1968 Car Craft Review

Thanks Kelly Erickson for this article. Check out his web page at kellys-oldsmobile.iscool.net

This article is also posted on www.442.com

With the introduction of the first mass-produced overhead valve V-8 engine, in 1949, Oldsmobile rose to the top in popularity with the then small fraction of performance enthusiasts. This boom lasted until the mid '50's, when other manufacturers got on the OHV V-8 bandwagon, while Oldsmobiles got bigger, heavier, more luxurious and less nimble. Due to these conditions, performance-minded buyers began turning away from Olds and sales and performance figures alike suffered during the ensuing decade.

A few years ago, however, the people at Oldsmobile began to grow concerned about their image with the now rapidly expanding young car-buying market. In an effort to recapture their past image, the 4-4-2 was introduced in 1965. Although a step in the right direction, early 4-4-2's didn't quite measure up to some of the other "supercars" of the day. But that was three years ago.

This writer's realization that Olds' performance capabilities have considerably improved came about the hard way. The first time that I encountered an Olds during my spare-time hobby of racing a '68 E/Stock Dodge Dart, I found my self getting it "socked to me" as I followed one through the time traps. When I got over my chagrin, I was anxious to learn more about these obviously improved performers from Olds. A call was made to Mr. Jim Williams, performance advisor at Olds in Lansing, Michigan, who agreed to provide us a Cutlass "S" Coupe for CC to test and evaluate.

A few weeks later the Cutlass arrived in Los Angeles and was delivered to our offices. Immediately, the entire staff poured into the parking lot to check out the sparkling red beauty. Up went the hood, and we were confronted with our first views of Olds' Forced Air Induction system. Two air scoops, one mounted under each corner of the front bumper, were connected by duct hoses to the air cleaner atop the Rocket 350 cu. in. engine. A quick check of the literature in the glove compartment informed us that this was the 325-horse version of the 350. Anxious to try her out, I jumped into the comfortable driver's bucked and headed for the open road. The Hurst shifter did a smooth job of getting the close ratio four-speed through the gears as we accelerated onto the freeway. Cruising along at 65mph, we couldn't help but notice the high pitched whine of the engine. After searching the instrument panel, the tachometer was spotted on the right behind the clock face. By looking around the steering wheel I was surprised to read that we were cruising along at 4500 rpm! Hmm, a check of the options list confirmed our suspicions that a heavy-duty 4.66:1 rear axle package was included in the thousand dollars worth of optional equipment. We were delighted to have the low clog for our drag test, although it's not the hot setup for highway driving and gas mileage.

The following day we headed for Irwindale Raceway, where track managers Steve Gibbs and Jim Edmunds were kind enough to set up the clocks for a baseline test of the showroom stock "S" Coupe. Attempts at high rpm starts went up in smoke as the stock Firestone F70-15 Wide-Ovals just couldn't handle the low end torque of the Olds. Finally by reverting to easing it out of  the gate and then going to the wood, we were able to manage a best of 14.45 and 99mph. Pleased with the results of our initial testing, we headed back to town to make a few changes.

Since Oldsmobile Racing division has advised us that a set of equal length tube headers would provide a 25-30 horsepower increase, we contacted Doug's Headers about the possibility of procuring a set. Doug was very agreeable, so our test car was sent over to be fitted up. Next stop on the Olds' agenda was just up the road at Schiefer manufacturing Co., where Carl Scheifer offered to install one of his superb Rev-Loc clutch units. Although the stock Olds clutch seemed very adequate for street driving and an occasional weekend at the digs, a good competition unit such as the Schiefer Rev-Loc is a must for an all-out racer.

Fenton Equipment Co., provided us with a set of their super sharp "Ram-rod" mag wheels, very appropriate for our "Ram-Rod 350"-equipped Olds. Two of J.C. Penney's new line of Foremost AFX slicks, size 9:00 x 15, were mounted on the Fenton Wheels, and our Cutlass was rearin' to run again.

