W-31 Four-Speed! 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass

Starting around 1967, automobile insurance companies started premium “surcharges” on cars with outsized horsepower or low curb weight to power ratios. GM Corporate mandated a 10:1 minimum ratio across all five divisions through the ’60s. Since muscle cars were all the rage, and power was doing that up, up and away thing, insurance underwriters were looking, ostensibly, to manage their liability. Auto manufactures, in some instances, started to offer smaller-engined/lower horsepower varieties as a counter move. One of the best examples was the 340 CI Dodge Dart GTS which later helped spawn Plymouth’s Duster 340. Oldsmobile got into the act too in 1969 with their 350 CI powered, W31 Oldsmobile Cutlass. And here for your review, is just such an example from 1970. It is located in Cleveland, Ohio, and available here on craigslist for $22,500. Thanks to Adam F for this tip!

The W31 package actually existed in 1968 but it was known as the “Ram-Rod” and it was essentially the same car, it just used the Ram-Rod badge for identification as opposed to the W-31 moniker. By 1970, the W-31’s final production year, the body styles included either a Cutlass S (Holiday or Sports Coupe) or the F-85 Sports Coupe. Research indicates that there were about 1,300 W-31’s assembled in 1970 across all body styles. No, they’re not too common.

What makes the W-31 the car it is, is Oldsmobile’ 325 HP, 350 CI, V8 engine. While W-31 is down on engine displacement, the power is no different than a ’68 Oldsmobile 442 with an automatic transmission so whether this serves as a high insurance premium salve or not, it is hard to say. The seller states, “The original motor starts up and runs good. The car will move, but the clutch is shot.” He also includes a burb stating that this Olds is a 49K mile example. This W-31 is equipped with a four-speed manual transmission, definitely a nice find. It seems that many 442’s from the era have automatic transmissions, not sure of the breakdown with the W-31. In spite of the clutch being shot, it’s not too tough a job to replace. I helped a friend swap out the one in his ’67 442 using a curb in a suburban neighborhood, serving as a ramp, for under-car access. It’s good to see that the W25 air induction scoops/air-cleaner are still present and hopefully functioning.

The exterior of this Cutlass is fair. The seller advises that it has rust but the floors and trunk are very solid. There is evidence of lower rust in the passenger-side rocker panel and perhaps over the passenger-side rear wheel but the included images are not too revealing. There is no photo of the driver’s side of the car so perhaps there is more of a problem there. The body panels, however, appear to be free of crash damage so that’s encouraging. The dark blue finish is still presentable and the faded presence of the black W-31 body stripe, as well as the black hood accents, are still visible.

The interior is a mix. It is a bucket seat/no console environment, which is not encountered that often, though the shifter boot bezel is missing. The upholstery is in poor shape which belies the 49K mile claim; it looks worn from use more so than age. The carpet is typically faded but the dash-pad and instrument panel seems fine. Based on what’s photographically revealed, the interior is certainly salvageable and probably not at great expense or effort.

Admittedly this is a rare car, its documentation and understated nature is an attractive draw, but I’m not sure about that price – reasonable or a bit outsized? Also, I would imagine that this W-31’s road manners are pretty enjoyable, owing to a smaller displacement engine, with a stout horse-power rating and running through a manual transmission. Show of hands, has anyone ever owned or driven a W-31 Cutlass and what was it like?

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Comments

  1. 19sixty5 Member

    This is a car that requires a personal inspection The steering wheel looks pretty worn, both pedal pads are missing, even the paint on the pedals is worn off, the drivers door arm rest pad is shot, the seats, has the odometer rolled over? The car has obviously had paint work, the stripes are incorrect, the passenger rocker, rear wheel lips front fender rust really make you think this is a 149k mile car. I see it is from the rust belt, but the rust seems fairly severe for 49k miles. I’ve had a bunch of 442’s, and had 1 W car, a 69 W30 convert 4 speed, but always wanted a 70 W-31. I wonder if it still has the original carb and distributor are still in place? If not, that would also suggest the miles advertised are off by 100k.

