Oldsmobile 442 – Classic Muscle Car Review 2020 By Jamie Wills As there was Beyoncé Knowles, so there was Solange. As there was Michael Jackson, so there was Jermaine. And as there was Gary Lineker, so there was Wayne. The sibling fame bandwagon may have mixed results, but it has always been an irresistible lure. So it was in 1964 when Oldsmobile saw General Motors stablemate Pontiac GTO being released and hit pay dirt on the American muscle car scene. Oldsmobile wanted a piece of this pie. Oldsmobile had to act. The response was the Oldsmobile 442, a muscled up package for the Oldsmobile Cutlass and F-85. Its first iteration was reserved, but in time it would become a multi-generation classic. Indeed, it was sufficiently sweet that Muscle Car UK named it one of five classic American muscle cars we want back. In terms of sibling rivalry, this was the Venus and Serena of classic cars, not Cain and Abel. History The engineer in charge of the 442 was John Beltz, the quiet man of Oldsmobile’s Golden Age. A legend of the company, Beltz would develop the Toronado and later become General Manager. Yet his first shot at the 442 was more controlled than many of its muscle car peers. The 442 name stemmed from adding a four-barrel carbureted 330 CID (5.4 L) V8, a four-speed transmission, and dual exhausts. There were other trimmings, but the engine was hardly brutal and the experiment sold to less than 3000 customers. It was a practice swing. The 1965 model year saw the engine upped to a new 400 CID (6.6 L), and sales moved accordingly: the rest of the first generation models all sold between 20 000 and 30 000 units. More importantly, Oldsmobile now had a legacy builder. The W-30, a souped-up version of the 442, won at the 1966 National Hot Rod Association C/S Championship, giving the brand requisite stardust. As peers like the 1969 Chevy Camaro ZL-1 and 1970 Buick GSX Stage 1 proved, you weren’t anybody in the muscle car war unless you had a limited edition beast. This was enough to warrant making the 442 its own line in 1968, and the name peaked with the 1970 W-30. This is the Oldsmobile for muscle car enthusiasts, a shark that took full advantage of that being the year GM abandoned limits on engine size. While the 1970 Oldsmobile 442 was special, its W-30 package was godly. Meanwhile, cultural exclusivity was available via the special edition Hurst/Olds models, a high-performance, formalised collaboration with Hurst Performance, which had previously supplied package parts. By the 442’s third generation, starting in 1973, it had once again become an option package rather than a line. Although still interesting, it was no longer de rigeur for designers to imagine highways as drag strips. The Cutlass adopted a new Colonnade body, as if a decree that the reckless muscle car heyday was dimming. Captain Sensible ideas such as power steering and front disc brakes became marketing tools, and fuel economy—words to send a shiver down a muscle car spine—had to be taken into consideration. The third generation was good, but it was a first step down the other side of the slope. Ultimately, there would be six generations (the last of which ended in 1991), yet in the number salad history of the 442, it is generations one to three that saw Oldsmobile at the peak of the muscle car game. Oldsmobile 442 Specs and Appearance The original 442, and origin of its handle, stemmed from three key attributes: a four-barrel carbureted 330 CID V8 engine; a four-speed transmission; and dual exhausts. In this sense, it did exactly what it said on the tin. However, by only its second year the 442 was beginning to evolve, not least below the hood, where a new 400 CID (6.6 L) engine resided. The four-speed transmission became three-speed manual, and consequently the name was immediately outdated. Fortunately, a little mental gymnastics allowed 442 to now refer to big block 400 cubic inches, a four-barrel carburetor, and dual exhausts. Problem sorted. As time moved on, engines changed. 1966, only its third year, introduced options, including the W-30 package, which added an outside air induction system and forced a jiggering of battery position. This would come into its own on the legendary 1970s model, when the Rocket 455 engine took advantage of engine restrictions being lifted. At 455 CID (7.5 L), and 360 hp, this was quite a shift from where things had stood six years earlier. The W-30 package also included ‘select fit’ parts, including a Turbo Hydra-matic 400 transmission, controlled by a Hurst dual-gate shifter; front disc brakes; and a calibrated four-barrel cam. Moves were also made to reduce weight: a fibreglass hood, an aluminium differential cover, and less sound deadener. With variations being released every year, the 442’s detail and add-ons were frequently altered. For instance, in the year the 442 became its own man, 1968, both it and the Cutlass got coke bottle design style upgrades. These lasted until the third generation Colonnade body arrived in 1973. Grilles and lights moved slightly as time elapsed. The interior, however, was always Oldsmobile, meaning walnut touches were never far away. Oldsmobile’s Best Car “Some men are Baptists, others Catholics. My father was an Oldsmobile man.” So says Ralphie in A Christmas Story, the US seasonal classic from 1983. If Home Alone and The Waltons were to have a child, it would be A Christmas Story, and this very much sums up Oldsmobile’s modern reputation. Yet the Oldsmobile 442, a classic muscle car model as well as the simplest football formation, does not owe its reputation to Hollywood due to very few appearances on screen. Autocar, Drivetribe, and Maxim all feature ‘best muscle car’ lists that celebrate Oldsmobile’s finest. It was also the first drag racer driven by Paula Murphy, who would become the first woman to be licenced to drive a nitro-fueled car. Added to the fact that it is rare to see any form of Oldsmobile on UK roads—let alone an Oldsmobile classic muscle car—and there are self-esteem points up for grabs in owning a 442. It would also be remiss not to mention that the Oldsmobile 442 does have one notable movie credit: this was a car star in 1993’s Demolition Man, a film that could not be more different to A Christmas Story. When Sly Stallone had to catch a time-travelling terrorist, he needed an Oldsmobile. Oldsmobile 442 Price For those looking to buy an Oldsmobile 442, the 1970 W-30 package is where the price tag bulges, with a convertible being the premium model. There are less than 300 said convertibles on the planet, so chancing upon one is not common, but any W-30 from 1970 is likely to be over £50 000, occasionally slipping into six figures. Other 442s from the first three generations will generally fall within the wide but not outlandish £15000 to £50000 range, and the cars are holding value significantly better than the original Cutlass. With Oldsmobile now defunct, additional niche collectability may affect the cultural capital – however, more important is that parts remain available. At present, the after market remains and Oldsmobile 442 parts are out there, although they may need a boat ticket from America. Conclusion Although Oldsmobile’s decision to build a muscle car was not an original idea, the execution of this particular model soon became first-rate. Improving each year until 1970—arguably the acme of muscle cars—the classic American car manufacturer produced a classic American muscle car in the 442. This is particularly the case in the sweet spot between GM lifting its engine restrictions and regulations demanding more sensible ideas. The following fifty years have presented ample opportunity to evaluate and re-evaluate the cream of the muscle car crop. That the 442 remains entrenched in such lists is testament to its quality and a spark in Oldsmobile’s faded reputation—indeed, its cultural and monetary weight is a counterweight to the manufacturer’s demise. Thus, while Oldsmobile itself has vanished, the spirit of the 442 lives on. It is a vintage car that deserves respect. Author: Jamie Wills Muscle Car UK and Pilgrim Motorsports are leading UK classic car specialists for sports cars. We build, service and upgrade all classic cars, specialising in Mustangs, V8 engines, Carroll Shelby Cobras and Corvettes. For more updates, news and tips, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. All cars on our feeds are available and up for sale. Looking for something specific? We can help. We also provide service and restoration on any car, classic or otherwise. Ask for a quote Liked This Article? More Like This: How to Buy the Right Classic Car For You In the UK Dodge Charger VS Chevy Camaro VS Ford Mustang – Which Is Better?