By 1979, the traditional muscle car was all but gone. The W72 400 CID V8 equipped 1979 Pontiac Trans Am was as good as it got, though rated by Pontiac at 220 SAE net horsepower (320 lb-ft of torque), NHRA rated it in stock form at the more realistic 260 horsepower. The 225 horsepower L82 350 CID V8 equipped 1979 Corvette was also another hot ticket for 1979. However even if you could find a sporty V8 equipped car in 1979, it usually produced 150 horsepower or less. These were tough times indeed. Now what about the traditional muscle car buyer who had a family and wanted a new muscle car with ample trunk space and comfortable seating for 5 adults? Unfortunately there just wasn’t anything available. Traditionally the 2-door version of the GM A-body platform was what GM’s hottest muscle cars were built on – the Pontiac GTO, Chevrolet Chevelle SS, Buick GS, and Oldsmobile 442. The hottest motor you were going find in a 1979 GM A-body was Chevrolet’s 160 horsepower 4-bbl 305 CID V8 and Pontiac’s 150 horsepower 4-bbl 301 CID V8 was a very close second.
Oldsmobile after the original muscle car ended had watched its flagship muscle car, the 442, whittle down to nothingness. By 1976, one of the 442’s available engines was the 110 horsepower (205 lb-ft of torque) Oldsmobile 260 CID V8. By 1979 Oldsmobile was ready to get back into the game. It had a sporty 2-door Cutlass which was built on GM’s A-body platform. It was one of the best selling cars in America but it stressed luxury and power options rather than performance. By 1979 the 442 name was so watered down it didn’t have much of a performance reputation left. The 1979 442 used the 2-door fastback Cutlass Salon body style and it could be equipped with the 160 horsepower 305 CID V8 and 4-speed manual combination. When so equipped the 442 was a decent performance car. However the 305 V8 only produced 235 lb-ft of torque, so the 442 didn’t feel like a traditional muscle car with loads of low-end torque. Fortunately this wasn’t where the story ended for 1979, Oldsmobile decided to bring back the revered Hurst/Olds model which was the ultimate low production Oldsmobile muscle car (unlike the 442 which was a mass produced muscle car), it usually packed under the hood the best Oldsmobile engines available for a given year. The Hurst/Olds was traditionally a joint venture with Hurst Performance, INC to produced a low volume high horsepower muscle car based on the Olds 442 or Cutlass Supreme (depending on the year). For 1968 the hottest 442 was equipped with a 360 horsepower (440 lb-ft of torque) 400 CID V8. The 1968 Hurst/Olds took it one step further by being standard with a 390 horsepower (500 lb-ft of torque) 455 CID V8.
The 1979 Hurst/Olds was a big step up from the 1979 442. Though it was essentially a dressed up Cutlass Calais versus the 442 which was based on the Cutlass Salon (fastback) as previously mentioned. Since the Hurst/Olds was based on the Calais, it had the more formal roofline with a vertical rear window. The 1979 Hurst/Olds, unlike all previous Hurst/Olds, was built 100% in-house. In other words the cars weren’t shipped to a Hurst facility to finish or add parts, everything was done in an Oldsmobile factory.
The good was the Hurst/Olds had the hottest motor you were going to find in a 1979 model year GM A-body. Standard on all Hurst/Olds was the Oldsmobile (small-block) L34 350 CID V8 (sometimes referred to as the R-code V8) which produced 170 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. It was yanked right out of the 1979 Oldsmobile Delta 88. However unlike the Delta 88, the Hurst/Olds was equipped with a pseudo dual exhaust system where a single pipe entered and exited the large catalytic converter. The pipe after the catalytic converter then entered into a large muffler that was longitudinally mounted, and then exited into two separate pipes – each pipe exited the exhaust under the rear quarter panels directly behind the two rear wheel-wells. This low restriction exhaust system was the reason the horsepower of the Hurst/Olds was 5 horses above the Delta 88 equipped with the same engine and a single exhaust system.
