Fact 1: If Oldsmobile had its way, 1970 Camaro SS 396 and 455 Trans Am customers would also have the W-30–motivated Fiesta pony car to choose from (my fanciful guess as to what Oldsmobile might have named its F-Body variant). It seems Olds management was eager to take on Ford’s Mustang and lobbied hard to get its own version of the Camaro/Firebird F-Body in 1967.
According to Jim Wangers’ 2007 memoir Pontiac . . . Pizazz! “. . . the ‘Panther team’ was the code name for GM’s belated project to finally market a competitor to Ford’s successful Mustang. Chevrolet had already been working on it when the corporate guys decided that Pontiac ought to have a version of this new car too. This news wasn’t received very well at Pontiac because they were really getting a late start. But the guys who were really upset about this decision were at Oldsmobile. They knew about the upcoming ‘Panther’ and had been pleading with their corporate bosses to let them participate; they had been scooped by Pontiac once before with the GTO, and now it was going to happen again. The GM brass didn’t think this car fi t the Olds image, and they were right. It fi t much better as a Pontiac.”
In the end, Oldsmobile wasn’t completely left out; unlike Chevrolet and Pontiac, it got the upmarket E-Body (also shared with Cadillac and Buick) for use under the front-wheel-drive 1966 Toronado, creating a personal luxury legend in the process.
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Fact 2: The 1968 Hurst/Olds Cutlass was originally intended to have a number of features that didn’t reach production. Early plans called for disappearing headlamps and a trunk lid mounted popup air brake. Inside the 455 engine, a premium forged-steel crankshaft was proposed, but the standard cast-iron production unit was eventually used. The time crunch was driven by Oldsmobile’s need to shut down 1968 vehicle production by June of that calendar year to get set up for production of new 1969 models. Because Hurst’s Lansing-based H/O assembly shop wouldn’t be ready until April 1968, the entire run of 515 H/Os had to be produced in a mere 30 days. There simply wasn’t enough time to do it all.
Fact 3: The 1962 OldsJetfire was America’s first mass-produced passenger car with a turbocharged V-8 (Chevrolet’s 1962 CorvairSpyder being the fi rst turbo fl at-six). Long before the advent of computer-controlled engine function processors, the Jetfire’s defense against engine-killing detonation was a primitive waterinjection system.
Sold by Olds dealers as Turbo Rocket Fluid and stored in an underhood reservoir, the fluid was a mixture of distilled water and alcohol (to prevent freezing). When triggered by boost, the fluid injection reduced combustion temperature and quelled detonation. Oldsmobile sold 3,765 1962 Jetfi res, plus another 5,842 in 1963 before quietly discontinuing the option. Jetfire turbo cars are easily identified by a specific 3147 number on the cowl tag.
Fact 4: The 1966 Hurst Hairy Olds follows the 1965 Hurst Hemi Under Glass Barracuda wheelstander as one of the most recognized exhibition drag cars of all time. Featuring twin supercharged Olds 425 Toronado engines (bored to 432 cubes) and four-wheel drive, the car was built without radiators. At the suggestion of Hurst engineer John DeJohn, conventional radiator cores were eschewed in favor of simply running coolant through the main frame rails, which were sealed and held 6.5 gallons of fluid. That explains the otherwise nonsensical presence of a long fi ller tube and pressure cap sprouting out of the boxed frame rail near driver Joe Schubeck’s feet.
Fact 5: The 1970 W-27 aluminum differential option is legendary— perhaps 300 were made. But it wouldn’t have been feasible if not for the fact Oldsmobile (like all GM intermediates) used a coilsprung four-link rear suspension layout. Had Oldsmobile used the parallel leaf spring design found under most Mopar and Ford intermediate vehicle platforms, the union of the steel axle tubes and aluminum differential case would have been a fatal weak point. That’s because aluminum cannot be welded to steel.
In service, the force of pinion rise on hard acceleration would have broken any type of screw-in or pinned union of the steel tubes to the aluminum housing. But since all 1964–1988 GM intermediate differentials have integrally cast ears to accept the four-link’s upper control arms, the forces of pinion rise are transferred into the case rather than the delicate tube-to-housing union. For the production W-27 unit, Olds engineers bored holes into the aluminum housing ends, pressed the steel axle tubes in place, then filled the holes with molten iron (a classic plug weld) to achieve a durable union.
Fact 6: Olds muscle car print ads started out tame but evolved into some of the most outrageous of the era. The 1970 Dr. Oldsmobile ad campaign was the pinnacle. Two-page color ads depicting a cast of bizarre vaudeville characters appeared throughout the year hyping the W machines.
To celebrate GM’s lifting of cubic-inch limits, Dr. Oldsmobile—with his pasty white complexion and handlebar moustache— introduced Elephant Engine Ernie in the December 1969 issue of Hot Rod magazine. A huge wrestler draped with a steamship-size anchor chain, Ernie was given responsibility for installing “As large a V-8 as ever bolted into a special-performance production automobile”—referring to the standard 455 (which replaced the 400 used previously).
What about the 455-powered H/O of 1968 and 1969? Remember, they were built off-campus, at a Hurst-operated conversion plant owned by Demmer Tool & Die in Lansing, Michigan. Another memorable Dr. Oldsmobile sidekick was Shifty Sidney. A purported driveline test engineer, Sidney’s right hand was always depicted in a blur—navigating a 4-speed shift pattern. Great stuff!
Fact 7: One of the more famous celebrity Olds racing enthusiasts is actor James Garner—best known for his starring role in The Rockford Files. Garner’s best-remembered Olds connection was the Goodyear Grabber 1970 4-4-2 Baja 1000 off-road racer he campaigned through 1972.
Based on a pre-production 1970 pilot car that arrived at Vic Hickey’s California shop with an experimental all-aluminum W-31 350 mill, it was radically reworked for race duty and survives to this day. Hickey’s shop eventually turned out three Cutlass-based off-road race cars, none of which appeared to have direct factory sponsorship. But with access to exotica like the Grabber’s alloy 350, Garner obviously had plenty of star power around Lansing.
Fact 8: The drag strip was comedian Dick Smothers’ other stage. The success of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS allowed Dick to partner with several Olds dealers in a 1969 sponsorship of six similarly decorated Cutlass-based NHRA D, F, and G/Stock class racers.
Though Dick drove the Century Olds–sponsored cars when his TV schedule allowed it, the majority of racing was handled by appointed regional drivers. Participating Olds dealerships included King Oldsmobile, Chesrown Oldsmobile, Dewey-Griffin Oldsmobile, Century Oldsmobile, and Berejik Oldsmobile, located in Needham, Massachusetts—as far from Hollywood as you can get—but demonstrating the nationwide reach of the Smothers Racing Team.
Fact 9: What’s in a name? Dick Chrysler did more for Olds performance efforts than his last name might imply. Hired by Hurst in 1966 as a broom pusher, by 1969 Chrysler was personally responsible for painting 1969 H/O hood scoops and trunk spoilers. Each night he painted 25 scoops and spoilers so they’d be dry and ready for installation the next day.
Chrysler left Hurst in 1976 to found his own tier-two vehicle conversion company, Cars & Concepts in Brighton, Michigan. By 1982 Chrysler purchased the floundering Hurst Performance and nursed it back to health. The revival of the Hurst/Olds in 1983 was Chrysler’s pet project. Other Cars & Concepts offspring included assisting in the design of the 1982 Corvette Collector Edition opening hatchback roof, construction of all 1982 and 1983 Chrysler Corporation K-car convertibles, and converting hundreds of thousands of Ford Mustang coupes into convertibles between 1983 and 1993, one of which, an Oxford White 1984 GT, sits in my driveway.
Fact 10: Though it takes a team of talented people to provide proper backing, every Detroit automaker has a muscle car rock star. At Oldsmobile, the man most credited with pushing the high-performance agenda was John Beltz. Truly the Rocket division’s version of Zora ArkusDuntov (Chevrolet hero) or Tom Hoover (Chrysler Hemi hero), Beltz was in charge of engineering from 1964 until his untimely death in 1972 from cancer at age 46. During his tenure, Beltz oversaw the creation of the 4-4-2, Toronado, Hurst/Olds, and the W-machine program.
