George Hurst and the Hurst Olds

In our history of the Oldsmobile 442, we mentioned that it was not exactly the leader of the pack when it came to Supercar performance. To rectify that problem, Oldsmobile joined forces with Hurst Performance Products to create the ultimate high-performance Oldsmobile: the fearsome 1968 Hurst Olds. This week, we look at that car and the subsequent H/Os, a series that ran through 1984.

1969 Hurst Olds badge


No history of American muscle cars would be complete without at least a passing mention of George Hurst, who became one of the era’s most successful aftermarket manufacturers.

Hurst was originally from New York, but after a stint in the Navy, he resettled in eastern Pennsylvania in 1954 and became very active in the local drag racing scene. In the mid-fifties, he and his friend Bill Campbell started a garage in Abington, Pennsylvania, where they built aftermarket engine mounts for performance cars. Although Hurst’s formal mechanical training was limited, he had an intuitive knack for automotive engineering and, more importantly, was a natural showman with a flair for clever promotions.

After some early setbacks, Hurst and Campbell formed a partnership with Jonas Anchel and Ed Almquist, founders of the speed shop Anco Industries. Together, they developed and launched several new products, including a revised engine mount design called Adjusta-Torque and a floor-mounted shift linkage for three-speed manual transmissions.

At that time, manual transmissions were at low ebb in America. Since the advent of Hydra-Matic in late 1939, American buyers had shown a marked preference for fully automatic transmissions, so development of stick-shift technology had languished. In the fifties, many automatics were still too inefficient and sometimes too fragile for serious hot-rodders, but the available manual gearboxes left much to be desired. The typical “three on the tree” was clunky and cumbersome, with a vague, ropy linkage that was rarely sturdy enough for aggressive driving.

The Hurst linkage, which George Hurst first installed in his own 1956 Chevrolet, was a vast improvement. Although rather stiff by modern standards, the linkage allowed clean, fast, accurate shifts and was very durable.

Since Almquist and Anchel were neither willing nor able to put up the substantial amount of capital needed to market the new linkage, Hurst and Campbell obtained a $20,000 loan and established their own company, Hurst-Campbell, Inc., in Warminster, Pennsylvania. It opened for business in 1959.

The hot-rodding and drag racing scene was booming in the late fifties and early sixties and Hurst-Campbell found a ready market for their shifters and shift linkages. Whatever Hurst’s mechanical abilities, his greatest talent was concocting stunts and gimmicks to market Hurst-Campbell products. Hurst sponsored drag racers; offered new cars as prizes for race winners who used Hurst products; and hired a buxom beauty queen named Linda Vaughn as “Miss Hurst Golden Shifter,” paying her to attend racing events in her gold bikini, suggestively caressing giant replicas of Hurst’s signature product. Some of Hurst’s promotional stunts were in dubious taste, but they were undeniably effective. By the mid-sixties, Hurst-Campbell revenues were more than $20 million a year and Hurst shifters had become almost de rigueur among serious enthusiasts.

1968 AMC AMX Hurst badge
In the sixties, this badge was a mark of distinction for any car with performance aspirations. It’s seen here on a 1968 AMC AMX 390.


One of the key selling points of Hurst products was their lifetime warranty. In the early sixties, Hurst hired a young man named Jack Watson, who had previously worked at General Motors. At first, Watson’s role was very minor, but he subsequently became Hurst’s roving repair technician. Armed with a portable machine shop, he traveled to various drag racing events to perform on-site repairs and adjustments for Hurst products. The role eventually earned him the nickname “Shifty Doc,” or just “Doc.”

Watson still had connections at GM and in 1961, he helped Hurst get a meeting with Pontiac general manager Bunkie Knudsen and chief engineer Pete Estes. Estes had seen a favorable write-up on the Hurst shifter in Hot Rod magazine and had been impressed. He was also impressed with Hurst and Hurst’s obvious marketing acumen. Hurst, Estes, and Knudsen struck a deal to use a Hurst linkage and shifter in Pontiac’s new limited-production Super Duty Catalina.

The deal was a great achievement for Hurst-Campbell; Detroit in those days tended to ignore or disdain the aftermarket. It was also the beginning of a long and mutually profitable association between Hurst and Pontiac. Over the next few years, many high-performance Pontiac models would carry Hurst shifters as standard equipment, including the highly successful Pontiac GTO. Pontiac’s association with Hurst did great things for its credibility with hardcore performance cognoscenti, helping to cement the division’s status as the hot American car.

