Hurst Olds History
In 1968, GM had a corporate edict that forbade the installation of any engine larger than 400 cubic inches in an intermediate body. Thus, the 442 had a 400, the Chevelle a 396 and the GTO a 389. Shifter mogul George Hurst had a '68 442 that he had swapped an Olds 455 into, and found the swap to be not only successful, but relatively simple. Not only was there an increase in power, but the 455 actually weighed less then the 400 it replaced, so the 442's legendary handling remained intact. George's right-hand man, Jack "Doc" Watson, took the idea of the engine swap a few steps further, adding special paint, a Hurst shifter, engine modifications, and a walnut dash applique, and the Hurst/Olds was born.
The first Hurst/Olds was almost a sleeper. Sedate looking in its silver and black paint scheme, it was far from sedate acting with 390 horsepower nestling under the hood. Based on the already potent 442, the H/O featured a special Toronado-only paint color, Peruvian silver, accented with black stripes and a black trunk. The 442's 400 was replaced with a hot-rodded 455 from the Toronado, which featured big-valve heads, lumpy cam, specially modified carb and distributor, and the W30's ram air induction system, with twin scoops under the front bumper. Air conditioned cars lost 10 horsepower, but still, the "gentleman's hot rod" was able to show its taillights to most competitors. A unique feature found on the '68 was the red plastic inner fender liners, which were slipped into the package by Olds boss John Beltz. On the inside, the '68 featured a walnut inlay on the dash panel and a short plastic console that housed the Hurst Dual Gate shifter. Production started on the cars late in the model year, and was handled by Demmer Engineering in Lansing, MI. Demmer had only about 30 days to convert the planned run of 500 cars. Olds had thousands of orders it couldn't fill, and the production run was finally upped to 515 to accomodate a Lansing area Olds dealer who demanded more cars. The '68 was a success by any standard, and would pave the way for a long relationship between Oldsmobile Division and Hurst Performance.
The H/O returned for '69, moving to the opposite end of the spectrum from it's silver older brother. This year, the car went wild with Cameo white paint, Hurst Fire Frost gold stripes and panels, and a monster "mailbox" hood scoop and functional rear wing. The fiberglass hood-mounted scoop provided better airflow than the under-bumper scoops used in '68. Specific 15" chrome wheels with Goodyear Polyglas GT tires put 7 inches of tire to the pavement. Motor Trend magazine dubbed the '69 "The Hairiest Oldsmobile". Mechanically, it shared the '68s drivetrain, except the 380-horse engine was the only engine available. High 13 second times in showroom trim were possible, and slicks and headers could get the car into the 12s. Just about every convenience option that was available on the 442 was available on the H/O, giving the owner a range of equipment and luxury options not generally found on musclecars of the era. Two convertibles and 912 hardtops were built. Fast and flashy, the '69 has the highest profile of all the H/Os.
In 1971, a local Dodge dealer wrecked the Indy 500 pace car coming into the pits after the pace lap. Because of that, manufacturers were reluctant to participate in the Indy pace car program for 1972. Hurst stepped forward with the '72 H/O, and the Hurst/Olds became an Indy pace car for the first time. The '70s were a time of change, and the H/O reflected the times, becoming more luxurious and less powerful. The Cutlass Supreme hardtop or convertible were used for the basic platforms, but a 455 engine was still specified, along with the W25 fiberglass hood and Dual Gate shifter. Cameo white was again the only color choice, but the gold paint was replaced with reflective gold decals that really lit up at night. Hardtop versions came with a unique padded vinyl roof, and a power sunroof was an option. There were even a few Vista Cruiser station wagons made up in pace car trim for use by the medical staff at the track. The '72 is the lowest producion of all H/Os, with 130 convertibles, 499 hardtops, 220 of the hardtops were sunroof-equipped, for a total production run of 629.
GM's intermediates had new sheet metal for '73, and the H/O took advantage of the new fluid lines beautifully. For the first time, two colors were offered, Cameo white and Ebony black, both with gold accents. An even more heavily-padded vinyl roof was part of the package, which made the quarter windows smaller for a striking effect. Rather large chrome exhaust tips exited under the rear bumper, and BF Goodrich's new Radial T/A tires were used. The big 455 mill was still offered, in two states of tune, depending on whether air conditioning was ordered. Even though emissions regulations and fuel economy concerns were wreaking havoc with musclecars, the H/O still packed a respectable punch. The 455 still put out enough torque to lead a magazine tester of the time to call it "The H/O Locomotive". Still an exclusive vehicle, only 1097 were produced.
