Rare 5-Speed: 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon

The fifth-generation Cutlass is right in the sweet spot for a current somewhat disparaging catch-phrase: malaise era. It’s not my favorite term, to say the least, but I understand that humans like those trendy things. I mean, we lived through catch-phrases like “cray-cray” and even worse, we lived through the Kardashians. Hopefully, this trend will also go away, eventually. This 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon has a surprise inside and it’s listed here on craigslist in the Highland Lakes area of Clearwater, Florida. The seller is asking $7,900 for this one.

It’s hard to tell a lot from the seller’s five photos, we don’t get any detail photos and none of the grille or of the passenger side at all. Maybe they thought that there was a five-photo-limit on craigslist ads… Ok, enough chastizing yet another seller for not providing enough photos, it’s Sunday, after all. What we do see of this car makes it look nice, really nice. The sloped-back Salon was made for the 1978 and 1978 model years and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one with a manual transmission.

There it is, admittedly not really looking like a factory setup. Or, at least in today’s world where almost every vehicle has a floor shifter – most of them being connected to automatic transmissions – integrated within some sort of plastic console. This 5-speed looks almost agricultural, not at all what I would have expected to see in a mid-level GM, an Oldsmobile. The seats, both front and rear, look like new and I don’t see any flaws in the two interior photos that they provided. I had a 2002 Saturn SL-1 sedan with a 5-speed for a few years and that 5-speed made that car fun to drive, even with just 100 hp under the hood.

Speaking of under the hood, here is Oldsmobile’s 260 cubic-inch V8 which would have had 110 hp, just 10 hp more than my 4-cylinder Saturn had. The 260 V8 has almost 100 more ft-lb of torque than my Saturn had, that may have kept me out of the trucker lane with my flashers on, going 40 mph up mountain passes. This Cutlass Salon won 1st prize in the 2018 Oldsmobile Show of America national meet, no small task. Have any of you owned a sedan with a floor-mounted manual shifter? Any thoughts on this 5-speed Olds Cutlass Salon sedan?

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Comments

  1. Andrew Franks

    Strange.

    Like 11
    • Big_Fun Member

      I believe the 260/5spd combo was called the ‘Miser’ package 1977-1979. So two generations of the body styles. Maybe 1980 also? I need help on this one…

      Like 10
      • JJS

        2 years only. I had a 1979 4 door sedan. 1980 model was square back.

        Like 2
    • RayT Member

      Indeed, but if it’s possible to wring any more suds out of an Olds 260, this might be the perfect car to try it on!

      Like 7
    • Chas358 Chasman358

      Unusual car with a V8 and 5 speed manual.

      Personally, I never cared for this body style, but it’s an interesting car.

      Like 7
      • John S

        Not only did the slope back detract from the appearance of the car, it also reduced the trunk capacity.

        Like 1
  2. Superdessucke

    That giant rubber boot with the long chrome shifter sticking through it with the classic round black 8 ball on the end of it let everybody know you really meant business. Of course, with the 260, you couldn’t actually do the business but at least everyone knew you meant to.

    Like 36
    • Mountainwoodie

      And gawd I HATE velour

      Like 1
      • JoeNYWF64

        I think you mean the too bright red COLOR. Maroon or dark blue or dark brown velour would look lot better above.
        & car seats of this era(domestic) are so much more comfortable than many rock hard seats today.
        I dislike vinyl or leather seats(unless they are heated) on the coldest days in the northeast, if car is parked outside overnight. Even an inexpensive velour seat cover is way less cold to sit on. & in the summer, unless u got a/c,
        black vinyl out in the blazing sun can be too hot to sit on.
        Again velour wins. Sat in a 1st gen f-body with velour seat covers. Much more comfortable than sitting on vinyl.
        No sticking to the seat either in hot summer.

        Like 1
    • Grey

      I think the reason they’re so rare is, when new, nobody wanted them.

      Like 7
    • Chas358 Chasman358

      I love your comment! The 260 wouldn’t exactly be a power monster. 🙄

  3. Sam61

    I like the red fabric. The car needs a chrome barefoot gas pedal to match the shifter. Maybe this was a GM EPA/Cafe mule?

    Nice find.

    Like 10
    • Superdessucke

      I don’t think it was a mule. The 260 5-speed combo was offeredfor a little while before this. Didn’t someone have a ’76 442 with this motor/trans combo not long ago? You’d haveto measure your 1/4 mile time with a calendar in that gem!

      Like 10
      • David gonzalez

        Miss my 76 442 5 speed…not fast..but fun to drive.

        Like 4
  4. sgary

    Better get it quick, before it’s underwater !

    Like 3
    • Superdessucke

      Why bother? It’s too slow to outrun any kind of hurricane. Hell, it’s practically too slow to outrun summer.