To cultivate more relationships with the major automakers, Hurst opened the Hurst Performance Center in Detroit in 1965, appointing Doc Watson to run it. Much of Watson’s business was with Pontiac, where Hurst now had a strong relationship, but he eventually made deals with other many automakers, including Plymouth, Dodge, AMC, and Oldsmobile.

1964 Pontiac GTO side
One of Pontiac’s marketing coups in the mid-sixties was the fact that all manual-transmission GTOs came standard with a Hurst shifter. Starting in 1967, automatic GTOs could also be ordered with a Hurst Dual-Gate Shifter.


In the mid-sixties, Hurst built a number of exhibition cars, including a Plymouth Barracuda wheel-stander called “Hemi under Glass” and the “Hairy Olds,” a 1966 Oldsmobile 442 funny car powered by Toronado V8s. In the summer of 1967, Hurst approached Pontiac ad man Jim Wangers, who was in charge of Pontiac’s promotional campaign, to propose a Pontiac production car that would carry the Hurst name.

The essence of Hurst’s proposal was providing Pontiac with an end run around an onerous corporate policy. Between 1964 and 1969, GM imposed strict limits on engine displacement and advertised horsepower for most of its cars; the safety and anti-smog lobbies were gaining strength and senior management was well aware that General Motors was a prime target. As a result, the corporation prohibited compact and intermediate models (except the Corvette) from using engines of more than 400 cu. in. (6.6 L) displacement or advertising more than one gross horsepower (0.75 kW) per 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of curb weight. For example, a full-size Chevrolet Impala could be ordered with engines up to 427 cu. in. (6,990 cc), but the smaller Chevelle and Camaro were limited to 396 cu. in. (6,488 cc).

1967 Pontiac Firebird 400 Ram Air engine
Thanks to GM corporate policy, the top engine in both the 1967 Pontiac GTO and Firebird was the 400 cu. in. (6,554 cc) Ram Air V8 rather than the 428 cu. in. (7,008 cc) engine available in full-size Pontiacs. Corporate rules on advertised horsepower meant that the Firebird’s Ram Air engine was rated at only 325 gross horsepower (242 kW) even though the nearly identical engine in the Ram Air GTO was rated at 360 horsepower (269 kW).

Each of the divisions chafed at the restrictions, particularly since Ford and Chrysler imposed no such limits. Hurst suggested turning the limit into a marketing opportunity. While Pontiac couldn’t offer its big 428 cu. in. (7,008 cc) V8 in a production Firebird, there was nothing to stop Hurst from installing the big engine and offering the modified cars as a special limited-edition model. Indeed, enterprising dealers like Chicago’s Nickey Chevrolet were already making similar conversions, albeit on a smaller scale.

In the summer of 1967, Wangers helped Hurst put together a presentation for Pontiac general manager John DeLorean, who liked the idea, but pointed out several logistical problems. First, building cars without engines was as much of a violation of GM corporate policy as offering the Firebird with the 428 would be, so Pontiac could not simply ship Hurst a load of engineless Firebirds and engines to put together. Second, while DeLorean could provide complete Firebird 400s and an equal number of 428s for Hurst to install, he didn’t have the authority to buy back the smaller engines from Hurst afterward. If Pontiac couldn’t do that, Hurst would be stuck with hundreds of unused engines and the cost of project would probably become prohibitive.

DeLorean took the idea up the ladder to the Engineering Policy Committee, which told him that because the Firebird was assembled in Chevrolet’s Norwood plant alongside the Camaro, Chevrolet would have to sign off on the idea. Pete Estes, who had become Chevrolet general manager in 1965, was well-acquainted with Hurst, knew DeLorean, and understood exactly what they were up to. His answer was a firm no; the Firebird and Camaro were direct competitors and he was not about to allow Pontiac such a marketing coup.

It was discouraging news for Hurst, but Estes offered a potential consolation prize: He suggested that Hurst and Watson talk instead to Oldsmobile chief engineer John Beltz.


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  1. When I was young I couldn’t afford one… and by time time I could I was a family man with more need for a station wagon than a pseudo-sporty coupe. I remember seeing one of the last Hurst/Olds Cutlasses on the showroom floor of Thompson Cadillac-Olds in Raleigh, North Carolina when I was looking for a replacement for my totalled ’68 Caprice Estate in November 1983. It got a passing glance while I was waiting for a salesman to see if his boss would accept my offer on an ’81 Custom Cruiser with a diesel engine (fortunately, in retrospect, he didn’t, and I went on to buy a ’78 Country Squire elsewhere).

    But they were interesting cars nonetheless… thanks for the memories.