    Like 18
    • PatrickM

      I agree. This car has seen some rough riding. There is a lot more than 49,000 miles on it. Most likely 149,000. Interior and a lot of the body tells me that. If I lived closer and could afford to bid, I wouldn’t offer any more than $12.000.00.

      • Brian Green

        I agree. I owned a 70 W-31 4-speed that was in much better condition than this car and sold it for about half of what the owner is asking for this car. Unless you can do all of the work yourself, I wouldn’t touch it. Properly tuned, a W-31 is fun to drive, but it isn’t going to scare anyone.

    • Janes

      Does not have the original carb. I inspected it in person. It’s a nightmare. Not worth 8-9 K

      Like 1
  2. Bmac777 Member

    It is strange all the cars on here that have such low mileage.
    I started buying cars in 1980 and through the years they almost all had at least 70k and yet somehow all these cars have half that 30-40 yrs later
    I question even a lot of pristine cars on Ebay the same way

    Like 14
    • Tim Driscoll

      Just picked up a 65 dodge dart from the original owner, 32000 miles on it.

      Like 3
  3. Jcs

    Neat car. I agree with both of the above comments 100%. As the car was originally Rallye Pac equipped it is a shame that the Tic-Toc-Tach is MIA. While very cool, and desirable, the seller is just a little proud on this one. Unless you can do every bit of the work on it yourself you will find yourself extremely deep underwater on this one trying to bring it back. Of course — if money is if no consequence….

    Like 7
  4. Gunner

    For those hardcore Oldsmobile W-Series collectors, they will know what a truly special car this is, more specifically, the engine. The W-31 for the 68 and 69 year had a cast iron intake and #5 Heads. The 70 however, had an aluminum intake and #6 heads. The exhaust valve diameter was up on the 70 to 1.630 from 1.625 for the previous two years. Compression Ratio was also up to 10.5 from 10.25. All W-31 engines were “select fit”, simply meaning that they were blueprinted from the factory. The Connecting Rods as also specific to W-31 engines. There are several other unique components to these engines such as 6 blade fan and fan clutch, larger harmonic balancer, matched heavy duty valve springs, Special Camshaft using 308/474 specs, and “Performance Calibrated” Q-Jet Carburetor. It should be noted that only the 69 and 70 used a special W-31 coded Distributor. The 68 “Ram-Rod’ used the standard 4-Barrel Distributor. The ad does not state which 4-Speed was offered, M-20 or M-21. The TH350 transmission was very special on this cars and is known as a “JO” coded unit. It is quite rare and very much in demand. Of the three years for the W-31, the 70 is the one to own for it’s one year only components. The seller states it is all original. Steve Magnante states that only 1,029 W-31’s were built on the F-85 & Cutlass platform. As 19sixty5 suggests that this car looks more like 149K vs. 49K. If the latter is true,then it appears to be very hard miles. All this said, if I was in the market for a 70 W-31, I would have this one inspected and make a offer on it. If everything checked out, then negotiation would definitely occur to the satisfaction of both parties. Very rare car in restorable condition. Always had a thing for W-31 cars. A road less traveled.

    Like 30
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      Gunner:

      Much appreciate the deep dive on the details, very helpful!

      The statistic that I uncovered was that there were 1,029 hardtops (Holiday Coupe) produced, the balance (200+) were post coupes or “Sports Coupes” in Olds’ lingo.

      Thx,

      JO

      Like 9
  5. Steve Bush Member

    Looks to be mostly complete and restorable but agree with the others about the mileage. Hopefully a prospective buyer can negotiate a somewhat lower price. Always question everything else the seller says when he won’t do something basic like clutch replacement and his asking is so high. Who knows what else is wrong if the car can’t be driven.

