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

THE HISTORY OF HURST

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.

THE SHIFTY DOCTOR

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 many other 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.

THE HURST FIREBIRD

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.

JOHN BELTZ’S PERFORMANCE AMBITIONS

Watson already knew John Beltz quite well; Ed Cole, then GM’s executive vice president, had introduced them back in 1965. Beltz, who turned 40 in 1966, was then on the corporate fast track. As Oldsmobile’s assistant chief engineer, he had been one of the principal architects of the innovative front-wheel-drive Toronado. He became chief engineer in July 1964 and Cole was already grooming him to succeed Harold Metzel as the division’s general manager.

Beltz was unusual for a GM executive: witty, outspoken, and fearless, with a reputation for saying whatever was on his mind, however impolitic. Beltz and Watson hit it off immediately, in part because Beltz was eager to cultivate the kind of sporty image that was making Pontiac such a success with younger buyers.

By mid-1967, Beltz had been campaigning for about a year for an Oldsmobile pony car to match the new Camaro and Firebird, knowing that Oldsmobile still had a long way to go in shaking off the conservative image the division had cultivated under former general manager Jack Wolfram. Cole, concerned about the likelihood of cannibalizing Camaro and Firebird sales, repeatedly refused, but Beltz was not one to take no for an answer.

Part of the reason Beltz was so determined was that Oldsmobile’s 442, a performance-oriented version of the A-body Cutlass, was still struggling to find its place in the sporty car firmament. Despite good reviews and steadily improving performance, 442 sales still hovered around 25,000 units a year, well short of the popular and aggressively merchandised GTO.

At the time of Hurst and DeLorean’s meeting with Pete Estes, Oldsmobile was preparing to roll out a restyled 1968 A-body with sleek fastback styling that made the Cutlass look rather like an overinflated Firebird. The problem, from a performance standpoint, was that for 1968, Oldsmobile had opted to lengthen the stroke of its big V8 engines in search of more torque. That was fine for the full-size cars and Toronado, which would now have a 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) engine, second-largest in the industry, but the displacement limit for the A-bodies meant the 442 would be stuck with a de-bored 400 cu. in. (6,554 cc) version with at best mid-pack muscle. As was the case at Pontiac, Oldsmobile’s bigger engine had the same exterior dimensions as the 400 (and actually weighed a bit less), so it would be straightforward to install the 455 in the 442, but corporate policy expressly forbade doing so.

1969 Oldsmobile 442 front 3q
The 1968-1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass was much more curvaceous than were its predecessors, although we find it rather bulky-looking from some angles. This is a 1969 442 Holiday Coupe, identifiable by the lack of vent windows.

Watson and Hurst met with Beltz and Oldsmobile engineer Bob Dorshimer in November and laid out the latest version of the engine swap idea: Hurst would install the 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) engine in a limited number of specially trimmed Cutlasses, which would be sold through Oldsmobile dealers. The sales would be minimal by GM standards, but the Hurst-modified cars would generate a lot of buzz in the enthusiast press and give Oldsmobile’s image a much-needed boost.

Of course, this proposal presented the same logistical problems for Oldsmobile that it had at Pontiac. The difference this time was that senior management, having already shot down Beltz’s requests for an F-body, was in more of a mood to make concessions — or at least look the other way.

THE EXECUTIVE HOT ROD

Beltz was amenable to the Hurst proposal, particularly since the cost to Oldsmobile would be relatively modest. However, neither Metzel nor assistant chief engineer Howard Kehrl saw the point, so the project stalled for months while Beltz maneuvered his way through the internal politics. In the meantime, Watson left Hurst-Campbell, although he agreed to remain involved with the Oldsmobile project on a consulting basis.

The Hurst deal finally went forward in March 1968, with divisional authorization for a limited run of 500 455-powered Cutlasses. Since the modified cars would inevitably be more expensive than a standard 442, Watson proposed marketing them as “executive hot rods,” aimed not at teenagers, but at affluent enthusiasts who didn’t want to sacrifice comfort for performance. Rather than being a stripped-out drag-racing special, like the new Plymouth Road Runner, the Hurst car would have a full load of convenience options, including air conditioning — a rare feature for serious performance cars of the era.

