Middle-of-the-Road Muscle: The Oldsmobile Cutlass and 442

The Oldsmobile 442 was Oldsmobile’s entry in the “Supercar” wars of the mid-sixties and early seventies. Although it was never as lauded or as popular as the Pontiac GTO or Dodge Charger, it outlived many of its rivals and helped pave way for Oldsmobile’s ascendancy in the 1970s.

This week, we look at the history of the Oldsmobile Cutlass and 442.
1969 Oldsmobile 442 Holiday coupe


Back in the benighted days of the seventies and early eighties, the best-selling nameplate in America was not a Chevrolet, a Ford, or even a Toyota, but the ubiquitous Oldsmobile Cutlass. In 1977, the division’s best-ever sales year, Oldsmobile sold 1.1 million cars, about 675,000 of which were Cutlasses of one sort or another. The Oldsmobile Cutlass was not the world’s most attractive design, nor was it outstandingly quick, economical, or luxurious, but it was a competent middle-of-the-road car and it sold like mad.

It was not always so. The Cutlass got off to a disappointing start in the early sixties and for much of the decade, it was overshadowed by its A-body cousins, the Chevrolet Chevelle/Malibu and Pontiac Tempest/Le Mans/GTO. It was not until the early seventies that it began its remarkable ascent.

The first Oldsmobile Cutlass was a 1954 show car, a plastic-bodied fastback with a louvered rear window and dramatic fins. It took its name from the U.S. Navy’s Vought F7U Cutlass fighter, which entered squadron service around the time the show car debuted.

Vought F7U-3 Cutlass over USS Coral Sea (CVB-43) (U.S. Navy file photo Nov. 1952 - U.S. public domain)
A Vought F7U-3 Cutlass over the carrier U.S.S. Coral Sea in November 1952. First conceived in 1945, the F7U underwent several extensive redesigns before finally reaching operational service in 1954; carrier trials, which proved to be a major headache for the Cutlass, weren’t completed until well after this photo was taken. Fortunately, Oldsmobile’s Cutlass would be far more successful than its USN namesake, which was underpowered, perennially unreliable, and during its brief service life suffered one of the worst safety records of any U.S. military aircraft. The F7U was not fondly remembered by pilots or crews, who assigned it a variety of derogatory nicknames. (U.S. public domain U.S. Navy file photo, November 1952; via Wikimedia Commons and the USS Coral Sea Tribute Site. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.)

The Cutlass show car was not GM’s prettiest design, but it was quite racy, something that could not be said of contemporary Oldsmobiles. The original Olds Rocket Eighty-Eight of 1949-1950 had been the darling of hot-rodders and stock car racers, even winning the first Carrera Panamericana rally, but since then, Olds had succumbed to middle-age spread. By the late fifties, the Oldsmobile brand was most easily defined by what it was not: not as sporty as the new Pontiacs, as posh as a Buick, or as prestigious as a Cadillac. An Oldsmobile was a big, soft, conservative car, aimed at middle-class buyers with little interest in performance or ostentation.


In the late fifties, the United States suffered a short but severe recession that began in the fall of 1957. Auto sales were hit hard, particularly middle-class brands like Buick and Oldsmobile. Many buyers turned to compact imports; Volkswagen sales rose to more than 120,000 units in 1958, causing considerable alarm in Detroit.

In response to the recession, General Motors decided to invest heavily in compact cars. The first would be the Chevrolet Corvair, followed a year later by a line of “Senior Compacts” from Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick. All would share a new unitized body shell, known internally as the Y-body, and a new 215 cu. in. (3,528 cc) aluminum V8, co-developed by Buick and Oldsmobile.

Despite the recession, Olds management was not convinced that they needed a compact car. Although Oldsmobile sales had taken a 22% hit in 1958, they recovered handily for 1959 and Oldsmobile customers were not exactly crying out for a smaller car. Chief engineer Harold Metzel had considerable doubts about the unitized Y-body, preferring the greater isolation of body-on-frame construction. Everyone was worried about the new aluminum V8, which was expensive to build and strained the corporation’s manufacturing technology to its limits. Left to its own devices, we’re not sure that Oldsmobile would have built the Y-body at all, but the corporation was already committed and development went forward at a brisk pace.

The “Senior Compacts” went on sales in the fall of 1960 as 1961 models. At the suggestion of general manager Jack Wolfram, the Oldsmobile version was dubbed “F-85.” The name was inspired by another 1954 show car, the F-88, which was itself was inspired by U.S. Air Force nomenclature. (There was no production F-85 aircraft, but the USAF had assigned that designation to an experimental McDonnell “parasite fighter” called Goblin, which was intended to be carried in the bomb bay of a heavy bomber.)


The F-85 was the smallest car Oldsmobile had offered since 1932, nearly two feet (60 cm) shorter and more than half a ton lighter than the division’s contemporary full-size models. Prices started at less than $2,400, about $450 less than an Oldsmobile Dynamic Eighty-Eight. Standard power was Oldsmobile’s version of the 215 cu. in. (3,528 cc) aluminum V8 with 155 gross horsepower (116 kW).

Despite its smaller size, the F-85 drove much like the big Oldsmobiles of its day, with a soft ride, slow steering, and a near-total aversion to enthusiastic driving. With the optional Roto Hydra-Matic, it was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in a bit over 14 seconds seconds, a top speed of 102-103 mph (164-165 km/h), and up to 22 mpg (10.7 L/100 km) — reasonable if hardly startling.

By the time the senior compacts appeared, the economy had recovered and even compact car buyers were turning to sportier, more luxurious models like the Chevrolet Corvair Monza. Late in the 1961 model year, Oldsmobile launched an upscale version of the F-85, a coupe with bucket seats, better trim, and a 185-horsepower (138 kW) version of the small V8. The coupe was dubbed F-85 Cutlass, taking its name from the earlier show car.

1963 Oldsmobile F-85 convertible front 3q © 2005 CZmarlin — Christopher Ziemnowicz PD
For 1963, the Y-body Oldsmobile F-85 and Cutlass got a facelift that increased their overall length from 188.2 inches (4,780 mm) to 192.2 inches (4,882 mm). The Oldsmobile F-85’s more powerful optional V8 was now up to 195 gross horsepower (145 kW), which was good for 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 11 seconds and a top speed of perhaps 105 mph (170 km/h). (Photo: “1963 Oldsmobile F-85 conv-white” © 2005 CZmarlin — Christopher Ziemnowicz; released into the public domain by the photographer, resized 2010 by Aaron Severson)

Although the F-85 was practical and reasonably attractive, early sales were disappointing, totaling around 80,000 units for 1961. The principal problem was price. An F-85 Deluxe four-door sedan, the most popular model, cost almost as much as a full-size Ford Galaxie. Worse, the aluminum engine proved to be every bit as troublesome as Oldsmobile engineers had feared, driving up warranty costs.

