THE BIG-BLOCK OLDSMOBILE 442
As conservative as GM’s senior management was, they were not oblivious to success. When the GTO became a hit, the Engineering Policy Committee slapped Pete Estes on the wrist and changed the engine-displacement rule to allow the A-body intermediates to use engines up to 400 cu. in. (6.6 L). Buick quickly got into the act with its GS400, a big-engined version of the A-body Special/Skylark, and later in the year, Chevrolet launched the first Malibu SS396. The door was now open for a big-engined Cutlass.
In the summer of 1964, Jack Wolfram departed for health reasons. He did not formally retire until the end of December, but Harold Metzel succeeded him as Oldsmobile general manager on July 6, with John Beltz taking Metzel’s place as chief engineer.
In some ways, Beltz’s promotion was more significant than Metzel’s; Cole expected Metzel’s tenure to be short and was grooming Beltz to take his place. The 38-year-old Beltz was one of GM’s brightest executives, with a quick wit and a notoriously sharp tongue. Beltz coveted the No. 3 slot in total sales, then held by Pontiac. To get there, he wanted to offer Pontiac-like performance.
That fall, Oldsmobile introduced its redesigned big V8. Its block was similar to the 330 cu. in. (5,404 cc) engine, but had a taller deck height and unique cylinder heads. In big Oldsmobiles, it had a bore of 4.13 in (104.8 mm) and a stroke of 3.98 in (101.0 mm), giving a displacement of 425 cu. in. (6,964 cc) and up to 370 gross horsepower (276 kW).
Installing the 425 in the Cutlass would have provided scorching performance, but GM policy still prohibited such a move. Instead, Oldsmobile developed a de-bored, 400 cu. in. (6,548 cc) version for use in the 442, rated at 345 gross horsepower (257 kW) and 440 lb-ft (594 N-m) of torque.
The Police Apprehender package continued to use the small-block V8, but for 1965, the 442 became a separate option, including the big engine, dual exhausts, and heavy-duty suspension. The four-speed manual was now a $188.30 option, reducing the price of the 442 package to $156.02. About 40% of buyers paid $209.82 for the newly available two-speed Jetaway, which had been beefed up to withstand the big engine’s torque. The engine and equipment changes made hash of the original definition of “442,” so Olds advertising now defined it as a 400-cubic-inch engine, four-barrel carburetor, and dual exhausts.
With 35 more horsepower (26 kW), 85 lb-ft (115 N-m) more torque, and less than 100 lb (45 kg) more weight than its 1964 predecessor, the big-block 442 was a good deal faster. Even the automatic version could go from 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in less than eight seconds, nearly matching the four-speed ’64. Fuel economy inevitably suffered, but with premium gasoline going for perhaps 35 cents a gallon (9 cents/liter) — about $2.40/gallon in modern dollars — that was not a major concern for contemporary buyers.
Nevertheless, the 442 still felt a little sedate by Supercar standards, lacking the GTO’s ferocious full-throttle roar and rakish image. Except for the tacked-on chrome louvers on its fenders, the new Olds remained a resolutely middle-class car. Sales for 1965 topped 25,000, a healthy 15% of F-85/Cutlass production, but the GTO still outsold it by around three to one.
For 1966, Oldsmobile added a hotter tri-power L69 engine (see sidebar), but sales remained flat. The ’67s did no better, despite useful new options like front disc brakes and the three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic. The 442’s performance was credible enough and it remained one of the better-handling Supercars, but Oldsmobile was simply not on the radar of a lot of younger buyers.