There would actually be two engines for the special cars, which were eventually christened “Hurst Olds.” Cars with air conditioning got the W-46 engine, which used the same “C” cylinder heads as the 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) engines in the Olds Eighty-Eight and Toronado, but with the 442 exhaust manifold, distributor, valve covers and the camshaft specified for 400 cu. in. (6,554 cc) 442s with automatic transmission. Cars without air had the W-45 engine, which used the freer-breathing “D” heads from the 442’s optional W-30 engine along with a hotter camshaft and richer carburetor jets. Both the W-45 and W-46 used the W-30’s cold air intake system, breathing through snorkels below the front bumper, and had heavy-duty cooling systems. Oldsmobile quoted the same rated output for both engines — 390 gross horsepower (291 kW) and 500 lb-ft (675 N-m) of torque — but the W-45 was clearly more powerful.

All but one of the original cars had GM’s three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic, which was fitted for the purpose with Hurst’s Dual-Gate shifter. W-45 cars had a 3.91 axle for better dragstrip performance while air conditioned cars had a 3.08 axle to keep revs down and give the A/C compressor a fighting chance of survival. The chassis, meanwhile, was the same as the 442’s, with a heavy-duty frame, stiffer springs and shocks, and anti-roll bars both front and rear.

Aside from the engines and 442 equipment, the H/O was distinguished from lesser Cutlasses with unique paint and trim. The original plan was for the cars to be painted Firefrost Gold, Hurst’s signature color, but Oldsmobile was initially unable to replicate the color to George Hurst’s satisfaction, so he opted instead for a Toronado color called Peruvian Silver, complemented with black stripes and white pinstripes. The H/O’s interior was basically stock Cutlass, but the dash got walnut trim along with the tachometer/clock combination that was optional on the 442.

THE 1968 HURST OLDS

Thanks to the early delays, production of the Hurst Olds didn’t begin until early April, barely two months before the end of the 1968 model year. Officially, each H/O began life on the Oldsmobile production lines in Lansing as an engineless but otherwise complete Cutlass before being shipped to Demmer Engineering, a nearby contractor, for installation of the 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) engine and special Hurst Olds trim. In reality, the engines were installed by Oldsmobile on the regular assembly line; Demmer’s main function was to add the paint stripes and other cosmetic touches.

1968 Oldsmobile Hurst Olds front 3q
Like the ’68 Cutlass, the 1968 Hurst/Olds was 201.6 inches (5,121 mm) long on a 112-inch (2,845mm) wheelbase; curb weight was about 3,800 lb (1,725 kg). Most 1968 Hurst Olds were pillarless Holiday Coupes, like this one, but 56 cars were stiffer pillared Sports Coupes. Just barely visible in this shot are one of the H/O’s distinctive styling features: its red plastic wheel-well liners. (Photo: “1968 Hurst Olds Cutlass” © 2008 Dominick DePaolo; used with permission)

The reason the big engine was not actually installed by Demmer was that Beltz and Metzel were concerned about the potential liability issues; the idea of Oldsmobile being on the hook for warranty claims on engines installed by an outside contractor was uncomfortable, to say the least. Beltz finally concluded that it would be simpler and safer for Olds to install the engines at the factory and say Demmer had done it. We’re not sure to what extent this stratagem really fooled GM’s senior management — we imagine Ed Cole, at least, had a pretty good idea of what was actually going on — but it was a convenient fiction that provided Oldsmobile (and the corporation) with what the CIA once dubbed plausible deniability. Everyone involved stuck to the original story well into the eighties, although even in 1968 some outside observers were suspicious.

The Hurst Olds was not technically a 442, although except for the ostentatious paint job and insignia, the H/O looked much like a 442 and shared many of the same components. With all the “mandatory options” required with the H/O package, the starting price tag was around $4,200, some $400 more than a comparably equipped 442. That was expensive, but not unreasonably so; the H/O package cost more than Oldsmobile probably would have charged for the big engine as a regular production option, but less than the cost of a competent aftermarket engine swap.

