GM after the release of the 1964 Pontiac GTO capped the cubic inches (of engine displacement) at 400 for its V8s on all its intermediate. If you wanted more cubic inches in a GM car you had to either buy a full-size (B-body or C-body) or a Corvette. The 400 cubic inch limit was not bad; GM’s muscle cars were still pretty competitive even if Ford and Chrysler were packing more cubic inches in their intermediates. Ford offered at different times during the 1960s its 427 CID and 428 CID FE big-block V8s under the hood of its Ford and Mercury intermediates. During this time the Dodge and Plymouth intermediates also had the 426 CID Hemi and 440 CID Wedge V8s on the option list. Of course it could have been worse, before John Delorean and his rebels at Pontiac released the 1964 GTO with a high-performance 389 cubic inch V8, the GM limit on its intermediates was a paltry 330 cubic inches. Even with the bigger cubes of the competition it seemed all the GM divisions affect were content with the 400 CID limit – that was until Hurst Performance and Oldsmobile got together.
Hurst Performance or Hurst as most came to call the company was no stranger to performance. No third party company benefited more from the 1960s muscle car craze than Hurst. Hurst’s cornerstone business was its performance manual transmission shifter which was called the Hurst shifter. As early racers and performance nuts soon discovered by the early-1960s, stock factory floor mounted 3-speed and 4-speed manual transmissions shifters did not hold up well in heavy shifting and racing conditions. Hurst’s heavy duty race proven manual shifter was just what the doctor ordered and soon became the hottest aftermarket performance mod among gear heads back in the day. It was not long thereafter that the Hurst shifter became a factory option on the Pontiac GTO and many other muscle cars of this era. Hurst was also during this time branching out and offering other performance parts and accessories. It was during this time of expansion that Hurst and Oldsmobile got together to make the first Hurst modified special edition factory muscle car. This seemed like the perfect matchup, after-all Oldsmobile with its release for the 1949 model year of its first Over-Head-Valve (OHV) V8 sowed the seeds of the 1964-1971 muscle car golden era – it was during this era that the OHV performance V8 powered every factory muscle car. Oldsmobile for a brief period was GM’s de facto performance division. Back in 1949, Chevrolet did not even have a V8 and Pontiac’s only 8 cylinder motor was a straight-eight. Buick’s only 8 cylinder motor was also a straight-eight. Cadillac had released its own OHV V8 for 1949 however it never had the performance reputation of the Oldsmobile OHV V8 which was marketed as the “Rocket V8”. By the early 1960s Oldsmobile had lost its performance edge, with Chevrolet and Pontiac emerging as GM’s real performance players. Oldsmobile by the close of the 1967 model year with the performance oriented Oldsmobile 442 (which began life back in 1964) had garnered back some of its lost performance credentials. However it was stuck like all the performance GM intermediates at the 400 CID limit. Now this was a big problem since Olds had a hot new big-block 455 CID Rocket V8 in its arsenal. Oldsmobile in its deal with Hurst allowed a 390 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque 455 V8 to be placed into the engine bay of a limited edition 1968 Cutlass 442 called the 1968 Hurst/Olds. Only 515 1968 Hurst/Olds were produced. Even though Oldsmobile did the 455 V8 transplant in house, since the special edition cars were shipped to Hurst for the final cosmetic conversion, it convinced the GM brass the 400 CID limitation did not apply to the Hurst/Olds. The end result was a car that Bud Lindemann (the TV show host of Car and Track) called "a Going Jesse".
The success of the 1968 Hurst/Olds led to a series of even more successful later Hurst/Olds releases and Hurst branching out and creating other special edition cars with Pontiac, AMC, and even Chrysler right after the first Hurst/Olds. Fast forward to the early 1980s and Oldsmobile sales were very good – its rear-wheel drive Cutlass was one of the best selling cars in America. However the division that once offered both luxury and performance had become just an affordable luxury car division. The 2-door Cutlass had been a big sales hit in the US from the mid-1970s through the early-1980s. By 1981 the 2-door Cutlass had a very attractive elegant look that was also sporty. A 2-door Cutlass could be ordered with lots of options including removable T-top roof panels and even with different V8 engines over the years. However these V8 engines by the early 1980s were anemic – they were in essence smooth engines that ran out of breath over 4,000 rpm.
