442 Series Evolved from Huge V8 to Peppy Four

Olds pony car was best known for speed, handling


The muscle-car era began in 1964 when the Pontiac Division put the big 389-cubic-inch (6.4-litre) Pontiac V8 engine in the lightweight intermediate Tempest model and marketed it as the GTO option. In so doing, Pontiac uncovered a youth market that was craving high performance at a reasonable price.

Pontiac sold 32,459 GTOs during its first year, 75,352 in the second and almost 97,000 in the third year in production.

It started a whole new trend; intermediate sedans fitted with big V-8s were soon dubbed musclecars, and the name stuck.

Pontiac's success lured other makers into the muscle-car market. Models such as the Chevrolet Chevelle SS-396, Ford Fairlane GT, Mercury Cyclone GT and Plymouth Road Runner came to challenge the GTO.

It started a wild and wooly performance era that would last into the early 1970s. Then tightening emissions controls and brutal insurance rates snuffed it out almost as fast as it had appeared.

Oldsmobile wanted in too. Oldsmobile had established a genuine performance image years earlier with the introduction of its all-conquering 1949 "Rocket" 88.

It had been the scourge of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) circuits in the early '50s, and won the first Mexican Road Race in 1950.

But as the decade unfolded, Oldsmobiles gradually lost that early all-out performance advantage.

Pontiac's reversal of its market perception as an old lady's car, culminated in the GTO, further encouraged Olds. It answered the GTO with the Oldsmobile 4-4-2.

The 4-4-2 package was introduced in Oldsmobile's intermediate F-85's and Cutlass series in mid-1964.

It had a 330-cubic-inch (5.4-litre), 310 horsepower V8, and 2,999 were built during its half-year production run. The 4-4-2 designation stood for a four-barrel carburetor, a four-on-the-floor manual transmission and twin exhausts. The 4-4-2 didn't have quite the performance of the GTO - 0 to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, compared with 6.6 for the GTO (Car And Driver) - so in 1965 Oldsmobile increased displacement to 400 cubic inches (6.6 litres), and horsepower to 345. With the discontinuance of the four-speed manual as part of the package, the second 4 in its name now meant 400 cubic inches.

Performance sparkled with the bigger V8. Car and Driver now reported a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of 5.5 seconds, and 0 to 100 in 15.9. This was truly tire-burning pickup.

But the 4-4-2 was more than just straight-line acceleration. Oldsmobile engineers paid attention to cornering, and by fitting a rear anti-roll bar, made the 4-4-2 into what was considered the best handling of the muscle cars.

For 1968, the 4-4-2 became a full series rather than an option package, and this, accompanied by the all-new styling for the intermediate models, helped Olds sell 33,607 4-4-2s.

The 400-cubic-inch engine continued with various power ratings, depending on compression ratio, carburation, transmission, and whether one ordered the optional under-the-bumper W-30 air induction system.

GM's intermediates were growing heavier, which not doubt contributed to the slower 0-to-60 time of 7.0 seconds that Car And Driver reported on a 350 horsepower automatic transmission equipped 4-4-2.

The 4-4-2 received and even larger 455 (7.4 litre) engine for 1970, which Olds claimed was the largest ever offered in a special performance car. The 0-to-60 time was now down to 5.7 seconds.

The beginning to performance degradation was in 1971 as emissions standards started to bite and compression ratios began to fall.

For 1972, the 4-4-2 was an option package, mostly trim and appearance, on the Cutlass line. It still, however, included some enhanced handling pieces such as heavier front and rear anti-roll bars and larger wheels.

This would be the theme of the 4-4-2 for the rest of the '70s: a trim-and-handling option for the Cutlass. Then in 1981 during a recession the 4-4-2 option was dropped altogether.

It came back in 1985, again as an appearance and handling package, but also with its own higher performance 5.0-litre (305-cubic-inch) V8, now listed at 180 horsepower by the more realistic SAE net rating.

The 4-4-2 disappeared in 1987 as Oldsmobile followed the change to front-wheel drive.

But it brought it back again; for 1990 Oldsmobile offered a 442 (no hyphens, just three digits).

It comes in the form of the Cutlass Calais Quad 442 model powered by the Oldsmobile developed double-overhead cam, four-valves-per-cylinder, four cylinder engine which, in H.O. (high output) form, produced 180 horsepower. This time the numbers meant four cylinders, four valves per cylinder, and two overhead camshafts.

When compared with the early 4-4-2s, the new one was cleaner, more economical and probably almost as fast, and all with less than a third of the displacement of the biggest 4-4-2 V8. It was an enviromentally friendly performance car for the '90s.

But to true muscle-car fans nothing can replace that sound of a hibernating bear when those V8 secondary barrels open up.

To them, a little four will never replace a big eight.

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