At first, the Oldsmobile sales organization wanted no part of the Hurst Olds and tried to kill it; the 442 had hardly been a runaway hit and the prospect of a similar model costing nearly $500 more was not appetizing. General sales manager Mack Worden changed his tune after receiving more than 900 dealer orders within the first 48 hours. Oldsmobile eventually got more than 2,000 orders, but all Demmer had time to complete were 515 cars, all but 64 of them hardtops. Even finishing that many cars was a struggle; Watson had to pay a painter named Paul Hatton more than $10,000 just to finish all the pinstripes in time.

1967 Pontiac GTO Hurst Dual-Gate Shifter
All but one (or possibly two) of the early Hurst Olds had the three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic, equipped with Hurst’s “His and Hers” Dual-Gate Shifter. The Dual-Gate, which Hurst had introduced the previous year in the Pontiac GTO, allowed either normal automatic operation or a modicum of manual control — not unlike Jaguar’s later J-gate shifter.

The Hurst Olds was one of the hotter factory offerings for 1968 and, as expected, garnered a great deal of press attention. Testers from the enthusiast magazines found that W-45 H/Os could run the standing quarter mile (402 meters) in just under 14 seconds with a good launch; air conditioning added about a half second to the ET. Handling and braking were much like the 442’s, viz, better than average for a big American car. Fuel economy was predictably awful, dipping below 10 mpg (23.5 L/100 km) in brisk driving, although it wasn’t that much worse than a regular 442 or GTO.

Despite Worden’s fears, Oldsmobile dealers had little trouble selling out the limited run of Hurst Olds, which was successful enough to earn an encore for 1969.

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.

1969 Hurst Olds front 3q B
The Hurst Olds’ hood scoops are fiberglass, mounted atop two holes crudely hacked in the hood. They are functional, admitting outside air into the engine, but their effectiveness is questionable; they’re not positioned or sized properly for much volumetric efficiency. Their main purpose, of course, was to make the H/O immediately recognizable from the front, which they do exceedingly well.

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.

1969 Hurst Olds rear3q
The H/O’s fiberglass rear spoiler was similar to the one Pontiac used on the GTO Judge. Oldsmobile proudly proclaimed that the rear wing provided 64 lb (285 N) of downforce at 120 mph (193 km/h), but admitted that it produced less than a quarter of that modest figure at legal speeds. The Hurst Olds suspension was basically the same as the 442’s, including front and rear anti-roll bars, but the H/O benefited from fatter tires: G70-14 Wide Ovals in ’68, F60-15s in 1969.

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.

1969 Hurst Olds interior
Other than the wood trim, dashboard plaque, and Dual-Gate Shifter, the Hurst Olds’ interior was basically the same as that of a standard Cutlass S. Full instrumentation was mandatory, although the deeply tunneled instruments are not easy to read. This car has the optional air conditioning, unusual for a late-sixties Supercar.

RALLYE 350

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.

1969 Hurst Olds engine
The 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) W-46 engine in a 1969 Hurst Olds. The rubber gasket atop the air cleaner assembly mates it to the hood scoop system, allowing the engine to breathe cooler, denser outside air. The fresh-air system operates only in hard acceleration; at gentler throttle settings, a vacuum-controlled valve shuts it off, drawing intake air from under the hood instead.

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.

1969 Hurst Olds Mulroney sticker
The Hurst Olds displays its primary weakness: a sticker price of nearly $4,800, including a hefty $683.94 for the H/O package itself — nearly as expensive as Chrysler’s 425 horsepower (317 kW) 426 cu. in. (6,974 cc) Hemi.

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.

1970 Oldsmobile Rallye 350 front 3q
The Rallye 350 was based on the Cutlass S sports coupe. Its base price of $3,253 included the hood scoops, Sebring Yellow paint, and body-colored bumpers and wheels, although the rear spoiler was technically a $74 option. The Rallye 350 was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 7 seconds and could run the standing quarter mile (402 meters) in the low 15-second range. (Photo: “Rally 350” © 2009 Chad Horwedel; used with permission)

HURST WITHOUT HURST

By almost any standard, Hurst-Campbell had been extraordinarily successful throughout the sixties. Aside from his automotive business, Hurst also invented the Jaws of Life, a hydraulic rescue tool that remains standard equipment for firefighters and emergency workers. Profits were outstanding and in 1968, Hurst took the company public.

