Ad Classic: The N-Body Goes Racing


This ad brings up an interesting question: how do you promote a relatively new engine in a dated, unremarkable car?  In Oldsmobile’s case, for this December 1991 ad, you ignore the issue entirely.  By the time this went to print, the Achieva (what a name) was slowly finding its way to dealerships across the country and the Calais as featured in this spot was a rapidly fading memory.  But as this ran in racing-friendly Autoweek, Oldsmobile apparently had faith that readers would focus on the Quad 4, the main subject of the ad.  There was so much hype around the engine, after all, and it looked so good on paper.

With so much effort put into the new engine, introduced for 1987, the was little choice but for Quad 4 advertising to simply feature the outgoing, brougham-hangover Calais.  Initial versions boasted about 160 horsepower out of 2.3 liters, but a high-output 180 horsepower version came online for 1990 in both the 442 and International Series (there’s that confused marketing again).  A special 190 horsepower version came with the 442 W41 package and was offered for 1991 only, during which time it was raced with some success against other manufacturers’ competitive production models.


The W41 engine would continue in early versions of the Achieva, but as it turned out, the real problem wasn’t so much the dorky Calais the engine was attached to, but its own unrefined manners.  When it came to Oldsmobile quality, drivers really could “feel it,” and according to some sources, real-world durability wasn’t much to brag about, either.  By 1993, max horsepower was 185 and by 1995, high-output versions were gone.  Too bad; large capacity, free-revving four-cylinders can be a lot of fun, and in terms of output, GM had a lot to brag about.  Consequent de-tunings and re-engineering quieted things down, but only somewhat, and the N-bodies were getting more and more rotten all the while.  For the last engine truly designed by Oldsmobile, it would seem the party was over before it really began.


As one should expect from such a unique and powerful, yet inexpensive, engine, the high-output Quad 4s have developed somewhat of a cult following.  For one thing, they offered a level of performance that was truly noteworthy in their day and at their price point (compare the Quad 442 to the outgoing G-body 442, as an example).  For another, they came to the market at a time when the hottest competition either used turbos or at least six-cylinders.  My only experience with the engine was in the late ’90s behind the wheel of a non-W41 Quad 442 with a broken exhaust, where it pulled quite lustily to its redline; it sounded like hell, but was quite fast.  As I’m sure a handful of our readers have had even more positive encounters with intact examples, let’s take a moment to remember one of the more uncommon motors from The General.