In a 1971 interview with Car and Driver magazine, Beltz said, “All the time I was chief engineer [1964–1969; after 1969 Beltz was promoted to Oldsmobile general manager], I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the fi rst prototype of a new car. I’d look for excuses to go out there in the shops and look at the cars. I still do.” Olds enthusiasts can thank Beltz for his many performance-minded contributions to the fleet.
Fact 11: At Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile, prototype engineers all dabbled with hemispherical combustion chambers during the muscle car era. The Olds program that came closest to production was the W-43 “Super Rocket” program. Initiated in 1967, under the guidance of Chief Engineer John Beltz, numerous W-43 layouts were built and tested, including pushrod-operated two- and four-valve (per chamber) heads as well as an overhead cam variant called the OW-43. The tamest of the bunch was an all-iron two-valve 455 hemi mounting a Rochester Quadrajet and using a hand-selected cast-iron crankshaft. This all-iron “bread and butter” W-43 hemi weighed only 86 pounds more than the stock Olds 455 it was meant to replace. Full-power testing was hampered by the 600-hp limit of the water-loaded engine dynamometers used by Olds engineering. Had the early 1970s ecology movement not interfered, there is little doubt hemi-headed street Oldsmobiles would have materialized.
Fact 12: At the other end of the Olds hemi horsepower scale, breathing through a quartet of Weber carburetors, the wild all-aluminum OW-43 DOHC 455 easily cranked 700 hp at an amazing 8,400 rpm.
This report in the 1971 Hot Rod Magazine Complete Book of Engines says it all: “The dyno runs of the OW-43 that took place in 1969 and early 1970 were perhaps the most memorable and spectacular ever to rock the foundations of Olds Engineering. Asked about the engines’ maximum output, Joe Jones (W-43 oversight engineer) mused, ‘Well, it’s kind of dependent on the operator. You see, in our dyno rooms the operator stands right in there next to the engine . . . ’ This was unusual duty running the OW-43, with columns of fuel vapor standing feet in the air above the resonating intake ram stacks.” The OW-43 program may have floundered, but elements of the DOHC layout can be seen in the Olds Quad-4, which entered mass production in 1987.
Fact 13: Did Oldsmobile really build four-door 4-4-2s? The answer is yes, but only in 1964. Among the 2,999 4-4-2s built that first year, a total of ten were based on the four-door sedan platform. That so few were built is actually the big surprise. Remember, Oldsmobile launched the 4-4-2 with a full-page magazine print ad depicting an illustrated four-door F-85 police cruiser—complete with uniformed law enforcement officers at the wheel. The ad copy read “Police needed it . . . Olds built it . . . Pursuit proved it,” a little off target for attracting would-be GTO buyers, no?
Furthermore, the ad touted the 4-4-2 package as being “available in any F-85 V-8 model except station wagons.” Verifying a legit 1964 4-4-2 four-door today is tough because Oldsmobile didn’t assign a specific 4-4-2 VIN code until the 1968 model year. A rocksolid paper trail is the best defense against clones.
Fact 14: Fascination with the first-year 4-4-2 continues with the question: Was an automatic transmission available on the 1964 option sheet? The answer is a big, fat No way. Remember, the entire 1964 4-4-2 marketing ploy hinged on its 4-barrel carburetor, fouron-the-floor, and dual exhaust.
Deviating with the Super Turbine 300 2-speed automatic (which was available on V-8 F-85 and Cutlasses) would have scrambled the equation and 4-2-2 just doesn’t have the same punch. So despite the recent sale of an automatic-equipped 1964 4-4-2 at a 2012 Barrett-Jackson collector car auction, reading the fi ne print reveals the transmission swap was handled at the postretail level.
Fact 15: For many years, I didn’t know the proper way to say 4-4-2. In gearhead conversations I’d express it as “four-forty-two.” I was corrected about five years ago by Motor Trend magazine executive editor (and my on-air Barrett-Jackson auction co-host) Matt Stone. He said, “No Mags, it’s always expressed as ‘four-four-two.’” And now I know. How about you, are you guilty of the same infraction?
Fact 16: Did Olds development engineers really make a clear plastic oil pan for the 1966 Toronado? Indeed they did.
The year was 1964, and the task of packaging the frontwheel-drive axle shafts and the oil pan was causing grief. First a tube was installed through the pan for axle shaft passage, but leaks and expense were insurmountable. Then a pan was fabricated with a large-clearance hump to allow the axle shaft to pass below. But this trapped oil in the front section and starved the rear sump and oil pickup tube. Even worse, the trapped oil was whipped by the spinning crank, causing aeration and allowing the hydraulic lifters to bleed down. Finally, to get a view of where the problem spots were, the clear plastic pan was fabricated and installed on a test mule. Viewing the oil movement in real time (using an engine-tilting fixture in the dyno room) allowed observation and correction, using baffles and stamped troughs.
Naturally, this clear plastic oil pan was not used in production, but it did help solve a major headache. Today, early Toronado oil pans are prized by 4-4-2 racers for their extra oil capacity and coincidental ability to fi t the 4-4-2 chassis.
Fact 17: 7Three full years before the official introduction of the 1966 Toronado, pre-production engineering test cars were driven on public roads. Because the bold body was still in development, a fleet of eight 1963 Dynamic 88 hardtops were converted to frontwheel drive using prototype Toronado drivetrains. These cars were tested on public roads and racked up over 1.5 million miles. Aside from slightly modified front wheel openings and a few extra inches of hood and front fender length, the sole visual giveaway was the Toronado-specific negative-offset wheels.
Fact 18: 1966 Toronado development continued and by October, 1964, four hand-built prototypes were ready for real-world evaluation beyond the gates of General Motors’ desolate Arizona proving grounds. Nearly identical to production units, light camouflage was applied to foil full identification and testing was conducted away from major population centers.
Despite these precautions, one test drive randomly encountered the 1964 Mobil Economy Run, complete with more than 100 camera-wielding automotive journalists. Numerous unauthorized photos were taken and published, but the publicity did far more good than bad.
Fact 19: Rock-and-roll icon Elvis Presley was well known for his love of Cadillac cars. But since the revised Eldorado wouldn’t arrive until 1967, he appeared at his local Olds dealer in Memphis wanting to buy the first 1966 Toronado delivered. But The King didn’t get his wish; the car had already been sold to a local cardiologist.
Fact 20: Did Oldsmobile build any Toronados with manual transmissions? Aside from a handful of possible engineering evaluation cars, production Toronados were all equipped with automatic transaxles. When the 1966 Toronado was introduced, the only frontwheel-drive cars in production were the economy-oriented BMC Austin and Morris, Citroen, Auto-Union-DKW, Lancia, Panhard, Peugeot, Renault, and Saab—none of which had more than 100 hp. As exciting as the thought of a 400-hp 1970 Toro 455 GT with fouron-the-floor is, the torque steer would have been unmanageable.
Fact 21: Without the 1961 introduction of the BOP (Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac) senior compact line (consisting of the Buick Skylark, Olds F-85, and Pontiac Tempest), there would no intermediate platform upon which to build the mighty 1964 4-4-2, snuffing a major Olds performance chapter before it even had a chance to begin. But did you know the F-85 initially shared its basic body shell with the rear-engine Chevy Corvair? It’s true.
In order to amortize development and tooling costs among the four vehicle lines, major under-skin body, uniframe, and front suspension parts are common among the Corvair and the pre- 1964 BOP senior compacts. General Motors even grouped them all together under the Y-Body moniker. Lifting the hood of a 1961– 1963 F-85 or Cutlass reveals front inner fenders, cowl structure, and suspension bits shared with the 1960–1964 Corvair. Check for yourself sometime and you’ll see it too. The Y-Body grew into the A-Body for 1964, spawning the first muscle cars.
Fact 22: The intimidating 1970 W-25 OAI (outside air induction) hood was Oldsmobile’s first-mass produced fiberglass body panel. Available optionally on 4-4-2 and Cutlass S cars with 4-barrel carburetion, the fiberglass hood skin was bonded to a conventional pressed-steel frame. This composite construction added rigidity and prevented the hood panel from softening and bowing in the hot sun. High-quality reproductions of this legendary unit have recently become available from Thornton Restorations.
