Cars, Culture, Thank You

Farewell To A True And Faithful Friend

Blue at Weslemkoon

Our first Olds Cutlass Cruiser.

It’s strange how we can instill heart and soul into material objects. Because of that, this is a wistful moment, bidding farewell to a member of our family for over 25 years.

Back in 1990 when we bought our home, the real estate agent said, “Hey, you have a few dollars left over from your loan, why don’t you buy a car?” So we acquired a brand new Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser, a mid-sized station wagon.

330,000 miles later, here we are, standing beside Blue, who is resting quietly in the driveway.

You may think it is a stretch to give a soul to a machine, but it is not uncommon. Sea captains adopt their boats. Hearst had his Rosebud, and Davey Crocket, his trusty rifle Old Betsy.

Blue after a wash

Blue, fresh out of the shower.

Olds Plywood

A rare talent: a 4×8 sheet of plywood through the window.

Actually, Blue is resting on the driveway, not in it. Family only goes so far.
The reason why this departure is so touching is that we remember when we first got Blue. We traded in an earlier Olds wagon, the exact same model.

It was the easiest order a car salesman ever took:
“Yes sir, can I help you some how?”
“Yep, see that Olds wagon in the lot outside? I want another, just like it.”
“Certainly. Just like it?”
“Well, yeah, but with air conditioning, fuel injection, and FM radio.”
“Power windows and door locks?”
“Nope. If we drive into a lake I want to be able to get out.”
“Same color? Blue?”

The paperwork took much longer, but by the next day we had Blue.

Years later there’s no need to recount all the outings and family trips in Blue, but the car distinguished itself by its steadfast performance.   According to industry stats, Blue must have been made on a Wednesday, because he never suffered a quality issue.  Beyond the normal R&M costs, Blue lived a clean and pure life.

It was not until 14 years later, on a mild December evening in 2004, that we truly realized what a prize Blue was.  We had parked outside a restaurant for dinner, and walking in, spied a similar Cutlass Cruiser wagon, same vintage.

I was moved to scribble a note and leave it on the windshield:

“Hi! Great car!  We have one just like yours.  Look behind you. 210,000 miles, and runs like a clock!”

Olds Back Seat

Rear view treat: the seat of choice.

When we came out of the restaurant after dinner, the wagon was gone, but we found the note with a reply, under our wiper:

“This car just won’t die.   190,000 & runs great. Hope you make 300K.”

And here sits Blue today, well past the mark.

With a few makeovers mind you.   We have repainted Blue four times.   Maaco gives us respect, though honestly, the owner there may have succumbed to paint fumes.   On two different occasions we returned after a week to pick up Blue as scheduled, and he couldn’t remember us or the car.

Blue Possum

Varmint duty: airing out after trapping a possum.

But the new paint jobs breathe new life, just like a new suit, new carpet or a new kitchen.   People would stop to stare at Blue.

“What year is that?  How many miles you got on her?”

We never viewed Blue as feminine, but protocols demand the female gender for cars it seems, just like Pat Brady’s Nellie Belle.

Another common comment from admirers:

“We used to have one just like this.  Rode in the back seat.  Does it face backwards?”

You bet it does, kids loved it, but the D.O.T. put an end to that hazard, understandably.  Still, it was fun.

Olds Jerry's

The pitt crew: Don and the team.

But what Blue could do with its backseat and rear window was pack in a 4’x 8′ slab of plywood, thanks to General Motors’ patent on the hatchback window.   You can find the same feature on Cadillac Escalades today.

Unfortunately for Blue, General Motors lost its way, and designed a long series of geriatric, goofy looking Oldsmobiles through the 90s and into the new century.  Sales withered, and April 29, 2004, the last rolled off the line.

Mean time, Blue had become my main ride, and delivered me daily to work and home, racking up the miles.   One day, in 2006, around 229,318 miles, I filled in the new owner questionnaire.   I was 16 years late, but General Motors responded February 9, 2007.   Adam Dickinson, our designated Customer Relationship Specialist congratulated us.   After a stream of compliments, he suggested:

Olds March 2011 copy

15 minutes of fame, and a year’s free oil changes.

“We would be remiss, however, not to suggest that you look closely at our new Cutlass at your local dealership….”  That was three years after the demise of the Olds make.


We wonder today if Adam is in a small cube somewhere, still writing optimistic notes to holdouts like me.

In summer 2009, Blue was worried.   The CARS program lurked.   Car Allowance Rebate System, popularly known as Cash For Clunkers, was the federal government effort to compensate GM and others for turning out a decade of lemons.   To the automobile, this was like plague, emerald ash borer and mad cow disease, all rolled into one.

Blue's Worst Fear

Blue’s worst fear: to be stripped at Pick & Pull.

All told, the feds grabbed 671,000 vehicles off the street.  Blue wasn’t one of them.

As a celebration, Blue had his own Facebook page.   It was revealing, listing his favorite movies, shows and songs: Bullitt, Dukes of Hazard, Knight Rider and Deadman’s Curve.

January 2011, the miles continued to climb as Blue enjoyed continuous 100-mile round trip sprints to the office every day.   300,000 loomed ahead on the odometer.   We contacted Jiffylube, which had been Blue’s choice since May of 1991, mile 5991, 20 years earlier.

They sensed a PR opportunity when easy math showed a century of oil changes: 100 visits.

Blue in Hebron

Under the State Champs water tower, Hebron, IL.

Jiffylube’s ad agency jumped on Blue and he had a day’s coverage in suburban Chicagoland’s news, taking interviews from reporters and an FM station in Dubuque.  Best of all, a gift of free oil changes for a year.

Celebrity is emboldening, if also a heavy responsibility.  We bought Blue a new set of tires, with the slim whitewalls to complement his spokes.

The daily commutes were Blue’s opportunity to let the ponies go.  There is a 4-lane strip of highway north of Chicago where we pushed the speedometer over two digits a number of times.  Only for a mile, but long enough to let him smell and feel the brisk air screaming through the rad grill.

Blues new wheels

New tires. Sweet!

Sadly, things change.   With our retirement, the commutes stopped, and not too long after, Blue saw his first signs of slowing down.   Kind of an automotive hardening of the arteries.   Don, the pit crew chief, who has managed Blue like an uncle cautioned us:

Blue at Mars Bar

A ride in the country, Lake Como, WI.

“Yunno, he’s stiff.   You’re not running him hard.   So he gets tired.  He’s gonna stall on ya every once in a while.   Nothing serious, but he really needs a good long drive.   And some Gum-Out.   Use high octane every once and again, just to clear the injectors.”

Then last week, a new wobble.   Driving out for a visit to the hardware, Blue couldn’t make up his mind on which gear he was in.  3rd? 2nd? Drive?  We got him home by slipping into Neutral at every brake and corner, just to keep the revs up.

Blue at 330,000

Blue notches 330,000.

He wouldn’t talk about it.   When we pulled the hood release to check the engine, the wire snapped, locking us out of a closer look inside.   Blue was suffering his pain quietly.

Back to Don again.

“It’s the solenoid in the transmission.   We’ve tried everything, but it’s dead.  He’ll still shift, but you might have to change gears manually.   There’s nothing else we can do.”

At mile 332,879, the automatic Hydra-Matic transmission that was perfected by Oldsmobile in 1939 was out of the race.

Our worst fear is that Blue could end up in the jaws of a car crusher at some junk yard.  It is  unpalatable.   Better to hide under a tarp in a barn.

Blue at Sunset

Sunset, Butler Lake in Libertyville, IL.

So we are hanging onto Blue, and will nudge him past 333,000, maybe with a trip or two to the golf course, or to a grassy park overlooking the tollway, where he can hear and smell the noise and speed of the thousands of cars that whine and hum along the lanes below, unaware of his watchful gaze.

It’ll be a sunny, breezy day.






22 thoughts on “Farewell To A True And Faithful Friend

  1. Lynn K says:

    Hi Phil, so sad to hear of Blue’s final days…. however, that car deserves a rest after all these year!! Love the pics of the kids in the early day : ))


  2. Allan Gross says:

    Hey Phil….a beautiful story of love, memories and appreciation which I especially connected with and will now have to re-consider my next move with my 1998 Buick Le Sabre with 220,000. Going great except for one non working electric window (3 fixes) and a non working AC (3rd rebuilt). I had started to shop for a cross-over and narrowed down to Buick Encore or Nissan Rogue which would go to Hortencia. I would take over her 2010 Nissan Altima at 74,000 miles and going strong and finally say farewell to the Buick. We now make 2 roundtrips to Florida every year which is good for about 5,500 + lots of additional mileage there. The Nissan will quickly get up there so I’m trying to stay ahead of the game. Like you I don’t put on much mileage these days and could well stay with the Buick but Hortencia will need a new one this year or next so what to do short of owning 3 cars? You’ve given me pause and thanks for that. Best regards to Jane. Allan.


