FOUR OF A KIND

By Eric Dahlquist - Photography by Eric Rickman
(reprinted from Hot Rod Magazine, April 1967)

Come with me Lucille and get clued-in on the hot setup for the supercar sweepstakes -- Olds for '67; what a way to go!

In 1957, Tommy Hamilton had it all. He was the king of strip and street because he drove an Olds. Not just an ordinary Olds, but a '50 Club coupe with a '57 J-2 Tri-power. It was one of the first super cars, and if you lived and loved fast machinery in western New York a decade ago, you remember that formidable Cad/La Salle shift lever sprouting erect as a metal pine from the floorboard and the way the car won B/Gas in the days when you could still relate to drag racing.

And that's the way it was, brother; Olds was the hot tip. There were those Rocket V8's with their never-say-die bottom ends, beefy parts that just went on forever shutting off the world, and whoever heard of a GTO? Out there in California, Gene Adams was building a legend around himself with a blown '50 fastback - and remember the Olds-powered Ratican-Jackson-Stearns Fiat A/Altered, or when Lenny Harris won the Nationals in '60 with the beautiful Albertson Olds rail? Those were the last golden moments of the fabulous '50's, when Oldsmobile men looked down their noses at the triflings of other marques who fought to keep pace with the innovator.

Then this brilliance from Lansing, Michigan, was suddenly blotted out by a great cloud of garish, chrome-draped mediocrity that drove away the enthusiasts at a time when the youth market was being born, and you didn't especially want to do that. In fact, Olds blew a decade-and-a-half advantage. But there were those who remembered the good old days, so when something was needed to stave off the GTO, these men created the 4-4-2. Boy, we loved that first car - mostly because it was such a fleet road runner, and then too it reminded us of that brick-commode construction of previous vintage years. But the kids didn't buy it; at least not like they might have. Solidarity meant extra weight, which meant slower e.t.'s, which meant no deal. That was until last summer, when Olds announced a tri-carb manifold in combination with a W-30 cold-air induction package plus slightly redesigned heads, and won C/Stock at the Nationals. Holy cow, they were back!


Fine Turbo Hydramatic can be shifted "manually" or automatically. Variable stator converter ratio (1.9 high angle, 2.5 low angle) allows amazing jump away from the line. Stick was 2/10 quicker.

As '67 loomed, it looked as if the 4-4-2 would put it on everybody; the car was pretty good-looking to start with, the engine was proven and the tri-power was putting out the ponies like you wouldn't believe. But then the head office came down hard on multiple carburetion in A-bodied cars after the safety row, so the jugs went flying off to a premature retirement and a single Quadrajet was it. Even so, the 4-4-2 seemed a good bet and feelers were put out for a possible test. Jim Williams at Olds P-R did us one better, offering an alternate idea: Take four of their specialized intermediates, three 4-4-2's (a stick, automatic and an all-out B/Stocker) plus the "engineer's special", which has since become known as the Turnpike Cruiser, and let the people know what the Division has to offer in variety for the enthusiast. Since GM and its affiliate divisions are officially out of racing, Hurst-Campbell's Performance Division in Detroit was selected to prepare a competitive B/Stocker with legal blueprinted 400-inch powerplant and chassis setup that included a running weight of 3400 pounds. So propositioned with what anybody in his right mind would call the racer's dream, first the production machines and then B/S filtered into our provinces. Both showroom 4-4-2's were a sight to behold: 115-inch wheelbase rafts of speed lavished with smooth acrylic lacquer. The standard-shift job was a brilliant Spanish red with black vinyl roof and the automatic was a dazzler Olds calls Saffron but everybody else called yellow: a yellow set off with a red pin-stripe and red-line Firestone wide-ovals that people just gawked at till it was out of sight. And when they looked inside at the matching vinyl interior floored with brown deep-pile carpeting, they -- even L.A.'s jaded teeny-boppers -- blew their collective minds. Boy is Olds missing the boat on this one. Why not a fleet of eye stoppers spotted in selected metropolitan areas around the country to attract buyers? The coup de grace was the rump-rump cold-air pack cam in the automatic which sounded like a Riverside L.P. and just so mean you didn't have to race anybody.

But the 4-4-2 is no put-on. From the special reinforced frame to the all-Olds-beef 31-spline rear axle (8.75-inch ring gear, 32 percent more strength) to fore (.937-inch) and aft (.875-inch) sway bars, the car means business. Where the GTO has always been able to more than acquit itself on the straightaway, the '65 4-4-2 showed superiority in winding road-course situations, and the '67 is even better. Back at the long-lead preview, the Olds people sat us down and presented, among other things, a first-rate seminar on handling and controllability (by D.E. Condon) that let people know that the whole business was a sophisticated problem, and that sophisticated approaches were used to solve it. There may be a few flaws in the 4-4-2 as far as handling and controllability go, but it's hard to spot them. In almost all situations, the car is basically neutral and therefore a joy to drive, especially in the presence of most foreign-born contemporaries on a twisting road.

Not that the general public is any more interested in this than they are in fastening their seat belts, but if the time ever comes, Olds will have a lot of points. Right now, the thing is straight-line performance; if you've the best off-the-showroom runner, you win. The catch is the off-the-showroom today don't want to fool with a finicky powerplant, no matter how hot it's supposed to be when in perfect tune. Gas, oil and plugs is about the extent of it. And that's where the 4-4-2 shines.


Here's looking at you -- Olds famed W-30 cold air package that puts 3700-pound car through the "eyes" in low 14-/high 13-second range at 99 to 104 mph. And if you have that boss yellow exterior/interior combo, you're lookin' good.

Even equipped with stock gearing, the stick (3.42) and Turbo Hydramatic (3.08) felt good on the street, but a trip to Irwindale Raceway was a wide-eye opener. Both cars had initial runs in the 15:50's and 60's with everything as is. As previously mentioned, the automatic had the cold-air performance camshaft, but factory engineers considered this a liability rather than an asset since the rear end ratio was not in the range to allow quick rpm. The power steering belts were removed completely and the alternator ones loosened for a tenth, but the real gain showed up when the gas tanks were filled (extra ballast) and the rear tires pumped to 32 pounds (55 front). Wow! 14.70's. About this time, Tom Churchill, the strip's B/Pure Stock record holder happened by with his 4-4-2 (3.90 gear) and suggested removing the detent arm from the carburetor's air valve to the dash pot which would eliminate the momentary lag in throttle response common to the Quadrajet. This was good for a little more, and coupled with adjusting the distributor (9 degrees initial, 36 degrees total) until slight ping occurred just after the traps at full throttle, produced a 14.57-97.50 mph run in the automatic and a fantastic 14.38-100 for the stick. Even more impressive was the fact that both cars had under 900 miles on the odometer. Equally important, although the stick had a good .2 quicker e.t., the automatic would up the winner by a hair in four straight runs -- ah, the disadvantages of natural selection.

But were we satisfied with this? Well, for a little while, and then we started thinking about a 4.33 gear, slicks and the rest of the cold-air pack goodies. By this time, the Hurst expeditionary crew (Bob Riggle, Dick Chrysler, later augmented by Paul Phelps) had arrived (a few days prior to NHRA's Winternationals) to add the special parts and deliver the prepared B/S to Century Olds in Van Nuys who was to campaign it. The automatic 4-4-2 already had the cold-air cam and heads, so the only thing the boys had to do was slap on new heads, relocate the battery in the trunk, put a new axle in (4.33), install a "trick" (higher-shift-point) automatic to complement the cam's long-rev characteristics, put in some red plastic lightweight inner fender panels, fit the air ducting and add a set of air lifts to the back to help jack weight. That's all. On the standard shift car, the new cam was added, plus this other stuff.