Olds however had just the solution to its long lost performance image for 1983, it was a hopped up special edition performance 2-door Cutlass Calais – the 1983 Hurst/Olds. What better way to get back on track then with a special edition Hurst/Olds. The Cutlass Supreme was already a sporty car which appealed to the masses so with some Hurst exterior touches and a powerful new V8 under the hood the good times were back at Oldsmobile for performance fans. For the first time in many years performance was actually back. The Hurst/Olds not only gave Oldsmobile something to be proud of it also was a beautifully sculpted piece of modern nostalgia. The 1983 Hurst/Olds used the same paint scheme as the original 1968 Hurst/Olds – silver and black, however where the 1968 was mostly silver with some black the 1983 was mostly black with some silver. However the real news was the Hurst/Olds for 1983 had a unique motor not available on another Oldsmobile or GM car for 1983. It was the 5.0 liter H.O. V8 – a performance oriented Oldsmobile 307 CID V8 that pumped out 180 horsepower and 245 lb-ft of torque. This was quite the news back in 1983 when most V8s never saw north of 150 horsepower – this included the garden variety Oldsmobile 307 V8. And before the naysayers who don’t remember these times start balking at this figure – the hottest Mustang GT for 1983 made 5 less horsepower. The Chevrolet Camaro Z28 and Pontiac Trans Am for 1983 also with their hottest motor (the LU5 305 V8) at the start of the 1983 model year were also rated 5 less horsepower than the Hurst/Olds (it was not until almost the end of the 1983 model year that the Z28 and Trans Am would have the 190 horsepower L69 305 CID V8 on the option list). Oldsmobile was back in the performance game in a big way.
The 1983 Hurst/Olds was so popular that it returned again for 1984. Oldsmobile not wanting to mess with a good thing just reversed the color scheme on all 1984 Hurst/Olds – just like the 1968 version silver was again the predominate color and black was the secondary color. The 1984 Hurst/Olds also had the same attractive red stripping down the sides of the car of the 1983. The body-colored (silver) rear wing spoiler (which was black the previous year) was also a carryover from the 1983 Hurst/Olds. What also added to the package was that Olds was not afraid to put some chrome and silver trim pieces on the Hurst/Olds – whereas most of its competition had blacked out trim and acted as if chrome trim was a sin. Even the front grille and headlight bezels on the Hurst/Olds were blacked out – both still had argent silver trim around the edges. However Olds did black out the bumper rub strips along with the trim around the tail lights, front parking lights, and rear backup lights. The entire exterior package was edgy yet so striking. The paint scheme looked great, there were just the right amount of graphics – only enough to announce this was a Hurst special edition and that’s it. Even though the hood had a non-functional hood bulge and a black lower front air dam, both of these items just like the rear spoiler blended so well with the rest of the car. Dual (outside side) sport mirrors were also standard. In the context of 1984, this car was as if Leonardo da Vinci had risen from the grave to design the 1984 Hurst/Olds. It was the ultimate in perfection. And yet with the four rectangular headlamps and traditional split front grille along with rocket style rear taillights, there was no mistaking this was an Oldsmobile. Fortunately the mainstay Oldsmobile hood ornament which was found on most Oldsmobiles of this era and even on the 1979 Hurst/Olds, was not part of the 1983-1984 Hurst/Olds package – instead in its place was an attractive Hurst/Olds emblem. The best part of the whole package was the same style Oldsmobile Rally Wheels that were found on the 1968 Hurst/Olds, were standard on the 1984 Hurst/Olds in chrome 15×7 inch form. These wheels were two decades old by 1984 but still looked modern and yet were well loved by Oldsmobile muscle car fans that yearned for the nostalgia of yesteryear.
One of the staples of uniqueness for the different GM divisions for years was the different GM division V8s. And this was a source of great pride amount muscle car buyers. You see when a buyer bought a performance Oldsmobile he may have liked the body style but it was the engine under the hood that gave this buyer a sense of pride. Same was true for performance buyers who bought Pontiacs, Chevrolets, or Buicks. The different division engines gave the different divisions a certain uniqueness that is no longer found in today’s new cars. To understand this better a buyer who bought an Oldsmobile back in the day looked upon a Pontiac in the same way a current GM buyer looks at a Toyota (as a totally different entity). The same could be said of buyers from any of the other GM divisions. GM started testing the waters in the mid-1970s with sharing engines between divisions, and then for 1982 went for broke with its new corporate engine policy. By this time Pontiac and Buick were left without their own V8s. Buick which had lost its V8s before Pontiac, began putting its performance emphasis on its turbo 3.8 liter V6 however Pontiac after 1981 was left with using only Chevy’s small block V8 as its V8 engine option in its cars. It was a bitter pill for Pontiac performance fans to swallow and it was big blow to the uniqueness Pontiac had flourished with for many years. Oldsmobile did not have this problem since its 307 V8 had not been axed by the new GM corporate engine policy, so when a traditional Oldsmobile performance buyer went down to the local Olds dealer and bought a 1983 Hurst/Olds there was a performance oriented (genuine) Oldsmobile V8 under the hood. However Oldsmobile marketers (due to the GM corporate engine policy) did their best to just refer to this motor(the LG8) as the “5.0 liter H.O.” which ironically is what Chevrolet also referred to its L69 305 CID V8 as – the motor that powered the 1983 