Hemmings Muscle Machines - 1985 - 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, May 16, 2006.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield International Moderator Super Moderator

    Jul 6, 2001
    Likes Received:
    1985-87 Oldsmobile 4-4-2


    MAY 1, 2006

    During the mid-1980s, it sometimes seemed like you couldn't throw a rock without hitting an Oldsmobile Cutlass. The car appealed to a huge slice of the buying public, with room for the family, a comfortable ride, reasonable performance, a dollop of luxury, handsome styling, and outstanding value for the dollar. It may be hard to believe today, but it was only two decades ago that cars like the Cutlass, Cutlass Ciera and Delta 88 helped Oldsmobile snatch second place in the sales race away from Ford with a production of nearly 1.2 million cars in the 1985 model year.

    Accounting for a tiny percentage of that production, but a big share of the spotlight, was the 4-4-2, a revered model name that had once again returned from limbo to designate Oldsmobile's high-performance midsized sedan. Starting with the same G-body platform that carried the Buick Regal, Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix coupes, Oldsmobile built an assertive, V-8-powered, rear-wheel drive performance car for the CAFE-hobbled, litigation-conscious '80s.

    To create the 4-4-2, Oldsmobile started with a Cutlass Salon Coupe-the plushest trim level of the line-and stirred in the contents of option package W42, which included good stuff like a high-output, 180hp version of its 307-cu.in. V-8, a four-speed automatic transmission, dual-outlet exhausts, a 3.73:1 rear-axle ratio, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a full complement of gauges, a performance-tuned suspension, and wide Goodyear Eagle GT P215/65R15 white outline performance tires. The car was available in White, Medium Gray Metallic and Black in its first year, when 3,000 examples were built-fewer than one per dealership. All came with a Silver Metallic secondary lower body color, separated by a Gold Metallic accent stripe and gold accent stripe over the wheel openings. With its bold 4-4-2 emblems and chrome/Metallic Gold 15-inch wheels shod with white outline performance tires, the 4-4-2 looked like nobody's business.

    In 1986, the 4-4-2 returned with few changes. Available finishes now included Dark Teal Blue Metallic and Burgundy Metallic, while White was no longer offered. Otherwise, the most noticeable change was in the grille, which lost its eggcrate pattern in favor of thin vertical bars. Production edged up to 4,273. The 4-4-2 returned for its third and final year in 1987, this time based on the regular Cutlass Supreme, rather than the more upscale Salon; 4,208 examples would leave the factory. New this year were composite headlamps in place of sealed beams, and reshaped front grilles. The end of the run was meant to coincide with the end of rear-wheel-drive Cutlass production, but the General saw that there were still a few dollars to be wrung from the tooling, and brought the old favorite back for a final curtain call in 1988.

    Because many of the bits and pieces that went into the 4-4-2 package could also be ordered separately, it's important to know how to make sure you're looking at the genuine article. The eighth code of the VIN should be a 9, indicating the high-output 307, and there should be a W42 code on the RPO sticker located under the trunk lid. Under the hood should be a dual-snorkel air cleaner with a chrome lid, while dual exhaust outlets should be out back. On 1985 and '86 cars, there should be a cutoff switch under the accelerator pedal, to kill the air conditioning compressor under full throttle. The passenger side of the transmission should be marked with the code OZ on 1985 cars and KZ in 1986 and '87. Finally, if you're looking at a 1987 car, there should be a speedometer that reads to 120mph, rather than 85mph.

    The 4-4-2 package added several thousand dollars to the price of a Cutlass, but your Oldsmobile dealer would still have been happy to direct your attention to many, many more options to tick off on the list. Consider our 1987 feature car, owned by Steven Sorah of Cambridge City, Indiana, which is about as heavily optioned a 4-4-2 as you'll find. It's one of just 501 examples built with an electric sliding Astroroof that year, a $925 option that was four times more scarce than T-tops. The list goes on to include such creature comforts as power windows, tinted glass, power seat, cruise control, tilt wheel, power antenna, external lamp monitors and much, much more, ballooning the car's $11,539 base price to an eye-opening $17,039. The 4-4-2 option alone was $2,577 alone.

    Contemporary testers were disappointed with the performance of the 4-4-2, particularly in comparison with its G-body sibling, Buick's turbocharged, V-6-powered Regal Grand National. But the passage of time has been quite kind to the 4-4-2, as enthusiasts have increasingly come to appreciate it for what it is: one of GM's last full-frame performance cars, and among the last to gulp its fuel through a four-barrel Quadrajet. If a car that offers exclusivity, the burble of V-8 power, assertive styling, a comfortable ride, room for friends and family, good mechanical parts availability and an affordable price tag sounds good to you, the 4-4-2 should be at the top of your list.

    "I do believe that you will start to see these G-body 4-4-2s creeping up in value, especially since Oldsmobile has been terminated from the GM lineup," said David Wicks, a model year advisor for 1985-'87 4-4-2s with the Oldsmobile Club of America. "Another reason why these cars will increase in value is because the 1964-'72 4-4-2s are now becoming priced out of the average muscle car enthusiast's wallet. However, I don't see these cars increasing in value as much as their close cousin, the Grand National. All in all, these rare G-body 4-4-2s are a great bang for your buck and will continue to increase in value as time goes on."


    The 4-4-2 was equipped with a high-output version of the General's 307-cu.in., 90-degree V-8, a mercenary of an engine that in its 10-year lifespan labored under the hoods of Buicks, Pontiacs, Chevrolets and Cadillacs, as well as nearly every model in the Oldsmobile lineup, from Cutlass to Toronado. The 307 featured an iron block and heads and a bore and stroke of 3.8 inches x 3.385 inches, producing 140hp at 4,000 rpm in workaday form. The 307 was the largest engine available in the Cutlass and its G-body siblings, and was equipped in all cases with a Rochester Quadrajet carburetor.

    Reaching into their bag of tricks, Oldsmobile engineers squeezed another 40 horsepower from the engine, in the process boosting torque up to a respectable 245 lbs.ft. at 3,200 rpm. Their go-faster modifications included a dual snorkel air cleaner, which was unique to the 4-4-2 and the 1983-84 Hurst/Olds Cutlass; an aluminum intake manifold; dual exhausts from the catalytic converter back; and a hotter, 0.440-lift camshaft-which also stirred some muscle car-ish lumps into the engine's idle.

    GM made one significant change to the 307 during the three years covered here: In mid-1985, new cylinder heads with a roller-lifter valvetrain were introduced. The earlier, flat-tappet heads, marked "5A" on the front, are preferred for their larger intake and exhaust ports; the later heads, marked "7A," were designed to increase the amount of swirl in the combustion chamber to improve mileage and emissions. The engines of some, but apparently not all, 4-4-2s built after mid-1985 had 7A heads; these are rated at 170hp at 4,000 rpm and 250-lbs.ft. of torque at 2,600 rpm.

    The engine's specialty was low- and mid-range torque, giving a satisfying push off the line but not too much after that. In 1985, the 4-4-2 was on an even horsepower footing with the Monte Carlo SS, with its 305-cu.in. L69 V-8, and gave up 20 horsepower to Buick's Regal Grand National, powered by a 3.8-liter Turbo V-6. But you wouldn't know it from Car and Driver's July 1985 comparison of the three G-bodies. The 4-4-2 managed 0-60 in 9.1 seconds, well behind the Grand National's 7.5 seconds and the Monte Carlo's 7.8 seconds. Things didn't improve further down the road, either: 100 mph came up after 31.3 seconds, while the Grand National and the SS turned the trick in 22.9 seconds and 25.6 seconds, respectively. The king of the drag strip it was not.

    Generally, the 307 is a reliable and durable unit. Some engines came out of the factory with egg-shaped cylinder bores, and burned oil; the cure is to have the out-of-round cylinders bored, and to fit oversized pistons. The aluminum intake manifold has been known to develop leaks where it mates with the iron heads; look for leaks at the front of the engine. A knock can mean a bad main bearing, but it can also be a cracked flex plate or loose bellhousing bolts. Also, you may hear the sound of detonation, because timing was advanced 20 degrees BTDC.


    Just one transmission was available, a THM-200-4R four-speed automatic with a lockup torque converter, using ratios of 2.74:1, 1.57:1, 1.00:1 and 0.67:1. The transmission was operated through a floor-mounted shifter in a console. Introduced for the 1982 model year, these transmissions were used across the GM lineup, and were continually refined and improved. THM-200-4Rs developed a reputation for durability, as long as their fluid has been changed on schedule and they haven't been subjected to abuse. There are any number of aftermarket modifications that can be done to beef the unit up for high-performance applications.

    The 4-4-2 lacked the flashy Lightning Rod triple-stick shift of its immediate predecessor, the Hurst/Olds, but installing one would be a straightforward, if expensive, job. Figure on $850 to $1,000 for the shift mechanism and the special top plate to finish it off.


    All 4-4-2s were equipped with 3.73:1 gearing, to help make the most of the engine's power off the line, and an optional limited-slip differential, to keep that power flowing in the right direction. With an 8.5-inch ring gear, it's a pretty sturdy unit. GM saddled some of its 307-equipped cars with gear ratios as high as 2.14:1, so the 3.73:1 differential, the lowest factory gearing available, is coveted today as a quick and easy way to attain better performance for these cars. Used units change hands for as much as $1,500, and it's not unheard-of for these to be scavenged from 4-4-2s that might otherwise be considered candidates for restoration.


    A big part of the reason behind the popularity of the Cutlass was its creamy ride, with handling willingly traded away in favor of comfort. Up front, unequal-length control arms were mated with coil springs and an anti-sway bar, while out back, coil springs, another anti-sway bar and four trailing links located the live axle. Figuring that 4-4-2 buyers might be more interested than most in getting around corners quickly, Oldsmobile equipped each with the upgraded F41 suspension package, with higher-rate springs all around, firm-ride shock absorbers in front with air shocks in the rear, and thicker anti-sway bars front and rear. Even so, the car is still somewhat boaty by modern standards. To further tighten things up, consider installing gas-charged shock absorbers, stiffer springs, thicker anti-sway bars and polygraphite bushings.

    One caution: Remember, these cars are around two decades old now. Carefully inspect the front end, and make sure that the ball joints, tie rod ends and other components that are subject to wear are in good shape.


    You're not expecting to find discs all around, are you? Good. Oldsmobile installed its tried-and-true, power-assisted disc/drum setup in the 4-4-2. The discs are 10.5 inches in diameter, and vented; the drums measure 9.5 inches. If you want more braking power, it's possible to swap the rotors for the 12-inch units from a 1988-92 Camaro; this requires the spindles to be changed over, and the installation of aftermarket control arms to keep the camber in spec, so it's not something you can do on your lunch hour. A much easier improvement is the use of carbon-metallic brake pads.



    The natural enemy of the G-body 4-4-2 is rust, with door bottoms and rear quarter panels the first to succumb. Ron Memmer, owner of Ron's Classic Cutlass in Monticello, Indiana, estimates that of 40 to 50 G-body parts cars in his yard, there is not a single useable door to be found. Instead, he gets his used doors from a supplier in the South, where the roads are free of salt. While door skins are available, the rust usually spreads to the interior structure of the door, making repairs much more difficult. The place to check is in the seam where the outer skin wraps around the inner structure; once rust has gotten a toehold here, "forget it, there's no hope," Memmer says. NOS door assemblies can be found, if you have $900 or so to spare. The same doors fit the Buick Regal, by the way. Rear quarters begin to rust where muck gets caught between the inner and outer fenders; by the time it becomes visible on the outside, it will already have spread. Replacement panels are not being produced, and NOS quarter panels sell for a breathtaking $2,000 to $2,500, so the only economical option is to weld in new metal to repair what remains, or find a good donor panel from a parts car. Other areas where rust can appear are around the T-top panel or sunroof opening on cars so equipped, in the floor pans and on the cowl below the windshield. Don't be tempted to buy a car that has rust in these areas, as you'll save yourself a lot of grief by holding out for a better example. Also, look for cracks where the door hinges are mounted to the body.

    Some owners like the look of the Hurst/Olds, and add the aerodynamic aids to their 4-4-2s. A front air dam will cost approximately $500 to $600, while the rear spoiler can be had for $375 in metal, and $650 in the original fiberglass. The Hurst hood scoop and molding will set you back an additional $375. One extremely rare option was the dealer-installed Hurst/Aero grand effects package. If you can find an original, uninstalled kit in gray gelcoat, expect to pay $2,000.


    4-4-2s were well equipped, with contoured front bucket seats, air conditioning, a sports console, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cut-pile carpeting and other creature comforts. These interiors tend to wear well, although velour upholstery is prone to developing bald spots, and the padded dash caps are prone to cracking, particularly in sunny regions of the country. Budget $500 to $600 for a good, used dash pad, or $700 to have the cracked pad refurbished. It pays to spend a little extra for a car with a good interior; NOS upholstery is very hard to find and, Memmer says, no one is producing replacement seat covers.

    Surprisingly, for a car produced in such limited numbers, interior accent trim varied from year to year, which means that replacement door panels must come from the same model year. The doors of 1985 cars had imitation burled wood, which switched to imitation woodgrain in 1986, and slate gray in 1987.

    Wheels & tires

    The 4-4-2's lines were set off perfectly by 15x7-inch chrome Super Sport wheels, with the center sections of the spokes painted gold. The 1983-'84 Hurst/Olds used the same wheels, with the centers painted silver. When GM discontinued the wheels, part number 22528518, in the early 1990s, they were selling for $1,000 a set; now, the going price is double that, if they can be found. Reproduction wheels are available, but the centers would have to be painted. If originality is not the goal, there are many, many wheels made to fit G-body cars.

    Restoration parts

    It may seem counterintuitive, but it's much harder to find NOS parts for a mid-1980s 4-4-2 than one from the '60s or early '70s, Memmer said. Over the years, GM cut back on the number of replacement parts it produced and sent to dealers, wanting to shed the costs associated with keeping back stock. At the same time, few independent parts suppliers were interested in stocking up on parts for the later generation cars: "If it wasn't from 1964-1972, they'd just turn up their noses and walk away. Not me." Because the 1985-'87 4-4-2 has yet to appear on the radar screens of reproduction parts suppliers, the best advice we can give is to snap up all the parts you need, or think you might need, as you find them.

    One terrific resource for the 4-4-2 restorer is the GM Heritage Center. How's this for a deal? Just call them at 800-222-1020 with your car's VIN, and they'll send you a boatload of information about your car. What's the cost, you ask? Bupkis. Nada. Zilch. Can't beat it.

    Performance parts

    Engine performance upgrades are limited; Oldsmobile already did a pretty good job of doing what could be done easily. In fact, the easiest way to better performance is through an engine swap. The 350-cu.in. and 403-cu.in. V-8s are the same externally, which means you'll be able to use the same accessories and even the same engine computer. If you fall into the hooligan category, well, don't worry-a 455-cu.in. V-8 can be made to fit. Just make sure that you hold onto that Code 9 drivetrain.

    Owner's View

    When did his love for Oldsmobiles begin? Steven Sorah thinks it must have been when, as a little boy, he gazed at his neighbor's red 1969 4-4-2 convertible. "I've just been an Oldsmobile nut all my life," he confessed. About 10 years ago, he started looking for a black-over-silver 4-4-2, a car he had longed for but couldn't afford when it was introduced in 1985. Through a local shopper, he discovered our feature car, a Medium Gray Metallic coupe that had lived a pampered life. Box-stock and as clean as you'll find, the car was waiting just 15 miles from Sorah's home in Cambridge City, Indiana.