  2. Thanks for a nicely written and terrifically researched piece. The factories in Lansing, Michigan where many of the H/Os were built have been torn down in the last couple years. Demmer Manufacturing is still in business doing a lot of military work. Story Olds became a Chrysler dealership with the demise of the Olds brand and closed last year.

  3. Reading about George Hurst in this article made me curious about the advent of the four speed manual transmission in American cars.

    I’d love to see a history of the 4-speed on this site, from the Warner T-10 to the Ford and Muncie and the Chrysler A-833.

    You have a very interesting site here, thanks!

  4. [quote]I’d love to see a history of the 4-speed on this site, from the Warner T-10 to the Ford and Muncie and the Chrysler A-833. [/quote]

    That’s a very interesting idea. Let me think about that.

  5. nothing like the executive super car. I grew up with a friend who had a 69 Judge and he hated me in the 1/4 mile I could always bet him, but any thing more and he had me.
    but for some reason we both agreed mine felt like it was more powerful nothing like the big 455cid and all that torque. still my favorite car.

  6. As a 17 year old Indiana farm boy in 1977 I was BIG into going fast, read ALL the big Car magazines I could read and afford, and after having had a 1965 Impala SS since Id gotten my license at 16 I bought a 1972 Chevy Nova SS with a 350 4 bbl, 10 bolt positrac, and Muncie M21 4speed tranny with the prerequisite for racers and go fasters like me Hurst Competition Plus shifter with a polished Hurst embossed “T” handle on top.

    It didnt take me long to install headers, a hotter cam,and traction bars.But I was proud of that chrome plated Hurst Shifter and even sported a big ol “Hurst” sticker on the dash with the 4 speed shift pattern on the four corners of the H behind the Hurst lettering (you old timers like me :) will remember that decal too). The ONLY thing I ever did to that shifter after many years of abuse and hard shifts was replace the worn out shifter bushings in 1978 and I LOVED it.

    After Graduation in 1978 I moved to Cheyenne WY with my folks and started going to Wyoming Technical Inst. (now WyoTech) in Laramie about 50 miles away west on I-80. Going back to school one Monday morning I heard a voice asking for assistance, no one answered and the voice got louder as I got closer to it and I saw a motorhome broken down along the road so I stopped. An older (50+ was a LOT older then)gentleman came up and thanked me for stopping, told me his tranny was acting up and asked if I could give hima ride back to Cheyenne so he could call AAA to come tow him.
    I said “[i]Sure! Hop in[/i]”

    Drove him about 25 miles back to Cheyenne and as we were driving he asked about me and what i was doing with my life, I told him and then he said “[i]Nice car!” [/i]I said thanks and he asked about it, said,”[i]it sounds real good[/i]” and asked what id done to it and so on, making small talk and then asked ,[i]”How do ya like that Hurst shifter?”[/i] Which, I thought was a kinda strange thing to ask about but I told him I liked it a LOT and that Id only changed the shifter bushings after they got kinda sloppy and it was good as new.

    Nice guy and a nice talk (but I thought to myself “Boy! This old dude SURE does like cars!”), and we shortly ended up back in Cheyenne and he asked me to drop him off at a local restaurant and “[i]What do I owe you?”. [/i]I did and I said “[i]Oh?, Nothing at all[/i]!” and as he got out he said [i]”Thanks a lot” [/i] and extended his hand to shake mine (no one older had EVER done that to me and I was floored) and asked my name so I told him, and I said “[i]No problem at all Good luck!” [/i]and I asked him what his name was as we shook hands and he replied, “[b][i]Im George Hurst[/i][/b]”,
    Then he turned and walked inside as my mouth was hanging open!
    I was simply floored, In MY car I was talking to THE guy that designed MY shifter! THE shifter!”Miss Hurst” and Hurst Oldsmobiles [b]MR. [/b][b]Hurst[/b] [i]himself[/i]!!

    I drove away saying “[i]I will NEVER forget THIS!MAN[/i]!” and as I did I looked down at that Hurst shifter in awe, and there, on the pasenger floorboard laid a $50 bill.

    R.I.P. Mr.Hurst

    1. Its been a day since I came across this website & indeed was impressed enuff 2 even leave a slobberknocky kind of post.
      While generally aware of the storie’s highlights previously, Aaron’s style,& presentation, coupled with wormhole type (little known insider information) revelations, definitely sucked me all in….
      And my point is… upon reflection, it was you’re long & entertaining comment that inspired my post.
      I found a lot of common ground for 1 thing,close in age,country boys,Cheyenne was the last big town for my harvest crew.. ect..
      That’s all well n good I spose, but all that pales next 2 your experience with Mr.Hurst. What an amazing story inspired by coincidental random events!
      It left me with a purely symbolic thought not unlike what Saul might have felt when struck by the blinding light on the road 2 Damascus. …
      (Maybe Saul wouldn’t have been walking if he’d had a Hurst Shifter on the floor.)

