Ask half a dozen guys what “4-4-2” stood for, and you’ll probably get seven different answers. Ironically, several might be right, because the number stood for different things over the 4-4-2’s long life-span (1964-1991, although it skipped a few years in the 80s). But when it did stand for something, it always related to its engine and/or drivetrain. Its meaning changed already in its second year. And by the time this ’77 was built, there was no consistent meaning anymore; it could have anything from a 105 hp 231 (3.8L) Buick V6 to a 403 cubic inch Olds V8 under the hood. And they say numbers don’t lie.
The first Olds 4-4-2 was a conservative response to Pontiac’s 1964 GTO, which blatantly flaunted a 389 CID V8 in violation of GM’s rule of intermediate cars not having more than 330 cubic inches. It was technically a police package (“B09 Police Apprehender Pursuit”), and included a higher output 310 (gross) hp 330 CID V8 with 4 barrel carb, a stiffened frame, HD suspension and larger brakes, a 4-speed Muncie manual transmission, and of course 2 (dual) exhausts.
It’s been said that only some nine of these four door sedans were ever sold, to the Lansing Police Department, no less. The rest of some 3,000 sold in 1964 were coupes or convertibles. Motor Trend tested a ’64, and it delivered excellent performance for its engine size: 0-60 in 7.5 seconds; the 1/4 mile in 15.5 @90 mph, and a top speed of 116 mph.
The GTO’s illicit huge success caused the displacement limit for intermediates to be raised to 400 for 1965, and Olds wasted no time making that the engine size for the ’65 version. Now the numbers stood for 400 CID, 4 barrel carb, and 2 exhausts, as the Jetaway two-speed automatic was also available. And there the meaning of 4-4-2 stayed, during most of the glory years of the muscle car era. Performance was competitive with the GTO. And sales were quite strong, with just over 25k sold.
1966 brought new styling, and the first W-30 engine, which had a number of high performance parts. But it was more for image than as a readily available commodity, with only some 150 units built; some at the factory; others as a dealer package. 4-4-2 sales slumped a bit from 1965, and were drastically below that of the GTO.
In 1970, GM lifted the 400 inch limit, and the 442 now sported a standard 365 (gross) hp 455 CID (7.4 L) V8. But that was just the starting point, as 1970 would be the pinnacle of the 442’s performance. The optional W-30 version was rated at a mere five hp more (370), but that was just a PR ploy. In reality, the W-30 package, which included functional air scoops on the hood, special cylinder heads, camshaft, distributor, aluminum intake manifold, larger four-barrel carburator and low restriction air cleaner. Sounds more like an extra 50 hp rather than five.
Well, at least the numbers still worked mostly, since the first “4” was presumably as applicable to 455 as well as to 400. Or maybe the W-30 actually made 442 hp? probbaly close to it, anyway.
The muscle car era imploded almost as fast as it appeared. In 1972, the 4-4-2 was downgraded to strictly an appearance and handling package available on four different Cutlass models. The standard engine was now a two-barrel 350 (5.7 L) V8, although more potent engines, including a somewhat emasculated W-30 455 were still available.
By 1973, with the arrival of the new Colonnade models, raw performance took an ever bigger back seat to luxury and comfort. This was the era in which the Cutlass Supreme Coupe became a mammoth hit, as the Brougham Era rapidly superseded the performance era. The 455 was still available, in more sedate form, but it was the last year that the four-speed manual was.
The energy crisis of 1973-1974 put the final coffin nail in the muscle car, at least for some few years. In 1975, the 4-4-2 package was barely shown in the brochure, and it now came standard with the 105 (net) hp Chevy 250 six. So maybe it should have been called a 2-1-1? Optional was the new 260 V8, with 110 hp, along with the 350 and 455 inch V8s, although the take rate on the 455 had to have been minuscule that year. The 1976 4-4-2 was essentially the same, except for its new aerodynamic “sloper” nose that was also seen on the Cutlass S, in order to make it more competitive in NASCAR racing.
The 1977, which is what we have here, continued the use of that sloped nose, although now only on the 4-4-2 package. And the engine lineup was revised for a bit better economy: the Buick 231 CID (3.8 L) V6 was now standard, also with 105 net hp. And in addition to the 260 V8, there was still the 350 V8, making 170 hp, and the new 403 V8, which replaced the 455 across the board, and was rated at 185 hp.
Since it was only an appearance package, the take rate on the 4-4-2 package in 1977 is a bit of a mystery (maybe someone has the numbers?), but it has to be very low, certainly in percentage terms. 1977 was an explosive year for Cutlass sales, totaling 633k. But the formal Cutlass Supreme and Supreme Brougham took the lion’s share of those sales, almost 400k, while the Cutlass S coupe managed a mere 70k. Folks were so done with semi-fastback styling and sporty messaging.
But a few die-hard 4-4-2 lovers must have stayed loyal to their favorite number, even if it had very little actual meaning anymore. Well, I suppose a 403 powered 4-4-2 was still close, but I’m pretty sure the genuine dual exhausts were gone with the beginning of the catalytic converter era.
Needless to say, these were rare birds then, and very rare birds now. This one was paying a visit from Washington, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it at an eatery near the campus. Colonnades of all sorts have become quite rare; seems like just yesterday that there were several Cutlass Supreme coupes still around. No more.
This is a true survivor, with a few battle scars, but in quite decent shape, although it is sporting an upper body coat of gray primer. How’s that for a genuine period piece?
These Colonnade Coupes were like over-grown Camaros, with many of the same virtues and flaws. Their styling was certainly very well executed, if not exactly to everyone’s taste. There were the oversize doors that struggled to stay aligned, the better than average handling, the ubiquitous GM power trains. The crappy back seat.
The interiors were also in the same vein, if a wee bit more spacious, although these Colonnade coupes will go down in history as one of the lesser examples of good space utilization. Adequate for two.
That applies particularly to the rear seat, which was nobody’s preferred pace to sit, with non-opening side windows and way to much solar gain.
No wonder the formal-roof line became so madly popular; who would ever want to sit back there on a sunny day?
The 4-4-2 went on to live out its time in a variety of disguises after the end of the Colonnade era, and even recapture some of its lost performance. The numbers mostly didn’t add up, in terms of applying to its power train. And I’m not really inspired to go through them all; Jason Shafer found and wrote up one of the aeroback ’78 versions here.
In 1990, the 4-4-2 number was revived. But in this final (and somewhat dubious) incarnation, it now stood for a 4 cylinders, 4 valve, 2 camshaft version of the FWD Calais. So the next time someone asks you what 4-4-2 stands for, take your pick.
Seems hard to believe Oldsmobile fell so hard, so fast. Final 442 = 4 wheels, 4 seats, 2 doors.
The last of a dying breed in many ways. This Car and Driver review of the ’77 4-4-2 was pretty positive about this old-school muscle/cruiser, though picking the right options–like a V8(!)–was crucial. I’m guessing this car and the C&D test car were the same red/white color combo when new….
My girlfriend had a 442 identical to the one C&D tested, black with white “bucket” seat interior, gauge package, typical GM rust around the windshield and rear window,
Although lacking the brute force and bottomless power of the older models, this still was a fine “Driver’s Car”. The engine, transmission, power steering, suspension and brakes were all in harmony with each other.
Without mentioned it to me, she traded it off on a new Ford Escort (GASP!) because she wanted better gas mileage. For the pittance the Ford dealer gave her on trade in value I would had gladly purchased it from her.
IIRC, the 442’s biggest claim to fame was the inclusion of a rear sway bar. It was the only musclecar so equipped due to the theory that it made handling too ‘twitchy’. I don’t know if that was actually the case; no review made mention of it. Rather, the 442 (of any year) generally got the highest marks for handling, something front-heavy musclecars were never known for.
In fact, one of the best, all-around performing intermediate musclecars was the little-known W-31 package (earlier known as the ‘Ramrod’) Olds, which used a high-revving version of the 350. I knew a guy who had one and it was definitely fast with a hard-shifting automatic which included the famous dual-gate Hurst shifter. I think the W-31 was only offered for two years, 1969-70.
It was somewhat confusing because, in 1970, Olds also offered one of the first of what would later become known as a ‘mylar GT’ in the similar-looking Rallye 350, a brightly-colored, striped, rear-spoiler festooned version but with the much tamer, standard 350 that came in any Cutlass.
Speaking of big-block V8s, I think 1976 was the only year for the availability of the 403 Olds V8 in the 442. By 1977, the biggest engine was the Olds 350.
The Car and Driver article features a 1977 442, and it has the 403 V-8. The 403 debuted for the 1977 model year, replacing the 455 V-8 as the top-of-the-line Oldsmobile V-8.
It’s the taillights. I always forget that the Cutlass Supreme had different taillights from the regular, big-window colonnade Cutlass (Salon?). I got it into my head that the taillights were different between model years (not models) and always confuse the Salon’s taillights as across the board for 1976, and the Supreme’s taillights were used for all model’s in 1977. Obviously, that’s not the case.
105 MPH top speed? How strong a headwind were they in?
I believe that Oldsmobile fell as a brand because of a GM decision not because consumers did not want an Oldsmobile. Any brand should have something, something about it that makes it special. GM just kept turning out the same stuff in different marques, other than finally putting some effort into the Cadillac after it became so ho-hum. Who can forget Olsdmobile Starfire models and Fiesta Wagons? Even Fiesta wheel covers were coveted by those who wanted to upgrade their run-of-the-mill cars. The fault lies with GM management. Has anyone seen a GMC heavy-duty built truck since 1991? Or a medium-duty truck built after perhaps 1999? Yet they had excellent products.
The Sloan Brand Ladder simply became obsolete, thanks to the imports, market segmentation and the spread of luxury and performance options to the low-price brands.
Brands like Ford reached upward with products like the first four-seat Thunderbird, and then the LTD. Today the luxury marques keep reaching downward with cheaper models to expand sales.
If people will spend $60,000 for a Ford F-150 Limited, or can buy a Mercedes CLA for about $30,000, there simply isn’t much reason to keep the old-line medium-price brands in the market.
!971 was the last “real” 442. IMO, of course.
And in my humble opinion, the cutoff point is one year earlier.
After all, 1970 was the last year for high-compression engines!
As an Olds guy, I certainly agree with you. I just think the 72s started being really choked with emissions controls.
1973 is when exhaust gas recirculation started which reduced performance. 1970 was the last high compression engine (until direct injection).
My Dad bought a 76 442 3.8 brand new and within the year he traded it in for a 350 Supreme. It always amazes me that powertrain option really existed.
There’s a local one I’ve occasionally seen at cruise nights, black on black with white stripes and the 403, in excellent condition. I must say, despite the faults it’s quite attractive. Colonnades, especially Oldsmobile and Pontiac, had nice looking dashboards and the swivel bucket seats are a nice feature, and surprisingly the seats themselves are actually somewhat supportive laterally. Rear seat sucks, but who cares? Poor space effiency = unused space efficiency.
Cutlass Supremes were every where in the late 1970s, but I don’t remember seeing any of these around our town. Someone did have a 1976 Chevrolet Laguna S-3 (blue with white stripes). He was apparently the entire market for a performance-oriented Colonnade coupe in our town during those years.
I really liked the Cutlasses when they were brand-new, but today those big bumpers look almost as ungainly as the ones Ford was using at the time.
Wow that could by my old 442, as it is the same color combo poking through. I doubt it however because I sold it to my brother who tore it apart and then sold it as a basket case when he moved off to CA for work.
This might be the last 442 that I could get excited over, if even a little. At least as long as it had the big 403 V8 up front. But that slope nose was never my favorite look on these.
Oh my do I remember spraying a lot of 409 on those white vinyl seats, which were in both my Mom’s 74 LuxLeMans and my Stepmom’s 74 Cutlass Supreme. And that interior shot reminds me of those door straps which I was constantly fixing in both of those cars.
I must get in a word about that original 1964 model. That old 330 was a mighty strong engine for its displacement. 315 horsepower was right about what Ford was getting from a 4 bbl 390 and was within 10 horses of the 64 Pontiac 4 bbl 389. Even the standard premium gas 4 bbl in Mom’s 64 Cutlass was rated for 290 horses. That may have been the quickest car she ever owned.
“in order to make it more competitive in NASCAR racing.”
No, Olds did not simply style the ’76 Cutlass S front end solely for NASCAR. After GM started sharing Chevy V8’s across divisions for ’77 MY, [aka the Chevy-mobile scandal] then NASCAR approved other brands body shells to run “GM Corp” engines. So, some teams picked the Olds body shell and this was well after 1976.
Wasn’t it about that time that all the teams got to use the “corporate” engine, but were allowed to run “Oldsmobile” or “Pontiac” heads? That sticks out in my mind.
Nascar banned the sloping Chevelle Laguna nose and allowed Chevy engines in other GM brands for 1978.
How would one bolt Olds or Pontiac heads to a Chevy, I ask?
@roger628: They were Chevy heads, but with “Pontiac” or “Oldsmobile” tuning applied to the heads, valves and port shapes. That was the reason for the quotes around the brand names.
IIRC, they even sported Pontiac or Oldsmobile lettering on the valve covers.
I didn’t realize this generation of 442 was available with a V6, the horrors!
I do wish however that I had a poster size print of “Dr. Oldsmobile’s Testimonial Dinner.”
In IMSA racing, the FWD 442s were class leaders and won several championships, as did the Aleros that came after. The production cars had some of the highest output naturally aspirated motors for their time; the manual cars were backed up with Getrag transmissions and the FE3 or F41 suspensions (one or the other IIRC), making a rather potent package.
I would agree however, that the 442 name was not a great choice to revive on this car, even though it may have been a spiritual successor to the model. I liken it to taking the then-contemporary Sunbird and placing a GTO package on it; the general concept may have been the same, but the old names have far too much emotional baggage for certain buyers. The vast majority of consumers could care even less.
I think the same thing happened when GM did release the new GTO in 2004; it was the same concept as the original 1964 car (big engine in a midsized car). But the GTO fans thought it should have been a 1969 Judge reincarnated. GM did toughen it up a bit by the end of the run, but it was roundly rejected as a big fat Cavalier, not the successful re-boot of the old car.
The FWD 442 suffered this same fate. Too bad.
That “big fat Cavalier” has a cult following, and is RWD/V8.
I should have put big fat Cavalier in quotes as that was the knock against those cars. Not enough 1969 Judge styling, too much modern GM styling for the GTO name.
I’ve spent some seat time in it’s successor, the G8. What a ride…
I saw one of those in a parking lot not too long ago, in a very bright Kermit the Frog shade of metallic green, and in excellent shape. Didn’t stop to ask what engine it had tho.
I can’t believe the V6 and the small 260ci V8 was available on the 442, I always assumed the 350ci V8 was standard on the 442, definitely a far cry from the 1964-71 442’s.
Lasr year I bought 1979 Olds/Hurst white/Gold All original with 6900 original miles. A beautiful machine from the past
And No its Not a T Top but Its still a rare Oldsmobile from 1979
It is interesting that Olds kept a……sport package (?) in this era. Even Pontiac had given up on the GTO.
Having been an Olds fan in this era, and owner of both ’73 and ’76 Cutli, there wasn’t much audience for this sort of car in the Olds showroom. A lot of those folks had or aspired to a Ninety-Eight, 88, or Custom Cruiser as companion vehicle in the garage. The all show and no go boy racer decal package said fake to performance enthusiasts and looked immature (not to mention kinda ugly with that NASCAR compliance front end).
If you wanted a sporty Cutlass in the era, a Supreme or Salon coupe with the bucket / console package, dual body colored sport mirrors, body colored Olds rally wheels and a 350 under the hood would have been a very nice car indeed. If you really wanted something sporty the neighbors would talk about (either that you were cool or crazy for taking the leak risk), adding the removable T-Top was about as cool as an Olds got, and would have look absolutely smashing next to a Ninety-Eight in the garage.
Man, I have a sudden urge to see my Olds dealer now!
You are right on all counts. By 1975 everyone knew that “muscle cars” had lost their teeth and gotten both flabby and underpowered compared to those from before emissions regs took their toll. CAFE officially killed whatever whiff of credibility might have lingered. By this time the “performance” version of almost everything was about huge, gaudy decals with little underneath to back up the big talk. By 1977 the choice was coming down to Japanese economy, American luxury or European sport.
This car definitely has potential. They were a total comedown from the muscle car heyday 442’s but with a good looking bodystyle and a chassis capable of handling, theres no reason this cant get a freshening and a warmed up SBC under the hood. Not bad for a 40 year old car. In 40 years, will any of the scads of cuv/sedan blobs of 2017 appeal in the same way to a future hotrodder?
SBC? A BLASPHEMY!!! Only a hot Olds motor will do in an Olds!!!
I actually much prefer these later sloped-nose versions to the early colonnade round-lamp Cutlass. The sloped nose works well with the semi-fastback styling. Definitely rare, not that they were ever particularly common in 442 guise, but I wouldn’t mind one with a 403. The factory may never have seen fit to give it true duals but that could easily be rectified!
I agree with you 100%! They look so chunky and purposeful, whether it’s the slant-nose semi-fastback 442/’76 S or the more formal Supreme/Salon. The ’73-75 models look nice enough, but the ’76-77 look fantastic.
I’ll never understand the hate Colonnades got, although it seems to be dissipating with time.
Never knew the 400 was gone for 1970. The ’70 442 must have been really something with a standard 455. The GTO still had a standard 400, which was no slouch with 350 HP.
By 1972 the party was over, when the insurance industry put the kibosh on the muscle car era. Was inevitable I suppose, as these were terrible accidents waiting to happen in the hands of the young, testosterone fueled males who drove them. Many were also stolen and wrecked. I had friends and cousins who had a ’66 GTO, ’68 GTO, ’70 GTO, ’71 Duster 340 and ’71 Mach I. All were stolen or totaled within a few years, with my friend dying in his 3 month old Duster 340.
Sadly, that tradition carried on with the Camaro & Firebird in my hometown, and probably many others. One terrible, tragic accident and a lot of near-misses.
Thanks for clearing up the meaning, Paul! I was always under the impression that it had always meant 4 speed, 4 barrel, 2 exhaust, but I had no idea that 4 at one point meant “400 cid”. For the longest time (even before I knew of the 4 speed, 4 barrel 2 exhaust), I just assumed that 442 meant 442 cid. You wonder how many others thought the same. 🙂
As a railroad buff, to me ‘4-4-2’ means an ‘Atlantic’ type of steam locomotive.Four leading wheels, four driving wheels, and two trailing wheels. Used for fast passenger service in the early 20th century.
I coach rec league soccer. A 4-4-2 is four on the front, four in the midfield and two defenders.
After looking at the Oldsmobile brochures from 1964, 1965 and 1966 I think that the first year was the only year that Olds really defined how the name was arrived at, then for 65 and 66 it was simply the name of the performance package. Pontiac never really defined in their brochures what GTO was supposed to mean beyond a performance package.
One reason Pontiac was quiet about what GTO really meant was probably because Ferrari offered a GTO during this time, too.
A real GTO of course.
Why on earth would GM change the dash for 77-only, from round dash vents to rectangular ones?!? Seems like a waste of time and money.
I recall reading somewhere that the manufacturing dies for the round vents wore out and GM was not about to spend the money for fresh ones so late in the car’s run. Urban legend?
JP, I have to imagine that’s urban legend because they had to make a different dashpad too, but with GM you never know. A neighbor had a Cutlass S without A/C and there was something different about the vents, but I don’t recall what the difference was…it was 40 years ago.
Cincinnati Olds dealers pushed the RMO Edition Cutlass in the 70s too, one of several regional specials, all under option code Y76…
My mom’s slantnose 76 Cutlass S sedan was mortifying to me as a kid…everyone could tell my parents cheaped-out and didn’t get a Supreme, and it was Crème with Buckskin top and vinyl seats, so it looked even more bargain-basement. I was a car-crazy kid and it made me nuts. That, and the fact that they wouldn’t spring for the AM/FM radio…just AM with one speaker.
I’m a little late to the party, seeing that all comments are from 2017 and it’s now 2022. But to add this article there were only 11,649 442’s built in 1977. So yes they are rare now. Sought after? Not really, but the 73-77 Colonnades are gaining popularity. The upside is you can have a really nice car for around $15K or like my 77 442 I bought for $6,500. It’s a nice driver, and has 75K miles on it, but needs a little work. The 76/77 442’s came with the FE2 suspension package and they handle and ride pretty good for a big car. Also to add to this, my 442 has T-tops which were not offered from the factory by GM. They said the structural integrity of the roof would be compromised with them. But the dealerships would install them.
This 4-4-2 may have held up well over the years, and good on it, but by the time 1977 rolled around, I thought the styling of this iteration of the Cutlass was trying too hard. 73 was the best, 75 was next, 74 was good, 76 was getting a little funky, and then 77 arrived and looked like it was about done. The styling just didn’t have the same uniqueness any more among the colonnades. It bore too much of a resemblance to the Malibu. Also a true 4-4-2 fan would never have settled for a sticker for the 4-4-2 marking instead of attached lettering, or for a V6.
Mind you the sales of the 77 Cutlasses being over 600,000 spoke to the popularity of the model.
I saw a 4-4-2 at a car show recently, and I struggled to explain to my son what it stood for. 4 barrel, 400 CID engine, and …I couldn’t come up with the dual exhausts. The four speed transmission escaped me.
I found this one on Hemmings, a nice, probably restored example.