    Sorah is one of 100 licensed hypnotists in the U.S.-no, he can't make you cluck like a chicken, but he can help improve your sports performance through relaxation techniques. His full-time job is inspecting houses for Wayne County, Indiana, so he knows how lucky he is to have found the 4-4-2-he sees fewer cars stashed away in garages every day.

    Sorah also has a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger 340, his first car, while his wife has a 1987 Pontiac Trans Am GTA-he appreciates the 4-4-2 for its style, comfort and scarcity. "When I bought the car, I didn't realize how rare it is with the Astroroof," he said. "It's comfortable-I'm used to driving the modern cars now. Compared to the Trans Am, it's more family oriented-the car seat won't fit in the Trans Am." Speaking of that car seat, their 2-year-old son, Presley, loves riding in the 4-4-2, Sorah said. "When I kick down into that four-barrel, he says, 'More!'"

    1985-'87 Oldsmobile 4-4-2

    Year Low Avg High

    1985: $2,800 $3,200 $5,500

    1986: $2,800 $3,200 $5,500

    1987: $3,500 $4,000 $6,600

    Parts Prices

    Air cleaner, dual snorkel (used)$250

    Battery tray....................$28

    Brake master cylinder...........$127

    Carpet set......................$140

    Dashboard cap (used)............$600

    Door assembly (NOS).............$900

    Door weatherstrip set...........$56

    Fender, front (NOS).............$350

    Headliner fabric................$35

    Pedal pad kit, three-piece......$18

    Power window switches...........$32


    Sill plate set..................$72

    Striping kit (reproduction).....$395

    Striping kit (NOS)..............$1,000

    T-top weatherstripping..........$120

    Transmission crossmember (used).$60

    Wheel stripe kit................$25

    Wheels (reproduction) (ea.).....$156

    Wheels (OEM) (ea.)..............$496
    Club Scene

    Oldsmobile Club of America
    PO Box 80318
    Lansing, MI 48908
    Dues: $30/year; Membership: 6,500

    Olds Gmail.com
    Hosts the Oldsmobile G-Body Mailing List, dedicated to 1978-'88 G-body cars
    Dues: none; Membership: 325

  2. TriShield

    TriShield International Moderator Super Moderator

    Jul 6, 2001
    Likes Received:
    My second favorite G-body behind the Grand National/GNX, damn fine looking muscle cars begging for a 455 swap and Hotchkis suspension. :bowdown:
  3. MrBonus

    MrBonus Blue in Green

    Sep 29, 2001
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    My step-brother had one. It was a cool car until he wrecked it while drunk in high school.

    FULL-REV OT Supporter

    Oct 15, 2003
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    New York
    my dad had a monte
  5. TriShield

    TriShield International Moderator Super Moderator

    Jul 6, 2001
    Likes Received:
    The last one I looked at was a '83 Hurst/Olds with 9,000 original miles. $16k. The asking price probably wasn't too far out of whack, especially now. :hs:
  6. xxpanipuri

    xxpanipuri Gideeyup Motherfuckers....

    Dec 28, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Silicon Valley, CA
    parents bought two olds' growing up

    87 delta 88 royale brougham (the brougham had the plusher seats) he special ordered it in dec of 86 and got it in march of 87
    platinum silver with dark blue interior...all the options... digital dash cluster/delux 6 speaker delco am/fm cassette/power windows/locks/steering/brakes accessory lighting package which when you pressed the door handle when the car was locked it lit up the inside including the key hole...so you can unlock the car with the key the car also talked!!! :) when you left the headlights on/key in the igntion/low fuel etc etc...oh and cruise control
    3.6 liter (i believe multiport fuel injection) and air suspension to (auto load levelling)

    and a week after we picked that beast up my parents bought a 1987 cutlass cruiser wagon brand new as well with the 2.8 liter v6 cassette player and 3rd row seat

    both were pretty good cars

    we sold the cutlass wagon in 96 for 2500 with 120k miles on it and it still ran great....

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