The Hurst/Olds by 1979 standards was a real powerhouse. 0-60 mph occurred just a tick under 9 seconds and the quarter-mile was in the mid-16 second range. Remember these were the days when any car hitting 0-60 mph in less than 10 seconds was considered lightning fast. The Hurst/Olds would have dropped a few 1/10s of second on the performance clock if it had been equipped with a manual transmission. Unfortunately only a TH350 3-speed automatic was available but it did come with a mandatory center console Hurst dual gate performance shifter. This performance shifter allowed a Hurst/Olds owner to easily manually operate gear changes when desired or leave the lever in drive for the fully automatic transmission experience. A sign of the new fuel efficient times, was that the Hurst/Olds was now mandatory with a 2.73 rear axle ratio in 49 states. California buyers were stuck with 2.56 rear gears. A limited-slip differential was optional with both gear ratios. One of the reasons even with these tall gear ratios why the Hurst/Olds was so quick for its day, was its very light curb weight. The base curb weight for the Hurst/Olds was just a little over 3,100 lbs. As a comparison and previously mentioned, the 220 horsepower (NHRA adjusted rating of 260 horsepower) 1979 W72 Trans Am may have been faster but a lot of its horsepower advantage was wasted on a very heavy curb weight of just over 3,700 lbs – about 600 lbs heavier than the Hurst/Olds. The 1979 Trans Am’s base motor was the 185 horsepower (320 lb-ft of torque) Oldsmobile (small-block) L80 4-bbl 403 CID (6.6 liter) V8. The L80 was pulled right out of the luxury laden Oldsmobile 98. It provided good horsepower for its day and plenty of low-end torque. As good as the 1979 Hurst/Olds was, it could have been even better with the L80 403 powering its rear wheels instead of the L34 350. Why Oldsmobile didn’t attempt to at least offer the 403 as an option on the Hurst/Olds is very puzzling. It would have shaved off a full second off the Hurst/Olds 0-60 mph and quarter-mile times. However the real fun would have been having 320 lb-ft of torque at a ridiculously low 2,200 rpm. Around town the Hurst/Olds with its very low curb weight and 320 lb-ft of torque would have felt like the large displacement muscle cars from the classic era. On the flip side of the coin, the 1979 Hurst/Olds could have instead been like the 1975 Hurst/Olds which was just a decal and appearance package and its optional top horsepower engine was the same 455 CID V8 available on any other run of the mill 1975 Cutlass. In other words Oldsmobile could have just made mandatory for the Hurst/Olds, the 160 horsepower 305 CID V8 with its paltry 235 lb-ft of torque. Fortunately Oldsmobile went that extra mile, and went with the L34 for the Hurst/Olds.
Oldsmobile made it easy to order a Hurst/Olds for 1979. The task consisted of checking off "W30" on the order form. This added $2,054 to the $5,828 Cutlass Calais 2-door coupe, in effect making the base price of the Hurst/Olds $7,882 which one could argue was a lot to pay for a performance car back in the day considering a base 1979 Trans Am had a starting price of only $6,883. However when you realize that the 1979 Hurst/Olds was a limited production unique speciality performance car (only 2,499 produced), the price seemed like a bargain. Especially when you consider the special edition version of the 1979 Trans Am – the 10th Anniversary edition (7,500 produced) had a hefty price of $10,620.
When first laying eyes on a 1979 Hurst/Olds, it was quite apparent it wasn’t a Cutlass with Hurst badges but a speciality car with lots of extras not found on any other Cutlass. After-all for 1979, Oldsmobile had a total production volume of 471,063 units for all 2-door Cutlass models. If Oldsmobile had wanted they could have easily sold 10,000 or more 1979 Hurst/Olds. However Oldsmobile had its hands tied, since the L34 had not been certified by the EPA for use in the Cutlass, like it had been certified for use in the Delta 88 (and a few other Oldsmobile models), Oldsmobile would have to limit Hurst/Olds production since the EPA would not require certification of the L34 for use in the Cutlass unless a production level of 2,500 or more units was reached hence only 2,499 Hurst/Olds were produced.
The Hurst/Olds came in two different exterior paint schemes – black and gold or white and gold. Both schemes were traditional Hurst paint schemes which were seen before in previous Hurst/Olds offerings. It didn’t matter what paint scheme was ordered, both had a way of turning the conservative Cutlass into a wild looking performance car. The Hurst/Olds looked like a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Unique badges/decals were visable inside and outside the car, the Hurst/Olds abbreviation – "H/O" was used for multiple badges. Even the conservative Cutlass hood ornament was replaced with a "H/O" hood ornament. Just in case anyone was unfamiliar with W30 being the RPO code for the Hurst/Olds for 1979, there were large "W30" callouts on the front quarter panels. Standard 14×6 inch aluminum wheels which had been introduced to the Cutlass line in 1978, but were painted gold which matched up perfectly with both Hurst/Olds exterior paint schemes were some of the best looking wheels found on a post muscle car era performance car. The wheels were in fact so attractive that you easily overlook the fact they are only 14 inches in diameter instead of the more preferred (at the time) 15-inch wheels. Oldsmobile could have easily raided the parts bin and offered a set of Oldsmobile 15×7 inch SSII Rallye wheels which was available on other 1979 Oldsmobile models such as the Delta 88, but chose not to do so. Oldsmobile did however make the 15×7 inch SSII wheels standard on the 1983-1984 Hurst/Olds. These larger wheels would have allowed for wider performance tires. Never the less the 14×6 inch wheels came equipped with P205-70R14 performance radial tires which helped the Hurst/Olds grip the road. The Hurst/Olds used the 442’s special handling suspension, so handling was very good for its day. And braking was in performance car territory even with the use of a front disc/rear drum configuration.
The Hurst/Olds may have had it where it counted in the areas of performance and overall visual presentation. However the interior is where the driver controls the machinery, so therefore it was an added plus Oldsmobile provided a very appealing work environment. Traditionally one of the biggest reasons why Hurst/Olds buyers jumped into the Oldsmobile camp was due to the more upscale/luxurious interior Oldsmobile provided. Oldsmobile buyers tended to be higher up the income scale and more mature. And during the muscle car golden era, the Oldsmobile 442 and Hurst/Olds had more upscale interiors than a majority of the competition.
The 1979 Hurst/Olds since it was based on the more upscale Cutlass Calais, was standard with bucket seats and a sleek looking front center console. The standard seating surfaces were vinyl however many buyers opted for the more luxurious soft velour cloth seats. The Calais was standard with a sporty gauge package which consisted of a round speedometer and tach along with other smaller gauges which made them also standard on the Hurst/Olds. There was no denying it, the overall look and feel of the dash and interior were hard to beat – there were plenty of attractive chrome accents and simulated wood grain that really caught thee eye. By 1979 standards this interior was really the best you were going to find in a performance car. Standard on all Hurst/Olds was an interior digital clock. The option to have was the removable T-top roof panels, they really looked sharp on the Hurst/Olds and since the roof had a formal flat surface seemed to look even better than the curved T-tops used on the 1979 Trans Am (the Trans Am had a curved roof). The real hidden value of the Hurst/Olds was that it could serve double duty as a family car since it could seat 5 adults comfortably with plenty of leg room even in the backseat. The trunk was massive for a car of its size, and could easily swallow up several large suitcases. As a comparison the (2+2) Trans Am had virtual no rear legroom and the trunk space of a small tackle box.
The real testament of a great car is – does it meet the expectations peddled by the marque’s marketing department? In the 1979 Hurst/Olds case, it far exceeding those expectations. You really couldn’t buy a more rare limited production muscle car that delivered such a well-rounded package back in 1979, as the Hurst/Olds.
Written contents in this article – © 2013 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved