Rare Aeroback: 1978 Oldsmobile 442

The 442 moniker has been reused and recycled many times throughout Oldsmobile’s history, with the first edition remaining top dog in terms of the models most sought after. The ensuing years were a mixed bag in terms of which ones took off and which ones were pure window dressing on a pig, with many enthusiasts taking it personally when Oldsmobile used the nomenclature on anything less than a fire-breathing muscle car. This 1978 edition works to correct some of those unintended offenses, despite being the unloved “Aeroback” body style, as the seller has swapped in a rebuilt 425 big block. Find it here on eBay where bidding has reached $5,700 with the reserve unmet. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Local Sheriff for the find. 

The Aeroback is a funky design, and one that was certainly in keeping with where GM saw car design preferences going (for some odd reason). The Cadillac Seville “bustle back” design was a future iteration of the concept seen here, and I think we’re all grateful this design language didn’t continue. The interior of this 442 is in excellent condition, as are the door panels and dash. Prior to the engine swap, this had to have been a decent driver, so it seems likely the seller began with a solid platform. That in and of itself would make this a desirable specimen for collectors of GM products from this era, as survivor A-body Cutlasses don’t exactly grow on trees.

Wow – that’s not stock! The 442 trim could actually yield some decent configurations, including a manual transmission / V8 combo. However, your odds of finding one in that exact specification are likely pretty low, so if you can make a swap happen like this seller did, that’s likely a more expedient path to big power. The 425 is hooked up to a 400 Turbo transmission, which then kicks out to a 3.73 posi rear end. Really, this is a great cruiser setup that will go well, make good noise, and be endlessly easy to live with – not to mention, should you want to make upgrades in the future, this is an ideal platform for easy bolt-ons. The install looks super clean as well, and the stock appearance on the outside ensures you’ll surprise plenty of stoplight warriors.

The bodywork looks very nice, with straight, rust-free panels and nicely preserved chrome bumpers. Now, despite the impressive build under the hood, the Oldsmobile still has some final sorting needs. The seller notes the carburetor needs adjustment, and it sounds like it may need an electric cooling fan as well – the listing is not clear in this regard. Also, the radio, air conditioning, and blower motor are all inoperable. So, definitely not a finished product, but those are largely minor quibbles that can be addressed over the short term while the next owner enjoys the healthy performance on board and the “cache” of a rarely seen 442 model from the post-muscle car years.


  1. nlpnt

    The “Aeroback” was so unpopular GM tooled up a formal-roof 4 door to replace that version of it for 1980. Why Buick and Olds didn’t either just adapt the Chevy-Pontiac 6-light notchback, or weren’t simply told to tough it out with the Aerobacks for another two short years until the FWD A-bodies were ready to replace them is beyond me, considering how the bulk of their midsize business was in the (always) formal-roof A-Special coupes.

    As with the Grand Prix posted earlier this body style looks like it should be a hatchback, isn’t, and would’ve been improved by having one. But at least this has a properly mainstream-production-model sized trunk opening.

    Like 6
  2. Billie Joe Bob

    Why not fix all those items beforehand to make this more saleable?

    Like 14
  3. Sam Shive

    What a jump from a 305 kicking 140 ponies. This could be a lot of fun. My cousin was a Olds person and had a few 442’s over the years. He’d LOVE this one. Look like a great start to some great stories.

    Like 6
  4. jerry z

    Just picked up an Olds Cutlass Salon a few months ago. Mine has a 305 and 4 spd. Rust free car but interior is a bit rough. The plastic on these cars just turn to dust unfortunately.

    Like 7
  5. Glenn C. Schwass Member

    You can’t fix ugly. Nicely done restoration though. The hatch back idea stated above would have saved it.

    Like 15
  6. Sfm5

    I remember seeing these for the first and being stunned at the ugly design. Did designers of that day really not have the awareness of their designs, or were car companies run by accountants? In any event they should have called it something else so not to tarnish the 442 legacy.

    Like 14
  7. Steve Clinton

    Another 1970s horrible design.

    Like 4
  8. Steve Clinton

    The Penn. license reads ‘Classic Car’. Car? Yes. Classic? That’s debatable.

    Like 2
    • Arby

      That’s a matter of age, not beauty.