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS which was the Hurst/Olds fellow GM G-body brother. The GM G-body was formerly the A-body until 1982 when the rear-wheel drive A-body was renamed the G-body upon the release of the new front-wheel drive A-body. The LG8 (307 CID) 5.0 liter H.O. on paper made the same 180 horsepower as the 1984 Monte Carlo SS’s L69 305 V8 but the main difference between the two was the Olds LG8 motor could run on lower octane gas due to a 8.0:1 compression ratio versus the L69’s high 9.5:1 which demanded high octane gas. The Olds LG8 came equipped with a high-performance electronic Rochester Quadrajet 4 bbl carburetor and was only available with a low restriction dual outlet exhaust system (which was a dual setup only after exiting the single monolithic bed catalytic converter. This exhaust system gave the Hurst/Olds a retro low but deep (muscle car like) sound and with the twin pipes exiting out opposing ends of the rear it certainly helped to give onlookers the impression this was a serious vehicle. The LG8 was backed up by a performance tweaked TH-200-4R four-speed automatic transmission – fourth gear was an overdrive gear for improved fuel economy. And out back was a solid rear axle with a performance oriented 3.73 rear axle ratio – unfortunately a limited slip differential was optional and not standard. Standard on the 1984 Hurst/Olds was a new beefier 8.5 inch rear. And to top all of this off was a special automatic shifter that would forever be linked to the 1983 and 1984 Hurst/Olds – the Hurst Lightning Rod shifter which was housed in the center console. It was unique and it was cooler than Mr. T who back in 1983-1984 was the cat’s meow. The shifter consisted of three chrome handles that could be pulled depending on the driving conditions. Essentially the shifter was a drag race inspired setup (here is link to a video showing how the shifter operates). For most owners the shifter probably served as a nice show piece but to the few who took their Hurst/Olds to the drag strip, the shifter was one lethal weapon against an opponent. It was so effective in fact it almost made a driver forget there was no manual transmission option on the 1983-1984 Hurst/Olds. With an average 1/4 mile time in mid-16 second range and a 0-60 mph sprint taking a little over 9 seconds (Olds claimed 9.8 seconds), the Hurst/Olds was a fast car in comparison to other 1984 model year cars. Make no mistakes about it a 1984 Hurst/Olds cruising the streets back in 1984 did garner respect.
Both the 1983 and 1984 Hurst/Olds were based on the Cutlass Calais which was the 2-door (model K47) coupe. The Calais came from the factory with bucket seats a front center console along with a stiffer suspension. Officially it was when the W-40 package was ordered that the Calais became the Hurst/Olds.
The greatest selling point of the Hurst/Olds was its practicality. Whereas a Camaro Z28, Trans Am, Mustang GT, or Mercury Capri RS buyer had the muscle under the hood but when it came to rear passengers and their luggage as Tony Soprano used to say – “forget about it”. Anyone over the age of 10 was cramped in any of these cars. However in the Oldsmobile five adults could fit comfortably inside the spacious interior cabin. Not to mention there was a large trunk for plenty of luggage. This was the practical man’s muscle car – you had the tire burning performance yet you could take the whole family on a trip with plenty of luggage. Not to mention the Hurst/Olds had the most luxurious interior when compared to its G-body performance brothers – the Buick Grand National and Monte Carlo SS. Everything from the Olds bucket seats (especially when ordered with the optional cloth seating surface) to the Olds Rally dash gauges far surpassed what the other two offered. The partially leather wrapped rally steering wheel also was a nice interior touch. And back in the day Olds buyers tended to be heavy handed with the option list, a lot of these Hurst/Olds were loaded with options – including most power options and removal T-top roof panels. Even by today’s standards the Hurst/Olds would be considered a comfortable and roomy car.
When it came to handling the Hurst/Olds did not disappoint with an independent front suspension equipped with a 1.25 inch diameter roll bar and a solid axle rear suspension with a .875 diameter roll bar. There were coil springs on all four corners. The Oldsmobile 15×7 inch chrome rally wheels came with beefy P215/65-R15 Goodyear Eagle GT tires which also helped handling. Steering was also tight with the standard 12.70:1 ratio steering box. Handling was very good for its day and the ride quality was also good. The Hurst/Olds handled the potholes and rough urban asphalt and concrete better than its performance competitors. Unfortunately where the Hurst/Olds fell short was it was only available with rear drum brakes which hindered the Hurst/Olds braking ability especially in comparison to the Camaro Z28 and Trans Am equipped with 4-wheel disc brakes.
The return of the Hurst/Olds package for 1983-1984 was a nice surprise to many; it helped Olds recapture some of its former performance glory. However after 1984 the Hurst/Olds was gone forever never to return. A milder exterior version which Olds named the “442” picked up the performance torch from 1985-1987, after that Olds began its great rapid plummet to extinction. With 3,500 units produced for 1984 (499 more than 1983), there’s enough Hurst/Olds still out there for those who want one. Prices right now are still reasonable for nice examples, but don’t expect that to continue. So if you want the last of the Hurst/Olds now is a good time to pick one up. GM today offers a lot of performance punch on some of its models however a reasonably priced special edition 2-door muscle car that a family of five can fit in comfortably like the Hurst/Olds will probably never ever be produced again. And that’s a darn shame.
Written and most photo contents in this article – © 2010 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved