Monday, August 1, 2011
1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
Reputation for Performance
Text and Photography by David W. Temple
When Oldsmobile put its new 303 Rocket V8 into its 88s and 98s for 1949, they showed the direction the division would pursue in coming decades. Performance became a high priority in the early post-war years and would, for the most part, remain so through the early 70s. The Rocket 88 was the first step in changing the image of Oldsmobile so as to appeal to the emerging youth market. Racing was the next step. Stock car racing got a significant following and with the creation of NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing), Oldsmobile had a fabulous opportunity for displaying just what a Rocket V8 could do.
Olds dominated NASCAR competition by winning over half the races during the racing body’s first three years. Winning races was good publicity and it translated into sales. After the ‘51 season, Olds did not do as well on the track. However, they did at least capture prestigious victories at Darlington and Daytona for ‘53. Interestingly, their racing parts were not manufactured in house, but rather obtained through aftermarket suppliers. NASCAR instituted a rule change in the mid-fifties that disallowed that practice; all racing parts had to be available to the general public and carry a factory part number. The new rule meant Oldsmobile would need to develop a racing parts program, but that was something their budget would not allow. Also, General Motors really wanted only one division to carry the performance image and Chevrolet was emerging as the hot rod by that time although Pontiac would soon manage to carry the hot rod image, too, which would eventually have an impact at Oldsmobile.
Oldsmobile was forced to drop its performance efforts after ‘58. By this time, NASCAR had outlawed the use of multiple carburetion (as well as supercharging and fuel-injection) in its events and an economic recession prevented many from spending the extra dollars needed to buy a factory hot rod. There was talk within the U.S. Congress of looking into the way cars were made due to statistics that indicated a rising highway death toll. There was even talk of breaking up GM into other companies due to their large market share. Furthermore, the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) banned factory-backed racing. The big three auto makers agreed to comply although some divisions did not in actual practice. Pontiac brazenly ignored the ban while Chevrolet thinly disguised their racing equipment with the banner “for police use only.” Olds was out of the performance game without more financial support from GM which was not going to happen. The lull in performance cars at Olds was temporary, though. A few maverick types would change the situation.
A market existed for smaller cars and by 1960, the big three had them. They were economy type cars, but within a few years the relatively light weight cars would serve another purpose. One of the smaller cars was the F-85 which appeared in ‘61. For ‘62, a Cutlass in coupe and convertible form was added to the F-85 line. The new model was quite different than the first Cutlass from Olds which was a fiberglass Motorama show car displayed across the country in 1954. Although very different, the old and new version had one thing in common -- they were both sporty. Standard equipment for the new Cutlass included a 185 horsepower aluminum block V8. Only the F-85 Jetfire provided more power via a turbocharged version of the aluminum engine.
The events of the preceding years led to GM’s philosophy of placing the smaller displacement engines in the compact and intermediate sized cars and using the larger V8s for the full-size models. John DeLorean changed that thinking at Pontiac. He was brought in from Packard to work as director of advanced engineering for Pontiac. DeLorean soon began work on compact cars like the Tempest. The second generation version is the one most remembered today because it became the basis for the GTO which put an end to the small car/small engine thinking. DeLorean pushed hard for the 389 V8 to be installed as standard equipment for the ‘64 Tempest GTO. The success of the GTO option sent a clear message and some at Oldsmobile clearly heard it. John Beltz, chief engineer for Olds, as well as other team members such as Dale Smith (who was instrumental in Olds NASCAR successes) turned the intermediate size Olds into a performance machine.
By the middle of the ‘64 model year, the Olds team fought for and won the chance to put a 310 horsepower version of the 330 V8 into the redesigned F-85 body. The 330 was topped with a four-barrel carb and coupled to a four-speed manual transmission; dual exhausts carried the burned fuel/air mix away. The combo was dubbed 4-4-2. Other standard equipment for the limited production 4-4-2 included items previously found only on Olds police cars like heavy-duty frame, shocks, springs, wheels, as well as a 0.937-inch front and rear stabilizer bars. Nearly 3,000 were sold during the short model run.
The ‘65 model got more horsepower and was no longer a limited production car. The standard 345hp 400 cubic inch displacement engine more than matched Pontiac’s 389. Torque output of the 400 was an impressive 440ft.-lbs. The 4-4-2 option was ordered on over 25,000 F-85s and Cutlasses. By now, the 4-4-2 was recognized as an important part of Oldsmobile’s future.
A major restyle of the F-85/Cutlass body followed for the next model year; it was little changed for ‘67. More performance options helped keep the 4-4-2 in demand. The past had not been forgotten, though; advertising for the ‘66 models reminded 4-4-2 owners to drive safely and mentioned the safety features the government mandated.
The next generation got yet another major restyle with a more rounded look. This one featured curved, sleek lines, thus making the name Cutlass as appropriate as ever for the 112-inch wheelbase car; the term is defined as a short sword with a curved blade. The rear side windows were shaped like a backward facing bullet. The narrow C-pillars of the fastback roof possessed a subtle concavity that neatly blended into the bulging rear quarters. The rear panels were sharply peaked on top and terminated in a quarter arch which in turn blended into the quarter arch profile of the rear bumper. The nose had a similar rounded profile while the front fenders mimicked the quarter panel bulge. The 4-4-2 was upgraded to series status for ‘68, thus the cars no longer carried the Cutlass script anywhere on the sheet metal. The new body came in three styles - two-door hardtop, two-door post, and convertible. The 400 V8 produced 325hp when attached to the optional Turbo Hydramatic and 350hp with the four-speed manual. A 360hp variant could be ordered, however. This more potent version benefited from a ram-air setup and carried the option code W-30. (Interestingly, there was yet another 400, but this one was detuned for improved economy.) The editors of Cars Magazine were impressed with the 4-4-2; they selected it as the “Top Performance Car of the Year.”
The 1969 models were little changed; parking lights were located from the grille to the bumper and a split grille clearly distinguished the ‘69 from the ‘68 as did the revised tail lights and rear bumper. The divided grille, though modified, continued for ‘70; new tail lights also freshened the look of the car. More important to those interested in owning a 4-4-2 was the new 455 V8. The 455 weighed less than the previous 400 and provided more power as one would expect. This engine delivered 365hp and 500ft.-lbs. of torque -- more than enough to get the adrenaline pumping for 4-4-2 owners. Optional equipment like the ram air hood (option W-25), aluminum rear axle carrier (W-27), and the rear deck spoiler (W-35) made the 4-4-2 even more interesting. Despite these improvements and the additional publicity gained from the 4-4-2 being chosen to pace that year’s Indy 500, sales fell. Only 19,330 of the cars were ordered equaling a drop of over twenty-five percent from the previous year’s total. The end of the musclecar era was nearing. Rising insurance premiums hurt sales of high performance cars and would continue to do so until exhaust emission regulations finally terminated the musclecar era.
Shown here is one of the 14,709 two-door hardtop 4-4-2s built for 1970. At the time of the photo shoot, it was owned by a resident of Tyler, Texas. The car was sold soon thereafter to a Killeen, Texas resident. The California-built car is mostly original having only been maintained as needed over the years. The 4-4-2 received a repaint and an engine rebuild approximately 20 years ago. Though assembled at a California plant, the car was sold new in Ft. Worth. The car later went to Austin, then Corpus Christi before coming to East Texas. It is a matching numbers car equipped with the four-speed Muncie transmission and air conditioning, a rare combination in a 4-4-2. Other options on the featured car include power brakes, power steering, console, Rocket Rally Pac, and AM/FM radio.
The 4-4-2 model continued onward for many years, though later it was mostly an appearance package like many sporty cars of the '70s and '80s. The 1968-70 4-4-2s were some of the most popular Oldsmobiles when new and are extremely popular with collectors today. Though the end of Oldsmobile is upon us, their reputation for performance will survive for many years to come thanks to 4-4-2 enthusiasts.
1970 Oldsmobile 442 Holiday Hardtop
Base Price: $3,376
Engine: 455cid V8
Bore and Stroke: 4.125x 4.25 inches
Carburetion: Rochester four-barrel
Transmission: Muncie four-speed
0-60mph: 6.6 seconds
1/4 mile: 13.70 seconds @ 105mph
Production: 19,330 (includes 14,709 two-door hardtops)
Wheelbase: 112 inches*Source: “Supercar 70 1/2” road test on a W-30 equipped car