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1961-1977 Cutlass, F-85, 4-4-2

1961 cutlassAn invasion of compact, inexpensive small cars arrived from Europe in the late 1950s and Americans’ enthusiasm was strong enough to scramble forces in Detroit. Chevrolet’s counter was the Corvair, while the other lieutenants in the General’s camp responded with more conventional compacts, with the 1961 Oldsmobile Cutlass part of the infantry.

The Cutlass was the top trim line of the all-new F-85 compact – a two-tier sales strategy shared with the Pontiac Tempest and up-level LeMans and Buick Special/Skylark. They all shared a common, unibody platform, but used their own powertrains, with Olds’ distinction a new, all-aluminum 215-cubic-inch V-8.

1964 f-85 cutlassAs compacts from all American manufacturers poured into the market, it saturated and the Olds/Pontiac/Buick trio exited the segment by the end of 1963. The F-85 and Cutlass names lived on with the move to GM’s new full-frame “intermediate”-sized platform known as the A-body in 1964. They grew about 3 inches in wheelbase, more than a foot in length and put on about 300 pounds. Part of the weight increase came from a new 330-inch iron-block V-8 that replaced the aluminum engine. 

The ’64 model year was also the first for the 4-4-2 muscle car – named for its four-barrel car, four-speed transmission and dual exhaust features. It was based on the F-85 police package, with a 310-hp version of the 330 V-8 and heavy-duty suspension. A larger, 400-cubic-inch engine would find its way in to the 4-4-2 in 1965, including an optional 3×2-carbureted version, and from there, the buildup of horsepower would rise with the whole muscle car market through the end of the decade.

Hurst So Good

1968 4-4-2 convertibleThe unique 1968 Hurst/Olds was based on the 4-4-2, but featured Olds’ 455 V-8. The company skirted GM’s edict about large-displacement engines in intermediate cars by letting people infer the engines were installed by Hurst, but that wasn’t the case. Hurst performed the basic cosmetic conversion near Olds’ Lansing, Mich., assembly plant, but the 455 engines were installed on the assembly line.

Not surprisingly, the big-displacement Hurst/Olds was quick – capable of 13-second ETs – and quickly sold out – although only 515 were built, demand more than outstripped supply. The H/O retuned in 1969 in greater numbers, wearing a distinctive gold-over-white paint scheme and a large, twin-nostril hood scoop that would make it one of the most overt factory performers of the era. 

1970 cutlass 4-2-2The muscle car era peaked in 1970 and Oldsmobile went all in, dropping the 400 engine from the 4-4-2 in favor of the big-torque 455. The Hurst/Olds disappeared from the lineup, but it would return for future model years – although the Hurst shifters remained optional. A little-known SX option for hardtops and convertibles offered a 455 engine, as well.

Evolution of the Intermediates

When GM reinvented the A-body-based intermediates for 1973 with the more formal “Colonnade” design, the Cutlass and 4-4-2 went along for the ride, but the F-85 was retired.  Although the era of high-compression, big horsepower was over, the Cutlass lineup – including the performance-oriented 4-4-2 option package – really came into its own in the 1970s. By 1976 it took over as the country’s overall sales leader and Olds moved more than 650,000 in 1977, which brought the total from the 1973 redesign to more than 2.15 million.

Another dramatic redesign of the A-body platform came in 1978, with downsized models for all GM brands, and the Cutlass remained America’s best-selling car through most of the 1980s. The fate of the Cutlass and Oldsmobile couldn’t have been foreseen in those days of market domination, but the car that started inauspiciously as a compact lives on as a true classic and a reminder of a once-glorious brand’s best years.

As one of the industry’s largest restoration suppliers, Original Parts Group offers thousands of parts and accessories for 1961-63 and 1964-77 A-body F-85, Cutlass and 4-4-2 models, with new parts added daily. Our extensive catalog offers nearly everything from sheet metal, chrome and upholstery to engine parts and the hard-to-find details to finish a restoration with show-winning attention to detail. Shop online or order your OPGI Cutlass parts catalog today.

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