1968 Oldsmobile 442

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Oldsmobile 442

Olds 4-4-2

360 bhp at 5400 rpm
4 spd. MT / 3 spd. AT
Top Speed:
115 mph / 185 km/h
Number Built:
5 Star
Olds 4-4-2
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5


After Oldsmobile discontinued the triple-carburettor 1-2 engine option of 1957 - 1958, they sort of left the "car" business as far as performance enthusiasts were concerned. They'd been the builder until then, striking first in 1949 with the hottest set of wheels to roll off a production line in a decade. There was a valiant attempt at recapturing lost youth in 1962 and 1963 with the F-85 Turbocharged Jetfire, but its complicated equipment, delicate parts and lack of real performance wrote a sad note to its future. But when the F-85 grew to intermediate stature, Olds caught the right tide and drifted in with the 4-4-2.

Originally little more than a warmed over 330-cu.-in. V8 with "police" equipment, it had managed to take a fair chunk of the super car market, and was a performance car par-excellence. By 1967 the 4-4-2 carried a new shell and, at first take, it seemed little else had changed. However once you dug further, you would see that nearly everything was refined. If you wanted a 4-4-2, there really was only one way to get it: with a 400-cu.-in. V8.

The 442 became a separate model from 1968 through 1971. Other Olds models received displacement increases, but because of corporate decisions governing the displacement sizes of GM intermediates and negative influences concerning advertised hp-to-weight ratios, the 1968 4-4-2 engine carried the same displacement and hp rating - 350 at 4800 rpm - as the 1967 model. Three variations of the 400 were available, but the 350-hp model was the most popular. Torque for this standard V8 was 440 lbs.-ft. at 3200 rpm. A single Rochester Quadrajet carburettor was used, and hydraulic lifters operated on the relatively high-lift cam. A 10.5:1 compression ratio was carried over.

Climatic Combustion Control

Olds' Climatic Combustion Control introduced as an option on the 1966 was made standard d throughout the range to help with exhaust emission control. Dubbed the "Controlled Combustion System”, it eliminated much of the previously required plumbing. Changes to the distributor advance and carburettor settings completed the emission controls. The 400ci V8 could be ordered with the standard 3-speed column shifted transmission or optionally, with a 4-speed wide ratio (2.52:1 low gear) box, a 4-speed close ratio (2.20:1) gearbox, or Turbo Hydra-Matic. The 4-speeds were both floor shift units, but you could option the automatic as either column or floor mounted.

Rear axle ratios were something else. A 3.23 was standard with the 3-speed gearbox, and the buyer then had a choice of 3.08, 3.42, or 3.91 from the factory, or a 4.33:1 or 4.66:1 as a dealer-installed option. These last two were meant for serious quarter-mile duels. The wide ratio 4-speed came with a 3.42 axle ratio, and could be had with a 3.08 or 3.23. If air-conditioning was ordered, the standard gear became a 3.23, with a choice of 3.08 offered. The close ratio 4-speed, a unit built to handle high-performance, was originally built to transfer to a 3.91 rear gear, but a 3.42:1 ratio was factory offered. The dealer-installed gears, 4.33 and 4.66 were optional. The Turbo Hydra-Matic outfitted 4-4-2s were really wild in the rear cog department. A 3.08 was standard, while the options included the following: 3.23, 3.42, 3.91, as well as the dealer catalogued 4.33 and 4.66 ratios.

Despite the engine displacement staying at 400 CID, the engine was based on the new 455 cranktrain (4.25 stroke) and the bore decreased (to 3.87). Torque now came at 3000–3200 rpm as opposed to the early 400's 3600 rpm peak, mostly due to a milder base cam grind. Car Life tested a 1968 442 with a 3.42:1 rear axle ratio and Hydramatic and attained 0–60 times of 7.0 seconds, and a quarter-mile time of 15.13 seconds at 92 mph (148 km/h). Top speed was reported as 115 mph (185 km/h). The base motor was still rated at 350 hp (261 kW), but only with the standard three-speed and optional four-speed; automatics were rated at 325 hp (242 kW). W-30s were rated again at 360 hp (268 kW). Car Life also tested a four-speed W-30 with 4.33 rear-end gears and recorded a 13.3 at 103.30 mph (166.2 km/h), which shows the long stroke did not affect actual performance although long term durability at high (6000 plus) engine speeds might be affected.

