Oldsmobile 442

Technical Page

W Codes


B-09: Sure, start with an option that doesn't begin with W! Since this option code designated the very first 442 in 1964, this is the perfect place to start. The 442 actually started life as the Police Pursuit package. Which, believe it or not, resulted in 10 4-door 442s being built (no word on whether these were known as 4442s). Anyway, what this code got the buyer was a 330 cubic-inch V8 with a 4-bbl carb (rated at 310 horsepower), a 4-speed transmission and dual exhaust -- hence the name (4-bbl, 4-speed, dual exhaust). Also thrown in the mix was higher rate springs, front and (surprisingly) rear sway bars and heavy-duty cooling.

L-69: Stay with us, there are some W-codes coming up! This option specified the 400 cubic-inch Tri-Carb V8 in 1966. Rated at 360 horsepower, the Tri-Carb engine was only available in 442s. This engine was also the basis of the W-30 performance package that debuted in '66, although W-30 Tri-Carb engines got different camshafts and a unique Force-Air air cleaner setup. Since the kill-joys in GM management banned multiple carburetors after 1966 (except on the Corvette), the L-69 Tri-Carb engine was a one-year only animal with some 2,129 being produced.

L-78: After 1964, those wanting the 442 actually checked off this box (except for those ordering the '66 Tri-Carb 442, in which case they checked L-69). The lucky buyer got all the heavy-duty chassis components found on the '64 model, along with a 400 cubic-inch, 350-horse V8 and the requisite 442 identification. Oh, an automatic transmission was made available in '65, which was also the first year for the 400 engine, which meant 442 now stood for 400, 4-bbl, dual exhaust.

W-25: Now, that's more like it...a W-code. Buyers who checked this box from 1970-72 got the twin-scoop Force-Air hood and air cleaner setup. The fiberglass hood included special chrome-plated hood locks at the front, and the long, tasteful scoops made for one of the best looking cold-air hoods in the business. The air cleaner was surrounded by a foam seal that pressed against the underside of the hood when closed, thereby sealing the air cleaner to the hood. The upper air cleaner lid sported a unique flapper door that was controlled by a vacuum solenoid, and when the throttle was nailed the solenoid opened the door, thereby allowing cool air from the hood scoops into the air cleaner. During normal operation, the air cleaner breathed through twin snorkels.

W-26: First available in 1970, this code specified the Hurst Dual Gate automatic shifter and special console with a lighted map pocket. The Dual Gate shifter had two modes. The first worked like a standard automatic shifter. When the second gate was opened (hence the name), manual shifting of the automatic could take place with special detents that prevented over-shifting into the next gear or neutral. In '68 and '69 the shifter was only available on the special edition Hurst/Olds, and in 1970 it became a regular production option for the rest of the Cutlass line.

W-27: Undoubtedly one of the more exotic W-options, this code specified an aluminum rear-axle housing and cover in 1970. The assembly reportedly weighed some 22 pounds less than the normal cast-iron unit, which reduced unsprung weight and improved the already class-leading handling of the 442. The housing also reduced the rear axle operating temperature an average of 20 degrees. The extra cooling was attributed to the additional pint or so of lube carried in the housing, and from the many cooling fins cast into the aluminum inspection cover. This option was only available on W-30, W-31 and W-32 equipped cars (more on these options later). For 1971-72, the aluminum housing was dropped and the W-27 option consisted of the cast-aluminum inspection cover only.

W-29: From 1966 to 1971, the 442 was its own model. In 1972, the 442 once again became an option on the Cutlass, and this was the code specified by the buyer when a 442 was ordered. This additional step may be one of the reasons 442 sales dropped off so dramatically for this year. (That and the small fortune it required to insure a muscle car by this time.)

W-30: The biggie -- without question the most famous of all the W-codes. The W-30 performance package turned the already good-performing 442 into a true street hero. This option actually debuted in 1966 as a way for Oldsmobile to become competitive in organized drag racing. The '66 W-30 got a much healthier, blueprinted Tri-Carb 400 engine, a trunk-mounted battery and the very first Force-Air system that routed air from bumper-mounted scoops to a sealed air cleaner. Only 54 factory assembled W-30 442s were built in 1966, although as many as 100 dealer-converted "Track-Pac" cars were assembled. True to Olds engineer's wishes, the '66 W-30 442 won NHRA's C/Stock eliminator title in that year. 1967-72 W-30 cars continued the hot-rod tradition with unique drivetrain specs and Force-Air systems, and from '67-71 all wore the trademark red inner fenders. Space prevents us from listing all the goodies that came with the W-30 over the years, but rest assured not many other supercars wanted to tangle with a W-30 442 at a stoplight or the drag strip.