Out at Irwindale again, we quickly learned that the factory-engineered combination in stock form was extremely well coordinated. Where the Firestone wide-ovals had been adequate before, now they spun as if on ice and the elapsed times for both machines were only a tenth or so better than before. Bill Casler happened to be out at the track himself that day (he had generously rented the facility for two days during the week prior to Pomona to allow anyone who wished a chance to tune before the big meet. How's that for good will?), and he came up with a pair of 7-inch-wide slicks (29-inch diameter) that were admittedly too tall even for 4.33's, but were slipped on anyway because that's all we had. Using all the rpm on the line available (1800-2000 with brakes locked) gave the automatic about 2 dozen runs in the low 14's, varying from 14.19 to one "everything's-just-right-and-feeling-so-fine" 13.97 with speeds in the 97 to 99 range.

The 4-speed was an even better story. A standard shift's major attraction has always been having the full rev band at your disposal to suit differing track conditions, so with the big tire we just brought the engine up to about 4300 and let it happen --13.92-104 --about equivalent (for an unblueprinted, 3710-pound sedan practically strangled by closed exhausts) to winning Indy on stock tires.

While the street jobs were making about a jillion runs, the all-out racer was cooperating by first breaking the spot welds where the axle tubes and third-member housing mate and then, once this was fixed, shelling the teeth on the pinion gear like hasn't been seen since the corn was ripe in Iowa. The trouble was that giant 5.50 X 15 Goodyear boots just put too much footprint on the track. "But just a minute, wise guy. If those new Olds rear ends are so big and strong like you just said, how come they're breaking?"

"We'll bet you remember old campaign promises, too." The deal is this. Olds doesn't make their own ratios past 3.90:1 so all the rest of the choices higher than this are carried over from Chevy. Even though the Stovebolt stuff is just about able to hold its own in a lighter machine, under a heavy Olds, the situation really gets grim. The "unit-setup" for living 4.56's and like that is a Perfection Gear pinion (30A4062B), and then you'll be able to do sweet things like 12.61 at 110.42 mph, just like George DeLorean (Hurst's regular engine man) in the hot job. 'Taint bad, McGee.

As the last strip session concluded, there was that nagging realization that when you start changing combinations on a car you usually affect one and probably many other things along with it. You put in the good dragging gear ratios, and suddenly the sotck tires have gone south in efficiency. But even slicks aren't the whole answer because now the car feels lazy out of the chute as the rpm is down and the W-30 cam doesn't work right at low speed with closed exhaust. And then if you went the open header route, the carb would go lean, and when this was right the tires would probably be off again, and it's a vicious circle. The fact of the matter is that the production 4-4-2 is an example of compatible, interrelated, superior engineering that is successful by itself.

Nobody has ever been able to build a good performance economy car in America before, but Olds has come through with their Turnpike Cruiser, evidence that the innovators are on the march again. Shelby 350 GT's notwithstanding, it is probably this country's first GT car built not by European standards, which for some reason are almost always blithely applied out of context to nearly totally different environments, but to prevailing Yankee requirements. Like we've got the best system of highways in the world, right? But they are not anything like those of Europe, so the type of vehicle built for them must be different, too. Right? Oldsmobile Engineering thought it was high time for someone to offer a fast, safe, good-handling machine for today's limited-access thoroughfares that would not kill you with high-engine speed vibration or finish you off at the gas pumps with more stops than a Greyhound.

Actually, the TC is a lot like the 4-4-2 automatic (400-inch powerplant, stiffer suspension, quicker steering, stronger frame), but with the substitution of radial-ply tires, 2.41 drive ratios and 2-barrel carburetor. Because of the 2.41 gear, right away you can see the long-legged potential, but what about that two-bore jug? That can't be good for snap, can it? Well, it can because of the good low-speed torque characteristics of the 300-hp engine and the Turbo Hydramatic's flexibility. Would you believe that the car's e.t. is only 1/2 second slower than the stock 4-4-2 with 3.08 gear and 4-barrel (15.50's compared to 16.00-16.17's)? And in the economy run it won hands down, never falling below 18 mpg and sometimes reaching 21! Shades of the 6's. Because of the great Turbo, the car is fun if not surprising in city traffic and it fairly sails down those long open roads.