Fact 23: The first version of the Olds OAI system was seen on the 1966 W-30. Two molded-plastic ducts were mounted below the front bumper and featured 33.2 square inches of area. They fed cool air to dual, 4-inch flex hoses connected to a sealed chrome air cleaner housing. Because the driver-side hose routing interfered with the stock battery placement, Oldsmobile relocated it to the right side of the trunk compartment, over the axle hump, where it improved traction. Legit 1966 W-30 bodies (54 built) have factorywelded battery cable tabs on the trunk floor. This was also the first (and only) muscle-era Oldsmobiles that were factory built with a trunk-mounted battery.
Fact 24: Even though the Hurst Hairy Olds was built on a custom, square-and-round tube-steel frame and featured gutted steel body panels, the twin-engine exhibition machine still weighed 4,000 pounds. One exotic touch was its hand-formed aluminum bumpers. Indistinguishable from chrome steel 4-4-2 bumpers, only the dull finish gave away their lightweight nature. It’s too bad Oldsmobile never entered the Super Stock or Factory Experimental arena; copies of the alloy bumpers would have been very popular with 4-4-2 doorslammer racers looking to shed some weight.
Fact 25: The dual air scoops incorporated into the front bumpers of 1966 W-30 and Track-Pac cars forced the relocation of the front turn-signal indicator lamps. Normally, each lamp unit was fitted to the outer end of the horizontal slots pressed into the front bumper, aligning each unit below the outboard headlamp. To make room for the OAI scoops, Oldsmobile moved the turn signals inboard about a foot each. Each over-the-counter Track-Pac tri-carb conversion kit included a detailed template to assist with the lamp relocation job.
Fact 26: The 1966 Toronado speedometer was unlike other Olds units that year. Instead of using a conventional sweep needle to indicate velocity, the Toro utilized a rotating drum marked from 0 to 130 mph. In the December 1965 issue of Motor Trend magazine, tech editor John Ethridge drove a new 1966 Toronado from General Motors’ Milford, Michigan, proving grounds to Los Angeles. Paying close attention to the numbers displayed on the drum, Ethridge discovered the windshield wipers lifted off the glass over 80 mph unless the retractable headlamps were raised. Then, the wipers stayed put all the way to 100 mph. Motor Trend rightfully awarded its Car of the Year laurels to the 1966 Toronado.
Fact 27: The 1966 OldsToronado (and 1967 Cadillac Eldorado) was based on the GM E-Body platform. With front-wheel drive, the interior of these cars was incredibly spacious, thanks to their nearly flat floors. It is a little-recognized fact that the rear-wheeldrive 1966 Buick Riviera is also based on the same E-Body chassis, albeit fitted with a conventional transmission hump and driveshaft tunnel to suit its rear-wheel-drive layout. Similar platform sharing exists beneath the 1961 Olds F-85 senior compact and the Chevy Corvair, both of which use variants of the Y-Body.
Fact 28: All 1968 Cutlass Hurst/Olds were built with black interior surfaces. That said, two cars are known to have been refitted with white interiors at the dealer level. The interior changes were made prior to retail delivery—likely to satisfy customer tastes.
Fact 29: The task of hand-striping the 515 Hurst/Olds Cutlasses built in 1968 fell to one man, Paul Hatton. Well known for lettering and striping race cars such as Pete Gates “Gate Job” 427 SOHC 1966 flip-top Comet, Hurst contracted Hatton to pinstripe all 515 cars in one month. For a set fee of $20 per car, Hatton laid perfect white border stripes on twenty cars every other day. For his efforts, Hatton pocketed a cool $10,300, enough to buy two H/Os with some change left over for slicks.
Fact 30: Oldsmobile body stylists didn’t like the 1966–1969 OAI system because it relied on air entries positioned below the front bumper or tucked into the grille. Competing muscle car ram-air systems generally admitted fresh air through the hood surface. This gave stylists plenty of opportunities to conjure exciting air scoops, bubbles, domes, and blisters. But with its ducted frontal-inlet scheme, Olds hood stylists had their hands tied and the resulting hoods used on 4-4-2s were fairly bland. That changed in 1970 with the advent of the W-25 Force Air double-scoop fiberglass hood, giving the Olds stylists a chance to strut their stuff.
Ironically, most muscle car hood scoops (the W-25 included) were too low to escape the stagnant air caused by the boundary layer effect as the car moved through the air. Studies show the scoop opening needs to be at least 5 inches above the hood skin to really grab a bite of fast-moving, outside air. The front-mount OAI scoops of 1966–1969 were not affected by the stagnant boundary layer and were very effective. I guess the struggle between form and function never ends.
Fact 31: Years before hot rodders and customizers discovered the “monochromatic” look in the 1980s, Oldsmobile unveiled the Sebring Yellow Rallye 350 in February 1970. It was the first Oldsmobile equipped with body-colored bumpers. The Rallye 350 is not a 4-4-2, but rather an appearance and performance package (W-45) for the F-85 sedan and Cutlass S sedan and hardtop (there were no
Fact 32: Bucket seats were a very popular item among muscle car buyers seeking to continue the sporting theme inside the car. But in the case of the front-wheel-drive Toronado, its completely flat front floor begged to be optimized with a bench seat, and the vast majority of Toronado buyers agreed. Bucket seat take rates never exceeded 10 percent during 1966 to 1970, bolstering the Toro’s claim as a true six-passenger vehicle.
Fact 33: Olds muscle machines are well known for blending comfort and performance. But don’t expect to find C-60 air conditioning aboard any 1966 W-30. It was strictly N/A because it added 80 pounds of undesirable nose weight and was of no value on a rapid trip down the quarter-mile. L-69 Tri-Carb 400 buyers, on the other hand, could order A/C for an extra $343.20.
Fact 34: In another rare case of sacrificed comfort, 1970–1972 4-speed W-30 455 applications required as much as 90 pounds of leg muscle in a panic stop—their front disc/rear drum brakes were nonpower assisted. The 4-speed W-30 cam’s 328 degrees of duration held the intake and exhaust valves open longer than the base 455 cam, reducing low-speed cylinder pressure and the vacuum signal needed to operate the power brake booster. Automatic-equipped W-30s came with a milder cam for compatibility with optional JL-2 power front disc brakes, a $41.60 upcharge.
Fact 35: 4-4-2 drivers wanting full information on vehicle function could order the optional U-21 Rocket Rally-Pac instrument cluster in 1967. For $84.26 the unit combined a 6,000-rpm tachometer, clock, and gauges for oil pressure, coolant temperature, and charging system function into a single, circular pod positioned next to a similarly sized 120-mph speedometer.
Oldsmobile changed the layout in 1968 to exclude all but the clock and tachometer (which now reads to 7,000 rpm), and positioned the clock within the circular tach face. This “tach on the outside, clock in the middle” configuration was used through 1972 and became a familiar detail to 4-4-2 drivers.
Fact 36: Regardless of year, the vast majority of 4-4-2 interiors were fitted with floor-mounted transmission controls. It was only right. But a frugal few specified the three-on-the-tree shifter for their base-level 3-speed manual gearboxes starting in 1966.
In 1965 the 3-speed base transmission was floor shifted, and in 1964, every 4-4-2 was strictly four-on-the-floor. Pontiac’s GTO also adopted three-on-the-tree architecture in 1966, though few buyers took it.
Fact 37: One of the coolest visual goodies on any Olds muscle car are the fabled W-30 red plastic front inner fender liners. First seen on 1967 W-30 cars (502 built), these distinctive items were factory installed in place of the usual stamped-steel inner fenders, which were dip-painted semi-gloss black. Constructed of heat-molded plastic (not fiberglass), the liners weigh 4 pounds each, about half of their steel counterparts.
Weight savings wasn’t the main goal; rather, color-impregnated plastic was used because it’s relatively unaffected by scratches and is easy to clean. These red liners were standard issue on every 1967– 1971 W-30–equipped 4-4-2 (and the 1968 H/O). Reproductions are popular today, and many have been fitted to non–W-30 cars.
Fact 38: One major difference between the red plastic W-30 front inner fender liners made for 1967–1969 4-4-2 models and those produced for 1970–1971 applications is the presence of circular holes cut into the earlier parts. Positioned on the flat section ahead of the wheel housing arch, the 6-inch-diameter holes allow passage of the flexible duct hoses running from the bumper-mounted air scoops to the air cleaner housing.