In 1970, Bill Campbell sold his share of the company to Sunbeam Products, the appliance manufacturer. With Campbell’s departure, Hurst no longer had a controlling interest and soon had no real operational control; he finally departed a few years later. It was a harsh blow — after spending 15 years tirelessly promoting his own name, Hurst lost the right to use it commercially in the field he loved.

The company went on without him. Hurst continued to develop new products throughout the seventies, although most were more like J.C. Whitney gimmicks than serious performance hardware: pointless accessories like custom mud flaps and gimmicky digital tachometers.

1979 Hurst Olds T-tops
With the near-demise of convertibles in the mid-seventies, sunroofs, moonroofs, and lift-off T-top roof panels became very popular. Hurst offered T-top conversions of a variety of cars, not just the H/O.

THE HURST OLDS PACE CARS

Hurst and Oldsmobile went their separate ways until 1972, when Hurst built a new H/O as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500. The Indy Pace Car program had nearly collapsed in 1971 after the previous entry, a Dodge Challenger driven by dealer Eldon Palmer, had crashed into the photographer’s grandstand, causing many injuries. Nonetheless, the program was still good publicity, so Hurst Performance decided to sponsor an Indy Pace Car for 1972: a souped-up Cutlass Supreme convertible with the now-obligatory white paint, gold stripes, and gold-painted wheels, driven by Jim Rathmann.

Hurst and Oldsmobile subsequently offered a new production Hurst Olds late in the 1972 model year. It once again had a 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) V8, now rated at 270 net horsepower (201 kW). The W-30 Force-Air package was optional, boosting output to 300 net horsepower (224 kW), but it was rarely ordered. Production totaled either 624 or 629 units, fewer than 50 of which had the W-30 engine.

1972 Hurst Olds Pace Car front 3q © 2007 1969ho at English Wikipedia
The actual 1972 Indy Pace Car and its back-up (seen here at Oldsmobile’s 90th Anniversary celebration in 1987) were convertibles, but most of the ’72 production H/Os were hardtops. Hurst built a few Vista Cruiser station wagons in Pace Car trim for use by Indy 500 emergency crews, but it’s unclear if any H/O wagons were sold to the public. (Photo: “1972 Hurst Olds Pace Car” © 1987 1969ho at English Wikipedia; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5 Generic license)

Although the 1973 Indy Pace Car was a Cadillac Eldorado, there was again a production Hurst Olds for 1973, this time based on the newly restyled Cutlass “Colonnade” coupe. Mechanically, it was much like the ’72, with a 455 engine with either 275 or 300 horsepower (201 or 224 kW). Hurst built 1,097 of them.

A custom-built Hurst Olds convertible paced the 1974 Indy 500, leading to yet another production H/O. This time, the small-block 350 cu. in. (5,737 cc) V8 was standard, although the 455 was still optional. Hurst built 1,903 of the ’74s along with 92 full-size Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight convertibles with H/O badges.

The Cutlass-based Hurst Olds returned in 1975, now equipped with removable T-tops and various tacky cosmetic details, including a padded vinyl top with blind rear quarter panels. Perversely, the 1975 H/O was the most popular H/O yet, selling 2,535 units.

There were no H/Os in 1976 or 1977, although the Cutlass Supreme offered an optional Hurst-installed T-top roof, which included Hurst Olds emblems. By 1976, Oldsmobile no longer needed the image boost. The Cutlass was enjoying record sales and the factory couldn’t spare any cars for Hurst.

THE FINAL HURST OLDS

Like the 442, which lingered well after most of its direct rivals had disappeared, the Hurst Olds made several unexpected encore appearances, first in 1979 and again in 1983 and 1984. These latter-day Hurst Olds were a far cry from their tire-smoking predecessors, but they were the most popular of the breed. Oldsmobile sold 2,499 of the ’79s, 3,000 of the ’83s, and about 3,500 of the final 1984 models. There would have been an 1985 model as well, but Oldsmobile decided to revive the 442 instead, allegedly because Hurst wanted too much money for the use of the Hurst name.

1979 Hurst Olds
The 1979 Hurst Olds was based on the downsized Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais coupe, powered by the 350 cu. in. (5,737 cc) W30 engine with 160 net horsepower (119 kW). The ’79 was the only H/O built entirely by Oldsmobile; it was also the last hurrah for the Hurst Dual-Gate Shifter. Production totaled 2,499 units. This is one of only 537 equipped with the Hurst T-top roof.