The other Y-bodies weren’t faring much better. The Buick Special sold fewer than 87,000 units for 1961, well below expectations. Pontiac’s four-cylinder “rope-drive” Tempest was doing somewhat better thanks mostly to its lower price, but it was expensive to build, so its profit margins were slim.

By mid-1961, the Senior Compacts were starting to look like a miscalculation. Although they weren’t small except in a relative sense, they lacked the size and gravitas that shoppers of GM’s mid-price divisions had come to expect. The Y-bodies’ technical novelty, meanwhile, provided little obvious benefit while making the cars too expensive for shoppers looking for a plusher economy car or midsize family sedan.

The latter point was underscored by the continued success of Rambler, which was No. 3 in U.S. new car sales for 1961 thanks mostly to the popularity of the roughly Y-body-size Rambler Classic, and the introduction that fall of Ford’s midsize Ford Fairlane and Mercury Meteor sedans. The Fairlane was a bit bigger but hundreds of dollars cheaper than the F-85 or Buick Special even with its new compact V8 engine. Consequently, the Fairlane outsold the 1962 Oldsmobile F-85 and Cutlass by about three to one, as did the 1962 Rambler Classic.

It didn’t take long for GM group vice president Ed Cole to get the message. In early 1962, he decreed that rather than continuing to struggle and trip over one another in the now-crowded compact market, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac would drop their Y-body cars after 1963 in favor of a new line of intermediate models. The new cars, which would share the new A-body shell of the forthcoming Chevrolet Chevelle/Malibu, were to be far more orthodox than the Y-bodies, allowing Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac to offer more car — if not necessarily more space — for less money.


The new A-body Oldsmobile F-85, launched in the fall of 1963, was nearly 15 inches (38 cm) longer and 500 pounds (227 kg) heavier than the earlier F-85 and traded the Y-body’s unitary construction for a separate perimeter frame. The aluminum V8 was gone, replaced by a new 330 cu. in. (5,404 cc) cast-iron small block with up to 290 gross horsepower (216 kW). Also discarded was the unloved three-speed Roto Hydra-Matic, which was replaced by a two-speed “Jetaway” automatic with a novel variable-pitch stator. Stan Wilen’s Oldsmobile styling studio gave the new car tasteful if rather squarish styling, making it look like a scaled-down version of the full-size Olds.

Critics lamented the demise of the smaller F-85 and its lightweight engine, but Oldsmobile buyers apparently did not, for sales increased by more than 35%. Part of the attraction was the ’64s were actually somewhat cheaper than before, reflecting the new cars’ lower production costs. The Oldsmobile Cutlass, still the top trim series, accounted for about 40% of sales.

Although the A-body F-85 and Cutlass sold better than before, they were still not high-volume products for Oldsmobile, amounting to only 30% of its total volume. Customers shopping for an intermediate were far more likely to turn to Chevrolet or Ford, whose midsize cars offered everything the F-85 did for less money. There was also strong new internecine rivalry from Pontiac’s new A-body Tempest and Le Mans.

1965 Oldsmobile Cutlass front 3q
The 1964 F-85 and Cutlass were 203 inches (5,156 mm) long on a 115-inch (2,921mm) wheelbase; the ’65s were 1.5 inches (38 mm) longer overall. This is a pillared Cutlass Sports Coupe; the pillarless Holiday Coupe cost $140 extra, weighed about 25 lb (12 kg) more, and was somewhat less rigid.


The 1964 Pontiac Tempest shared the F-85’s A-body shell, its basic suspension hardware, and much of its running gear, although Pontiac had its own 326 cu. in. (5,340 cc) V8. Prices were very similar, model for model, and on paper, there was little to choose between them. Nonetheless, the Tempest outsold its Oldsmobile counterpart by more than 10%. The reason could be summed up with three letters: GTO.

Pontiac had developed a formidable performance image in the late fifties and early sixties, only to run into trouble when GM president Frederic Donner reiterated the corporation’s anti-racing policy. To keep the fire alive, ad man Jim Wangers and chief engineer John DeLorean had decided to develop a hotter street car. Engineer Bill Collins installed Pontiac’s 389 cu. in. (6,372 cc) V8 in the Tempest, which gave it exceptional straight-line performance at a very modest cost. Although GM policy forbade using engines bigger than 330 cu. in. (5.4 L) in the A-body intermediates, Pontiac general manager Pete Estes decided to take a chance, exploiting a loophole in the corporate rules to offer the big engine as an option package, dubbed Gran Turismo Omologato, or GTO. Despite considerable resistance from Pontiac’s own sales organization, the GTO sold 32,450 copies for 1964, accounting for around 17% of Tempest/Le Mans production. Wangers and DeLorean set about turning the GTO into a marketing bonanza, which had a galvanic effect on overall Pontiac sales.

1964 Pontiac GTO fender badge
“GTO” was a term used by the FIA for the Gran Turismo (Grand Touring) class; Ferrari used it as a model name from 1962 to 1964 and again in the eighties.

The arrival of the GTO did not go unnoticed at Oldsmobile. Despite Wolfram’s intense conservatism, a lot of Olds engineers were enthusiasts, including Dale Smith, Bob Dorshimer, and assistant chief engineer John Beltz. Even Wolfram had signed off on the short-lived F-85 Jetfire, the world’s first turbocharged production car. It was obvious that Pontiac was onto something, so in late 1963, Wolfram and Metzel authorized the development of a GTO rival.


For the sake of expediency, Beltz, Smith, and Dorshimer dipped into the existing Oldsmobile parts bin. The obvious starting point was the heavy-duty parts Oldsmobile had already developed for police buyers. The F-85, for instance, offered a B01 City Cruiser Apprehender package, which included a firmer suspension and the 290 horsepower (216 kW) V8. Oldsmobile PR executive Dave Jarrard suggested that they needed at least 300 horsepower (224 kW), so they fitted the F-85’s 330 cu. in. (5,404 cc) engine with a hotter camshaft, dual exhausts, and sturdier internal components, bringing it to a claimed 310 hp (231 kW).

The obvious question is why Olds did not simply use the big 394 cu. in. (6,460 cc) Rocket V8, which offered up to 345 gross horsepower (257 kW). While it was 73 lb (33 kg) heavier than the small-block 330, the 394 was not a great deal heavier than Pontiac’s 389 and probably would have fit under the hood of the F-85 without much difficulty. On the other hand, the existing Rocket engine was then nearing the end of its long life; it was due to be replaced for 1965 by tall-deck derivatives of the 330, which was a new and significantly more modern design. Furthermore, there was still the matter of the engine-displacement policy. The GTO had violated the spirit, if not the letter, of that prohibition, and, at the time the Olds project began, it was not clear if senior management was going to let Pontiac get away with it. Unlike Pete Estes, Jack Wolfram was not one to take a cavalier attitude toward corporate policy.

1967 Oldsmobile 442 badge
When the Oldsmobile 442 was first announced in April 1964, the press release did not bother to explain the name. Olds advertising initially defined it as “4-barrel carburetor, 4-on-the-floor, dual exhausts,” an explanation that was revised many times over the years.

Like the GTO, Oldsmobile’s new performance package was technically an option, listed on the order form as the B09 Police Apprehender Pursuit package. It included the 310-horsepower (231 kW) engine and a full assortment of heavy-duty suspension and drivetrain pieces, including stiffer springs, firmer shocks, front and rear anti-roll bars, and wider wheels, borrowed from the F-85 station wagon. Since the two-speed Jetaway automatic could not cope with the high-revving engine, a wide-ratio Muncie four-speed was standard. The price of the B09 package was $285.14, most of which was the cost of the four-speed; Oldsmobile charged nearly $200 for it as a stand-alone option. Someone, presumably Dave Jarrard, recognized that “B09” was not the catchiest of names, so Oldsmobile advertised the package as “4-4-2” (or just 442).

Since it gave up 59 cubic inches (975 cc) and 38 horsepower (28 kW) to the GTO, the Oldsmobile 442 was not as quick as the Pontiac, but could go from 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in about 7.5 seconds with a top speed of nearly 120 mph (193 km/h). The 442’s heavy-duty suspension erased much of the standard suspension’s sogginess and reduced the A-body’s customary understeer to more manageable proportions. Unfortunately, the brakes were not similarly upgraded; with only 268 in² (0.17 m²) of swept area, the standard drums were barely adequate for a six-cylinder F-85, let alone the hotter 442.

The launch of the 442, late in the 1964 model year, was low key. Compared to the GTO, it seemed almost hesitant, with cautious advertising and a notable lack of gimmicks. Performance car or not, it was still an Oldsmobile, and an Olds police car, at that. Nonetheless, the automotive press was very fond of the early 442 and several reviewers remarked that it was what the regular F-85 should have been. Car Life, which had been sharply critical of the standard Cutlass, called the 442 one of the best-handling passenger cars made in America.

Even so, production was very limited. Oldsmobile built only 2,999 cars with the B09 package in 1964, about 1.8% of F-85 production. The majority of 442s were Cutlass hardtops, but about ten F-85 sedans also got the Police Apprehender package; most apparently went to the nearby Lansing Police Department.


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.

1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible frontIn 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.

1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible front 3q
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.

1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible rear 3q
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.


GM redesigned the entire A-body line for 1968. While the outgoing cars were angular and sedanish, the new ones had a curvaceous semi-fastback shape. Two-door and four-door models now had different wheelbases, 112 inches (2,845 mm) for coupes and convertibles, 116 inches (2,946 mm) for sedans. (Styling considerations were the main reason for the split-wheelbase approach, but it may also have been intended to reduce freeway hop, which the earlier cars’ 115-inch (2,921mm) wheelbase apparently exacerbated.) The new coupes looked bulkier than before, although they were a few inches shorter. Their shape now bore a certain resemblance to the Pontiac Firebird, which Harold Metzel and John Beltz probably appreciated; they had lobbied without success for an Olds version of the F-body.

1969 Oldsmobile 442 Holiday coupe side view
The 1968-1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass and 442 were shorter than before, although they were somewhat heavier. A 1969 like this one is 201.9 inches (5,128 mm) long on a 112-inch (2,845mm) wheelbase. This 1969 442 is a Holiday Coupe (pillarless hardtop), with an original base price of just under $3,200. Note the lack of front vent windows, deleted for 1969.

Oldsmobile took a new approach with its engines for 1968. Since the introduction of the original Rocket V8 back in 1949, most American V8s had been decidedly oversquare (with a wide bore and short stroke), theoretically improving their rev potential. Recognizing that most customers didn’t drive hard enough to take advantage of that potential, Olds lengthened the stroke of its 1968 V8 engines, combined with lower numerical axle ratios and new camshafts designed to improve low-end and mid-range torque. Olds had essayed this idea in 1967 with the L66 “Turnpike Cruiser” option for the Cutlass, which had a low-revving two-barrel version of the 400 cu. in. (6,548 cc) V8 and a tall 2.56 rear axle. Now, they applied the same idea to the rest of the ’68 line, including the 442.

In Oldsmobile’s big cars, the longer stroke increased displacement to a whopping 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc), but corporate policy prohibited doing that with the A-body. (Olds did install the 455 in the limited-production Hurst/Olds, but the division claimed that the conversion was actually carried out by Hurst, not at the factory, allowing them to sidestep the corporate rules.) Instead, the 442’s standard engine was de-bored to 3.87 in (98.4 mm), while stroke increased to 4.25 in (108.0 mm). Total displacement changed only fractionally, but the revised engine was noticeably less eager to rev than before. The changes made sense for sedan buyers, but they did nothing to convince the demanding youth market that the 442 was the hot setup.

1969 Oldsmobile 442 Holiday coupe front view
The long-stroke 400 cu. in. (6,554 cc) V8 added in 1968 had the same rated output as the previous engine, 350 hp (261 kW) and 440 lb-ft (594 N-m) of torque, but the torque peak was 400 rpm lower, as was its practical rev limit.

While the new F-85 and Cutlass were not racy or assertive enough to snare a lot of Pontiac fans, they went over quite well with Oldsmobile buyers. Sales soared to more than 350,000 for 1968 and a still-respectable 300,000 for 1969. Most of those were Cutlasses; the basic F-85 accounted for only 21,563 sales in 1968, 8,440 in 1969.

Oldsmobile now listed the 442 as a separate mode, rather than an option package, but it was still an also-ran. Sales peaked at 33,607 in 1968 and dropped below 30,000 the following year. Supercar customers preferred GTOs, SS396s, or the new Plymouth Road Runner, while most Olds buyers were happier with the Cutlass S and Cutlass Supreme, which combined sporty looks with sedate performance and a big-car ride.


In April 1969, John Beltz replaced Harold Metzel as general manager. Beltz’s promotion coincided with an ambitious revamp of the division’s marketing strategy with an over-the-top, Frankenstein-themed “Dr. Oldsmobile” ad campaign, pitched at younger buyers.