With the 1970 introduction of the sleek W-25 fiberglass double-scoop hood (standard on W-30) Oldsmobile discontinued the bumper/grille-mounted air scoops and fed outside air through the top of the air cleaner lid. As such, 1970–1971 W-30 fender liners are not cut for the passage of air duct tubes; the flat section ahead of the wheel arches remains unbroken.
Fact 39: Plastic front inner fender liners were also installed on 350-powered W-31 cars in 1968–1970 but differed in their use of black plastic instead of the eye-catching red used for W-30 applications. Opinions are mixed on this topic; some feel the red liners rightly maintained a level of exclusivity for the king of the hill 400 and 455 W-30 cars. Others feel the W-31 small-block cars were worthy of red liner status. After all, Olds marketing referred to W-31s as members of the prestigious W-Machine group and touted their hand-assembled, special-clearance engine assembly right alongside the big 400s and 455s. But still, a 1968–1970 W-31 F-85 or Cutlass must have black plastic inner fenders to be correct. And like the W-30, 1968–1969 W-31 units are cut for air duct passage while 1970 units are not.
Fact 40: Trunk spoilers were a major muscle car fashion item and Oldsmobile’s first installation was seen on the 1969 Hurst/ Olds. Its aerodynamic appendage was reportedly patterned after a Cessna wing that was studied at the Lansing, Michigan, airport then executed in fi berglass without the aid of wind tunnel testing. Despite its shot-in-the-dark aerodynamic origins, Oldsmobile claimed the wing generated 60 pounds of downforce at 100 mph. Fitted to each of the 906 Hurst/Olds built in 1969, the popular wing was added to the 1970 option sheet as RPO W-35 for $73.72. Ordering restrictions rightfully prevented the wing from being installed on six-cylinder F-85 sedans and four-door models though overthe-counter sales—and installations (PN 983190, $70.00)—were beyond factory oversight.
Fact 41: Here’s a ground-shaking bit of trivia for 1968 and 1969 Hurst/ Olds fans. Hurst was responsible for exactly one 455 Cutlass engine swap—it was performed in November 1967 on the 1968 H/O proposal prototype. The rest of the 1,124 (515 in 1968; 609 in 1969) 455-powered Cutlasses got their engines on the regular Lansing, Michigan, Olds assembly line. Though it has long been assumed these 455 swaps were done off-campus to obey the GM edict limiting midsize cars to engines with 400 cubes or less, recent “confessions” by former Hurst employees Dave Landrith and Dick Chrysler prove otherwise. Considering that each of these Toronado-spec W-45 455s was painted bright red, the 400-to-455 switch must have been obvious to onlookers but somehow the secret was kept from top management. Thanks to Mark Fletcher and Richard Truesdell for making this discovery and including it in their book Hurst Equipped.
Fact 42: When the Oldsmobile J-2 and Pontiac Tri-Power performance engine options arrived in 1957, they marked Detroit’s first utilization of triple 2-barrel induction in an assembly line offering. Previous Detroit multi-carb performance V-8s were strictly of the dual-quad variety. The J-2 and Tri-Power were highly successful and nobody was surprised when both reappeared for 1958.
The big surprise came in 1959 when Oldsmobile dropped the J-2. All subsequent performance V-8s breathed through a single 4-barrel carburetor. Meanwhile Pontiac bolstered its performance image with an uninterrupted decade of Tri-Power availability (ending after the 1966 model year). Oldsmobile’s only reprise was the oneyear-only L69 400 engine option of 1966, with 2,129 built. By contrast, Pontiac installed 19,045 Tri-Power 389s in GTOs the same year.
Fact 43:The team behind the 1968 and 1969 Hurst/Olds program made certain its rule-bending 455 stood out. Each engine was painted bright red while the 400-cubic-inch V-8s used in sameyear 4-4-2s was bronze. Telling a 1968 H/O 455 from a 1969 is as easy as spotting the 1969’s flashier chrome valve covers. For 1970, the H/O 455 was painted the same metallic blue as the standard 455 fitted to all 4-4-2 models that year.
Fact 44: Casual 4-4-2 enthusiasts easily assume all 1960s GM intermediate muscle cars shared the same rear axles, the Chevy 10- and 12-bolt units. This is simply not true. While some Canadian-built 4-4-2s did use the Chevy 12-bolt, most 1968–1970 Olds performance models used a specific rear axle called the type-O. Thanks to its use of a 12-bolt inspection cover it looks like a Chevy axle but closer examination reveals many differences.
The type-O uses 10 bolts to secure the ring gear to the carrier (versus 12 for the Chevy 12-bolt) and the axle shafts are securely retained by rings bolted to the flanged ends of the axle tubes. The Chevy 12-bolt (and its 10-bolt partner) used an inferior C-clip axle-retention system, which allowed the wheel to leave the car if an axle shaft broke. Finally, the ring gear diameters are different in these dueling 12-bolts: 8.8 inches for the Chevy, 8.3 for the Olds.
Fact 45: The 1966 Olds W-30 is a very different car than a 1966 4-4-2 equipped with the optional L69 400 engine option. The W-30 was a specially constructed, factory drag race package meant for NHRA C/Stock competition, and only 54 cars were made. All were built on the Lansing, Michigan, assembly line (seventh digit of VIN must be M), had standard 4.11:1 gears, a trunk-mounted battery, under-bumper cold-air ducting, and came with specially prepped L-69 Tri-Carb engines (hotter .474-inch lift cam, select-fi t bearings, stiffer valvesprings).
By contrast, the L-69 was simply the standard 4-4-2 L-78 400 fitted with Tri-Carb induction in place of the regular Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel. Power jumped from 350 to 360 and 2,129 L-69s were built, all of them with 3- or 4-speed manual transmissions. They’re both amazing cars but a Tri-Carb engine alone does not a W-30 make.
Fact 46: Though Oldsmobile only built 54 Tri-Carb W-30 cars in 1966, it offered owners of standard L-78 (4-barrel) 4-4-2s the Track Pac, an over-the-counter Tri-Carb conversion kit including the W-30 cam and valvesprings, under-bumper cold-air ducting and a (second) version of the hand-formed, chrome-plated steel air cleaner housing initially fitted to factory W-30 cars. Records indicate 93 Track-Pac kits were installed by dealers and private racers in 1966 (see Fact #225).
Fact 47: Speaking of the 1966 W-30 air cleaner, those installed on the 54 Lansing-built package cars use 10 fasteners to secure the chrome lid to the black-painted base. For the over-the-counter Track-Pac kit, a second design was used. Also hand formed and with a similar appearance, it has 8 fasteners, stands 1/4 inch taller, and features crisper lines and creases. Ironically, the streetoriented 1966 L-69 Tri-Carb induction was fitted with a trio of 5-inch, open-element individual air cleaners, which were shared with the Pontiac GTO.
Fact 48: The 1985–1987 4-4-2 (and 1984 Hurst/Olds) had a leg up over its corporate cousin, the Monte Carlo SS, in the form of a stronger 8.5-inch “corporate” rear axle unit. Also shared with the potent turbocharged Buick Regal Grand National, the 8.5 was far more reliable than the wimpy 7.5-inch-diameter ring gear delivered to Bowtie customers.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the majority of 1980s 4-4-2s were built without the G-80 limited-slip differential unit. Listed as a stand-alone item (as opposed to being included in the 4-4-2 package), it took a performance-savvy dealer (or customer) to make sure the G-80 limited-slip was included in the newcar order. Often, it wasn’t, and the result was the need for frequent replacement of the right rear tire.
Fact 49: A major difference between the 8.5-inch corporate axle used under 1980s 4-4-2s and Buick GN/T-Types was the gear ratio. Thanks to the overdrive automatic transmission used in both cars, aggressive gear ratios were possible. Buick specified a 3.42:1 ratio but Olds went all out with its choice of 3.73:1 cogs, giving the otherwise tame 307 V-8 some extra dig off the line.
Fact 50:Buyers of 1986 4-4-2s got a little something extra inside their 307 V-8 powerplants: a genuine roller cam. The switch from fl at-bottom lifters to roller-equipped lifters is usually made by racers because it opens the door to more aggressive cam lobe profi les to open and close the valves faster than would be possible with a flat-tappet configuration. But in the case of the 1986 4-4-2, Oldsmobile went after the reduced friction offered by the rollerized lifters. Ironically, the rated power dropped from 180 to 170 hp but, more importantly, torque output rose from 240 to 255 ft-lbs. This was the only production application of roller lifters in any Olds OHV V-8.