George Hurst had reportedly become increasingly despondent over the past decade and on May 13, 1986, he was found dead in his garage in Redlands, California, an apparent suicide. He was 59 years old.

In 1987, about a year after Hurst’s death, Sunbeam sold the company to Mr. Gasket, Inc. Former “Miss Hurst Golden Shifter” Linda Vaughn returned to the fold, becoming Mr. Gasket’s vice president of public relations. For a while, Mr. Gasket even honored the original lifetime warranty on Hurst shifters, although they added a $45 handling charge.

The Hurst Olds name surfaced once last time in 1988. It was not a complete car, but an aftermarket kit, developed by Doc Watson and Tempe, Arizona-based Action Products. The kits were purely cosmetic and had to be installed by the customer, which was not a simple task. Fewer than two dozen were sold.

In 2007, Mr. Gasket sold Hurst Performance Products to B&M Racing. Now based in California, Hurst continues to manufacture shifters for manual and automatic transmissions, although McLeod Industries, another B&M subsidiary, now apparently make its shift linkages.

In November 2008, Hurst launched Hurst Performance Vehicles, offering special editions in the mold of the original Hurst Olds. To date, Hurst’s modified cars have included the Dodge Viper, the Ford Mustang, and the new Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro. In the summer of 2009, Doc Watson lent his name to Hurst’s final collaboration with Pontiac: a limited run of 52 supercharged Pontiac G8 sedans.

AFTERWORD

It’s easy to criticize GM for restrictive and arbitrary policies like its mid-sixties displacement limits, but we don’t know that they ultimately made much difference. Even if it had been possible to order a 428 Firebird or an SS427 Camaro or Chevelle without resorting to engine swaps and chicanery, we suspect that sales would have been very limited. Few customers appreciated the virtues of the big engines and fewer still could afford them — Chrysler’s experience with the 426 Hemi and 440 makes that clear enough.

Viewed in that light, offering the big engines in special editions like the Hurst Olds probably made a lot more sense. The H/O was still a car of narrowly focused appeal, but the limited production made it seem exclusive rather than just unpopular.

The original Hurst Olds is not really our sort of car, but it does arouse a certain curious nostalgia. It was the product of a more innocent era of marketing and product planning, when cross-promotion and co-branding were new and exciting concepts. In 1968, the idea that a former shade-tree hot-rodder like George Hurst could get his name on a production car — and an Oldsmobile, at that — was a novelty, an event. Within a few years, it had become all too ordinary, an increasingly calculated (if not cynical) exercise. It’s hard to imagine the average observer today feeling much frisson at the sight of an L.L. Bean Edition Subaru or the ubiquitous Eddie Bauer editions of Ford trucks and SUVs. We assume that if these branding mash-ups weren’t profitable, manufacturers wouldn’t bother, but the thrill is gone — cast off and long forgotten, not unlike George Hurst himself.

# # #


NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources for the history of the Hurst Olds included “1966-1985 Oldsmobile Toronado,” Automotive Mileposts, n.d., automotivemileposts. com, accessed 10 November 2010; David E. Davis, Jr., “Modern Muscle: Grab your Frankie Valli cassettes and we’ll see you at the beach,” Car and Driver Vol. 31, No. 1 (July 1985), pp. 38-43; Helen Jones Earley and James R. Walkinshaw, Setting the Pace: Oldsmobile’s First 100 Years (Lansing, MI: Oldsmobile Division of General Motors Corporation, 1996); John Heilig, “Cutlass Supremacy: The Story of Oldsmobile’s 1973-77 Intermediates,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 22, No. 2 (August 2005), pp. 8–21; Hurtst-Campbell Inc., “Believe It” [1968 Hurst/Olds brochure] and “Muscle: 1969 Hurst/Olds” [1969 Hurst/Olds brochure]; Indypacecars.com, 1999, accessed 14 February 2010; John F. Katz, “1968 Hurst Olds: Catch-455,” Special Interest Autos #164 (March-April 1968), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Oldsmobiles: driveReports from Hemmings Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), pp. 108-115; the Old Car Brochures website (oldcarbrochures.org); C. Van Tune, “Retrospect: ’68 Hurst/Oldsmobile: The Day the Image Changed,” Motor Trend Vol. 44, No. 4 (April 1992), pp. 100-102; B.T. Van Kirk, “1968-84 Hurst/Oldsmobile: Executive Hot Rod,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 17, No. 3 (October 2000), pp. 8-21; and Oldsmobile Mail List Server Community, “Olds FAQ — Hurst Olds” (10 April 2000, The Olds FAQ, www.442. com/ oldsfaq/ofhos.htm, accessed 11 February 2009). Additional information on the life of George Hurst came from Jim Donnelly, “George Hurst: From garage rat to marketing genius,” Hemmings Muscle Machines September 2006; and Brian Lohnes, “Gearhead Guys You Should Know: George Hurst” (7 January 2009, Bangshift. com, accessed 12 February 2010).

