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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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- Out in Front: The Front-Wheel-Drive Oldsmobile Toronado, Part 1
- Rocket Bomb: The Oldsmobile Rocket 88 and the Dawn of the American Horsepower Race
- Three Deuces, Four Speeds: The Rise and Fall of the Pontiac GTO