Fact 51: In the early days of the Detroit horsepower race, Oldsmobile —like many manufacturers—turned to the budding California speed equipment industry for go-faster goodies. Adding factory part numbers made them legal in the eyes of sanctioning bodies such as NASCAR and NHRA.
A great example was the 1957 adoption of the Iskenderian E-2 solid-lifter cam kit as an over-the-counter boost for the 371-cubic-inch, 300-hp J-2 mill. Replacing the stock hydraulic J-2 cam, lifters, and valvesprings with the Isky goodies eliminated valve fl oat, allowed higher crank speeds, and transformed the engine into a J-2R. Oldsmobile claimed a mere 12-hp boost (to 312) but everybody knew better. By the 1960s, the growing importance of auto racing and high performance signaled the end of Detroit’s reliance on the California aftermarket and most performance development was assigned to in-house engineering teams.
Fact 52: While most of Detroit was content to let the slide rule guys toil in relative obscurity, the Dr. Oldsmobile magazine ad campaign of 1969–1970 was a rare effort to celebrate the white lab coat set. Though Olds ad execs conjured a fictional team of over-the-top cartoonish characters (Elephant Engine Ernie, Shifty Sidney, Wind Tunnel Waldo, Hy Spy), the actual work was done by real-world guys such as John Beltz (chief engineer, then Olds division manager), Frank Ball (head of the Olds engine development group), and Joe Jones (staff engineer in charge of many W-programs including the W43 hemi head).
Fact 53: Was the Dr. Oldsmobile character inspired by Hurst’s Jack “Doc” Watson? Yes and no. Watson was a Hurst employee and part of the team responsible for collaborating on projects like the Hurst Hairy Olds, and the Hurst-modified Hurst/Olds program. Watson also ran the Hurst Performance Saf-T-Center mechanical first-aid tent at major drag race events, offering free technical help and parts support to racers in the field. His professional demeanor earned him the “Doc” nickname and it seems likely his existence fed the imagination of the ad executives in charge of conjuring the Dr. Oldsmobile character. That’s where the similarities end. The real-life Doc Watson was clean shaven and had the rugged build of a boxer.
By contrast, the Dr. Oldsmobile character wore an outrageous handlebar moustache and appeared geeky in his oversize white lab coat. In the end, I’m thankful for the existence of both doctors, each a legend in his own way
Fact 54: If you find a vintage Olds J-2 tri-carb unit at a swap meet, know that it only fits the 1957–1958 371 block. That’s because earlier 303 and 324 blocks and later 1959-up 394 blocks have different deck heights that place the heads either too close together (303/324) or too far apart (394) to fi t the J-2 intake manifold’s flange width. The J-2 manifold is identified by a raised part number that reads 571145.
Fact 55: Don’t be tricked into assuming the 1966 L-69 tri-carb intake manifold is simply a dusted-off J-2 casting from 1957. Besides their common cast-iron construction, there’s no relationship whatsoever. The Olds V-8 went through a series of major redesigns between 1957 and 1966 and very few parts interchange. The big visual cue identifying the later L-69 unit is its larger footprint because it doubles as the lifter valley cover. By contrast, the J-2 casting has free-standing intake runners; Oldsmobile used a stamped tin cover to seal the lifter valley. Though Olds engineers are known to have evaluated a lightweight, cast-aluminum L-69 manifold, none were released for production.
Fact 56: The 1970 W-45 Rallye 350 junior supercar was powered by the L-74 350 small-block with 310 hp. Do not confuse this engine with the 325 hp W-31 350 of the same year (but also available in 1968 and 1969). The W-31 used a wild 308-degree hydraulic cam, thicker harmonic balancer, 10.5:1 compression, 455-size (2.004/1.630) valves, aluminum intake manifold, specially calibrated Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel, and standard W-25 ram-inducted hood.
By contrast, the L-74 was essentially a station wagon mill with a cast-iron 4-barrel intake, 10.25:1 compression, mild cam timing, and dual exhaust. A mere 15 hp separates the two engines on paper, but rest assured, the W-31 was a different breed. A hint at the W-31’s high-RPM orientation comes from its 5,400-rpm horsepower peak. The milder L-74 made peak power at 4,800 rpm. Interestingly, neither 350 (the W-31 or the L-74) was ever available in the 4-4-2. Less than a dozen W-31 350s were reportedly installed in Rallye 350 models; the rest were powered by the potent but basic L-74 mill.
Fact 57: The W-31 arrived in 1968 as a junior supercar powerplant based on the low-deck 350. Never available in the 4-4-2, the W-31 was firstidentified as the Ram Rod 350 and only 742 were built in 1968. Its wild .474-inch lift, 308-degree-duration cam timing limited the low-end torque output with an automatic transmission, so for 1968 the Ram Rod was specifically a 3- or 4-speed stick proposition.
For 1969, the Ram Rod designation was exchanged for W-31 nomenclature and a special version of the M-38 Turbo 350 automatic transmission—with a high-stall converter to mask the torque deficit—joined the sticks. 1970 marked the final appearance of the W-31 with minimal changes except its cast-aluminum intake manifold wore a new W-350 marking. Only 1,029 W-31s were installed in F-85s and Cutlasses in 1970.
Fact 58: The 9.88-inch-diameter ring gear used in the front-wheeldriveToronado was the biggest in the business, surpassing even the massive 9.75:1 gear used in the Dana 60 Mopar Street Hemi “doomsday” axle. Olds drivetrain engineers did such a thorough job of adding extra reliability, the Toronado engine/transaxle unit was specified for the 12,500-pound 1973–1978 GMC TVS-4 (travel vehicle streamlined) fi berglass motorhome, of which 12,921 were built.
Fact 59: A Ford-sourced, heavy-duty, 3-speed manual transmission was available on 1966 L-69 Tri-Carb 4-4-2s, but not on Lansing-built W-30s, all 54 of which were equipped with close-ratio Muncie M-21 4-speeds. This same Ford-sourced 3-speed was also the base transmission for 1965–1969 GTOs. Similar to the legendary Ford Toploader 4-speed, the unit was fully capable of handling 400 ft-lbs of torque and was often teamed with Ford’s 390 big-block engine in full-size vehicle applications.
Fact 60: The 1967 Olds L-66 Turnpike Cruiser Package was based on a retuned 4-4-2 engine to deliver 21.04 mpg at a steady 50 mph. Key changes to the 400-cubic-inch engine included replacing the Quadrajet 4-barrel with a Rochester 2-barrel, and altering cam specs from the 4-4-2’s .472-inch lift/286-degree duration/58- degree overlap to .435/264/36 and utilizing Climatic Combustion Control (a box-like air cleaner plumbed with direct exhaust heat). This maintained a constant 100-degree inlet air temperature so extremely lean jetting could be utilized.
The surprise is that Oldsmobile retained the 4-4-2’s dualexhaust system, 10.5:1 compression ratio, and big valve heads. Available in most models, the torque-laden L-66 produced 300 hp at 4,600 rpm and 390 ft-lbs at 2,600 rpm. By contrast, the thirstier 4-4-2 mill made 350 hp at 5,000 rpm and 350 ft-lbs at 3,600 rpm. The extra fuel economy added $142.18 to the window sticker and paid for itself quickly
Fact 61: Bragging rights for the muscle car era’s most exotic rear axle go to Oldsmobile’s W-27 aluminum axle option of 1970. By combining stock steel axle tubes with a die-cast aluminum replica of the type-O 12-bolt differential case, the W-27 saved 20 pounds at a cost of $157.98. The union of the non-weldable steel tubes and aluminum housing was achieved through the use of plug welds to anchor the tubes in place.
A key ingredient of the W-27 aluminum differential option was its finned, cast-aluminum inspection cover—also available separately on standard iron differentials as an over-the-counter item from any Olds dealer’s parts department. The most exotic muscle era differential option would have been the LincolnMercury “streep” (street and strip) 2-speed unit (based on a Dana 44 modified for 2-speeds), which—despite plenty of magazine publicity—never actually reached full production. So the Olds W-27 takes the prize.