We also consulted the following period road tests: Steve Kelly, “Mix in talent (Olds), a dash of ideas (Hurst), and blend thoroughly with endless strings of enthusiasm. Result: Hurst-Olds,” Hot Rod July 1968; Eugene Martin, “Tune Out the Feds,” Cars August 1968; “Hurst-Olds: An H/O Hauler: Another GM division pushed closer to the racing pits,” Road Test July 1969; and “Car Life Road Test: Oldsmobile Rallye 350: Beneath that gaudy paint and wing lurk bargains in performance and handling,” Car Life May 1970, reprinted in Oldsmobile Muscle Portfolio 1964-1971 (Muscle Portfolios), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1999); Bill Sanders, “H-O doesn’t stand for ‘Hairy-Olds,’ but maybe it should,” Motor Trend September 1968; Eric Dahlquist, “The Hairest Oldsmobile: Mr. Hurst and Dr. Oldsmobile build the mind shatterer, or, why Lucille will never be the same again,” Motor Trend June 1969); Karl Ludvigsen, “Bridging the Insurance Gap,” Motor Trend February 1970; “Car Life Road Test: Dr. Oldsmobile – Meet Dr. Hurst,” Car Life July 1969; John Pashdag, “73½ Hurst Olds: The Super-Car Still Lives!” Motor Trend June 1973; Jim McCraw, “HO Locomotive on a Grand Scale: A look at the street-legal version of the 1974 Hurst Olds that will lead 33 cars to the green flag at Indy this year,” Hot Rod May 1974; and Paul Garson, “Fine Lines: Oldsmobile 442, 1964-74,” Car Craft April 1988, reprinted in Cutlass And 442: Muscle Portfolio 1964-1974, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1998).

Some details on the modern Hurst cars, including the 2009 Hurst-Pontiac G8, came from the Hurst Performance website and their 29 June 2009 press release (www.hurst-performance. com, accessed 12 February 2010).


RELATED ARTICLES


40 Comments

Add a Comment
  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.)

      2. your grandparents lived in Little Ferry N.J I knew them well. I also know your mom and Billy and Bobby Zimmerman. I was your fathers partner and helped get the company started. We built Capt. Smarts 46 Lincoln Continental. Ask your mom and while your at it give her my Best regards. Jim Rahm

    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.

    5. I was raised in PA.. born in 1927, we had a neighbor George Hurst , he went in to the service, I think it was the Army. He and his brother bill and their father and a housekeeper Lena. lived close to us. we went to their house on Sat. nights to listen to the top ten. he was my friend while growing up a good friend no hanky panky just a friend . If any one reading this know if he is still living and know him My nick name was Jane Evans. I’d like to hear from him. Janet Laury Ho, TX.

  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 !

    1. I do not — sorry!

  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.

  16. The story of Hurst and GM is a fascinating story. It is really as much of a story about Pontiac. What most people don’t realize is that the Hurst M/T shifter/linkage,the Dual gate shifter or for that matter the Hurst built Oldsmobile’s. or any other aftermarket at GM product owe their existence to Pontiac division Knudsen/Estes/Delorean and advertising agency’s Jim Wangers. It was this foursome that finally convinced the corporation to approve using a popular outside product on GM cars as a adjunct to selling cars. All manufacturers today use this technique in selling cars.

