Passing on the Fire: What it Means to own a Completely Original 1971 Olds’ Cutlass

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Sitting in my living-room this afternoon, typing away at some assignment or another, I was interrupted by a low, guttural growl. The sound caught my ear at first as if I had imagined it. “There’s no way he’s got it out yet,” I thought to myself, “it’s far too early.” The patter of feet from every corner of my house proved me otherwise. You see, ever since I can remember, my family, and the houses surrounding ours, has had a ritual in celebration of the antique. Every spring, as my neighbor fires up and rolls out his 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass, children and adults alike will put down what they’re doing, come out of their houses, and admire a lasting relic of classic Americana.

It’s awesome. And I mean that in the truest sense of the word. When else will you see those of all ages coming out to admire something that would be considered by so many to be obsolete? When else would you see the celebration of the classic, the celebration of tradition. In these times so dominated by self driving cars, electric vehicles, and the clutches of social media, it seems as if we have forgotten the importance of our roots. The importance of a time when we still had hope for the future beyond automation. A time when the future meant better lives, not easier ones.

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The 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sedan is a classic and a rarity. It came equipped with a 350 Rocket v8, a growly dual exhaust, and to this day is made of completely original parts. The owner confided that he could go out and swap in a fuel-injected modern v8. He could upgrade the suspension with modern components. He Could throw on lowering springs and some brand-new Konig or BBS rims. “It would probably even be easier!” He admits with a laugh. But why would he? It’s not like he doesn’t have the technical know-how or ability; that much is clear by the garage line wall-to wall with parts and tools. For him, however, it’s about keeping the car completely as it was. It’s about the hunt for parts, the hard work, and most of all, the nostalgia. Even surrounded by modern cars and houses, the car is a time-machine that can connect us all to a past that we might not even remember, or indeed, might not even have experienced. It’s truly original, using only 1971 Cutlass parts; “Right down to the hubcaps!”

Owned since the day it came off the lot by the same man, this 71 Cutlass is a meticulous example of how one should care for their car. Without a single spot of rust on it, despite its forty five years of life in Canada, this vehicle looks like it just rolled off the assembly line. How did the owner do it? Used motor oil. Before oil-treatments and rust-prevention regimens were common, the owner devised his own technique to keep the car mint throughout the harsh, salty Canadian winters. When he saw the five to ten year old cars already eaten by rust in the mid-seventies, he took it as a challenge. This car, he thought to himself, Will be a survivor. Cutting back used motor-oil and putting it through a weed-sprayer, every winter he would jack the car up, spray as much as he could of the undercarriage, and hope for the best. That was, of course, until everybody else caught on to what he’d figured out years before.

The driving experience of the car is one that cannot be paralleled. “Anybody can go out and buy a modern family sedan” he says, when asked about its comparison to modern cars “but compared to the Cutlass?” I couldn’t help but make the comparison to my daily-driver, a 2004 Chevy Malibu, with it’s asthmatic-at-best four cylinder engine, FWD drivetrain, and its automatic transmission that refuses to downshift unless you’ve stopped completely. I think to myself that maybe, in the push for modernity and progress, something was lost along the line. Something important and integral that added to the experience of driving and owning a vehicle. Something that made people make their own rust-treatment and freeze their butt off in their backyard spraying their car.

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The 1971 v8-equipped Cutlass Sedan is where we came from. It is the giant upon whose shoulders the modern car stands, and it is being sorely neglected. I am reminded of a quote by Composer Gustav Mahler; “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the passing on of the fire.” And every spring, when my neighbor fires up and rolls out his 1971 cutlass, and the neighborhood kids see it and admire it, he is passing on the fire, and passing on the passion for the grease, oil, metal and toil that comes with truly caring for a car.
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