Fact 62: Oldsmobile caused confusion about the W-27 aluminum rear axle option with service bulletin number N/C 69-18, dated October 10, 1969. By making reference to how the cooler-running aluminum case reduced gear lube temperature by 20 degrees F and claiming this to be “a distinct trailer towing and heavy service advantage,” many assumed it was available on station wagons.
The fact is, Oldsmobile only sold the W-27 aluminum axle on cars equipped with the W-30, W-31, and W-32, none of which were station wagons. That said, the W-27’s differential cover was a popular bolt-on addition and is currently available new today. Not so the W-27 case; with a guess of 300 produced, they trade for more than 10 grand on today’s used parts market.
Fact 63: With the 1971 reduction of compression ratios to suit the impending switchover to low-octane unleaded gasoline, engine output dropped enough to ensure the durability of lighter rear axles. The type-O axle was discontinued and 4-4-2s got a GM corporate rear axle with an 8.5-inch ring gear. Further downsizing in 1978 led to the sourcing of an even smaller rear axle with a 7.5- inch ring gear. The 8.5- and 7.5-inch axles are fitted with 10-bolt inspection covers but share no major parts with earlier Chevy 10-bolt rear axles.
Fact 64: One exception to the use of wimpy 7.5-inch rear axles under 1980s Olds Cutlass models is the return of 8.5-inch GM corporate rear axles in 1983–1987 H/O and 4-4-2 performance cars. Shared with the Buick Regal Grand National, these 8.5-inch rear ends are popular swap items among 1983–1988 Chevy Monte Carlo SS owners, who were stuck with the spindly 7.5-inch rear axle.
Fact 65: A common misconception regarding the 1966 W-30 package is that it came with standard 4.33:1 gears. The documented fact is Oldsmobile specified 4.11 cogs for all 54 cars. However, most competitive racers immediately switched to 4.56 or 4.88:1 gears, intent on crossing the finish line at 5,900 rpm with the 29-inch-diameter slicks commonly used by Olds C/Stock racers.
Fact 66: Erroneous reports claim the 1966 W-30 cars were built on convertible frame assemblies, which featured boxed side rails. Though stiffer and potentially less prone to deflection on a violent drag strip launch, Olds engineers specified standard 4-4-2 frames for the 54 W-30 cars built for NHRA racing. Standard 4-4-2 buyers wanting the extra rigidity (and 30 additional pounds) could opt for the F-35 guard beam frame option for a mere $12.53, which is an item found under all convertibles.
Fact 67: Oldsmobile pioneered the use of muscle-era rear sway bars in 1964, installing them under every one of the 2,999 4-4-2s made that year. Visibly located below the rear axle, the sway bar serves to counteract the forces that lead to body roll on hard cornering. The truss-like addition gives every 4-4-2 a unique chassis silhouette when viewed from behind. It took until 1970 for Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Buick muscle offerings to standardize rear sway bars (they were available optionally), which gave Oldsmobile plenty of time to earn a reputation for building muscle cars that handled as well as they accelerated.
Fact 68: Prior to 1967, all GM intermediate-size muscle cars (regardless of make) were equipped with 91 ⁄2-inch drum brakes (except the 1965 Chevelle Z-16, which had 11-inch drums all around). With a total swept area of 264 square inches, the brakes were no match for the potent V-8s onboard. But if you knew enough to order the optional Delco Morraine metallic brake shoes, things improved significantly.
In the case of the 1966 Olds 4-4-2, the editors of the August 1966 issue of Rodder and Super Stock magazine offered this praise: “In stock trim the 4-4-2’s brake power is nothing to write home about. The drums are small considering the car’s potential and the linings are passenger car stock. Our test car, however, was fitted with Delco Morraine 81 linings which make a world of difference even with the stock diameter brake drums . . . these brakes were good for virtually fade-free stopping even at 80 plus mph test stops.” The 1967 arrival of optional RPO J52 power front disc brakes solved the brake problem once and for all.
Fact 69: The 1966 Toronado (which shared its front-wheel-drive platform with the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado) combined a highly sophisticated (Chrysler-esque) torsion bar front suspension with a rudimentary parallel leaf spring rear suspension and live axle. Despite the unlikely pairing of old and new technologies, the Toronado is legendary for its fi ne handling and smooth ride. With a base sticker price of $4,612 it was the most expensive Oldsmobile in the 1966 lineup but still managed to attract 40,963 buyers.
Fact 70: Dual exhaust is a key element in any high-performance vehicle recipe and the personal-luxury OldsToronado lived up to expectations with a highly evolved, standard dual-exhaust system. It was installed on all 1966 and 1967 models before reverting to optional status on 1968-and-later cars. By contrast, its corporate cousin, the also-front-wheel-drive Cadillac Eldorado was never equipped with dual tailpipes from the factory. Not even in 1970 when the Eldo’s V-8 grew from 472 to 500 cubic inches and standard rated output was 400 hp.
Fact 71: The hottest Toronado was the W-34 model of 1968–1970, which featured a hotter cam and Oldsmobile’s trademark under-bumper cold-air scoops. The 1970 Toronado W-34 was dubbed the GT and its 455 was the only Olds engine ever rated at 400 hp. Earlier Toronados were powered by 425-inch V-8s with either 385 (1966–1967), 375 (base 1968–1969), or 385 hp (1968– 1969 W-34). Any one of these burly performers was capable of frying the front tires for a full city block when the light turned green. Only 118 W-34 Toronados were built in 1968
Fact 72: The self-contained engine/transaxle unit fitted to every OldsToronado is ripe for swapping and yields a nifty mid-engine layout if you don’t mind losing the back seat and having an Olds V-8 thumping away behind your right ear. In the late 1970s several hot rodders swapped Toro power units into everything from Corvairs to 1978 Cutlasses with interesting results.
The ultimate application was John Smyser’s Terrifying Toronado match racer of 1966. Similar in execution to the 4-4-2 based Hurst Hairy Olds of the same year, Smyser’s gold Toro was powered by two 6-71 supercharged 425 mills burning a 50/50 alky/nitro mix. The front engine fed power through a standard TH425 Toronado transaxle while the rear engine powered through a conventional live axle with a Scheifer in/out clutch unit.
By contrast, the Hurst Hairy Olds used a pair of Toronado drive units with nearly stock suspension geometry to power the slicks. Truth be told, neither car was particularly successful on the strip. But for sheer legend generating impact, both were smash hits.
Fact 73: The 1966 OldsToronado rode on an exceptionally wide 63-inch track, a direct result of its novel front-wheel-drive architecture. Standard Olds stamped-steel wheels would have caused the tires to protrude beyond the fender lips, so specific 15-inch rims with an extreme amount of negative (inboard) offset were designed to allow proper packaging.
As a nod to Gordon Buehrig’s 1937 Cord 812 (the last frontwheel-drive car built in America prior to the arrival of the Toronado), wheel stylists rendered the Toronado’s 15×6-inch stamped-steel wheels with 10 circular vent holes. Though the chrome hub caps used on the classic Cord had 12 vent holes, the Olds wheel was a respectful tribute to Buehrig’s design. Standard Toronado wheels were painted silver (with snap-on trim rings and center caps), but chrome plating was available at extra cost ($89.57 standard models, $71.09 on deluxe models). The Hurst Hairy Olds used the chromed version of these beautifully designed wheels.
Fact 74: With its front-wheel drive and full-size dimensions, the 1966 Toronado posed a new set of challenges for tire manufacturers. The driving wheels (front) had to deal with 385 hp, 475 ft-lbs of torque, and a 54/46 front/rear distribution of its 4,800-pound curb weight. The tire sidewalls and tread had an unprecedented set of steering, braking, and acceleration forces to deal with. The answer was a new breed of tire, the Firestone TFD 8.85×15 four-ply.
Extensive test collaboration between Oldsmobile and Firestone revealed the need for stiffer sidewalls and a specific tread compound for optimized handling and wear. Original TFD tires are quickly identified by their use of an unusually thin whitewall, applied closer to the tread face of the sidewall than most whitewall tires.
Fact 75: Shockingly basic, the rear suspension under every 1966–1978 Toronado consists of parallel leaf springs and a solid-beam axle. Digging deeper reveals many refinements. To eliminate leafto-leaf friction (and possible squeaks) Oldsmobile used single leaf springs, plus four shock absorbers.