W-31: Think of this as the W-30's little brother. By 1968, the insurance industry had started to crack down on the escalating horsepower wars taking place in Detroit. Big-block muscle cars were increasingly more difficult and expensive to insure, so Olds had the bright idea of packing a big-block punch in a small-block package -- and the W-31 was born. Olds based the option on a 325-horse 350, and added the W-30 Force-Air system. Known as the "Ram Rod 350", this little monster sported a big bore and short stroke which begged to be revved. '68 W-31 buyers could have any transmission they wanted as long as it was a manual box, and manual brakes were also the only stoppers fitted to the junior supercar. 1969-70 models could be had with automatic transmissions, but the manual binders were still the only brake choice available. Also in 1970, the intake manifold on the Ram Rod 350 was cast from aluminum instead of iron. Many a big-block car saw the W-31's tail lights through these years.

W-32: Available in '69 and '70, with each year having a distinct flavor. The '69 W-32 option was available only on the 442, and Olds called it their "street use" package. It consisted of a 350-horse 400 engine (actually the manual-trans 442 engine) combined with a Turbo 400 automatic, heavy-duty cooling and a limited-slip rear axle. Also included was the W-42 hood stripe option (explained later) and the W-30 Force-Air system. For 1970, option code W-32 created one of the all-time great street-sleepers of the muscle car era. Basically, this code resulted in the 442 drivetrain, which included the 365-horse 455 and dual exhausts, stuffed into the new-for-'70 "formal roof" Cutlass Supreme body style. A Turbo 400 automatic was the only trans offered. With Cutlass Supreme styling and the understated SX ornamentation wrapped around a 442 heart, the SX had to be Olds' ultimate Q-ship. By the way, the SX package became option code Y-79 in 1971, the only other year it was offered.

W-35: What would a muscle car be without a spoiler -- or better yet -- a big rear wing? Oldsmobile obliged the Rocket faithful from 1970-72 with the W-35 rear wing option. Available only on the "fastback" body style, this pedestal-mounted fiberglass wing (Olds actually called it a spoiler) spanned the entire rear width of the trunk lid and was always painted body color. The factory claimed a traction increase at high speed with the wing in place...just in case you were having trouble with excessive tire spin around 100 or so...

W-42: Along with scoops and wings comes stripes. In 1969, this code gave the buyer accent stripes around the twin-bulge Rally hood. These stripes were standard on '69 W-30, W-31 and W-32-equipped cars.

W-45: This is another option code that represents two entirely different packages in different years. In 1968 and 1969, the W-45 code denoted a Hurst/Olds without air conditioning. (W-46 was the code for an H/O with A/C, OK?) The Hurst/Olds was a collaboration between Oldsmobile and Hurst Performance that resulted in some truly exciting cars. All H/Os received the new-for-'68 455 V8 (a seemingly flagrant violation of GM's 400-inch limit for intermediates) treated to the W-30 Force-Air system and red inner fenders along with exclusive use of the previously mentioned Hurst Dual Gate shifter. '68 models were silver and black, while '69s were Hurst Gold and white. In 1970, the W-45 option created the Rallye 350, which was perhaps the most visually exciting car ever built by Oldsmobile. Cloaked entirely in searing Sebring Yellow paint, the Rallye 350 somewhat followed the W-31 gameplan in that it offered much of the traditional big-inch muscle car flash with the insurance-agent-pleasing small-block engine. The engine itself was a 310-horse 350 fed by the W-25 twin-scoop hood and the W-30 Force-Air system. The FE2 Sport suspension featured higher rate springs, special shock absorbers and sway bars on both ends for exemplary handling characteristics. Also included was the W-35 rear wing, the Custom-Sport 4-spoke steering wheel and trumpeted exhaust tips that exited through cutouts in the rear bumper (ala 442). But it was the monochromatic paint treatment that screamed "look at me!" The paint, available only on this car, was accented by black and orange stripes on the hood and around the back window, with Rallye 350 decals on the rear quarters. The bumpers were covered in a special matching yellow urethane finish, and even the Super Stock wheels received the bright yellow treatment. This was certainly not the car for wallflowers. Somewhere around 3,500 Rallye 350s found homes in 1970, the only year it was offered.

There were other W-codes offered for cars outside the A-body line, most notably the W-33 Delta 88 Performance Package and the W-34 Toronado GT option, but their stories will have to be told another time. And by no means are we saying that Olds performance was limited to the muscle car period of the '60s and early '70s. The J-2 Rocket of the mid-'50s was arguably the most successful performance Oldsmobile of all time. But for us, anyway, Dr. Olds' famous W-machines, and the hardware that made them great, are without doubt symbols of the most exciting period in Oldsmobile's 100-year history.

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