GM rescinded its engine-displacement limits for 1970, finally allowing Oldsmobile to install its big 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) V8 in the 442 without subterfuge. Combined with the W-30 cold air package, the big engine was conservatively rated at 370 gross horsepower (276 kW) and 500 lb-ft (675 N-m of torque). Performance was ferocious; in March 1970, Car Life clocked a W-30 442 with automatic at 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in less than six seconds, running the quarter mile (402 meters) in the low 14s at over 100 mph (161 km/h).

1969 Oldsmobile 442 Holiday coupe interior
One tends to associate muscle cars with bucket seats and center consoles, but this 1969 Oldsmobile 442 has a bench seat, a column-mounted shifter for its Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission, and robin’s egg blue vinyl upholstery that seems more appropriate for Grandma’s Delta Eighty-Eight than a Supercar. The original buyer did not pay the extra $84.26 for the absurdly named “Rocket Rally Pack” [sic], which included a tachometer, full instrumentation, and a clock, all deeply recessed and rather difficult to read.

It didn’t help: sales were fewer than 23,000 for 1970 and fewer than 7,600 for 1971. In 1972, the 442 reverted to an option package on the Cutlass. A 350 cu. in. (5,737 cc) small-block V8 was now standard equipment, although the W-30 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) V8 was still available, now rated at 300 net horsepower (224 kW). Business remained grim, again failing to crack 10,000 units.

The sales slide had less to do with the virtues of the 442 than with a general decline in the Supercar market. The Baby Boomers who had embraced the GTO and its ilk were starting to have children of their own, trading their pony cars and muscle cars for cheaper compacts. The market was also over-saturated, with too many models competing for a shrinking pool of buyers. Worse, insurance companies had declared war on muscle cars. A base-engine 442 was far from the hottest car of its era but it was still subject to punitive surcharges that could make insurance almost as expensive as car payments.

Despite the decline of the 442, Cutlass sales were still quite good. Even in 1972, the last year of the 1968-vintage body shell, Olds still moved more than 330,000 units. Fully a third of those were the Cutlass Supreme, Oldsmobile’s answer to the popular Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix in the personal-luxury market. The muscle car era was over.

1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible side
Convertibles were also dying in the early seventies. Olds sold only 10,255 Cutlass Supreme convertibles in 1971 and 11,572 in 1972, its final year.


GM originally intended to introduce the next-generation A-body in 1972, but a lengthy UAW strike in 1970 delayed the launch by a full year. The new cars finally bowed in the fall of 1972 as ’73 models.

By the time the new A-bodies appeared, John Beltz was dead. Many colleagues expected he would eventually become president of the corporation, but in 1971, his health began to deteriorate rapidly. No longer able to work, he died at home on May 14, 1972, only 46 years old. His replacement as Oldsmobile general manager was Howard Kehrl, who had succeeded Beltz as chief engineer in 1969.

Kehrl arrived just in time to reap the rewards of the new Cutlass. (The F-85 nameplate was now gone for good.) The previous Cutlass was reasonably successful, but the new model actually outsold both the Chevrolet Chevelle/Malibu and the Pontiac Le Mans, with impressive first-year sales of more than 400,000 units.

1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme front 3q
The 1973 Cutlass Supreme coupe was 207 inches (5,258 mm) long on a 112-inch (2,845mm) wheelbase; 1974 models were 3.6 inches (91 mm) longer, thanks to the addition of a 5 mph (8 km/h) rear bumper. Exaggerated side sculpting is a bit much — and very vulnerable to parking damage — but the styling of these cars was very popular in the mid-seventies.

The mid-seventies were a good time for most intermediates. Customers were beginning to shy away from land yachts, particularly in the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, but conservative buyers were still wary of the social implications of driving a compact. Middle-class midsize cars — most of which had become nearly as big as the full-size models of a decade earlier — represented an acceptable compromise.

In that climate, the Cutlass became extraordinarily popular. Like the rest of GM’s mid-seventies “Colonnade” intermediates, its assembly quality left much to be desired, but contemporary buyers liked the styling and it was a good value for the money. A basic Cutlass cost about $150 more than a V8 Chevelle, but it had a nicer interior and came standard with a 180 horsepower (134 kW) 350 cu. in. (5,737 cc) V8, while the Chevelle’s standard 307 (5,025 cc) had only 115 net horsepower (86 kW). The Cutlass was not an exceptional car, but buyers looking for middle-of-the-road transportation could do a lot worse.

Surprisingly, the 442 clung to life, a shadow of its former self. It was now little more than an appearance option for Cutlass coupes, although it still included a competent heavy-duty suspension. You could order a 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) engine and a four-speed transmission, if you could afford the insurance, but few customers bothered. The option survived through 1980, never accounting for more than about 1% of Cutlass sales.

1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme rear 3q
The Cutlass Supreme shares its body shell and roofline with the contemporary Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Buick Century Luxus, and Pontiac Grand Prix, although it does not share the Grand Prix and Monte Carlo’s longer wheelbase. Its curious mixture of sporty styling cues (like the painted wheels and pod-like rear fenders) and upright formality (like the opera windows and formal roof) is at best an acquired taste, but contemporary buyers loved it.


Oldsmobile downsized the Cutlass in 1978 along with GM’s other A-body intermediates. The new Cutlasses were closer in size to the old Y-body senior compacts, 197.7 inches (5,022 mm) on a 108.1-inch (2,746mm) wheelbase. The smaller dimensions did not dampen the cars’ popularity; Oldsmobile sales topped a million units in both 1978 and 1979, more than half of which were Cutlasses.

Eager to exploit the apparent power of the Cutlass name, Oldsmobile applied it across a broad swath of its line-up. By 1982, there was both a front-drive A-body Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and the rear-drive Cutlass Supremes and Cutlass Salons; they had little in common except the name.

In a fit of nostalgia, Oldsmobile revived the 442 in 1985 as an option on the rear-drive Cutlass Salon coupe. Returning to something like the original meaning of the designation, the new 442 had a four-barrel carburetor, four-on-the-floor (albeit an overdrive automatic, not a close-ratio Muncie), and dual exhaust. The engine was now Oldsmobile’s 307 cu. in. (5,033 cc) small-block V8 with 180 net horsepower (134 kW). Even by 1985 standards, its performance was not exceptional; Car and Driver‘s 1985 test car ran from 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 9 seconds and had a top speed of 113 mph (182 km/h). It handling was nothing special either, but the limited run of 3,000 cars sold out quickly. It received an encore in 1986, little changed, and appeared again in 1987, its last bow. The last rear-drive Cutlasses died the following year, along with the final G-body Monte Carlo and the Buick Regal, Grand National, and GNX.

1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon 442 front 3q
The mid-eighties 442 was an option package for the rear-drive Cutlass Salon in 1985 and 1986; the 1987 package was offered on the cheaper Cutlass Supreme coupe instead. Production totaled about 3,000 in 1985, a bit under 4,300 in 1986, and about 4,200 in 1987. (Photo: “1986 Olds 442” © 2007 Bamman; resized 2010 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic license)

By then, Oldsmobile had hit the wall. The Olds brand had already become rather anonymous and Roger Smith’s mid-eighties reorganization stripped it of any remaining distinction from its Chevrolet and Buick stablemates. Increasingly anonymous styling and lackluster performance didn’t help and most yuppie buyers ignored Olds completely. Its traditional customer base was aging and the division was no longer adding many new buyers. Sales tumbled by more than 35% in 1987, falling an additional 20% the following year.

Noting the success of the front-drive, N-body Pontiac Grand Am, which Pontiac had successful marketed as a poor man’s BMW, Oldsmobile revived the 442 nameplate in 1990. Now called “Quad 442,” it was based on Oldsmobile’s own N-body, the Cutlass Calais, powered by the Olds-designed Quad 4 engine with 180 horsepower (134 kW). This time, Olds claimed the designation meant four cylinders, four valves per cylinder, and two overhead camshafts, but buyers were not convinced. Sales were dismal and the Quad 442 vanished after 1991.

The Cutlass name, now diluted beyond recognition, slowly faded away in the nineties. The Cutlass Ciera died in 1996, the Cutlass Supreme the following year. The last Cutlass, a clone of the undistinguished N-body Chevrolet Malibu, ended production in 1999.

Oldsmobile spent much of the decade trying to reposition itself as GM’s sophisticated “import-fighter” division with the sleek new Aurora luxury sedan and the midsize Intrigue. It was to little avail. The middle-class customers who had made Olds so successful in earlier years had since turned to Japanese sedans like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

In December 2000, GM announced that it was pulling the plug on the Oldsmobile division. Production ended in April 2004.


Despite its remarkable longevity, the Oldsmobile 442 remains one of the more obscure Detroit Supercars, perpetually overshadowed by the GTO and the big-engine Mopars. In some respects, it was a better car, but its conservative looks, obscure name — even Oldsmobile often seemed unsure what “442” meant and it didn’t exactly roll off the tongue — and half-hearted marketing left it feeling a little stolid.

By contrast, the same middle-of-the-road quality that kept the 442 from being a serious contender was exactly what made the regular Oldsmobile Cutlass such a success. The Cutlass was a thoroughly ordinary car, but it made a decent stab at being all things to all people, offering everything from Vista Cruiser station wagons to personal luxury coupes. It was much like that great exemplar of American culture, the all-you-can-eat buffet; the food wasn’t great, but there was something for everyone and the price was right.

Unfortunately, in its pursuit of the mass market, Oldsmobile sacrificed any semblance of brand identity. When it began losing its traditional buyers, it had no outstanding qualities to attract new ones. Later offerings like the Intrigue were competent, but not exceptional. In some ways, they were just as good as their Japanese rivals, but there was no compelling reason to buy one instead of a Camry or Maxima, so few buyers did.

We’ve said before that the blind pursuit of greater volume is a perilous endeavor. In the short term, it can be extremely lucrative, but the tastes of the mass market are always changing and if you sacrifice too much of your brand identity, you’ll have nothing left when their attention shifts elsewhere. It’s too late now for Oldsmobile — and perhaps GM — to learn this lesson, but Toyota and Honda would be well advised to pay close attention.



Our sources for the development of the F-85, Cutlass, and 442 included the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); Linda Clark, “1964 Oldsmobile 442: Muscling in on the Ponycars,” Special Interest Auto #69 (June 1982), reprinted in Cutlass And 442: Muscle Portfolio 1964-1974, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1998), pp. 124-131; Daniel Strohl, “Objectified Oldsmobile,” Hemmings Muscle Machines November 2004; and Helen Jones Earley and James R. Walkinshaw, Setting the Pace: Oldsmobile’s First 100 Years (Lansing, MI: Oldsmobile Division of General Motors Corporation, 1996). Additional details came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Auto ’90 Vol. 516 No. 1 (1990), and Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); Keith Dickson, “OLDSmobility – The 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass and 442 Resource” (3 March 2003, www.oldsmobility. com, accessed 9 February 2010); James M. Flammang, “1962-63 Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire: First Wave of the Future,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 19, No. 6 (April 2003), pp. 9-17; John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Rev. fourth edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); John Heilig, “Cutlass Supremacy: The Story of Oldsmobile’s 1973-77 Intermediates,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 22, No. 2 (August 2005), pp. 8–21; Tim Howley, “1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire: Turbo Before Its Time,” Special Interest Autos #152 (March-April 1996), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Oldsmobiles: driveReports from Hemmings Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001); John Lee, “The J-2 Rocket Engine,” Special Interest Autos #114 (November-December 1989), reprinted in ibid; “Olds FAQ — 442” (10 October 2000, Oldsmobile Mail List Server Community, The Olds FAQ, www.442. com/ oldsfaq/of442.htm, last accessed 8 February 2010); and B.T. Van Kirk, “1968-84 Hurst/Oldsmobile: Executive Hot Rod,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 17, No. 3 (October 2000), pp. 8-21. Former Pontiac ad executive Jim Wangers also offered some useful observations about the late John Beltz in a telephone conversation with the author on 17 September 2009.

Information about the Vought F7U Cutlass came from Greg Goebel, “[1.0] Crusader in Development,” v2.0.8, Air Vectors, 1 December 2014, www.airvectors .net/avcrus_1.html, accessed 1 December 2014; Jim Winchester, “Type Analysis: F7U Cutlass: The Navy’s ‘widowmaker,'” International Air Power Review Vol. 15 (2005), pp. 98–113; and the Wikipedia® entry (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F7U_Cutlass, accessed 8 February 2010). Background on the abortive McDonnell XF-85 Goblin came from Joe Baugher, “McDonnell XP-85/XF-85 Goblin,” www.joebaugher. com/ usaf_fighters/p85.html, accessed 8 February 2010.

