Unlike most station wagons, it was styled with an unusual dome car-like glass found in the roof over the second-row seating. It also included sun visors for the second row of seats, and had smaller glass panels over the rear cargo area windows. This car was introduced to the public on February 4, 1964, as a 1964 model.
This body style was not unique to Oldsmobile, being shared with the Buick Sport Wagon, and was not repeated in future Oldsmobile mid-size wagons; however, the skylight concept was repeated with the 1991-92 full-size Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon and echoed by its corporate sibling, the 1991-96 Buick Roadmaster wagon. The forward-facing third row seat; while the norm until the late 50s was also unusual for car-based wagons at the time. Though the 71-76 full size GM clamshell models would also use a forward-facing third row, and employ a similar elevated roof over the cargo hold, though without the skylight.
The first-generation Vista Cruiser offered a split skylight over the second row of seats.
In 1964, the Vista Cruiser was one of three station wagons offered by Oldsmobile, the others being the F-85 built on the same wheelbase as other F-85/Cutlass intermediates and the full-sized Dynamic 88 Fiesta.
From 1965 to 1970, the Vista Cruiser became the division's largest wagon as Olds did not offer a station wagon in the full-sized 88 series and the intermediate F-85/Cutlass were also offered during each of those years on the shorter wheelbase.
Engine offerings in the Vista Cruiser paralleled other Olds intermediates with a 330 cubic-inch V8 offered from 1964 to 1967 with horsepower ratings from 210 to 320 depending on year and carburetion.
Transmission offerings included the two-speed Jetaway automatic transmission and two rarely equipped manual transmissions including a three-speed column shift and a four-speed floor shift.
A major restyling of the GM A-body car line for 1968 replaced the split skylight with a one-piece skylight, and stretched the wheelbase from 120" to 121".
From 1968 to 1972, a 350 cubic-inch V8 became standard with a larger 400 cubic-inch V8 from the 442 muscle car optional in 1968-69 and a 455 cubic-inch V8 from the 442 available from 1970 to 1972.
Transmission offerings through the years included one of two automatics—the two-speed Jetaway (1968) or three-speed Turbo Hydramatic (1968-72), or very rarely, a standard three-speed manual with column shift or optional four-speed manual with floor-mounted Hurst shifter.
In 1969, the "Dual-Action" tailgate was first offered, as standard equipment on the three-row models and as optional equipment on the two-row models.
In 1970, a redesign reshaped much of the exterior sheet metal, making the edges and curves sharper. Although it closely resembled the 1968-69 models, and is essentially considered to be a second-generation car, many of the body parts were no longer interchangeable with the earlier second-generation cars. The dashboard was also completely redesigned. (The GM Skywagon Club recognizes the 1970-72 models as "Generation 2a")
For 1971, Olds brought back the full-sized Custom Cruiser wagon on the 98 chassis utilizing GM's disappearing clamshell tailgate, but the glass-roofed Vista Cruiser continued until 1972.
A small number of 1972 Vista Cruisers were modified by Hurst Performance, then based in Warminster Township, Pennsylvania for support car duties at the 1972 Indianapolis 500 and equipped with 455 cubic-inch Rocket V8s along with the official pace car, a 1972 Hurst/Olds, also powered by a 455 V8. Two are known to survive as of 2011 (the centennial of the first Indy 500 race), a press car and a medical director's car. As of 2011, the medical director's car is owned by a relative of Ray Harroun, the winner of the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.
Although the roof glass was substituted for an optional pop-up front-row sunroof and the wheelbase was shortened to the same 116-inch (2,946 mm) length as Cutlass sedans for the 1973 model year when the Cutlass and other GM intermediates were completely restyled, the Vista Cruiser name continued for five more model years as an elevated trim level of the Cutlass Supreme station wagon until the Cutlass Cruiser was introduced for the 1978 model year. Engine offerings during this period included a standard 350 cubic-inch Rocket V8 or optional 455 cubic-inch Rocket V8 through 1976, which was replaced by a 403 cubic-inch Rocket V8 in 1977. The three-speed Turbo Hydra-matic transmission, power steering and power front disc brakes were standard equipment on Vista Cruisers during the 1973-77 period.
At the beginning of National Lampoon's Vacation the car that gets crushed is a 1971 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser.
A first-generation Vista Cruiser was used as the mother's car in the 1992 film Radio Flyer. It bore a reproduction 1965 Pennsylvania license plate.
A second-generation Vista Cruiser was prominently featured in the 2002 English film, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands.
A first-generation Vista Cruiser also featured prominently as Oliver and Emily's car in the 2005 film A Lot Like Love.
A first-generation Vista Cruiser appears in the 2011 movie Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.
A 1969 Vista Cruiser was Eric Forman's car on That '70s Show. It was sold to Wilmer Valderrama, the actor who played Fez, for $500 USD when the show ended in 2006.
A second generation 1970 Vista Cruiser is driven by Peter Bishop in the TV series Fringe.
Matchbox released a 1971 Vista Cruiser in their 2009 1-100 diecast vehicle range.