At each end of the live rear axle, a vertical shock absorber acts to suppress body jounce/rebound movement. The second set of shocks are attached horizontally and served to dampen fore/aft deflection caused by braking.
Fact 76: Though the 54 1966 W-30 drag cars were assembled at the Lansing, Michigan, plant during the first three weeks of June 1966, there was a surprising level of variation from one unit to the next. Unlike competing factory drag car programs, which offered little room for deviations from the recipe, most W-30s are known to have been delivered with heaters, radios, and the full range of available 4-4-2 wheel cover treatments, which included small hub caps, simulated wire wheels, full deluxe wheel covers, and chrome Super Stock II wheels. The core ingredients (massaged L-69 TriCarb 400, M-21 4-speed, OAI, trunk-mount battery, 4.11:1 gears, etc.) were common to all W-30s.
Fact 77: Borrowing an age-old hot rodding trick, the 1967 Olds 4-4-2 hood differed from its 1966 predecessor through the addition of two rows of punched louvers. Unlike the bogus bolt-on louver hood inserts fitted to same-year Dodge Coronet R/T models, the Olds hood was formed from a single sheet of steel. The legitimacy wore off when you opened the hood and saw the block-off panel, which prevented hot air from escaping and rain water from entering. Olds equipped all 24,829 4-4-2s with this hood in 1967.
Fact 78: Simulated hood louvers returned to the 4-4-2 on all 1973– 1975 models. This treatment consisted of a single row of shutters positioned in the center of the hood skin. It would have been cool (literally) had they been articulated to open and close but the realities of mass production rendered them purely ornamental. The underside of the hood was sealed to prevent water from leaking onto the air cleaner housing, where it could accumulate and drip into the engine via the air cleaner stud.
Fact 79: The muscle car scene was transformed in 1968 with the widespread adoption of low-profi le, fi berglass-belted tires such as the Firestone Wide Oval and Goodyear Polyglas. The added tread width of the 1968 4-4-2’s standard G70-14 tires nearly doubled the contact patch over the standard 7.75-14 two-ply tires supplied in 1967. The extra grip simultaneously improved acceleration, steering, and braking performance.
Critics, however, wondered why Olds midsize muscle didn’t match competing makes with optional 15-inch tires, thus making a good thing even better. While most other muscle cars could be ordered with the latest 15-inch low-profile rubber, the only pre- 1973 Olds midsize with 15-inch hoops was the 1969 Hurst/Olds, which rode on beefy Goodyear F60-15 Polyglas skins and unique, chromed 15×7 Super Stock II wheels. No doubt, many a new 4-4-2 owner drove directly to his local tire shop for better rubber.
Fact 80: Radial tires made the F-85/Cutlass option sheet for the first time in 1967 as a mandatory part of the fuel-efficient L-66 Turnpike Cruising Package (see Fact #260). Made by Uniroyal, the 195R-14 radials weren’t particularly wide or sticky, so agile cornering wasn’t the priority. Rather, the stiffer sidewall construction afforded by radial construction reduced rolling resistance. Oldstests showed a 1/2-mpg fuel economy improvement at sustained highway speeds.
Fact 81: The turbocharged 215-cubic-inch, 215-hp Turbo-Rocket V-8 used in the 1962 and 1963 Olds Cutlass Jetfire was the firstOlds production engine to hit the magic one-horse-per-cubic-inch mark. Subsequent performance offerings—including the 1966 L69 Tri-Carb 400 (360 hp) and 1970 W-30 455 (370 hp)—didn’t come close. Horsepower junkies had to wait until the 1995 arrival of the 250-hp, 244-cubic-inch (4.0-liter) Aurora V-8 for the Oldsmobile’s second shot at making one horsepower per cubic inch.
Fact 82: Oldsmobile’s use of numbers rather than a traditional name, abbreviated letters, or a number-letter combination to identify and market the 1964 4-4-2 set it apart from the majority of its muscle car competition. The only comparable number-only muscle car offering was the Chrysler 300. For its first year, 4-4-2 aptly described the model’s 4-barrel carburetor, 4-speed Muncie manual transmission, and dual-exhaust system, all standard issue on each of the 2,999 4-4-2s sold in 1964.
Fact 83:In 1965, the 4-4-2 nomenclature had to be adjusted to reflectsignificant mechanical changes. A 2-speed automatic transmission and 3-speed manual transmission were added to the option sheet, plus the 330-cube V-8 grew to 400. Oldsmobile now claimed 4-4-2 was code for its 400-inch engine, 4-barrel carburetor, and dual exhaust. The buying public loved the new math and sales jumped more than 600 percent, totaling 19,577 units.
Further juggling could have been done for the 1970 model year, when the 400 was replaced by a standard 455-inch brute. But since the 4-4-2 had already established a firm reputation as a potent machine, Oldsmobile wisely declined to fi ne tune the arithmetic.
Fact 84: The 4-4-2 was absent during the 1981–1984 model years but returned in 1985 packing a 307-cubic-inch V-8 breathing through a Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel. Oldsmobile revisited its 1964 practice of including the transmission in the numeric recipe because the only transmission choice was the Turbo 200-4R, a 4-speed automatic unit with overdrive. Thus, the 1985–1987 4-4-2 equation stood for 4-barrel carburetor, 4-speed automatic transmission, and dual exhaust.
Nitpickers could argue the claim of dual exhaust. That’s because both banks of the 307 V-8 merged into a common Y-pipe and single catalytic converter. Once past the converter, the pipes split and fed a traditional dual-exhaust configuration. Similar pseudo dual-exhaust layouts were used under the Monte Carlo SS, Grand Prix 2+2, Camaro Z/28, IROC-Z, Firebird Formula, T/A, and even pre-1986 5-liter Mustangs. The goal was to avoid the expense of a second catalytic converter and it worked well enough for the times.
Fact 85: I’m not here to pass judgment, but certain Olds fans wish the 4-4-2 moniker hadn’t been applied one fi nal time to the 1990–1991 Cutlass Calais, a front-wheel-drive platform. This time around, Olds marketing mavens ignored the transmission and exhaust system layout and focused entirely on describing attributes of the 4-4-2’s 2.3-liter engine, which featured four cylinders, a fourvalve head, and two camshafts.
Also known as the Quad-4, it was a potent little machine that made 180 hp without the aid of a turbo or belt-driven supercharger. Alas, a mere 3,993 folks took the 4-4-2 bait (2,629 in 1990 and 1,364 in 1991). And about that front-wheel drive, let’s not forget Oldsmobile reintroduced the concept to American buyers with the groundbreaking Toronado of 1966. Time and collectors may yet embrace these last-gasp 4-4-2s.
Fact 86: One of the more unusual Olds magazine road tests of the muscle car era involved a 1972 W-30 4-4-2 tested in a hurricane. Published in the November 1972 issue of Hi-Performance CARS magazine, story author Joe Oldham found himself up against a looming print deadline as hurricane Agnes pounded the East Coast with heavy rain and strong winds. Proving that something is better than nothing, Oldham soldiered on and got the soggy story, complete with wild action shots of the W-30 blasting through deep puddles.
The test driver was Cliff Gromer, who went on to become the editor of Mopar Action magazine, a title he holds to this day. As for Oldham, he had a long and successful career at the helm of Popular Mechanics magazine.
Fact 87: According to the road test of an L-69 tri-carb–equipped 4-4-2 in the August 1966 issue of Rodder and Super Stock magazine: “Until Olds released the tri-power option, which ups the engine’s output from 350 to 360 hp, and the new fresh air induction package, the 4-4-2 was regarded by most as a tough-sounding, bosslookingstreetster that had no place on the drag strip.”
Such was the significance of factory optional multiple carburetion. Simply stated, a single 4-barrel just wasn’t enough to earn street and strip credibility. So when Oldsmobile launched the tricarb L-69 in 1966, the press and public took notice.
But, as is often the case, Oldsmobile didn’t have to make them by the millions to enjoy the trickle-down effect of its “halo” engine offering. Of the 21,997 4-4-2s built in 1966, 2,129 breathed through a trio of Rochester 2-barrels; that’s about 1 in 10. Ironically, for 1967 General Motors instituted a ban on multi-carburetion on everything but the Corvette (and Corvair) so the tri-carb L-69 was a one-year deal.
