Graded – Oldsmobile 4-4-2

Welcome to a new feature called Graded. Here we discuss legendary marques, models, or trim packages and affix a letter grade to a selection of vehicles falling under that topic. The grades mean nothing and are completely arbitrary. I fully encourage you to tell me what I got wrong and how you would grade them instead. The point of it is to have fun with it.

In the storied history of Oldsmobile, three numbers stand out as the pinnacle of performance; 4-4-2. Over the years, those numbers came to represent various things like 4-speed, 4 barrel or even QUAD4. Regardless, if the number 4-4-2 was plastered on the side of an Oldsmobile it signified the apex of performance for that model line (no matter how lukewarm that performance may have been at times).

Below I have collected a random smattering of ten models to adorn the 4-4-2 badging over a nearly three-decade span and given them all a grade with a brief summary of my rationale.

1964 Oldsmobile 4-4-2

Grade: A-

As the original 4-4-2, it’s hard to give this car a bad grade. It may have not been as fast as it’s corporate cousin, the Pontiac Tempest GTO, but the 4-4-2 got into the muscle car game early and had a powerful 310 hp 330 CID engine. Motor Trend nailed a 0-60 mpg time of 7.5 seconds which was impressive for the time.

1967 Oldsmobile 4-4-2

Grade: A

The last year of the first generation 4-4-2, performance had been steadily improved over the years and the car could now be had with a 360 hp 400 CID thundering down 440 lb-ft. of torque. The quarter mile now took just over 14 seconds to complete and 60 mph was dispatched in 6.5 seconds.

1969 Oldsmobile Hurst/Olds 4-4-2

Grade: A+

There is a strong case to be made if this is the peak of the Oldsmobile 4-4-2. With a gorgeous body adorning the iconic Hurst/Olds paint job, Oldsmobile added every Muscle car cliché to the car, including 15-inch rally wheels, an oversized mailbox hood scoop and rear spoiler. Under hood lay a 455 CID V8 with 380 hp on tap, capable of hitting 60 mph in less than six seconds.  

1970 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 W-30

Grade: A+

If the 1969 Hurst/Olds isn’t the ultimate 4-4-2, then maybe the 1970 4-4-2 W-30 is. Although power from the 455 CID was down to 370 hp in the W-30 package, torque was an immense 500 lb-ft. The W-30 package was about more than just horsepower as a fiberglass hood was included in the package to help keep weight down. Hitting the 13-second range in the quarter mile was entirely possible.

1973 Oldsmobile 4-4-2

Grade: B-

With the muscle car era ending, power was way down for the 4-4-2 by 1973. The most powerful engine made just 270 hp (although that is net horsepower). At least the 4-4-2 could still be had with the monstrous 455 CID V8 and performance wasn’t that far off the original 1964 model. But things would only go down hill from here as power continued to decrease and manual transmission options disappeared.

1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass S 4-4-2

Grade: D+

How the mighty had fallen. For 1977 the 4-4-2 could be had with a 105 hp V6 that took a day and a half to hit 60 mph. Thankfully, a few V8 options were available including a 403 CID that made 185 hp. It allowed the car to complete the ¼ mile in 17.3 seconds which sounds painfully slow (because it is). But in 1977, with emissions controls and the effects of a fuel shortage choking out engine power, this was actually decent.

1978 Oldsmobile 4-4-2

Grade: D

This is it. This is low point in the storied history of the 4-4-2. Built on a new, much smaller platform, the 4-4-2 became a fastback coupe with a 5.0L Chevrolet V8 making 160 hp in the top trim. Despite the smaller, less powerful engine, straight line performance remained similar to the 1977 model thanks to a much-reduced weight. This weight did make the 4-4-2 more agile and it did have a cool paint job – the only two redeeming qualities.

1979 Oldsmobile Hurst/Olds 4-4-2 W-30

Grade: C

Things turned around for the 1979 model year as the 4-4-2 once again received the Hurst/Olds treatment and could be had with a larger 5.7L V8 engine. As well, it was available on a proper two-door coupe body and even included a Hurst Dual/Gate shifter. Of course, performance was still tepid, but it would show its taillights to most of its contemporaries.

1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass 4-4-2

Grade: C+

Basically, a carryover of the 1984 Hurst/Olds Cutlass, the 1985 Cutlass 4-4-2 was Oldsmobile’s performance car and it looked the part. But under the hood resided a 180 hp 307 CID V8 that didn’t do much to back-up of the looks of the car. Making matters worse was its similar sinister corporate cousin at Buick, the Grand National, that would run circles around the 4-4-2.

1991 Cutlass Calais Quad442 W-41

Grade: B+

Every family has that one member that rebels against tradition and this the 4-4-2 family’s black sheep. Everything about this car is different from its predecessors. It uses a four-cylinder engine, is front-wheel drive and even ditched the hyphens in the 442 name. Purists will scoff at the rating I gave this car, but it was the most significant 4-4-2 to come along since the first two generations. It was an embodiment of what the 4-4-2 originally stood for – an envelope-pushing high performance car. Reliability issues aside, it was way ahead of its time. Under hood was a 190 hp 2.3-liter engine that was not only more powerful than the previous 15-years of 4-4-2s, it was also quicker in a straight line and much more agile thanks to its compact car architecture.

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