      Like 4
  5. Oregon_Guy78

    That looks just like the car that was on here May of 2016. Is it the same one?

    Like 4
    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      What a memory, Oregon_Guy78! I don’t think that it’s the same car due to the difference in the mileage (over 100,000 difference in three years) but I could be wrong.
      https://barnfinds.com/freaky-fastback-1978-oldsmobile-cutlass-salon-brougham/

      Like 6
      • CJM

        Clearly all three listings are for the same car. How many 5 speed Salons are there out there in the exact same colors with the same aftermarket dealer installed red bodyside molding? Exactly one I say. The mileage may be 40,000 or 140,000. My money is on 40.000. Current seller probably just assumes 140,000. Prior ads had it at mid 30,000’s and now its gone up about 5k to 40,000. At least the price has come down a little. Value? Maybe around 5,000. There is no market for them but I’d happily put this one in my garage IF i had space.

        Like 5
  6. Steve-o

    To me, even more odd than a five speed in a four door is bucket seats in a four door!

    Like 5
    • Dave at OldSchool Restorations

      @Steve-o Huh ??? have you looked in the Walmart Parking lot.you’ll find hundreds of 4 doors with buckets and consoles. …

      Like 4
  7. Billy1

    Add me to the list of never hearing about this. A 5 speed and a 260 ci GM v8?
    Maybe it’s a Ford 260, ha-ha

    Like 2
    • Matt Colla

      I had a 77 cutlass with this 5 speed combo. A real sled!

      Like 5
  8. Doc

    Rare is an understatement. I bet less than 1/4 of the 29,500 fastback sedan Salon’s were stick shift.

    Featured a few months ago, a usual EBay seller has it.

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2019/06/rare-rides-a-pristine-1978-oldsmobile-cutlass-salon-shift-it-yourself-edition/

    Like 5
    • Pete Phillips

      I’ll go even further: I’ll bet it was less than 1% equipped like this!
      This would make for a really unusual, daily, commuter car.

      Like 5
      • CJM

        Agreed. I bet 5% take rate was 1% or less. It would not surprise me if under 100 salons were built that year with 5 speeds. This is a neat package and a great looking car. Is it a race car? No. But a fun to drive funky 4 door.

        Like 5
      • bone

        Not many of these GM metric chassis cars were equipped with manual transmissions ; When I worked at a junkyard in the mid 1980s these mid size GM cars were coming in like crazy ; the only one we ever had with a stick was a 78 Malibu base wagon with a 200 V6 ; we took out the pedal set up for a ’79 Monte stock car we were building .

  9. Kirk

    Lol, just don’t get anyone fawning over this…the “manual transmission or die” craze seems like it’s turned into a meme just for the sake of the meme. It’s one thing to want a slick shifting, short throw, precise manual in a car like….say…an NSX? A Corvette? But rowing tedious, rubbery and vague gears in an old beater with probably a 5k rpm redline? Have to wonder how many people would actually enjoy this if it wasn’t just theoretical.

    Like 9
    • CB

      Malaise with a side of ham and cheese.. like the author said.. there will be detractors like yourself

      Like 4
    • CJM

      Couldn’t disagree more. Is it going to shift like a Miata? No. Is it going to be more fun to drive than an automatic Cutlass like 99.5% of them were? Absolutely! A manual in any car is more fun to drive than an automatic. Period. This thing is a rare and sharp conversation piece. I hope someone will enjoy it as it is and preserve it.

      Like 5
      • Kirk

        Yeah, I hear you. I guess it’s all ultimately pretty subjective. I’ve had cars with manuals (GTI/Prelude) and trucks with manuals (Ranger/Frontier), the first 2 were lots of fun, the latter two were total misery, especially in traffic. Agreed though on the car, it is super rare and a conversation piece for sure.

        Like 1
      • bone

        unless you’re stuck in traffic …….

  10. Darryl nagy

    Me and buddy test drove a used 80s chev wagon with 267 cu in 5 speed back in the early 90s on a used car lot.

    Like 4
  11. Stevieg

    I really like this a lot! I’ve seen this drive train on a couple 2 door versions of the slope roof gutless. Speaking of gutless, it probably has no “gumption” to it. But to me, that is ok. I would drive it as it is until the engine were to let loose…then find a nice 455 & drop it in. Would make a GREAT sleeper like that! I wish I had the money…..

    Like 4
    • Evan

      I suggest you don’t drop any sort of 455 in front of this Borg-Warner T-50. The transmission will grenade before you get to the end of the block.

      Like 13
      • Winnipegcarnut Member

        And after you upgrade the trans the rear end would go in the next block.

        Like 8
  12. Stevieg

    Very valid points lol. I wasn’t thinking my comment through as I was writing it. Maybe a 350 at the most. Either way, I would love to own it just for “freak” factor. I like the odd-ball things, hence my now ex-wife lol.

