Oldsmobile Cutlass Wasn’t Appealing At First Glance

NEW MILFORD, CT – It was at a weekend antique car show and swap meet in Rhinebeck, N.Y. that Gary Murphy of New Milford first spotted the 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible. The year was 1996. “It was a rainy day and I was looking for a car to buy,” he said last fall, recalling that the Olds was yellow at the time.

“It didn’t look really appealing. I walked by it two or three times, but they had a big sign on it,” he said. The sign provided the history of the Cutlass; how it was originally purchased by a man in Kingston, N.Y. who died within a year of bringing it home from the dealer.

Gary Murphy and the 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass

For whatever reason, the Cutlass was reclaimed by the dealership that had sold it and got used for the next 24 years for parades and social gatherings. 

“I got looking at the car and it was pretty exceptional, except for the color. The color was all faded,” Murphy said. “The top was pretty bad but it had 35,000 miles at the time. It was factory air, power windows, power brakes, power seats, four-barrel. Body was good underneath.” 

The asking price was $5,500. “I offered them $4,500,” he said, explaining that the person showing the car at the meet told him that he’d have to check with the attorney for estate handling the Cutlass. It seems the dealer’s owner had passed away.

Murphy’s phone rang on Monday morning, and the lawyer told Murphy that the Oldsmobile was being sold to someone else for about the same amount but who had beaten him in making an offer.

Four days later, though, the lawyer called back, told him the first buyer had been unable to arrange financing, and that the Cutlass was Murphy’s if he still wanted it. “I bought it,” said Murphy, reporting that the $4,500 purchase price included delivery of the car to New Milford.

 “I had it painted green. I didn’t like the yellow.” he said, later adding that he’s had the upholstery redone over the 27 years that he’s owned the Cutlass. During that time he’s put about 15,000 additional miles on it. 

The Cutlass is powered by a 350-cubic-inch V8 engine with automatic transmission. The shifter is found in a console between bucket seats. It also has a spoiler on rear deck lid.

 “I put a brand new top on it a year or two after I bought it. A damn mouse put a little hole in it if you notice,” Murphy said, reporting with enthusiasm that it drives “like a boat. I’ve had a couple of Chevelles … and these are more of a pleasure ride.”

The 1972 version of the Cutlass marked the final year of the third generation body style. The Cutlass was introduced by Olds as a compact car in 1961. It was upsized to a mid-size model with the debut of the second generation in 1964. The third generation debuted in 1968.

Murphy didn’t grow up in an Oldsmobile family and wasn’t specifically looking for an Olds the day he journeyed to Rhinebeck. “Well, I liked Oldsmobiles. I liked Chevelles. I liked Mustangs, so I’d say it would have been one of the three, and the price had a lot to do with it,” he said of his now 51-year-old find.

However, back in the 1980s, a brother owned Oldsmobiles and Murphy himself had a “rough” 1972 Oldsmobile 442 clone for three or four years in the late 1980s or so.

Over the years, Murphy has owned numerous classic cars – a couple of Chevrolet Chevelles, a couple of Ford Mustangs, a Buick Grand National and a Chevrolet Impala. “I’ve had too many, but I’ve always stuck with this one it seems,” he said, referring to the Cutlass. 

“Just a nice ride. It handles good. Nice soft ride,” Murphy said. He uses the Cutlass for car shows and Sunday drives. He enjoys having the top down, although the top was up when My Ride visited. “This is the first time I’ve had the top up in five years,” he said.

It was also one of the few times it had been driven in recent years. RIDE-CT noticed the Oldsmobile when he took it to a car show a few days earlier in East Canaan. “I didn’t use it the last two or three years. I had it sitting in the garage, and finally I said, ‘I got to put this on the road.’” 

Whether being driven or parked, the 80-year-old Murphy has no desire to sell the Cutlass. “I think my kids will want it when the time comes,” he said. At least that’s what he said when RIDE-CT visited. Recently, though, the Cutlass developed engine issues, prompting its sale. He already misses it.

About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A graduate of Vermont Academy prep school, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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