    • Hi Allan! Thanks for writing. We have a Buick LaCrosse. Awesome car. We have logged 49,000 miles since May 2013, 27 months. We are driving to FL ourselves. I hope someone on Craigslist will buy Blue for the body. Don says a new transmission and a head gasket job would do the trick. I can see Blue low-riding Hollywood someday.


  3. Reblogged this on gordo89120 and commented:
    Nice to know old Blue is resting comfortably with family. If he blew a leg, you wouldn’t shoot blue, would you? A lot of people who get a new lease on life with a simple knee or hip replacement. Perhaps, the same can be said for Blue. Heck, maybe there is still a donor Olds in an old salvage yard waiting to offer a transplant.


    • Hi Gordon! Thanks for writing. I have in fact had a couple inquiries from Craigslist. There is an Olds following out there. Hopefully we will find a hobbyist who wants to give Blue a new life. Maybe we will see h at a car show one day.


    • Hi Bob: I always enjoy looking at the Cuba news on TV because they never fail to show at least three or four Chevys and Oldsmobiles. Those are 50’s vintage, and at least two generations older than Blue. But in either case, indomitable! Hope you are doing well. Thanks for writing!


  4. I received this email today from a reader who was Googling for Olds parts and ended up on this page.

    Dear Mr. Brown,

    Just today I discovered your stunning article about your faithful friend “Blue”.
    I am still in tears… Beautifully written and a powerful story. I was 12 years old when
    I discovered the 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser. Kate Jackson drove one in season 3 of
    her hit show, “Scarecrow & Mrs. King”. I remember seeing it for the first time thinking,
    “My God, that’s a wagon?” Until that time, wagons had been kind of frumpy and boxy.
    The arrival of the 1985 Cutlass Cruiser (not to mention the 1984 model) was a giant leap in terms
    of design and technology. It proved wagons could be elegant, sophisticated, classy, modern, and head-turning.

    I eagerly waited for Monday evenings, every single week, just to see Kate’s Cutlass Cruiser on Scarecrow
    & Mrs. King. It is because of that car and that show that I have developed a 30 + year passion for cars. I am forever

    As I got older, and got a real job, I was finally able to afford one of my own. The first was a 1988 Brougham version, that
    had obviously been wrecked at some point, as it had the complete 1985 front end. I loved it, as the 1985 front end is my favorite.
    About a year later, a 1995 version appeared and looked almost exactly like the one from Scarecrow & Mrs. King. I traded the 1988
    model for the 1995 and had her for several years until I had to part with her… (long story, too much to list here…) I would do anything
    in the world to have her back…

    I cannot thank you enough for your passion and your story. It is one that needs to be heard. Cars are so much more than appliances.
    They are perfect companions and have a heart and a soul. You my friend, must be my kindred spirit.



    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi DXXX!

      Thank you so much for the story about your ’85 and ’88 and ’95 Olds. These were cars that were made to last. When I bought my 1984, a friend at the office advised me of the difference between it and a Chev: “it’s made of thicker steel and stronger bolts. When you close the door, it closes with a solid clunk. not a clink.”

      I regret that the 2008 recession precipitated the Cash For Clunkers. We lost a whole generation of classic cars in the name of fuel economy.

      You should know the rest of the story of Blue. One day he died in the middle of an intersection. That was a sign that things weren’t good. After a visit to his mechanic, I was advised that age and reduced high-usage was deteriorating the works. I had retired, and was not making my daily 120-mile round trip commute.

      I sold Blue to a collector who was beside himself. He took Blue away in a trailer and constantly updated me on the refurbishments: new A/C, new manifolds, new wheels, new life. I was on his Text favorites list.

      Then one day his son took Blue out on a wintry rescue mission somewhere and slid into the side of a bridge in the country. While Blue wasn’t totaled, the new owner was heartbroken, and again texted me to apologize. That was almost a year later.

      Anyway, he again fixed the car to brand new. The problem for him was that his wife, a lady from the far east, told him Blue was now cursed, and could no longer stay on the property. He was sold to a distant relative in Milwaukee, and I am told that Blue is now delivering flowers there. Sounds poetic enough; I hope it’s true!

      I also have a female star who drove a 1990 Cutlass Cruiser, and that is Deidre Hall, the single mom in the TV series “Our House”. Wilfrid Brimley is her live-in father-in-law. I have a video of her in the car, and I will see if I can send it along. Incidentally, she is 71 years old and still on TV as of 2016 for Hallmark.

      Thanks for writing!


  5. Dear Mr. Brown,

    Just wanted to give you an update. I hope you and your family are well…

    Two weeks ago I flew to Philadelphia from Albuquerque to bring a new family member home…

    She is a 1995 and only has 54,000 miles on her. The drivers side needs to be repainted and new woodgrain installed.
    It seems like she was always parked with the drivers side to the sun. You have inspired me to not just admire Cutlass Cruisers,
    but to finally own one again… Daily, I am doing little cosmetic things here and there to restore her to her original glory.
    I am more determined than ever to make sure that these incredible engineering marvels and beautiful highway vessels do not just
    disappear forever…

    I am hopeful to make it to 300,000 miles with her and beyond 🙂

    Thank you again for your incredible essay about your Cutlass Cruiser…


    Phil Brown
    to David
    22 hours ago
    David you are a true Renaissance man! It is a beautiful car. It is also a replica of the one that Deirdra Hall drove in a tv series in the 90s. When I first started my Facebook page, I did it under the guise of Blue, our cutlass cruiser. So in the very early days, all my posts and pictures related to cruisers I had found. I also shot a. Video of Deirdas cutlass in a rare moment. You will note a strong resemblance. Here you go:

    I hope you enjoy your virtually new cruiser.

    As a matter of interest, I sold Blue to a mechanic/collector who had her up and running in no time with new wheels. Then on a wintry Chicago night, his son drove it into a bridge. Quite upset, the buyer informed me that he had it totally repaired. Unfortunately, his wife had a belief that crashed car had bad spirits, so he gave it to his brother in law in Milwaukee. Last I heard, Blue is still there, delivering flowers. Surely close to 400,000 by now!

    Thanks for writing, and all the best!

    Phil Brown
    Mobile: 224-321-2333

    A Nickel For Your Thoughts

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Muna says:

    My kids were asking me what “retro” means and we ended up talking about cars. I found this post when googling blue 1990 cutlass cruiser to show my kids. My dad bought a used one around 1993 and I remember being so excited about the power windows and extra seats in trunk when we first went to see it at the used car lot. In 1998, I learned to drive in it and even drove it for my driver’s test. Your post and pics brought back memories. Thank you.


    • Muna! So nice to hear from you. I am glad you found my story about Blue. I enjoy, in a vicarious way, every response and take that my readers bring to the table. Never forget your first love with a car!


  7. Michael Monio says:

    As a full time mechanic and driver of almost exclusively classic vehicle this story is a delight. If there’s anything I can do to assist in sourcing or replacement of the transmission I’m just up in Minnesota east of the twin cities and do work out of the home garage during down time, I’d love to donate some time and elbow grease. Stories like this don’t come around every day and deserve a happy ending.



    • Hi Michael: Thanks for your comment and volunteering! I must tell you that Blue was happily acquired by a journeyman mechanic about five years ago. He took him away on a trailer, and reported that in a relatively short time he had Blue operating in tip top condition. While my local mechanic had done his best, the fellow who purchased Blue identified the engine problem by ear. It had something to do with the manifold, which is beyond my humble understanding. The buyer continued to pimp up Blue with new wheels and tires, and in a moment of giddy generosity, lent Blue to his son one evening. You can only guess what happened next, but I was informed that Blue was run into the side of a small country bridge. Back to the shop, and after a few months, he was again good to go. HOWEVER, because the buyer’s wife was a far eastener, a Pacific islander, she stated that Blue could not remain on the premises due to his collision. Some spiritual linkage was broken. So, the buyer gave Blue to his brother in law in Milwaukee, and reported to me that he was a now a delivery vehicle for a small flower shop. That’s a pretty happy ending!
      Thanks for writing!


  8. Thomas Peacock says:

    Wow, love the story and the writing. This body style wagon has been my favorite for years now and yes cash for clunkers have deprived generations of many interesting cars. I hope that Blue is spinning his wheels for years to come.


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