    Like 8
  13. art

    Let’s hope hurricane Dorian spares this car.
    A shame to see it ravaged. It managed to survive this long…

    Like 7
    • Car Nut Tacoma

      I agree.

      Like 2
  14. CanuckCarGuy

    First thing that came to my mind was the “Iraqi Taxi” history that goes with the Malibu of the same vintage. Those too are rare beasts, with an interesting back-story…worth the time on Google if you’re not familiar with the reference.

    Like 4
  15. Keith

    Super ugly but would make a great sleeper with a 383 stroker and upgraded drivetrain.

    Like 1
  16. Car Nut Tacoma

    Nice looking car. I can’t imagine a car of this vintage having a 5spd. manual transmission. I’d buy this if I hadn’t already recently bought a car.

    Like 1
  17. Stinger

    Even when these cars first came out they were referred to the”Ugly Cutlass” even by the salespeople on the car lots. Just Google Ugly Cutlass and see what comes up. They were ugly then and nothing has changed.

    Listed as #49 as the top 100 Ugliest cars of all time on Edmunds.com web site:

    “49. 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass: Four-door fastback styling on a car no one wanted to see become a fastback. It looked stupid and sold in disastrously small numbers.”

    Like 3
  18. Joe Padavano

    This is a factory setup. The console was an additional optional cost over and above the trans. That five speed is a BW T50, possibly the only RWD five speed trans that is WEAKER than a T5. There’s a reason why you could only get it behind the V6 or the 260 V8. Put it behind a 455 and it MIGHT live to the end of the driveway.

    Like 3
  19. nessy

    This car has been around a while. How can you miss it? Everyone hated the styling at the time, now, I kind of dig it. Every now and then, one pops up with the 5 speed, you could get this combo in the nicer looking Cutlass Supreme body too. For all of you who think the 5 speed 260 is a dog, did you know that they also offered this car with the 4.3 260 V8 90 HP Diesel slug for one year only, 1979? It was a smaller version of the 5.7 350 Diesel and you could order it with this same 5 speed? The GM history center claims just over 200 examples were built with the 5 speed diesel combo. I have never seen one in this body style. However, I did see a 79 Loaded out Supreme Brougham with T Tops with the diesel 5 speed combo but the original 80+ year old owner will not sell it. I keep asking him.

    Like 10
  20. 38ChevyCoupeGuy

    I worked for local salvage yard from 14 – 17years of age or so, I got this same trans outta one that was diesel,yes diesel! Threw it in my 78 z28 were it still lies today,. The guy talking about the t50 grenading before the end of the block, obviously forgot to put oil in his.The Z has mild 383,for the curious minds.😅

    Like 3
  21. Glenn Schwass Member

    I hate the rear end of those cars. The 5 spd is nice but doesn’t male up for the red interior and lack of HP. Hope it is saved by someone but it wouldn’t be me.

    • CJM

      What’s wrong with red interiors? Sharp! Way better than the dull tans, grays and blacks which you get today. Personally I liked the “fastback” styling of these early G bodies. Much more interesting than the later notchbacks.

      Like 4
  22. Lance

    I had a girlfriend with a Buick pretty much like this Olds.. I told her it looked like a block of cheese with a wedge cut off. She was not my girlfriend much longer after that. Oh well.

    Like 4
  23. J W DAY

    My Mom had a 1976 LeMans Sport Coupe with the 260 Olds motor. A good running fully loaded school bus could take you. She hated it, and it was her last Pontiac.

  24. Rube Goldberg Member

    I had a car just like this, not near as fancy. Never saw one with a 5 speed. Good luck getting #8 spark plug out. The car ran a bit rough, so I figured new plugs. Got them all but #8. Practically unaccessable. After using every swivel and extension I had, finally got it out from underneath. It looked like the original plug, and the electrode was gone. How it fired at all was a mystery, like JC Whitney “Fire Injectors”. It was a great car, one of the few my ex-wife couldn’t kill.

  25. Little_Cars

    Not surprising, there are a lot of Depression-era “misers” living in Clearwater, Florida. There will never be an end to the automotive oddities coming from the great senior retirement areas of Florida. At least this malaise-era Olds doesn’t sport wide whitewalls and some sort of hood ornament. That’s what my dad would have done to mean business.

  26. JMB#7

    This helps me appreciate the Aztek

  27. Miguel

    Please correct me if I am wrong but I think this body style was sold to rental compaines. I remember these being rented, although obviously not the 5 speed version.

    Like 2
  28. Mitch Ross Member

    I think this car is wonderful. Thsnk goodness not every car made looked the same! GM went out on a limb with this car and then retreated. Love the interior, the small V8 and especially the trans. Hpe it gies to someone who apprecistes its uniqueness

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