THE 1969 HURST OLDS
If anyone thought the first Hurst Olds wasn’t conspicuous enough, the 1969 model comprehensively solved that problem. The second H/O traded Peruvian Silver for Cameo White with dramatic Firefrost Gold stripes, this time embellished with black rather than white pinstripes. In case the local traffic cops were color-blind or unusually inattentive, Hurst helpfully added a pair of enormous scoops on the hood and a fiberglass rear wing on the rear deck.
Although air conditioning was still optional on the H/O, there was now only one engine. It was called W-46, but it was essentially a hybrid of the previous W-45 and W-46 versions with the “D” heads and a milder cam. The new W-46 was rated at 380 gross horsepower (283 kW) and 500 lb-ft (675 N-m) of torque, but despite its power was rather mildly tuned, more akin to the engines in the Toronado or big Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight sedans than the previous W-45. The W-46 was less racy than the 442’s optional W-30 engine and not nearly as high strung as dealer-created special editions like the Baldwin Motion Camaros. Except for its cop-baiting decor, the Hurst Olds was really quite civilized.
The H/O’s mild manners didn’t hurt its performance. Testers found that the 1969 Hurst Olds could reach 60 mph (97 km/h) in around 6 seconds and run the quarter mile in about 14 seconds flat; Car Life recorded a top speed of 132 mph (213 km/h). That wasn’t quite in the league of Chrysler’s 426 (6,974 cc) Hemi or a big-engined Corvette, but it put the Hurst Olds into a very elite class.
The 1969 Hurst Olds was again a limited edition, although Oldsmobile and Hurst extended production to 906 cars, all hardtops. Hurst took an additional six H/O hardtops and two convertibles for company use; one of the convertibles went to Linda Vaughn.
Although it was not a big moneymaker, the Hurst Olds had validated Beltz’s judgment and won him new respect from the sales organization. In the spring of 1969, a few weeks after the new H/O started rolling off the line, he became the new general manager of Oldsmobile.
The Hurst Olds illustrated the basic limitations of the Supercar genre: For all Doc Watson’s talk of executive hot rods, it was really too gaudy for most of the customers who could actually afford it. It was not outrageously expensive, but it was well out of the price range of most young buyers. Furthermore, even if those customers could swing the payments, the H/O was difficult and costly to insure. Thus, it was an impressive car with a very limited audience.
All of GM’s divisions (save Cadillac) discovered that the hard way in 1970, when the corporation finally rescinded the displacement limit. Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Buick immediately unleashed a host of big-engine Supercars with 454 (7,443 cc) and 455 (7,468 cc) engines and up to 450 advertised horsepower (336 kW). All sold poorly, as did Ford’s 429 cu. in. (7,027 cc) and Chrysler’s 426 Hemi (6,974 cc) and 440 (7,206 cc) Six Pack engines. However formidable their performance, they were just too expensive and the cost of insurance had become prohibitive.
With the end of the displacement limits, the Hurst Olds became redundant. The 455 was now standard in the regular Oldsmobile 442 for a lot less money. Even there, sales were disappointing, so a more-expensive, more-powerful version wasn’t likely to help.
John Beltz did talk to Hurst about a new Hurst Olds for 1970: not a big-engine Supercar, but a cheaper “insurance-beater” special that would combine the loud paint, hood scoops, and rear wing of the 1969 H/O with Oldsmobile’s 350 cu. in. (5,737 cc) small-block V8. The hope was that with “only” 310 gross horsepower (231 kW) in a 3,600 lb (1,633 kg) car, the smaller-engined car could avoid the more punitive insurance surcharges; it also represented a throwback of sorts to the original 1964 Olds 442.
The concept sounded promising, but the deal fell apart after Oldsmobile and Hurst were unable to reach an agreement on price and license fees. Frustrated, Beltz decided to offer a similar model without the Hurst name, instead dubbing the car “Rallye 350.” Olds built 3,547 of them, but demand was disappointing. Unsold cars languished on dealer lots for months and the Rallye 350 disappeared after only a year.
John Beltz was diagnosed with cancer in 1971 and died the following May. That year, however, Oldsmobile achieved Beltz’s original goal, claiming the coveted No. 3 spot in total sales, just behind Chevrolet and Ford. It would retain that spot for 12 of the next 16 years.