    Like 1
  6. Little_Cars

    It is laughable that this somewhat unusual Cutlass is being sold on Craigslist. The front passenger fender looks to be a repaint. Why no drivers side pics? And further inspection may reveal other things to use when dickering the price down. I would knock several digits off the price just for this being a non-runner. How hard would it be to change out the clutch or even rebuild the tranny for that $22k ask? Factory Tach doesn’t appear to be missing, where would it go?

    Like 1
    • 19sixty5 Member

      Look at the driver’s door closeup showing the GM label, there is paint overspray there as well. The stripes are poorly done, not even close to the factory style. The tach in the dash currently isn’t the original OEM tic-toc-tach. We don’t have any photo’s of the drivers side of the car, what’s hiding there? I’m willing to bet the lower fender, rockers, and rear wheel lips are shot as well. This is not an easy restoration by any means, but as they say, the bones are there…

      Like 1
  7. Ron P

    I had a 1968 ramrod my junior year in high school 1980 bought it after I totaled my 71 Torino cobra I paid 1600 for the ramrod the same as I paid for my Torino . It’s why it’s so hard for me to pay the crazy numbers they want now. Senior year I had a six pack challenger paid 2500

    Like 4
    • Camaro guy

      Your insurance rates must have been off the charts with that lineup of cars 😁😁

      Like 3
  8. TimM

    Most of the car is together without much mods or rust!! Would be a pleasure for most to work on!! The interior is all available!! I think for under 10k worth of work you could have a really nice ride that would be a blast to drive and just be seen in!!

    Like 2
    • 19sixty5 Member

      A decent quality paint job without body work can easily cost $10k and up by itself. There is a good amount of rust on areas visible in the photo’s, and you don’t have any photo’s of the drivers side at all. If the passenger side is rusted (front fender, rocker, quarter) you can be pretty certain the driver’s side is just as bad. There is quite a bit of metalwork required from what you can see, wait until you begin to peel back the onion. A complete interior is going to cost a minimum of $2500 by itself. This is one of the cars I have always wanted, I’m pretty familiar with these cars, but this one is really going to cost you.

  9. JEFF S.

    This car is way overpriced, by the time you bring it back to life you will have well over $50,000 invested.
    Depending on the quality of the work the car may not even be worth it. 50 years of rust hiding who knows where, may sink a sale, upon close up inspection. There are a lot of nice finished muscle cars out there for less than $50K.

    Like 2
  10. Olds Man

    Love the car! With that being said, the asking price is ridiculous. I have owned W30 442s and several Hurst Olds through the years, and most recently a 70 4 speed Rallye 350. While it is true these are limited number models, the cost to restore this after paying the asking price will put you upside down in a hurry. Too bad the seller wants top dollar for a project car and can’t even change the clutch!

    Like 2
  11. Troy s

    No power brakes on these due to the wild cam profile,,, the minuete I read that as a teenager back in ’82 I had to have one, never found one, seen so so few. I liked the under bumper hood scoops on the ’68-69, just like the bad W/30. I really don’t know which is more effective at forced air although I heard the early ones were good at inhaling lots of dirt, gravel as well.
    Nothing screams muscle car more than the ’70 line up across all makes, I read somewhere you could be nailed by the insurance just for having a four speed..

  12. Michael Ridley

    so if its going to need restoring I hardly think the claimed mileage even matters. Its not accurate. no way. I would rather have a clean all together 200,000 mile car than one claiming such low mileage with everything worn out. The cost is going to be the same to restore and the 200k car owner knows its value is gone . this is a 15,000$ car tops if it is what it is and all there.

    Like 1
  13. Jay

    Forget the Olds, that classic brown for sale Camry caught my eye!!!

    Like 1
  14. Little_Cars

    That is the color most chosen by Camry buyers during its entire production run, rumor has it. LOL Seriously, though, having driven my girlfriend’s 2003 loaded Camry all over the country I can say without a doubt they routinely get you from point A to B without issue. With the most numb handling, predictable performance, suspension with no connection to the road and without raising an eyebrow of passers-by due to its ubiquitous jellybean style. Who the hell wants that? :) :) :)

    Like 2

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