  7. In 1972, the 300 hp net 445ci, which came with the W-30 option, was called the L77 in an Oldsmobile advertisement.

    According to a 1973 Hurst/Olds advertisement, the base engine was the L75 (air conditioning was not available with this engine) and the optional engine was the L77.

    Was the L77 offered in the 1973 Hurst/Olds a 300 hp net engine (as in 1972) and the L75 a 270 hp net engine?

    In 1973, Oldsmobile did not offer the 300 hp net engine in Oldsmobile cars.

    1. Oldsmobile never produced a 445 Cubic Inch Engine.

      1. I’m assuming that was a typographical error.

    2. We have had our 1972 Hurst/Olds since 1975 (second owners). It came with a 455 (blueprinted at the factory), but I don’t think the 300 HP rating is right. That was for insurance purposes and only an estimate. It does about 108 in the quarter mile, and about 7.2 sec in 0-60 (but you spend about 4 sec with the tires spinning). The red finder wells were up front like the original Hurst/Olds in 1968. Because the 1972 Indy 500 was not corporate sponsored there were lots of fake badges applied at dealerships for U-coded Olds. The Hurst/Olds at the race track in May 1972 are the right ones to compare. At Indy 500 in 1972, there were the pace cars (which had all the badges that you see), ones driven by the judges for the race, and some on display (by the gates). We have the one on display at Gate 4, and it never had the big stickers on the door or finder. The Hurst/Olds badges were all metal and the only stickers on it were the reflective gold 3M. So, yes there were 455s in the Hurst/Olds, but the dealership stuck stickers on whatever they could in 1972 (including lots of 350s). The HP is about 400 (like the older 455s).

      1. Thomas,

        I can certainly understand the sticker game, particularly given the climate of the time, but I’m very skeptical of the 400 hp estimate. Even pre-smog, very few stock engines had more than 400 net horsepower and even the hottest W30 455s were not nearly that quick. I certainly don’t doubt that one can get 400 real horsepower from an Olds 455 and I could see the actual pace car engines (not replicas) being that powerful, but I can’t easily see Oldsmobile going to the expense of blueprinting all the engines or being able to EPA certify them if they did. Pontiac was only able to top the 300 net hp mark with its well-massaged Super Duty 455 by disabling EGR after warmup in a way that subsequently drew a cease-and-desist order from the feds.

        If your car is indeed that fast, more power to you (literally) — I’m not going to argue with someone about the timing slip in their hand! I just don’t know that such speed or power is either stock or typical for these cars.

  8. From what I could determine, it looks like the 1973 L77 optional engine was similar, if not identical, to the ’72 L75 engine — which would mean probably 270 net horsepower, rather than 300. I’ll send you an e-mail with more about my reasoning.

  9. I own the first hurst shifter bracket. It came out of a mercury i believe.

  10. In 1976 and 1977 there were 1 1976 Hurst Olds in white,in 1977 there was 1 made in Black.I have all the documents on the 1976.My neighbor,was Bill Barto sr. director of Hurst performance in Warminister,Pa.,that is whom i purchased my car from.

  11. George Hurst was born in upstate NY in 1927 and his mother forged his fahers signature to enlist in the Navy. After he served in the Navy he settled down in PA. Just wanted to clarify this information. George Hurst was my fathers(James Hurst)cousin. James Hurst was born in 1927 and also enlisted in the US Marines at the age of 15.

    1. Thanks! I appreciate the correction — I’ve amended the text.

    2. Joe Hurst, I once heard many years ago that the Hurst Tool (Jaws Of Life ), Were developed after George Hurst daughter died in a car accident. Apparently they were not able to get her out of the car. Is this fact or fiction? I’m 50 and lived in Warminster,Pa back in High School. I’d pass the plant every day to school. I often wonder were the large sign is today that once graced the outside of the building. I still live in the area. I remember fondly seeing the 1983 Hurst Olds parked in the lot on the Street Rd side of the plant. I even attended the last car show before the plant was sold. I’m glad to of had the privilege to have walked those sacred grounds. Many thanks to the Hurst family for a still fabulous product.