Olds returned to the Brickyard again in 1974, for the third time in five years. And for the second time in three years as a Hurst/Olds. For the first time, a 350 V8 could be ordered, and was mandatory for California-bound cars. The 455 was still available, but emissions and fuel economy concerns were taking their toll. White and black were again the two color choices, and a roof band split the vinyl top in two at the B pillar to simulate the targa top on the actual pace car. Production was up some, with 1800 being produced. But, in a unique one-time deviation, there were also approximately 100 H/O conversions done on 1974 Delta 88 convertibles. They were all basically stock cars with white paint and H/O trim, but they are a striking vehicle and quite rare today. In addition, Speedway owner Tony Hulman requested a specially modified Cutlass Salon 4 door sedan for his own personal use, and it was built by Oldsmobile, but appeared at the track with H/O graphics applied. 1974 was indeed an unusual year for H/O watchers.
T-tops were the coming thing in the mid-70s and the H/O's Hurst Hatches marked one of the first uses of T-tops on a production car. Convertible A-bodies disappeared in '73, and the T-tops were the next best thing. White and black again were offered, but for the first time, vinyl roofs could be mixed or matched, depending on the customer's preference. A white roof could be ordered on a black car, and vice versa. Both 350 and 455 cubic inch V8s were offered, and in a sign of the times, more 350s were sold than 455s. Suspension and tire technology were improving, and the '75 H/O provided a good balance between ride and handling. This year also marked another increase in sales, with 2535 units produced.
After a 3 year hiatus, the H/O returned in '79 on GM's newly downsized Cutlass body. The first H/O to be built entirely by Oldsmobile Division, it was also the first H/O that did not offer a 455 engine. But it was the only GM A-body to offer a 350 V8 in '79. White and black again were the color choices, but with a wider choice of interior trims than ever before. Gold paint covered the hood, most of the top, and the very rear of the trunk. The aluminum wheels were also painted gold, along with the grille. At $2054 for the conversion, it was the most expensive H/O ever, but even so, sales held steady at 2499 units.
Once again, 3 years passed before the introduction of the next H/O. For it's 15th Anniversary Edition, the '83 H/O came only in black with silver rocker panels. Chrome 15" wheels fitted Goodyear GT tires, and a power bulge hood and rear spoiler gave the car a purposeful look. A modified version of Oldsmobile's 307 CID V8 was installed, along with 3.73 gears and Hurst's radical Lightning Rods shifter. Dual exhausts with rumbling mufflers meant there was no mistaking the H/O for a garden variety Cutlass. A new style "Hurst/Olds" emblem was introduced, and red and silver stripes separated the black and silver paint. Demand for the car was very strong. Originally, 2500 units were scheduled to be produced, but Olds had to up that number to 3000 because of high demand. That may have been a factor in bringing the H/O back for '84. The paint scheme was reversed, with silver being the main body color, and black on the rocker panels. In every other respect, the '84 was identical to the '83.
The Hurst/Olds story took an unusual twist in '88. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Hurst/Olds, four 1988 H/Os were built on the last rear wheel drive Cutlass platform. The four actual H/Os were built by Doc Watson, and each was unique, to suit the personality of it's owner. Then, the aero kits that were used in the conversion were made available to the general public. These kits consisted of fiberglass ground effects packages that could be installed on any '81 - '88 Cutlass. However, only the kits that were installed on 1988 models were permitted to be badged as a 20th anniversary Hurst/Olds. Kits installed on prior year vehicles are called Hurst/Aero cars. The number of kits produced is not known, but is thought to be low enough to make it one of the rarest of all the H/Os.
There were 10 years that H/Os were built out of 21, from 1968 thru 1988. During those 9 production runs, less than 16,000 total cars were built. Compare that to 30,000 442s built in a single model year, and you will see that the Hurst/Olds is a rare car indeed. Their unique history and combination of luxury and performance make them a topic of conversation wherever they go. For better or for worse, it is not likely that we will see a new Hurst/Olds ever again.
Production numbers and other information for this page was taken from The Hurst Heritage by Robert Lichty and Terry Boyce.
Many thanks to the Hurst Olds Club of America for giving us permission to borrow the text of this page.