All standard 1968 442 engines are painted a bronze–copper colour, as with the 1967s, topped with a fire-red air cleaner. W-30 option cars were equipped with Ram Air intake hoses leading from a chrome-topped dual snorkel black air cleaner to special under-bumper air scoops and set off by bright red plastic fender wells. In addition, a Turnpike Cruiser option was made available with a two-barrel carburettor; this was previously available on the Cutlass Supreme for 1967. 1968 was the first year for side marker lights and the last year for vent windows on hardtops and convertibles. 442s for '68 had unique rear bumpers, with exhaust cutouts and special exhaust tips.

Hurst Performance

It was in 1968 that Oldsmobile first partnered with Hurst Performance Research Corporation to create the Hurst/Olds rather than just adding Hurst shifters as with earlier models. The limited regular production run of 515 Hurst/Olds (459 Holiday Coupes/56 Sport Coupes) started out as regular 442s, but were treated to numerous distinct enhancements, both cosmetic and mechanical. All cars were painted Peruvian Silver (a Toronado color) with liberal black striping and white pinstripes, exterior and interior H/O badging (unique to '68), and a real walnut wood dash insert. Mechanically, the cars left the factory with two drive train combinations. Red 455 CID engines were backed by modified W-30 Turbo 400 automatic transmissions.

Cars fitted with air-conditioning were fitted with the W-46 engine and 3.08:1 rear while non air-conditioned cars got the W-45 engine with a 3.91:1 rear. While both engines were rated at 390 hp (291 kW), the W-45 engine received the cylinder heads from the W-30 and the camshaft from the W-31, making it more suitable for higher rpm. All cars came with bucket seats and a Hurst Dual-Gate shifter in a mini-console. Also standard were numerous regular 442 options such as disc brakes, heavy duty cooling, and FE2 suspension. They shared the red fender wells and ram air setup with the W-30. Popular, but not standard, additional options included the tic-toc-tach and wood-grained steering wheel. Power front disc brakes were optional. Performance for the 1968 Hurst/Olds (390 hp): 0–60 in 5.4 sec, 1/4 mile in 13.9 sec @ 103 mph (166 km/h).

The Turnpike Cruiser

When Olds released their “Turnpike Cruiser” option it became immediately popular – and the concept was expanded to cover the entire Olds lineup. It was still an option in the 4-4-2, though no longer carrying the label Turnpike Cruiser, merely "L65." The L65 Option was a 400-cu.-in. V8, 2-bbl.-carbureted and developed 290-hp at 4600 rpm. Torque was set at 425 lbs.-ft. at 2400 rpm, only 15 lbs.-ft. away from the 350-hp engine, yet 800 rpm lower. It came only with Turbo Hydra-Matic having 14.6:1 total gear multiplication using the standard 2.56:1 rear axle. Ratios of 2.78 and 3.08 were available. The 2-bbl. V8 was a low speed, high torque engine, which developed maximum power at mid-range, and allowed freeway cruising at maximum speeds at less than 2000 rpm. It was an extremely quiet operator because of this low turning speed, and had long life expectancy with low monthly fuel bills.

Forced-Air induction

The "big mother" 4-4-2 V8 was the Forced-Air induction option. It was rated at 360 hp at 5400 rpm, had a torque rating of 440 Ibs.-ft. at 3600 rpm, developed 10.5:1 compression, and was built to red-line at 6000. The Forced Air tag came from the pair of 13 x 2-inch fresh air scoops which were located below the outboard edges of the front bumper, funnelling air through corrugated tubes to the air cleaner. Big changes were in the engine itself. Only pre-selected, low friction engines were chosen. The cam was a special cut, but orderable under Olds part #39 7328. The heads were basically the same as the 455-cu.-in. Olds design, but material was added to the intake ports to form a ramp that acted as a venturi coming into the valve. The centre exhaust ports below the heat riser received added casting to separate them, making it easier to "tune" these ports after the heat riser was blocked off.