      1. Don’t believe the rumors Gary Kleppe. I’m very much alive and well. I think it’s time for a few of the former Hurst Campbell, Hurst Performance employees to stop fantasizing about their role in the company. Since May of 1986 some of these people have gotten out of hand and I’m tired of sitting back while they do this, times are going to change.

        1. Hello Laurie Hurst. My Mother was Sherry Jean Hurst. I was given up for adoption and found my real Father recently. Richard P. Baker. They were married in 1969 but gave me up for adoption in 1966. Forrest Lamar was her dad and Jean Hurst was her mom. I was told that her Uncle was George Hurst. I was wondering if there is any of the family left alive? Sherry died in 2008 and never got to meet her. My 1st car was a 68 Camero with a Hurst shifter…this was 1986…wow what a trip

          Let me know Lisa Mckearney

    3. Joe, my father was born in New York City. My grandparents lived in a suburb of NYC. You are close but no cigar and that only counts in horseshoes. And My cousins will back me up.

      1. Thanks for the clarification, Laurie! If you or your cousins have any other factual corrections, let me know and I will incorporate them.

        1. (You can always feel free to contact me directly via the contact form if you have any concerns or clarifications.)

    4. Sorry Joe my dad, George Hurst was born in New York City. And other than my aunt Dolores, my father never spoke of any relatives outside the immediate family. Please don’t cloud the issues on things you know nothing about. Since my fathers death, there have been enough people making statements that are not entirely true.

  12. During my Sr. year in HS (78) I bought a 1973 HO black with a 455. Today; I would leave it stock. In 78 and 79 I added Hurst Hatch T-Tops, side-pipes and Western Wheel cyclone mags. She was a pretty thing.

  13. My great-grandmother was a Hurst and before my grandmother passed, she told me that we were related to the Hurst’s of the Hurst Engines. Joe Hurst, would it be possible to contact you for more information about our family?

  14. very interesting picture of the back up 1972 hurst pace car .does anybody have the vin numbers of those 2 cars ? or any history of there location ? thank you !

  15. Really interesting story start to finish. Much appreciated Aaron. In my opinion, George Hurst will always be a legendary icon & find myself truly saddened regarding the circumstances of his later years.
    I discovered H/O in 1974 @ age 16. It was late summer & I was finished with wheat harvest. My dad had sold me a ’67 F-85. It had a 330cid,automatic, & it was a 4 door. I became friends with 1 of the other harvest drivers whose dad ran a repair shop in the tiny town of Burdett Ks. Man,I was gonna drop this, chop that,& turn it into a real street demon. A few days after I’d brought the F-85 with me to start the transformation, my friends’s dad ran sum $numbers by me,telling me it was way too expensive ect. Besides he said, with all you want to do, “Why don’t you just get a Hurst/Olds”. My exact words were, “Get a what?”
    Naturally after a little research I was impressed. Later that day I headed for Wichita & the Holy Grail. I actually found a couple of ’68’s & test drove them,but they were really in bad shape. Next stop was KCity & the same thing. I recall being in a run down part of KC & stopped @ 1 of many hole in the wall used dealerships. By now I was just going thru the motions but I had to ask,”Sir do you have any Hurst / Olds?” This man was a polite elderly black gentleman & his reply was priceless. “What you want a Hearse for? They ain’t good for nuthn cept hauling around dead people!”
    Disappointed, I returned to the home place but gave it 1 more shot by placing an ad in the classifieds. “Wanted to buy. Hurst / Oldsmobile.”
    Low & behold a few days later I got a phone call. The guy was a cameraman for WIBW,didn’t want to sell but was curious about the ad. So me & dad arranged to meet him @ work & check out the car ect. It turned out to be a real sweet ’68 that he raced on weekends down @ Lawrence Speedway. I still remember the big old slicks he had in the trunk. We chatted a bit, then he asked me if I’d like to take it for a spin. Hah. The old WIBW/Menniger complex was extremely hilly with wicked curves. The guy was beside me, dad in the back seat. Before we took off he mentioned not to let the RPM’s get below such n such. I said sure, but I didn’t know what I was getting into. Almost right away the guy started freaking out, screaming about keeping the RPM’s up! I’m like wow,ok then,& punched the tar out of it… flattening the hills, straightening the curves. Later, on the way back home, dad finally said something, “Where’d you learn to drive like that?”
    I would go to 1988 before I realized my dream. A 1984 w 23K miles. I still own it w 56K now. I joined the HOCA in 2014 & realized another dream when I got to meet “The Doc” in Indianapolis. Very sad to hear he passed last year.

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