Confident that we were ready for some 13-second times, we loaded up and headed back out to Irwindale. After unloading all excess baggage, spare tire, etc., and opening up the Doug's headers, she was ready for the first pass. Considering that we had a better tire than stock Wide-Ovals, in the form of the Foremost slicks, we decided to try coming off the line by bringing up the R's and dumping the clutch. Slowly I pulled into the staging beams and brought the engine up to 3000 rpm as the yellow lights started down. As the last yellow began to shine, I brought my foot off the clutch and almost went through the windshield as the Olds lurched forward, then bogged. After a couple more attempts at 3500 and 4000 rpm with the same result I tried a start at 5000 rpm and the coupe moved out without a stumble. Upon the engagement of the clutch, rpm dropped to about 3500 as the tires started to slip just a little, then the R's started building rapidly back up to my anticipated shift point of 6000. Unfortunately, I never reached that shift point, because at 5500 rpm the engine quit running, indicating that the hydraulic lifters were pumping up. Obviously what had happened was that the engine had loosened up internally from the street driving it had been subjected to since the first time we ran the car. Consequently, we decided to go ahead and run by "short shifting" at 5400 rpm.

Before we go any further, let me make a comment on those Foremost tires. They were so sticky that it was unreal! It certainly wouldn't be a bad idea to check out your local J.C. Penney store if you are in the market for some good racing tires. Possibly the reason that they work so well is that, according to a rumor we've heard, Penney's tires are manufactured by the same company in Ohio that turns out M&H Racemasters! If that's true, it's no wonder that they work.

Since we had the drive procedure down pat, coming off the line at 5000 rpm and shifting a 5400, we proceeded to put down several hard runs. Most of the runs resulted in 14.0 e.t.'s at around 100 mph, with a best of the afternoon of 13.94 and 100.50. We realized that the full potential of our test Cutlass was not being realized because of the lifter problem, so we headed back to town and contacted Kent Babler, who runs an E/Stock Olds out of Century Oldsmobile in Van Nuys. We explained our problem to Kent, who said that he had experienced the same situation. He told us that by placing a .035 shim under each rocker stand we would gain about 500 more rpm. We followed Kent's instructions and the simple operation was complete in less than an hour. While we had our wrenches out, a new set of Champion UJ8 plugs was thrown in for good measure.

Back to Irwindale we went for our third and final series of runs. This time everything went smoothly, as the Cutlass put down a number of 13.90's with a best of 13.85 at 101.50 mph. The shimming of the rocker stands enabled us to take her up to 6200 rpm before shifting with no sign of lifter pump up. Also at the track that day were Chuck Poole, of wheelie truck fame, and "Dandy" Dick Landy, who was out testing his new Hemi-Dart. Both Chuck and Deick took a ride in our Olds and commented very favorably on its performance. To top our day off, I defeated Deick two straight in our Olds, with Dick driving his personal 440 ci. in. Charger, in a two out of three kicks race. I will have to concede that Dick's Charger was suffering from a case of  bad plugs, and was running without the benefit of open headers.

Just about the time we were wrapping up our drag test out here in California, an invitation was received to come to Detroit, Michigan, to test three other versions of the Cutlass. When we learned that one of these was a limited production model powered by a 455 ci. in. Toronado engine, we couldn't get a reservation on a eastbound plane fast enough. Upon our arrival in Motor City telephone calls were made and it was arranged to meet the following day at Milan Dragway for the test. As we headed across the Michigan countryside the next morning, the sky opened up with a deluge of rain in a apparent attempt to thwart our impending test. After a couple of hours, the rain stopped and we calmly waited for the track to dry - calmly that is, except Milan's concerned track manager, Mr. Cliff Riley. Cliff was busily driving his sweeper up and down the track in an effort to clear off some of the water. We would again like to express our appreciation to Mr. Riley for making his fine facility available to us and for his aid in conducting our test.

While waiting for the track to dry, we took the opportunity to inspect the different varieties of Cutlasses. First on the scene was an E/Stock F-85 sponsored by Victor George Olds in Flint, Michigan. The car was set up and is run by Jack Marks, and is powered by the same 325 horsepower engine that we had in our Cutlass "S" back in California. Jack explained that they chose to run the F-85 because of the weight advantage for E/Stock class. With a bench seat, stark interior and lack of other "niceties" with which our Cutlass "S" was equipped, the F-85 weight was about 200 pounds less. Although the boys had yet to blueprint their engine, the car was pretty well set up for class competition with a set of Jr. Headers, a Schiefer clutch and Goodyear tires  Prior to our tests, Jack had recorded a best of 13.05 and 106.12 mph with the little F-85.