This was a first step towards added performance taken by knowledgeable performance-car owners. All block bores were chamfered to exactly match the outline of the combustion chamber in the head. It was quite an engine, and one which had previously only been in the domain of aftermarket tuning shops. But here it was, on an Olds direct from the factory. Even better, perhaps, was that it remained very quiet and seemed tame, so that your spouse would not realise the thunderous power you had just ordered from the dealer. Its extra cost was further strained by the fact that it only came with a standard close ratio 4-speed or optional Turbo Hydra-Matic. Rear gear ratios with the 4-speed started at 4.33:1, and worked down to 3.42:1, then climbed back up to 3.91, and then to a dealer installed gear of 4.66. The automatic came with 3.42, and offered 3.91 and 4.33 as factory options, with the dealer getting the nod for the 4.66.

At idle and at cruising the forced-air V8 would sound no more like a performance car than an electric clock – except when you planted the foot to the wood. Then the stock F70x14 tyres would scream in despair as they tried to get a purchase on the bitumen, but despite their valiant effort they never really had a chance. There was just so much performance here that, if you wanted to put in really good standing quarter times, you needed to fit the 4-4-2 with at least a 7-inch wide Super Stock slick to ground them. Thus fitted, you stood a chance of putting in sub 15 second times – and this in a 1960s 3600-pound coupe. Even more amazing – this could be done with the Turbo Hydro doing the shifting.

On the Road

The 4-4-2 suspension allowed the car to ride lower than other Cutlass models. Everything about the suspension reflected an emphasis on handling considerations. Stabilizer bars were standard front and rear. The front bar was .937-inch in diameter, and the rear bar running between the two lower control arms was .875-inch diameter. Spring rates on the coils were 435 pounds per inch front; 122 pounds per inch rear. Well over 50% was riding on the front (and we mean well over) but the rear end never became light. The back stabilizer bar did a tremendous job, but the revised rear suspension geometry similar to Buick's Gran Sport deserved a good amount of credit.

Despite the cars size, power steering remained an option. It wasn’t too bad except when parking. Standard drum brakes were also featured, another disappointment, but again you could option power front disc/rear drums. For the money, we would have always ticked the power steering and disc brake option boxes – and it is likely any surviving examples have been upgraded to this configuration. But, back then, Olds stuck with centrifugal cast iron drums as standard for the front, and composite cast at the rear. Drum diameter was 9.5 inches.

Behind the Wheel

Driving the 4-4-2 was always an enjoyable experience. Road testers loved the thing. They noted that the dash was cleanly arrayed, with three large pods holding all instruments. Although it appeared that they were set too high, they did not interfere with steering. Interior upholstering was more than adequate for good support, and entering and leaving was no problem. You could option Olds tilt-a-way steering and, while not as important as the discs and power steering, would have made another good option if finances permitted. The ride qualities of the 4-4-2 were separate from other American muscle cars from the era. The 4-4-2 made you aware that you were doing something more than aiming. It didn’t maim your kidneys in the exchange either. Even riding in the rear was pleasant enough.

The new design windshield wipers were not exclusive to Olds in 1968, having taken the hidden feature from Pontiac in 1967. There was a new washer system of putting solution on the glass before the wipers began, and also for the double frequency of operation and volume. A convoluted fuel filler tank tube was a plus for 1968, which prevented breaking or fracturing of the filler tube should the car be struck from behind. The previously mentioned brakes were improved, with greater capacity for all types. Front and rear wheel cylinder bores were larger by 1/16 inch, and drum brake shoes had convex surfaces for better break-in and wear.

But what set the 4-4-2 apart was just how good it was, in forced-induction guise, straight out of the factory. Anyone who got behind the wheel knew, Olds were back in town. Over 33,000 were sold for 1968.
1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 Hardtop

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