Fact 88: Don’t assume the 1968 and 1969 Hurst/Olds were part of the 4-4-2 line. Though 1968s and 1969s started life as semicompleted 4-4-2 hardtops and coupes and shared the same 344 VIN code (first three digits) with the 4-4-2, neither H/O offering bore a single 4-4-2 emblem, decal, or badge. In fact, as each Cutlass rolled down the preliminary assembly line (before being trucked to Hurst’s modification center for completion), specific notations were affixed instructing line workers not to apply 4-4-2 markings. All parties made sure the H/O existed as a stand-alone model, apart from, and above, the regular 4-4-2 offering.
Fact 89: Engine codes were juggled around quite a bit at Oldsmobile, so you have to keep your eyes open. A prime example is the L-74 engine. For 1971 the L-74 code designated the 350 4-barrel engine with 180 hp (200 with dual exhaust), as installed in countless non- 4-4-2 Oldsmobiles (the 4-4-2 was still a 455-only proposition in 1971). One year later, the L-74 engine code was assigned to the 225- hp 455 engine installed in full-size Oldsmobiles with single exhaust.
Fact 90: The largest bulk order of 1966 W-30 drag cars went to Holiday Oldsmobile of Minneapolis, Minnesota, which took 12 of the 54 cars produced.
Fact 91: Would you pay $156 to antagonize GTO owners? In 1965 25,003 Olds customers paid this amount to upgrade their F-85 and Cutlass two-doors into tiger-taming 4-4-2s. Included in the tremendous deal were a 345-hp, 400-cube V-8 (10 hp more than the base GTO 389), heavy-duty suspension, dual exhaust, 7.75×14 redline tires, extra-duty cooling, and other goodies. For comparison, 1965 Pontiac buyers coughed up almost twice as much ($295.90) to turn their LeMans coupes, hardtops, and convertibles into GTOs. Both cars came with a floor-shifted M-12 3-speed manual transmission. Interestingly, upgrading either car to a four-on-the-floor cost the same amount: $188.30.
Fact 92: The 1970 Rallye 350 ordering code was W-45. Two years earlier, the same code was used to identify the non-A/C 455 engine fitted to the Hurst/Olds in 1968. Ironically, the Rallye 350 was initially intended to be a budget-oriented Hurst/Olds model— a radical departure from the costly supercar theme of the 1968 and 1969 H/O. In the end, the Hurst connection was not utilized and Oldsmobile produced the Rallye 350 on its own. A total of 3,547 were built.
Fact 93:1966–1971 W-30 4-4-2s cannot be verified by the VIN so a solid paper trail (original build sheet, window sticker, etc.) is vital. One helpful hint is the fact all W-30 cars were built at the massive Lansing, Michigan, assembly plant. Because Oldsmobile cars came from any one of ten plants (Lansing, Michigan; Fremont, California; Framingham, Massachusetts; Kansas City, Kansas; Atlanta, Georgia; Linden, New Jersey; South Gate, California; Doraville, Georgia; Fairfax, Kansas; and Oshawa, Ontario, Canada), this is a helpful tidbit of information.
The assembly plant code is represented by the seventh figure in the VIN. M signifies the Lansing plant, a good first step in verifying the authenticity of any 1966–1971 W-30–powered 4-4-2. 1972 marked the addition (finally) of an engine code in the VIN which greatly simplified things. 1972 W-30 spotters simply need to look for the letter X in the fifth position.
Fact 94: Oldsmobile replaced the red plastic front inner fender liners with black W-30s in 1972. No reason was given, but the move falls in line with the general retreat from excitement suffered by all of Detroit at the time.
Fact 95: This 1969 Hurst/Olds advertising copy speaks volumes about the mindset of muscle car buyers and the passive-aggressive games played out at stoplights all over the world: “You roll up to the light next to the cocky looking guy in the supercar. He gives it a couple of blips . . . then looks you over. And you watch the creeping horror of realization hit him. ‘That’s more than a 4-4-2 . . . it’s a ’69 Hurst/Olds.’ Guys do funny things then. Some start looking for something under the seat. Some blow their noses ’till the light changes. Most just look out the other window and try to pretend they never really blipped at all. That’s half the fun of owning a ’69 Hurst/Olds.”
Olds enthusiasts loved it, non-Olds dudes likely commented, “Oh, yeah?” Either way, it was brilliant marketing
Fact 96: The F-85 senior compact of 1961 grew up very quickly. In a brief four seasons it blossomed from an austere economy car with 185 hp (maximum) into the mighty 310-hp 4-4-2 of 1964. Its original 112-inch wheelbase, 56-inch track, 188.2-inch overall length, and 71.7-inch width expanded to 115 inches (wheelbase), 58 inches (track), 192.2 inches (overall length), and 73.2 inches (width) while frontal area grew by .5 square feet.
In essence, the midsize 1964 Cutlass was about the same size as a 1950 full-size Olds. The sales figures prove the validity of the growth plan. Production was 76,394 for 1961, 95,095 for 1962, and 118,811 for 1963. The 1964 redesign and growth spurt attracted 134,237 buyers. Bigger was—at least in this case—better.
Fact 97: As many muscle car buying decisions were fueled by emotion as by performance figures. In the May 1970 issue of Hi-Performance CARS these words accompany the test of a W-30 4-4-2: “The first reaction to the car came from our tester Joel Kim, who had just finished ringing out a Hemi-Cuda . . . he was all ready to write out a check on the spot—he fell in love with [the 4-4-2] immediately. Not because it was super quick or super fast, because it really wasn’t. He went ape over it because of the quiet ride, groovy AM-FM Stereo, comfy buckets and the out-of-sight Sebring Yellow paint job with red stripes. At this point he cared more about Tahiti mobilizing than he did about 0-60 or quarter-mile times! It rode beautifully, handled relatively well and attracted chicks much quicker than the Hemi-Cuda did.”
An automatic-equipped W-30 with the G-91 3.42 performance rear axle (standard gears were 3.23), the test car turned 14.30 at 98 mph. More striking was its Sebring Yellow paint with red body side and hood paint stripes, a mouthwatering color combination I have never seen elsewhere.
Fact 98: Next to the Hurst/Olds, the W-30 stands as Oldsmobile’s halo muscle car, shedding a warm glow of ultra performance on lesser 4-4-2 machinery. So how many W-30s were built between 1966 and 1972? Here’s the rundown: 54 in 1966; 502 in 1967; 1,911 in 1968; 1,389 in 1969; 3,100 in 1970; 920 in 1971; and 772 in 1972. Adding these numbers together gives a total of 8,648 W-30– equipped 4-4-2s. Records show Oldsmobile built a total of 150,071 4-4-2s in the 1966–1972 period, making the W-30 a roughly 1-in- 17 proposition.
Fact 99: The negative aspect of a 3-speed manual transmission is that its three forward gears lack the ratio spread afforded by 4-, 5-,and 6-speed transmissions. Each upshift drops engine RPM away from peak power and it takes extra time to recover them during a maximum-acceleration effort (drag race). This fact didn’t stop plenty of 4-4-2 buyers from choosing a 3-speed stick (except for 1964 when a 4-speed was standard).
Here’s a rundown of 1965–1972 3-speed 4-4-2 output: 690 in 1965; 771 in 1966; 918 in 1967; 1,290 in 1968; 941 in 1969; 417 in 1970; 113 in 1971; and 255 in 1972. The likely objective of these 3-speed buyers was to save the average $200 cost of the 4-speed. Putting around town, these “3-4-2” drivers probably didn’t notice much difference, and likely enjoyed stronger initial acceleration thanks to the lower first gear used in their Ford, Muncie, or Saginaw 3-speed transmission.
Fact 100: A glowing review of the 1970 4-4-2 appeared in the January 1970 issue of Hi-Performance CARS magazine. The writer was impressed by the 455-only nature of the package and confirmed what many people have suspected all along: “The W-30 engine was designed primarily to be run with tuned tube headers and recalibrated ignition and carburetion. The basic 455 has so much low end torque and overall power throughout the normal range, that it doesn’t make sense going the W-30 route unless you plan on reworking the engine. The stocker is strong enough.”
It’s true, there is no replacement for displacement!
Written by Steve Magnante and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks