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Outside, it looks pretty straight and clean, but the primer on the roof is a little worrying, One photo in the ad is from when the seller bought the van seven years ago, and that photo doesn’t show the primer. I worry that there is rust on the roof, and it has been “repaired” somehow.

Finding a car this age that runs and drives is no mean feat, let alone finding two of them. But here they are, a hardtop sedan and a shorty van, both with legendary engines. Which one is more your speed?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Walmart Shoes
Walmart Shoes
7 days ago

4-door hard tops are under appreciated.

Forrest
Forrest
1 month ago

Seventies American sedans are a dime a dozen these days. For goodness sake they made 13 million B-bodies in just 4 years. Vans were often used a lot harder and they are a lot rarer these days then something like an Impala or Delta 88. For that reason, and my like of big, practical American utility vehicles, it’s Ram Van all the way.

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
1 month ago

1970’s malaise cars are sort of ironically cool enough as coupes or wagons. I don’t think it transfers to the sedans.

I’m a van man. Personally, I’d slam the everloving crap out of it, with some biiiig steel wheels. Keep the white color and the hubcaps.

Last edited 1 month ago by Hangover Grenade
Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
1 month ago

I’m one of those Oldsmobile guys. The Cutlass is almost definitely a Cutlass Supreme. If you enlarge the profile view of the car, you can see the “CS” emblem on the C-pillar. That emblem always meant Cutlass Supreme. The Cutlass S just had an S-emblem (my ’68 4-4-2 clone started life as a Cutlass S). The S was the “sport” Cutlass. It got you some of the 4-4-2’s superficial stuff without being a 4-4-2 (my Cutlass had the 4-4-2 hood and tail lights, but the 350 v8 with the 2-barrel and a 2-speed automatic). And yeah, as crazy as it sounds, you could still get a Supreme without a lot of the luxury goodies. The emblem at least made people think you were rich even if your crappy brakes didn’t back that up. (Sidebar, my Olds has 4-wheel non-power drums. They were extremely common on those cars and when maintained, they stop just fine. Just maintain both the brakes and your leg muscles).

No Kids, Just Bikes
No Kids, Just Bikes
1 month ago

Miata is always the answer, unless it is van. Do it in a van.

AlterId
AlterId
1 month ago

This is a hard choice to make. There’s a lot one could do with that Dodge, including AT&T colors on the outside and Ligne Roset Togo seating with automotive-grade upholstery (Tex?) in the back (or knockoffs, more likely, as I guess interior mods shouldn’t exceed the insurable value of the car) along with the aforementioned high-efficiency heat pump.

I think the Olds may actually be a Cutlass Supreme, as the rocker molding and upholstery stitching seems to match the Supreme Holiday Sedan side view and upholstery shown on this page of the full-line brochure rather than the side views of the standard Cutlass sedan (the “S” was only available as a two-door) shown here. My dad became an Oldsmobile man (and explained the nice-but-not-flashy Sloan ladder position to me when I asked why he didn’t get a Cadillac or something, although that probably would have been too pricey for him anyway) when he hit 30, and the four wagons and one sedan he bought for my mother to drive served them both well from 1972 to 1994, when he got a ’92 Town Car and gave my mother the keys on her birthday.

So, yeah. hard choice, but nostalgia and a lower-cost interior update (a replacement dash with vents and the associated AC mechanicals still costs less than authentic furniture, and I hate knockoffs) most likely will get my vote when I vote. No guarantees, though.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
1 month ago

An old four-door hardtop and a van with rust in the roof and pillars (look at that driver’s A-pillar!) will both leak water, but the Olds lets you have all that fresh air around you when the windows are down.

I dig the Dodge, and both are charming and solid for the money, but I went for the Cutlass.

JDE
JDE
1 month ago

That Cultass looks a lot like it is a pillarless 4 door, or a four door Hard top. that is actually kind of desirable for me, and I like the front ends of those oldsmobiles a lot. the Van is apparently in much better shape visually, but I can’t think of a thing I would want to do to that, but a low sleeper cruiser out of the More Door Olds is interesting. the Olds 350 Rocket was not weak, even in 2 barrel form. it would be interesting to see what hop up parts are still out there though.

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
1 month ago

Like many of these options, I just want to take them home and give them a thorough scrubbing. I think I have the skillset to greatly improve them cosmetically with an elbow grease detailing, like that Canadian guy on Youtube. I’ll take the van home and I’ll repair and paint some of the interior parts before moving to the exterior. I’m keeping that baby blue with the white steel wheels.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago

If you enlarge the rear photo you can see at least one rear seat. I like the van but prefer one thar hasn’t gotten to the moon and back. The Cutlass is wrong in so many ways but mostly like yesterday’s Mustang wrong price for a 4 door econo model.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 month ago

Oldsmobile for me as I simply like it better.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago

“not having to call a tow truck to bring home a new car”

I don’t think many people give that much thought these days. Maybe if you just bought an expensive European luxury car or a Land Rover. Most everything else should at least get you from the dealer to your home.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
1 month ago

The Cutlass was like the quiet guy who got the job done, and looked good doing it.

This Olds was always the right answer in The Old World.

Luxobarge
Luxobarge
1 month ago

I’d go for the Olds; the upgrades needed seem straightforward, and you can even install disc brakes on these things for better stopping power. A new paint job, some interior detailing, and you’d have a memorable classic.

The van, on the other hand, is from an era when driving a van was real work.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
1 month ago

If it was a 2-door Supreme, I’d be all over the Olds. As it isn’t, I’m in for the Dodge – and yeah, there’s something that’s strangely….happy(?)….about that thing.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
1 month ago
Reply to  Pneumatic Tool

My feelings exactly – this is the day of the Jan Brady cars.

The Colonnade coupes were so much better looking than the sedans. There was a time when the Olds Cutlass coupe was the car of choice for first car at my HS. They were cheap, comfortable, reliable and had a roomy back seat.

If this van had a 360 and a Torqueflite, it would be much more appealing.

Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green
1 month ago

Olds is a better vehicle. But I think the van is going to be more fun, and you can justify it as being a true “utility” vehicle…

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
1 month ago

Not at all surprised the Dodge is running away with the vote, but I just can’t do a van.

Russ Evenhuis
Russ Evenhuis
1 month ago

That might actually be my Dad’s old Oldsmobile.

Isis
Isis
1 month ago

That van is super charming. That car is. . . not. 🙁

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 month ago

Daijiban with 3 on the tree FTW it’s just more interesting

Six Inna Row Makes it Go
Six Inna Row Makes it Go
1 month ago

As I am dealing with roof rust on my 1970 F-100, the primer on that van scared me away, otherwise that would have been an easy choice. Besides, my truck already has the 300 inline-6 and three on the tree.
Plus, I love the lack of B-pillar on that Olds.

Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
1 month ago

The van has potential. The Olds is just an old car. In reality, I would pass on both, but since we are playing with internet money, give me the van.

Last edited 1 month ago by Farty McSprinkles
Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 month ago

Purely for nostalgic reasons, I went with the Cutlass, as my Mom had a 1970 Cutlass Coupe and it remains my favorite car she ever owned. ( And it was very reliable too!)

Mr. Frick
Mr. Frick
1 month ago

I like the van. However, having just sold a 66 Dodge Sportsman van with the same slant-six and three on the tree, it must have power steering. My 66 was smaller but it was a handful to steer and change gears. Also, parking lots are a work-out.

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