Next in the gate was Paul Riccardi's D/SA "Youngmobile" 4-4-2, sponsored by Key Oldsmobile of Warren, Michigan. This was Pauls's first time out with his new 4-4-2 and he was anxious to see how it would run. The 4-4-2's 400 ci.in., 360-horsepower engine had yet to be blueprinted, but was equipped with a set of Mickey Thompson headers. A Hurst Dual-Gate shifter was connected to a Turbo hydro, while a set of Goodyears filled up the rear wheel wells. This car, as well as the F-85, was equipped with the Forced Air Induction System.

The last car to arrive at the track - but far from the least - was the sliver and black Hurst Olds. Immediately everyone in attendance gathered around for their first glimpse of the gargantuan 455 cu.in. engine. This car was the first prototype for 515 vehicles which are now being built at Demmer Tool & Die Company in Lansing, Michigan. The H-O's original design was conceived by Jack "Doc" Watson as a personal car for George Hurst. Oldsmobile liked the car so well that they commissioned Jack Watson to headup the limited production project at Demmer's Plant. Both Watson and Olds hi-perf man Dale Smith were on hand for the tests.

The power plant for the H-O is basically a Toronado 455 incher. Special cylinder heads, camshaft, distributor curve and carburetor jetting, as well as standard forced air induction, contribute to the engine's 390-horsepower output. A Turbo Hydromatic transmission is modified for complete manual control through a standard Hurst Dual-Gate shifter. The car incorporates a heavy-duty rearend assembly with a 3.91:1 gear ratio, as well as heavy-duty 4-4-2 suspension and rear stabilizer. Also standard are front wheel disc brakes and Goodyear G70x14 Polyglas tires.

Jack pointed out to us that the H-O that he had brought down was "as delivered" with the exception of the addition of a set of Hooker headers and a pair of Goodyear seven-inch slicks.

By this time the track had dried sufficiently to allow some easy passes.  Eagerly I jumped into the H-O for my first run and, after a couple of burnouts to heat up the tires, pulled into the staging beams. On the green, I went down hard on the throttle and wham, those big Goodyears just went up in smoke. This baby HAS some low end torque! Even after annihilating the tires off the line, we came up with a respectable 13.39 and 107.39 mph. Several more 13.30 runs were produced in quick succession, but the times began to fall off a little with each run. A quick investigation revealed to us that the front disc breaks had become very hot, and that the pucks were dragging against the discs. We allowed the brakes to cool for an hour, then Watson climbed into the H-O to see what he could do. After easing it out of the gate and keeping tire spin at a minimum, Watson ran a 13.08 and 107.88 mph. When he returned to the line and learned of his times, he immediately staged up for one final "banzai" attempt on the quarter-mile. The 3680 pound Cutlass lunged out of the gate like gangbusters and 12.97 seconds later tripped the finish line beam, while recording a top speed of 108.17. Not bad, not bad at all considering that the track was still damp.

While we were doting over the H-O, Riccardi and Marks had been putting down some hard runs in their respective Oldsmobiles. Jack's F-85 was, like the Hurst Olds, having its share of traction problems due to the damp track. The sleek black beauty put down a 13.27 and 104.76 mph for its best run of the day. Paul's 4-4-2 was having its share of usual first time out problems as the Turbo Hydro didn't want to shift. He managed a best of 13.33 and 103.56, very respectable considering the traction and his having to back completely off the throttle for each shift. Once these boys get everything right with their cars, they are going to be bad news for their competitors in D/ and E/Stock.

So there you have the complete rundown on Oldsmobile's versions of '68 "Supercars." You will have to agree that they have come a long way since their introduction of the first 4-4-2 back in 1965. If Olds keeps going at this rate, it's a sure bet that they will regain the popularity they enjoyed with the racing set back in the early '50's.


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