The Oldsmobile 4-4-2 (also known as the 442) is a muscle car produced by Oldsmobile between the 1964 and 1980 model years. Introduced as an option package for US-sold F-85 and Cutlass models, it became a model in its own right from 1968 to 1971, spawned the Hurst/Olds in 1968, then reverted to an option through the mid-1970s. The name was revived in the 1980s on the rear-wheel drive Cutlass Supreme and early 1990s as an option package for the new front-wheel drive Cutlass Calais.
The "4-4-2" name (pronounced "Four-four-two") derives from the original car's four-barrel carburetor, four-speed manual transmission, and dual exhausts. It was originally written "4-4-2" (with badging showing hyphens between the numerals), and remained hyphenated throughout Oldsmobile's use of the designation. Beginning in 1965, the 4-4-2s standard transmission was a 3 speed manual along with optional 2 speed automatic and 4 speed manual, but were still badged as "4-4-2"s. By 1968 badging was shortened to simply "442", but Oldsmobile brochures and internal documents continued to use the "4-4-2" model designation.
By MALCOLM GUNN
Updated June 9, 2013 9:42 AM
What the heck is a W-30? A silicone lubricant that comes in a blue can? A special tax form for "other income"? Perhaps a new golf club claiming to straighten out your game?
Well, as far as deep and dark automotive secrets go, few were any deeper or darker than Oldsmobile's W-30.
It was so secret, in fact, that most of the company's dealers weren't even aware it existed.
In the Garage: LIers' classic rides
The W-30 was meant to win races on Sunday and sell Oldsmobiles on Monday.
It was the 1960s and the Free World was fascinated with power and speed. "Speed thrills," became a rallying cry.
Young drivers began to demand high-performance machines that could tear up a quarter mile of dark, country road or the tarmac of the local drag strip.
Speed and styling became the raison d'etre of Detroit's car manufacturers. Every carmaker came up with a performance package and the era of the 'musclecar,' with big-cubic-inch engines and face-distorting torque, was under way.
Quietly, and without fanfare, Oldsmobile became part of the movement in 1966, thanks to a little known, late-in-the-season release of the W-30 ram-air option package, which seeped out of General Motors' towers of primness. Basically, the car was an Oldsmobile F-85 equipped with a 350-horsepower 400-cubic-inch V8. A supercar was born.
The project actually began a couple of years earlier in 1964.
With Ford and Chevrolet banging away at each other for a bigger slice of the youth market, the General turned to its Pontiac and Oldsmobile divisions for help.
Pontiac came out with the hot-selling GTO and, six months later, Olds responded with the F-85 and its now legendary numerical designation 4-4-2, which stood for "4"-barrel carb, "4"-speed transmission and "2", or dual, exhaust. The car wasn't much to write about when compared to the stylish GTO, but it showed potential.
With its 330-cubic-inch V8 taken from the company's 1964 Cutlass police pursuit package, the car ran well but couldn't hold its own against bigger-displacement cars, such as the 389-powered GTOs prowling the streets.
Things didn't change much until '66 when the engineers at Olds slipped in a brawny 400 cubic-inch engine topped with a four-barrel carburetor. It was a nice improvement, but still no trophies.
GTOs were still ruling the road. So, Olds changed the carb configuration to three two-barrels from a single four barrel. The 442's power rating jumped to 360, and with it, gearheads everywhere began to take notice.
But Oldsmobile engineers weren't done, not by a long shot.
Later the same year, they quietly released the W-30. The engines received a hotter camshaft and high-tension valve springs to keep the lifters following at high revs. Then the components were painstakingly matched, measured and hand assembled right at the factory.
The goal was simple: become king of the drag strip. So serious, in fact, were the tech heads at Olds that they sold most of the cars in stripped-down versions only, without radios and some without heaters.
The W-30 option package was so secret that the vast majority of the general public had no clue it existed. And neither did most of the dealers. In fact, only 54 of these high-performance pavement-scorchers were produced the first year, most of which went to serious professional drag racers. (A few knowledgeable dealers converted some 442s by installing over-the-counter W-30 equipment, but they were few and far between.)
Success came quickly. That year, the Oldsmobile 442 W-30 brought home the bacon by winning the National Hot Rod Association's drag racing C/Stock category.
By 1967, the word was out about the hot, new musclecar at Oldsmobile and the company finally began to play up the W-30's existence. The result was a jump in production to 502 cars, plus a host of over-the-counter conversion kits known as the Track-Pac.
The big change for 1967 was in the carburetion. The three two-barrel set up was replaced with a Rochester Quadrajet four-barrel after GM brass mandated that only Corvettes could have the multiple-carb (known as Tri-power) setup. As well, the 442 package became available only on the Cutlass Supreme.
The next year, the 442 was named Performance Car of the Year by Cars Magazine. And that year, more 442s were built than in any other year in the musclecar era, which generally spans 1964-'72.
The W-30 continued relatively uninterrupted until 1970 when the engine grew to 455 cubic inches and horsepower topped out at 370. The popular W-30 option (about 3,100 would make it to the street) would stick around until the end of 1972, although the 455's horsepower rating would drop to 300, more a product of a change in how engines were rated than the abandonment of any performance
But, the musclecar bubble couldn't last forever. In fact, most people believed it had already burst, due in no small part to tightening pollution laws, insurance regulations and gas shortages. The combined effect was lower engine compression and less horsepower.
As a result, Oldsmobile was no longer in the performance business, and an era had come to an end as quietly as it had begun.†
My frugile grandmother bought my older brother a 427 V-8 Chevy in 1966, as a vehicle for commuting the 500 miles from Ketchum to Moscow Idaho for his college years. I still can't believe he managed to scam that fine & intelligent woman into buying him, not a car, but a muscle car, that he never quite killed himself in.
So-----just one story. He & a fellow redneck pistol toting pal drove 35 miles south from Moscow, ID to Lewiston ID to visit a strip club. After closing out the strip club in the wee-hours of the morning, they sped back towards Moscow. About 20 miles south of Moscow is the junction for the small town of Genesee, which at that time was marked by a single large street lamp above Hwy 95.
My brother said, at 80 MPH, he took his 22 pistol off his lap & fired at the lamp as they approached the junction. To his horror, he hit the lamp & saw it start to fall into the highway. He "goosed" the engine & the lamp debris fell onto his trunk as he sped by.
i was a catcher for a widely feared pitcher all thru little league. his old man own the local dodge dealer. when we got to highschool, each of the late sixties mopar muscle cars, a fresh one every weekend, was available for action. let's just say those silly tire worms were missing come monday. all straight ahead stuff or we'd likely be dead, no break in or penance served
I outran the local coppers in my pre-442 Olds, when I was 15. Like Mr T said, ďI pity the fools!Ē
My bro had a 442 later, I had moved on to bigger firepower, courtesy of Uncle Sam.
Iím sure it was a W-30 as he sold it for really good money about 20 years ago.
Funny that my current pickup has more ponies than a W-30 had. My broís Volvo Polestar
does too and weighs a LOT less. Itís a beast in lambís clothing.
mike m, thanks for the back story on the 442. What a gorgeous design. BITD it seemed far less common than the Chevelle, Camaro and Mustang. As a 16 year old kid, I didnít fully realize how lucky I was to have one, a Ď70 coup. Long live Detroit muscle. TFPU.
Mike. Thanks but obviously just pulled off the web. What does any of this have to do with climbing anyway you might ask. Really nothing accept we did Pumphouse a 4 in vail, the Georgetown flow a 4 right on I 70 that we had to drive like Thelma and Louise to get in and lastly coors lite a 2 in clear creek. Would have been a perfect day to have that black convertible and could have got them done in half the time.
My first car was a 1966 Olds 88 with a 425 4 barrel. It passed everything except a gas station. Shag carpeting 8 track player and seat belts that doubled as beer bottle openers. Big back seat and everything a high school student needs!
My fathers first car was a 1949 Olds 88 convertible on a Cadillac chassis. He was proud of the Beast.
Mike M, you are living the life! I lusted after a 4-4-2 in high school, but there was no possible way (I didn't have the money and my parents weren't that stooped).
Also, I thought that looked like the ice above Georgetown in one of your photos. Nice climb, that. Pumphouse is always a classic. Not sure what Coors Light is, though, prolly something I climbed earlier but never had a name for.
I had a 73 delta 88 fairly anemic with a 350 that ran like a top but was pulling a heck of a lot of iron around... also had a 71 Chrylsler Newport custom with a 403. also just a land yacht. my only true muscle car was the 66 galaxy 500 2door with the stock dual exuast, 4bbl and a 352 police interceptor
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