The History Of The 1968-1984 Hurst/Olds, Detroit's Classiest Muscle Car
Hurst is a name forever linked to the golden age of muscle cars. George Hurst's company produced a long list of performance parts for both factory models as well as aftermarket installation, becoming most famous for their shifters which were quickly adopted as the coolest gear selectors on the street and strip by an entire generation of gearheads.
Hurst worked closely with a number of automakers in the 1960s and 1970s (opening the Hurst Performance Center in 1965 to facilitate business with as many Detroit-based brands as possible), but its most long-lasting relationship was with Oldsmobile. In fact, Hurst Performance didn't just manufacture parts for Olds, it also ended up producing an entire series of special models that carried its name.
The Hurst/Olds stayed on the scene from the glory days of the muscle machine era all the way to the early '80s, and in doing so helped establish a legend that still carries weight with enthusiasts today.
Breaking All The Rules
The very first Hurst/Olds appeared in 1968, and it was based on Oldsmobile's most popular high performance option, the 442. At the time, the company was finding it tough to compete against luminaries like the Hemi-powered Dodge Charger and the Chevrolet Chevelle SS, and it wanted to spice up the already potent coupe with a special model that could command more respect—and a higher price—from buyers.
Hurst had originally approached Pontiac about producing a special model, as the division was chafing under GM's corporate policy restricting engine size in mid-size cars, which were the very heart of the muscle car business. George Hurst proposed taking delivery of engineless Firebirds from Pontiac, installing big blocks, and then returning them to dealerships as an end-run around the rules.
Rebuffed by GM brass, Hurst made a similar offer to Oldsmobile, which didn't have to deal with interference from Chevrolet (whose efforts to protect the Camaro from a Hurst-tuned Firebird had scuttled the deal with Pontiac), as the Cutlass was a more direct competitor to the GTO.
By 1968 the ink was dry and the Hurst/Olds was born from the bones of the all-new 442-based Cutlass coupe.
The package was intimidating. Out went the 400 cubic inch V8 found in the 442 and in its place was a 455 cubic inch unit that flagrantly defied GM's displacement limit. There were two different packages offered in the Hurst/Olds, the W-46 and the W-45. Although both were rated at 390 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque, the W-45 featured better heads borrowed from the 442's W-30 performance package, as well as a hotter camshaft. The car came with the same suspension setup as the sporty 442, but was technically its own model, and didn't wear any 442 badging.
What else went into making the Hurst/Olds special? Each car was loaded with comfort features, which helped them to stand apart from more stripped down muscle cars on the lot, and they also came with a unique 'Peruvian Silver' paint job with black striping, a cold air intake that inhaled oxygen from underneath the front bumper, and of course Hurst's Dual-Gate shifter for the available automatic gearbox (which allowed for manual control over upshifts). Cars without air conditioning (AKA those that received the W-45 engine) also boasted a 3.91 rear axle ratio.
A Surprise Hit
Demand soon outstripped supply, and while just over 500 Hurst/Olds models were built for 1968 by Demmer Engineering, which had picked up the assembly contract for the cars, dealers easily had orders for four times as many from curious customers. This guaranteed a follow-up for the 1969 model year, one that simplified engine offerings down to a single 455 (dubbed the W-46) that dropped 10 hp compared to the year before.
Although still very quick, with a more luxury feel from its modest heads and not-as-lumpy camshaft, the 1969 Hurst/Olds opened up some breathing room between it and the 442, which continue to offer the W-30 package. That wasn't the only 'breathing' update made to the car, as the Hurst/Olds also gained enormous nostrils on the hood to go with its white-and-gold paint scheme.
Production of the Hurst/Olds almost doubled in 1969, but the relatively expensive price tag of the vehicle put it out of the wheelhouse of the younger drag racers its extroverted looks spoke to. Then came the loosening of the reigns at General Motors that saw companies free to go all-in on big blocks for 1970, which meant that Oldsmobile no longer had to take advantage of its Hurst loophole to create a potent version of the cheaper 442.
Things were changing at Hurst, too, and with the company's founding partners out of the picture, the new leadership under the banner of appliance giant Sunbeam Products turned away from its core business of building hardcore performance parts in favor of cheaper accessories and dress-up items. By the time the Hurst/Olds made it back into the line-up in 1972, muscle car madness was on its death bed and the new decade saw automakers grappling with pollution controls and rising fuel and insurance costs.
The revived 1972 Hurst/Olds took the form of the pace car for that year's Indianapolis 500, a vehicle that was sold as a replica to the public. A neutered 455 V8 featuring an SAE NET 270 hp (although another 30 horses were available via the W-30 option), and the car delivered a gold-and-white livery with Indy 500 pace car call-outs on the doors.
It was a preview of things to come for the Hurst/Olds, which moved more firmly into the luxury cruiser category with each subsequent model year. A mechanically-identical version of the car followed for '73 (wrapped in the redesigned Cutlass body), while in 1974 the Hurst/Olds was down-sized under the hood to a modest 350 cubic inches unless buyers ticked the box for the 455 at ordering time (with 100 Oldsmobile Delta 88 convertibles also offered in Hurst/Olds trim to commemorate their pace car performance).
By 1975, the Hurst/Olds was prioritizing 'Hurst/Hatch' T-tops and graphics over anything resembling straight-line speed, although a cat-choked 455 remained on the options sheet. Strong overall Cutlass sales had buoyed Hurst/Olds numbers, and this car's 2,535 examples represented the high water mark for the '70s run.
An '80s Renaissance
There were two remaining Hurst/Olds models that emerged before the two companies parted ways for good. The G-body revitalized GM's mid-size coupe offerings at the end of the decade, and in 1979 the Hurst/Olds revived its T-tops as an appearance package for the 350-equipped Oldsmobile Cutlass, leaning heavily on its gold paint heritage (which was laid over white or black). Rated at 160 hp, it was the mightiest Oldsmobile on offer.
After selling nearly 2,500 of these meeker models, three years later the Hurst/Olds returned with T-tops, the hottest 307 cubic inch V8 Oldsmobile had in the catalogue, and the radical 'Lightning Rods,' a three-stick shifter for the car's standard automatic transmission.
1983 cars were sold in black with silver accents and red striping, while in 1984 silver was the dominant color with black accents.
Despite not offering quite the same level of performance as the Ford Mustang GT of the same era, sales were strong, with more than 3,000 Hurst/Olds sold each year, but bickering over the price of licensing the Hurst name caused Oldsmobile to remove the badge in 1985 and simply adopt 442 branding in its place.
It was the official end of a decade and a half of history between two giants of automotive performance. Hurst's aftermarket business continues to this day, but Oldsmobile was already on its way out of the go-fast game, with the late-'90s Aurora arriving a little too late to save the brand from being sunsetted by General Motors. Today, the Hurst/Olds cars serve as an intriguing alternative to better-known muscle car options, combining both speed and scarcity to entice collectors.