Meet the Chicago Cutlass, Chi-Town's Rustiest, Rattiest Beater Turned Local Legend

Chicago Cutlass 15 photos
Photo: Jon Kreuz
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Imagine driving your 2023 Honda Civic through one of the nicer neighborhoods on the North Side of Chicago. You know, one of the ones near Wriggly Field where there's more craft beer restaurants per capita than people inhabiting them. You might fancy yourself safe from the grease and the filth of Chi-Town's less savory neighborhoods. Only to see this positively disgusting 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham creep past you at a stoplight like a George Romero zombie on four wheels.
In almost 50 years of non-stop blizzard-like winters and endless salty roads, a car lovingly dubbed the Chicago Cutlass simply refuses to give up the fight. Then again, it does have quite a lot of help along the way. But buy hook or by crook, this ancient Oldsmobile is now a local legend among Chicago's car enthusiasts online. It's the kind of story that could've only been told in Chi-Town, mostly because almost nowhere else in America is quite as hostile to older cars and trucks when the climate turns frigid every year.

But besides a very old, practically derelict hunk of rust, what exactly are we looking at here? Well, the late 1970s weren't the best time for the Oldsmobile Cutlass, let alone the rest of the American auto sector post-oil crisis. Any prerequisite of the Cutlass being a chisel-jawed muscly American sports coupe was tossed right out the window when newly-minted emissions regulations choked the beloved American V8 until they had all the size they used to have but without any power to lug everything around. Such was life with the first archaic catalytic converters.

Perhaps no other class of automobile suffered more during post-oil crisis emissions regulations than the General Motors A-Body. On the same platform as the Chevy Monte Carlo and Malibu, the Buick Century and Regal, and the Pontiac LeMans, Grand Am, and Grand Prix, no GM A-Body made post-1978 was held in as high a regard as its predecessors. But among a gaggle of prime malaise-era tin cans, the Cutlass Supreme arguably faired the worst.

The fourth-generation Cutlass Supreme was so far removed from what it was in the late 60s that it was laughable. Long gone was the Oldsmobile OEM-specific 455-cubic inch V8 that made gen-III Cutlass Supremes of old so special. But a spat smaller, less powerful, and far less desirable set of engines from at least four different GM divisions found their way under the hood of the gen-IV Cutlass. That includes the notoriously dreadful Oldsmobile LF7 and LF9 diesel V8s. Couple that with notoriously shoddy late 70s GM build quality, and many of these late 70s Cutlasses didn't even make it out of the following decade, let alone make it to 2024.

Chicago Cutlass
Photo: Jon Kreuz
But against all odds, despite Chi-Town being one of the most inhospitable places to automobiles on planet Earth, this complete rusty pile of American scrap that was once an upper mid-range gentleman's runabout is still kicking around the streets of Northeast Illinois, salty roads and lake effect snow be damned. With a 260-cubic inch (4.3-L) Oldsmobile V8 and anemic three-speed slushbox automatic transmission, any sporting credentials the Cutlass Supreme once had was long extinguished by the late 70s.

The appeal of the gen-IV began and ended with its ability as a comfortable boulevard cruiser when all the marketing brochure lingo was taken out of the equation. To think someone paid in the neighborhood of $35 to $50,000 on an A-body Cutlass back its day, depending on the options, is nothing short of baffling considering the current state this one's in. With three replacement hubcaps from a Buick, one missing half of the front grille, and visible deep pits of rust the full 360 degrees around the vehicle's exterior, this Oldsmobile holds all of its 400,000-plus miles of road use on its sleeves.

That's right, this Cutlass has just about been to the Moon and back in almost 50 years. The rusty rear bumper held in place with rope and absolutely nothing else is just the cherry on the cake as far as the exterior is concerned. If you manage to get the door open and peep the interior, which is no easy feat, mind you, what you'll find is no better either. There's almost nothing left of the seat foam or cloth upholstery on the driver's seat in this rusty land ship.

Only a spare tire shoved between the driver's seat and the rear seats prevents the seat from tilting fully backward during driving, considering there's nothing left structurally for the seat brackets to mount. Did we mention the latch on the passenger door doesn't work, and both side mirrors are welded on from other cars? Yeah, it's that bad. It's precisely because this parody of a clapped-out beater survived eight presidential administrations, the rise of the internet, the Y2K panic, 9-11, Cash for Clunkers, and the COVID-19 pandemic without meeting the crusher that it's something of a celebrity in the local car scene.

Chicago Cutlass
Photo: Jon Kreuz
For the moment, the Chicago Cutlass is in the possession of an eccentric but passionate YouTuber named Jon Kreuz, who posts content related to the car on his channel, Kreuz Control. Kreuz says he purchased the Chicago Cutlass from its second owner, who got it from the original owner sometime between 1991 and 2001. During that time, the car spent the majority of its life parked on the street, at the mercy of relentless salt-spreading trucks and snow plows, forcing the worst of the Illinois winter onto a car that wasn't all that tough to begin with.

As it sits now, Kreuz notes that apart from the side and rear glass plus the rear differential and perhaps the transmission, the Chicago Cutlass isn't even suitable as a parts car anymore. This was confirmed when Jon employed a friend to help get this 260 Olds engine started and promptly got a plume of billowing white smoke pouring through the dashboard for his trouble. Even as the car crept across the parking lot, that plume of dashboard smoke only grew thicker as Jon walked alongside it with his camera. How this pile ever passes another Illinois state inspection again is beyond us, but Jon actually has plans for this hulk of steel.

At the very least, he plans to mechanically sort out the Chicago Cutlass as much as possible so he can drive it to local car meets in the city. Rebuilding the drivetrain and replacing long worn-out suspension and braking components but preserving that genuine Chicago patina is likely the best possible outcome for the Chicago Cutlass. Welding some new sheet metal to the floor so the carpet isn't the only barrier between the interior and the ground would be another solid upgrade on top of getting it running properly.

Considering that people are practically giving away 260 Olds V8s and three-speed GM automatics these days, Jon reckons there are at least 100,000 miles left in the drivetrain, assuming that the body can hold up for that long. With all this in mind, is it any wonder the Chicago Cutlass is a minor celebrity in the city now? The aura of an American car that simply refuses to quit embodies the spirit of a city with a perpetual chip on its shoulder. It's the one that perpetually lives in the shadow of a larger, even more famous city to the east but is so charismatic and full of charm to stand on its own.

Chicago Cutlass
Photo: Jon Kreuz
It's as if the same energy that made Ben Zobrist, Paul Konerko, Scottie Pippen, Tony Esposito, and CM Punk into city icons also keeps the Chicago Cutlass away from the scrap yard. A real Chicago hero is never really out of the fight, but hopefully it won't take 108 years to mechanically sort this rusting hulk like it took the Cubs to win the World Series. One thing's for sure; if there's a car meet the Chicago Cutlass is going to, we want to be there. Shoutout to Jon Kreuz for putting a spotlight on a Chicago classic. Check out his videos down below if you want to learn more.

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