      Like 6
  9. gyates

    My folks had the 4 door Salon version of this car. It was not only ugly but it was also an absolute POS as far as reliability. They kept it until the warranty ended and moved on.. Previously they had owned a ’76 Cutlass 4 door and it was actually a reliable car. Yes, they traded vehicles frequently when I was a youngster. lol!

    Like 3
  10. Dennis

    I had the stock Cutlass version of this. Went to a salvage yard to get some parts and the clerk referred to it as an “uglyback” Cutlass!

    Like 8
  11. Sfm5

    Looking at this photo, I believe the Pontiac Aztec took some styling cues from the rear of this car!

    Like 6
  12. wjtinfwb

    I worked for a small fleet leasing company in the late 70s in Miami. Fincher Oldsmobile/AMC Jeep was our go to dealer for domestic iron as such we had a lot of Cutlass and Delta 88s in the fleet. The ‘77 Cutlass coupes were extremely popular in Supreme, Brougham and Salon trim, so much so that I ended up buying an off-lease 77 Salon coupe. But the downsized 78s were a different story. The coupes were pretty well accepted as they drove well and looked fairly conventional. But sedans were big fleet business and the 78 Cutlass Aeroback sedan was a colossal bust. Several were ordered sight unseen as replacements for earlier Cutlass sedans and either immediately returned at a huge loss or accepted for financial reasons but the clients let us know how much they hated these cars. The sales manager at Fincher began stocking stripped V6 Delta 88s to try and up sell Cutlass sedan buyers who recoiled at the awful Aeroback. Some lease customers switched to Chevys or Pontiac’s for the more conventional styling, a few defected to Ford or Chrysler. Once returned, they were absolute duds on the resale market, particularly those with the 231 V6 that shook like a paint mixer at idle, was slow as molasses and not very fuel efficient. We ordered Malibu sedans for ‘79 and by ‘80 Olds and Buick had introduced their formal roof sedans and business returned to normal.

    Like 5
  13. Claudio

    This is the perfect time for the meathead with the escort to chime in !
    His escort is better than this horror story

    Like 4
  14. Chris

    Wow where is the rest of the back end of the car . Was that a Monday design or just a bad hangover . What happen !!!!

    Like 1
  15. MitchRoss Member

    Sad to see all of the people piling on about how ugly the Aero GM cars were. I guess most people only like cars that look just like all of the other cars produced at he same time. Thank god there are people who appreciate outside the box design. It may not always be the most popular, but it is always more interesting.

    Like 6
  16. nessy

    Did you know that for one model year 1979, Olds offered their one year only 4.3 90hp Diesel V8 across the Cutlass line including this aero Salon?
    Believe it or not, you could even order a 5 speed manual transmission with the diesel including with the 442 package. So, there could be a few factory 442 diesels floating around! This was again only for one year.
    The GM History Center believes only about 200 were built this way.

    You think this decent looking white on blue 442 coupe is ugly?
    How about a four door puke brown of olive green base model with dog dish hubcaps and the diesel 5 speed combo?
    Wait? Actually, that would be a pretty amazing find today.

    Like 6
  17. Frank

    What a difference from a 65 or 69 442. This is when GM built new junk. Any 1978 muscle car was a joke. Thanks to the USG.

    • John S Dressler

      Cars like this across the entire GM inventory in the late 70’s are literally what kicked open the door for serious entry into the US car market by foreign cars. Dedicated, loyal new car buyers after an experience with the GM junk held their nose and bought foreign cars that had not up to that point compromised the quality and reliability of their cars. It took more than two decades for GM to recover from that defection of US car buyers and their disdain for what GM called a car. And this comes from a loyal bowtie guy!

  18. Todd Fitch Staff

    Nice find, Jeff! Love the sleeper aspect, but there’s something wrong about a 442 in white and baby blue. I looked at one of these in the early ’80s, maroon with gold 442 stripes as I recall, but I wasn’t sure about the looks and my Grandfather, who was helping with the purchase, thought the motor was too big and would waste gas (!!!) The dealer told us it was a 403, which the Internet says they never put in one of these, but who knows? Thanks for the memories!

    Like 1
  19. jwaltb

    Truly grotesque, like the Seville of a certain era.

  20. t-bone BOB

    Ended: Aug 29, 2021 , 7:00PM
    Current bid:US $6,600.00
    [ 10 bids ]

    Located in:Irwin, Pennsylvania

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