We consulted the following period road tests: “Car Life Road Test: Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire,” Car Life Vol. 10, No. 4 (April 1963), pp. 31-35; “Oldsmobile F-85” Motor Trend February 1961; “Car Life Road Test: Oldsmobile F-85,” Car Life May 1961; “Oldsmobile F-85,” Car and Driver May 1961; Bob McVay, “Oldsmobile F-85 Cutlass: Softly sprung F-85 offers luxury and performance sans blower,” Motor Trend July 1963, reprinted in Oldsmobile Automobiles 1955-63 (Brooklands Road Test Books), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1989); “Oldsmobile Cutlass 442: Springs and Things Put This Olds Right ‘Where the Action Is,'” Car Life August 1964; Bob McVay, “Hot Olds F-85 Cutlass Road Test,” Motor Trend September 1964; “Car and Driver Road Test: Olds 442: A comprehensive, sophisticated package of options, aimed right at the Pontiac GTO market,” Car and Driver May 1965; “Car Life Road Test: Oldsmobile Cutlass 442: Handle Bars Make the Difference,” Car Life May 1965; Bob McVay, “Olds F-85 442: Mighty 442, a real driver’s machine, fuses lightning-fast performance, excellent handling with family comfort and utility,” Motor Trend May 1965; John Ethridge, “Olds 442 Road Test (The ‘2’ could also stand for ‘dual personality’),” Motor Trend June 1966; “Car Life Road Test: Tri-Power 442: Oldsmobile’s Performer Meets the Challenge,” Car Life August 1966; John Ethridge, “Olds swings a pair of keen Cutlasses,” Motor Trend February 1967; Roger Huntington, “Turnpike Cruiser: Oldsmobile Designs a Long-Legged, Strong-Willed Gas Miser,” Car Life April 1967; “Cutlass (Kut’las), n. a short, heavy, slightly curved steel weapon,” Road Test February 1968; “Car Life Road Test: The Handler: Olds 442: Long one of America’s most surefooted Supercars, this swift new version still shows its claws in corners”, Car Life June 1968; Mal Bracken, “The Opulent Olds Cutlass SX,” Motorcade April 1970; Joe Oldham, “Hurricane Outrageous…the ‘O’ is for Dr. Oldsmobile’s stormin’ W-30,” Cars August 1972, reprinted in Cutlass And 442: Muscle Portfolio 1964-1974, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1998); “Car Life Road Test: 1964 Oldsmobile Cutlass Holiday,” Car Life December 1963; Eric Dahlquist, “Olds 442,” Hot Rod March 1965; Danny Collins, “Olds Rocket Launcher,” Auto Topics September 1965; “Car and Driver Road Test: Oldsmobile 442,” Car and Driver December 1966; Bill Sanders, “Olds 442,” Motor Trend October 1968; “Olds W-30: As if W-31 wasn’t hot enough,” Road Test, March 1970; “Car Life Road Test: The Great Escape: If we had a getaway to make, we’d do it in a W-30 442,” Car Life March 1970; “RT/Test Report: Olds 442,” Road Test May 1971, reprinted in Oldsmobile Muscle Portfolio 1964-1971, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1999); Martyn L. Schorr, “CARS Road Test: 1,000 Miles in a 442 Olds,” Hi-Performance Cars April 1967; Bill Hartford, “Popular Mechanics Owner’s Report: What Cutlass Owners Say About Their Cars: Olds Cutlass: Performance Yes, Economy No!” Popular Mechanics May 1967; “We compare the $4,000 American Sport Sedans: Cyclone GT – GTA – GTO – 442 – GS400 – SS396 – GTX – R/T – Rebel,” Road Test June 1967; 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; Michael Jordan, “Oldsmobile 442: Lean, mean, and born to run,” Car and Driver Vol. 23, No. 8 (February 1978), pp. 64-70; Alex Meredith, “SIA comparisonReport: 1966 GTO vs. 1967 4-4-2: First-Generation Muscle Machines,” Special Interest Autos #122 (March-April 1991), pp. 18–26; and Bill Sanders, “Now You Can Have It Too: Econoperforleration* (*Economy, Performance, Acceleration): Oldsmobile Has Added It for 1968,” Motor Trend Vol. 20, No. 7 (July 1968), pp. 94–97.



Add a Comment
  1. I owned an 83 Hurst/Olds, bought it brand new, same body style as the last picture, black with gray rockers, red interior, chrome Olds mag wheels and t top, compared to the “mid size fast cars of the day it flew,routinely raced that bitch and could beat super coupes and lemans. Nicest driving long hauler I ever owned, the Hurst lightning rod shifter was a joke but looked cool. Then I got married and my wife rolled the damn thing in a snow bank, Detroit locker rear end was shit on snow, got more compliments on that car and some day I will find one to collect

    1. We’ll actually be talking about the Hurst/Olds next week.

  2. Nice article. I always liked the Cutlasses from the 1960s and 1970s. The 4-4-2, in particular, always seemed to be a cut above other muscle cars in sophistication and substance.

    What Olds didn’t seem to get in the 1960s was the importance of marketing and image. The cars were usually as good as anyting else out there, and in some ways better, but the division’s image was far too staid, at least until the Toronado came along for 1966.

    In 1965, for example, Pontiac ads were shouting about GTO Tigers and using very stylish artwork to make the cars seem even longer, lower and more glamorous than they really were. The television ads were just as effective and carried the same message.

    Meanwhile, log on to youtube.com and enter “1965 Oldsmobile commercials,” and you’ll be treated to a series of black-and-white ads featuring a stern, short, middle-aged, balding guy barking out the attributes of the 1965 Oldsmobiles. He looks like a typical crabby high school principal. Hardly a great way to cultivate a “with it” image during the go-go years of the mid-1960s.

    In the 1970s, Oldsmobile really hit its stride.
    My parents faithfully bought Oldsmobile Delta 88s. Oldsmobile hit the sweet spot during those years with people like my parents. They didn’t want a Chevrolet or a Ford (too common), but a Cadillac or a Lincoln would have been too ostentatious. Pontiac seemed to be adrift without any real image, aside from the Trans Am, and respectable suburbanites did not dream of baiting the police in a black-and-gold F-body.

    Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth were hardly worthy of notice, and had questionable quality reputations even back them. Mercury was a glorified Ford. The only real alternative was Buick, although my parents, if they had been willing to stretch a little, would have considered a Ninety-Eight. That was their “dream car.”

    Meanwile, many younger people were buying the Cutlass Supreme coupes. They were considered quite stylish during the day.

    In some ways, for people of a certain age, it’s still hard to believe that Oldsmobile went away. But then, we would never have believed that GM could go bankrupt, either.

  3. [quote=pennsycarfan]What Olds didn’t seem to get in the 1960s was the importance of marketing and image. The cars were usually as good as anyting else out there, and in some ways better, but the division’s image was far too staid, at least until the Toronado came along for 1966.

    In 1965, for example, Pontiac ads were shouting about GTO Tigers and using very stylish artwork to make the cars seem even longer, lower and more glamorous than they really were. The television ads were just as effective and carried the same message.

    Meanwhile, log on to youtube.com and enter "1965 Oldsmobile commercials," and you’ll be treated to a series of black-and-white ads featuring a stern, short, middle-aged, balding guy barking out the attributes of the 1965 Oldsmobiles. He looks like a typical crabby high school principal. Hardly a great way to cultivate a "with it" image during the go-go years of the mid-1960s.[/quote]

    You’re absolutely right, and it’s important to note that Oldsmobile advertising is exactly what GM corporate management thought their marketing should be like. Pontiac’s aggressive approach gave Jim Roche and Fred Donner (GM’s chairman and president in that period) absolute fits — they were constantly making angry calls to Pete Estes and later John DeLorean, telling them to tone it down. DeLorean said Roche particularly hated the tiger theme. By 1967, the corporation demanded that Pontiac show them all ad spots before they ran, trying to keep it in check. Once DeLorean left in early 1969, subsequent Pontiac management was much more acquiescent, which is why (as you note) Pontiac’s image was sort of adrift in the seventies.

  4. When I was a kid, we owned a 1962 F85 4-door up until 1977. It was a fine car, but the generator charging system just wasn’t reliable. I remember changing brushes on the generator several times with my father and the voltage regulator a few times as well. The 215 V8 was a great engine. We never had any problems with it. The induction sound was intoxicating. Someone actually offered to buy the car to use the engine for racing.

    The model we had was basically a stripper. Manual steering, manual drum brakes, manual windows, no air-conditioning. Nothing. Just an engine, transmission, body, 4 doors and that’s it.

    As far as the transmission, I could have sworn it was a Turbo Hydramatic.

    I remember many fine summer days driving with the windows down and enjoying the wind in my face.

    1. The 1961-1963 F-85 and Cutlass used the Model 10 Roto Hydramatic. Other than the name, it had nothing in common with the later (and far superior) Turbo Hydramatic. The Roto Hydramatic was essentially a scaled-down, simplified version of the old dual-coupling H-M, removing the front planetary gearset (cutting it from four speeds to three) and fluid coupling and adding a stator to the second coupling to make it a torque converter.

      The Turbo Hydramatic was also a three-speed torque converter automatic, but the similarities ended there. The THM used a Simpson gearset, and its operation was very different. It was also positive and durable, which could not be said of the Roto Hydramatic.

  5. I own a 64 f-85, has a 308 with center console,tach, and bucket seats. Two door. Can’t find any information about this car. Any thoughts?

    1. A 308? Cam? Engine?

      A stock ’64 F-85 or Cutlass would have a 330 cu. in. engine (with either 230 or 290 gross horsepower, depending on carburetion); that was the only engine available that year. If it has an Olds 307, it’s the result of an engine swap — the 307 was a much later derivation of the Olds small block, introduced in 1979 or 1980.

      Olds did have 308-degree [i]camshafts[/i] for both the small-block and big-block engines; it was used on the W-31 engine a few years later. I’m not sure if that cam would work with a 330, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

      The buckets, console, and tachometer were all regular production options, so there’s nothing particularly unusual about those.

  6. The 1967 white “442” with blue stripes is a clone and a poor attempt. A true 442 has a non-functional louvered hood, blacked out tail light surrounds & trunk strip and the grille bar on the cutlass model was the thick one pictured here.
    Sorry, I spent allot of time researching them whilst looking for one for my dad to restore.

    1. Okay, thanks. I’ve amended the pictures and captions; I don’t have other photos of the ’66-’67 4-4-2 to replace them with at the moment, although I’ll looked to do that in the future.

  7. As the bean counters slowly usurped the reins of GM, marketing became even worse as was demonstrated in the 90’s with their ad “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile”. It certainly wasn’t. That was a 442 and your grandfather’s was one of the Rocket 88’s with all their racing accolades. It showed how little marketing pinheads knew about the history of their own company. Not surprising, it was the first to get the ax. So, Pontiac’s next and I guess it’ll come down to one car, probably Chev, which will be nothing but a Toyota with Chev decals.

  8. Just stumbled upon your site recently (a reference from TTAC), and I have to say, I’m hooked. I see you also have an article about the Hurst/Olds, but what about the forgotten Olds factory hot-rod, the Rally 350, often referred to as the “executive’s hot rod”?

  9. I owned a ’69 442 from 1979 to 1981. My car was equipped with the 400 C.I. V-8, Muncie “Rock Crusher’ 4 speed with factory Hurst shifter, 3.73 12 bolt positraction rear end and the Tick-Tock-Tach. The ’69 442 was a torque monster and a pretty good handling car for its size. I autocrossed the big Olds very successfully against Mustangs and Camaros since the Olds was always bumped up to the pony car class.

    The Olds had a hard life before I bought it. I straightened out the body and painted it Charcoal Gray to offset the Dark Red interior and Black vinyl top and finished it off with black stripes. I sold the car to a 16 year old in the fall of 1981. The last time I saw the car was in Youngstown, Ohio around 1985. It is one of the few cars I wish I’d kept.

    1. In 1969 I bought my first Oldsmobile, a 1966 442 two door coupe; red with a black vinyl
      top. It came equipped with tri-power and a four speed. I think it had a hurst shifter. It was used when I bought it. It was my corvette,road runner eater. It was extremely fast and also a great road car. I got into a lot of trouble with that car. Never lost a race except against my buddy’s 57 chevy with a 454 tunnel ram. Top speed was over 130 mph as recorded by the highway patrol. Possibly the best car I ever owned. Still miss that car!

  10. You give short shrift to the 1968 version of the Cutlass, which is a shame–those cars 9esp. the versions from 69-71) were quite remarkable. The first car I ever bought was a used 71 Cutlass coupe. It was a fantastic car–smooth, fast pick-up, surprisingly crisp handling, and a comfortable ride. It was the the perfect road trip car, and more fun than bigger vehicles. The 69-71 Cutlasses and Skylarks were legendary for their reliability and durability. The bodies sometimes were undermined by salt (mine wasn’t for some reason), but it was not unusual for people to get 125-150K miles out of the drivetrains, which was quite novel for US cars of that era. Mine was totaled in a relatively low speed accident (no damage to me) with over 100K miles, but I never owned a car that so well combined power, comfort and handling until my 1999 Passat which lacked the Cutlass’ reliability and durability. Those cars also had really classic styling in the coupes (the 4 doors had more awkward proportions–Chevy did a better job with those). The next generation cars were not only less well built, they just seemed bulky by comparison.

    1. Except for an unfortunate typo (which I just fixed), I’m not sure how the ’68 Cutlass is shorted here, since it has a whole section of an article on the whole run. I just didn’t have any photos of the ’68 at the time of writing.

      I’ll freely admit I’m not a fan of the looks of the 1968-69 A-bodies, although I do think the 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass is the best-looking of the bunch. I agree that the two-doors look better than the four-doors (as with a lot of cars from the ’60s and ’70s, one gets the impression the two-doors were done first and the sedans were an afterthought).

  11. I’m looking at a 1963 F85 cutlass convertible that claims to have an original 394, 345 hp. 440 ft. lbs. torque engine. I cannot find anything to support this engine being offered as an option in this car. Only available in the dynamic 88 or police cars as I see it. Any thoughts on this?

    1. The 394 was never a factory option in the F-85 or Cutlass and certainly not in 1963. Even when Oldsmobile had authorization to off an engine bigger than the 330, they went for the new 400, not the relatively elderly 394. So, while there were occasionally odd factory one-offs built for VIPs or favored customers, that one sounds unlikely. Is it actually a 1963 Cutlass? The most obvious explanation would be that somebody is misreading the VIN (which changed format after 1963) or something like that.

  12. Will a non over drive floor shifter work in a over drive floor shifter 1987 cutlass salon

    1. I can’t advise you on modifications and repairs, sorry!

  13. I apologize if this has been covered, but two of the differences in a 442 compared to GTOs and SSs and GSs were the rear sway bar, which every 442 hack (and became common later on Chevelles with the F-41 suspension), and the “convertible”frame, which every 442 had at least thru the 60’s. Instead of being just an open inward facing “C” channel in the middle, the perimeter frame rails had an additional slightly smaller “C” channel nested inside with the opening facing out, giving you a “fully boxed” frame, a ” boxed girder”. Far far stiffer for a minimal weight increase.

    Used on convertible, taxi’s, and police cars – and all 442s. The convertible frame was an option on 64/65 Chevelle sedans and hardtop, and it was cheap, but very few were bought and it wasn’t an option after 65. I’m a Chevy guy, but the difference the frame made can’t be overemphasized.

  14. I have a black 1975 442 Cutlass with a built up 455.The car is a larger and heaver than the 1964 – 1972 cutlass, doesn’t look as classic ether. But does have it’s good points.It is a more modern driving car than the older years.Because of the stronger frame better steering, factory disc brakes and rally suspension.It is also more aerodynamic and comfortable at speed.Belive it or not this cutlass body style has aged well,with the chrome and the curvy body.The factory white stripes look great on the black body.The black interior has swivel buckets also.It is to bad Oldsmobile only made 6,227 in 1975.About 2% of cutlass sales.It is a overlooked fun big blocked car from the 70’s.

    1. The Colonnades had their faults, but the chassis really was much improved compared to earlier A-bodies. The earlier 442 was, in some respects, more a mitigation of the flaws of the midsize A-body chassis than anything else; “less bad” as opposed to “more good.” I’m not much of a Colonnade fan from a styling standpoint, but I will agree that with the right combination of trim and color, they can look pretty sharp.

    2. One thing to point out is that Olds continued the 442 package for all of the 1973-77 Colonnade era. GTO and Malibu SS were only ’73, and Buick Gran Sport ’73-’75, [with no Stage-1 455 in ’75].

      IMHO, these 442’s were the best of the attempted ‘continuations’ of sporty A body coupes.

  15. Appreciate the article! I own one of the 148 F-85 Base Club Coupe 442s from 1964. Bench seat, vinyl floor, four on the floor.

  16. Why did GM ban multiple carburetors? I’ve heard they can be hard to service and with low sales it might have been difficult to train mechanics to warranty fix them. Or maybe because they don’t add much power, just for looks. My experience with cars of that era is that their is much more power to be gained on the exhaust side than the intake. Most cars had very restrictive exhaust manifolds, so more carbs didn’t help much until you installed headers. But then you had to tune all those carbs all over again. Have you read anything about why they banned them? My favorite line in this article is about how offering multiple carbs really threw off the 442 name.

    1. If it were just a matter of sales or of feeling like there wasn’t much benefit relative to a big Quadrajet, I imagine it would have been left to the discretion of the individual divisions. I don’t know exactly what the rationale was for the corporate edict, but from the timing, I assume it was either 1) not wanting to appear to promote performance too much (a constant GM corporate preoccupation in this period); 2) concern about meeting emissions requirements, which were already in effect in California and about to take effect federally the following year; or 3) some combination of the two.

  17. Some bloggers/commenters on internet will exaggerate and claim “Cutlass Supreme coupe was the #1 selling car in the mid 70’s!”

    But, it was the whole 1976 mid-size Cutlass line-up that was #1 that single model year, not just the Supreme coupes. Included in the sales #’s were 4 doors, wagons, and [non-Supreme] coupes. Some either forget, or don’t know, that there were other Cutlass models in 73-77.

    1. I think the other issue there is that people forget that the ’76 Cutlass Supreme series was not limited to coupes (although those were the best-selling iteration). There was also a Cutlass Supreme sedan and a Cutlass Supreme Cruiser wagon that year.

  18. From the article, “The obvious question is why Olds did not simply use the big 394 cu. in. (6,460 cc) Rocket V8, which offered up to 345 gross horsepower (257 kW). While it was 73 lb (33 kg) heavier than the small-block 330, the 394 was not a great deal heavier than Pontiac’s 389 and probably would have fit under the hood of the F-85 without much difficulty. On the other hand, the Rocket was then nearing the end of its long life; it was due for a ground-up redesign for 1965.”
    This is very misleading, as the so-called “redesign” actually was realized in the 330 cubic inch engine that was introduced in model year 1964. The 400 and 425 cubic engines introduced for model year 1965 have identical architecture and detail design to the 330 engine, except for a raised deck, longer stroke and other secondary dimensions.
    As always, my input is intended to be constructive, to the purpose of bringing your tremendous body of work closer to perfection!

    1. Fair enough. I changed the second sentence there to read “On the other hand, the existing Rocket engine was then nearing the end of its long life; it was due to be replaced for 1965 by tall-deck derivatives of the 330, which was a new and significantly more modern design.” The point I was trying to make was that it probably wouldn’t have made a lot of sense trying to fit the outgoing “big” Rocket engine, since it was shortly to be replaced. And, of course, once it was, Oldsmobile did indeed install the new 400 in the 4-4-2.

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