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.
In 1966 and 1967, the Oldsmobile 442’s standard engine was the 400 cu. in. (6,548 cc) L78, rated at 350 gross horsepower (261 kW). This one has the three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic, a new option for 1967. So equipped, it’s capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in a little over seven seconds, running the standing quarter mile (402 meters) in 15.5 seconds at 91 mph (147 km/h). This car is a clone; we’re not certain what engine it carries.
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.
The 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass was 204.2 inches (5,187 mm) long on a 115-inch (2,921mm) wheelbase. A contemporary Oldsmobile 442 convertible with automatic weighs about 3,950 lb (1,790 kg). This car is actually a Cutlass Supreme — although it has 442 identification, it lacks the real item’s hood louvers and thinner grille bar. It has front disc brakes, which became optional for the first time in 1967, providing much better stopping power than the standard 9.5-inch (241mm) drums.
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.
Like all GM’s A-body intermediates, the 442 had a live rear axle on coil springs, located by four trailing arms. Its heavy-duty suspension package included stronger boxed suspension links and a rear anti-roll bar, which reduced but did not eliminate the A-body’s strong understeer. Sharp-eyed readers will note the Cutlass Supreme badge on the tail, between the stripes. This is not an authentic 442, lacking the real thing’s blacked-out taillight surrounds.
SIDEBAR: The Tri-Power Oldsmobile 442
Most fans of sixties Supercars associate triple two-barrel carburetor setups with Pontiac, but the first GM division to offer such an arrangement was actually Oldsmobile, which launched its tri-carb J-2 option in January 1957. The J-2 package, priced at $83, included a trio of Rochester 2G carburetors with a vacuum-operated linkage. The engine normally cruised on the center carburetor, but greater demand would engage the front and rear carbs for more power. Oldsmobile rated the J-2 engine at 300 gross horsepower (224 kW), compared to 277 hp (207 kW) for the same engine with a four-barrel carburetor.
Demand for the J-2 engine was never very great and some customers found it temperamental. Sedate, day-to-day driving rarely engaged the front and rear carburetors, which then would become gummy from disuse; some customers simply removed them. Oldsmobile quietly dropped the option at the end of the 1958 model year.
Pete Estes, who had been an Oldsmobile motor engineer during the J-2’s development, became chief engineer of Pontiac in September 1956. Pontiac launched is own triple-carburetor setup, directly inspired by the Olds design, in early 1957. Pontiac did a much better job of promoting the “Tri-Power” engine than Olds had and Tri-Power remained a prominent Pontiac option through 1966.
A late-model Pontiac Tri-Power engine. This is actually a 1967 GTO, retrofitted with a ’66 manifold and carbs; although Pontiac dropped the Tri-Power engine in 1967, the earlier manifold bolts onto the later 400 cu. in. (6,554 cc) engine.
Oldsmobile briefly revived the triple-carburetor option in 1966. Known as RPO L69, it was available only for the 442, priced at $114. Unlike the earlier J-2, the L69 engine had three Carter two-barrels with a more predictable progressive linkage. Oldsmobile claimed 360 gross horsepower (269 kW), the same as Pontiac’s Tri-Power 389 (6,372 cc) V8.
Olds marketing didn’t even try to explain how the triple-carburetor engine fit into the 442 designation, but with only 2,129 sales, it hardly mattered. In 1967, GM management banned multiple-carburetor engines for all cars except the Chevrolet Corvette and Corvair, outlawing both the L69 and the Tri-Power Pontiacs. Oldsmobile probably would have dropped the L69 anyway, because sales did not justify its high production costs. Nonetheless, tri-carb 4-4-2s set several class records in NHRA competition and Loyed Woodland and Bob Andresen won the 1966 NHRA C/Stock national championship with an L69 442.
Like Pontiac, Oldsmobile replaced the triple-carburetor engine with a highly tuned four-barrel version with cold-air induction, known as the W-30. Actually introduced on a very limited basis in 1966, it carried the same 360-horsepower (269 kW) rating as the departed L69. Oldsmobile continued to offer W-30 engines in various forms through 1980.