  17. MY DAD TOM HOEPFL ACTUALLY WORKED WITH GEORGE AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE SHIFTER ..THE BASE COMMANDERS WANTED FASTER CARS AND DAD AND GEORGE USED WILLOW GROVER NAS MACHINE SHOP ALSO SUPERCHARPERS OFF OF P 38 .. HAVE NAVY PICTURES OF THEM BOTH COUPLES HUNG OUT ON AND OFF DUTY ..LINCOLN CONTINENTAL 41 BALLS FAST FIRST LONG THROW THAN SHORT SHIFTERS ..DAD’S 87

  18. Hello,
    One minor correction in the article needs to be pointed out. The W-46 mentioned in the article was actually the air conditioned version of the 1968 Hurst/Olds. Essentially it was the same as an Oldsmobile 98 455 engine, but with the 4-4-2 exhaust manifolds & heat shroud, the Outside Air Induction Air cleaner assembly, notched 4-4-2 valve covers, a Police Apprehender 1111469 distributor,and the 400165 camshaft. This version was rated at 380 H. P.

    The non air conditioned W-45 455 was much more of a performance engine. Using the same 455 block a W-31 Ram Rod 350 camshaft (308 degrees duration, 88 degree overlap, and .474 lift) was used in conjunction with the 7028255 W-31 Quadra-Jet carburetor (.075 main jets vs the .072 in the W-46, plus calibration changes). W-30 400370 D casting heads were added along with the forementioned 4-4-2 exhaust manifolds and notched valve covers. A 4-4-2 automatic transmission and W-30 use 1111468 distributor rounded out the package.Both versions had the W-30, Turbo-Systematic OR code transmission, shifted by the Hurst Dual Gate shifter. A/C W-46 cars had 3.08 to one limited slip differentials, code S5 while non air W-45 cars received 3.91 limited slip gears. Both cars had heavy duty cooling; VO1 for the W-45, and Y72 for the W-46 version. Also, there were 64 Sport Coupe post cars and 451 Holiday Coupe hard top cars. This figure is in accordance with the Demmer Shipping Control list, which I have a copy of.
    Regards,
    Karl D. Sarpolis.
    Advisor, 1968 model year Hurst/Olds
    H/O Club of America

    1. The transmission was a Turbo-Hydra-matic OW coded W-30 400 type .

    2. Thanks for the clarifications. The one point about which I have to quibble is on the horsepower rating of the ’68 engine. Every source I’ve seen, including the 1968 Hurst/Olds brochure, lists output as 390 hp, although for 1969, the W-46 was indeed rated 380 hp. In either case, the rating is pretty clearly a nominal one and probably dictated by GM’s 10 lb/hp rule more than any technical point.

    3. Great details Karl. So how many 1968 cars had air conditioning?

      Are you able to provide similar enlightenment on the 1969 engine pair?

  19. Mcsilver, Karl is the authority, but I found lots of good info at http://www.hurstolds.com/ and http://www.442.com/oldsfaq/ofhos.htm.
    According to the first site, 153 were equipped with A/C and thus the W-46 engine: http://www.hurstolds.com/numbers/numbers_01.pdf

    Aaron, awesome site with great, well-researched articles. One typo: “W-46 cars had a 3.91 axle for better dragstrip performance while air conditioned cars had a 3.08 axle to keep revs down and give the A/C compressor a fighting chance of survival.” Should say “W-45” that had the 3.91 rear.

    1. Whoops, you’re absolutely right — I fixed that in the text.

      Your comment had originally ended up in spam because it had links. This happens automatically; I don’t necessarily even see it at all unless I make a point of looking through the filtered comments, which usually amount to 100+ pieces of obvious junk a day. (This is why I have the filter set so aggressively — spammers keep finding new ways to go around whatever precautions I set.) Sorry about that!

  20. Aaron, one other omission I think worth correcting is the Lightning Rods shifters in the 1983 and 1984 Hurst/Olds. Although kind of a gimmick, as a young teen at the time I thought they were pretty cool!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments may be moderated. Commenting signifies your acceptance of our Comment Policy — please read it first! You must be at least 18 to comment. PLEASE DON'T POST COPYRIGHTED CONTENT YOU AREN'T AUTHORIZED TO USE!