Crammed into one nacelle, generator, temp and oil pressure gauges, tach and clock are not too easily read. Sensible and legible instrumentation is needed.

Of course, it share a few of the 4-4-2's basic faults. The dashboard is contemporary Mickey Mouse, falling far short of the handsome GTO layout which truly conveys the idea of an automobile. The rev counter is too small, jammed into the same nacelle with the clock, oil pressure and amp gauges, and if this hash allowed the ad boys to call it a tick-tock-tach, then the whole bit is a joke, anyway. A wide, flat hood races out ahead of the driver, but the wide expanse of slightly reinforced metal invites flutter even on California's glass-like roads. Wind noise was at a surprisingly low level in all the cars, not because of the closeness of any interior door fit, however, but rather that the rubber stripping did a splendid sealing job.

And then there is that so-called "sail-pillar" styling in the back that gave styling an almost fastback profile without a lot of the cost because the normal back window ws retained and the rear quarters extended past it. Well fine, guys, but you can lose a small Mayflower van in the blind spot, suggesting another outside mirror to complement the one on the driver's side (adjustable from the inside, we might add). Braking on all the cars was 'way above average, but the disc-equipped 4-4-2's just seemed a better idea than the all-drum police specials on the Turnpike. All units were power-assisted, but the discs were more willing to get the car down from speed, and with less effort at that. The TC drum solo is is final proof that Olds is not fooling around with the gas economy bit because disc-brake drum drag can cost you a few pints and Lansing wants none of that. Same goes for the wide-ovals on the 4-4-2's, compared with the Turnpike Cruiser's Uni-Royal radial plys which didn't ride as well, much less corner better. We know that radials will give better mileage (both gas and tire) and are probably the safest because high-speed heat buildup is not a problem, but things like a Jello-y feedback through the rear end on some types of bumps shows that the tires and suspension need a little more adjusting to be happy.

Obviously a great deal of care had been taken in pre-delivery preparation, for the cars were right --  free from all the knobs that fall off, doors that don't close, trunks that fit funny, exhaust rattle-type annoyances that can literally drive you to distraction. The standard-shift machine suffered the only disaster of the street jobs in losing one header pipe bolt and a busing in its otherwise slick-working Hurst shifter (that doesn't telegraph that old Muncie-wind sound of former days because of total rubber isolation). Century Olds personnel took particular pains to demonstrate that they not only service what they sell but do it right the first time, a fact that makes the Division sure of repeat customers if all its outlets are like this.

Our test cars were just bags of fun to drive in both stock and slightly mod form, each possessing particular endearing qualities that made selecting one above another difficult. The 4-speed is kind of a nice old-time touch, but the automatic can be manually shifted and is just as good; who needs the extra hassle of going up and down the gears in modern, congested traffic? Unique in its own right is the Turnpike Cruiser, kind of a detuned 4-4-2 with Puritan overtones only in the gas department. If you live at or near the track, then the B/Stocker is a good choice for rapid transit.

About the only drawback these cars possessed were rather steep sticker prices of between $4500-$5000. All that lush interior stuff, the tilt column, electric windows and seat are nice, but the Turnpike Cruiser had nearly two grand's worth of options and that's got to be stretching things. We suppose you could say that fabulous gas mileage saves enough to pay for the options, but the average buyer will pare the price down to a more realistic $3500. People serious about knocking off GTO's don't need excess baggage. Besides, those good old '50 Olds coupes didn't have any fat on 'em, they were all business -- the business of being king.

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Well, here you are gang, probably the most sophisticated volume production machine on the market today. Tops in the handling department since their inception, 4-4-2's straight-line performance is now the equal of any. Super-stiff frame give car that famed "old-time" Olds' solidness.

 

 

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