As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I love a good quirky car. And a recent "future classic" post reminded me about another car in a similar vein. In fact, it was made the same year as my beloved Audi. But that post about the cobalt SS irked me a lot. You see, that wasn't the first time that the general did something like that to a FWD sport compact. In fact, I'd argue that they basically carried on the omni/charger GLH(s) tradition with this car. And reading the comments of that post, I saw all manner of quirky and rare machinery represented - The first gen neon ACR, the citation X-11, the original Focus ST we got here in the US, the escort ZX2 S/R, and so on and so forth.......And STILL no one mentioned this beast. So I bear it on myself to bring to you, the original GM pocket rocket in its full alphabet soup form - The 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Quad 442 W41.
What's in a name?
Okay, let's break this down a bit. The oldsmobile cutlass calais was oldsmobile's N-body entry level model in the 80s. Apparently it was sold as just "Calais" for a few model years, but this had the cutlass tag in 1991 and that's the year we're interested in. Using the 442 tag might be sacrelige but it indicates a very powerful motor under the hood. The "Quad 4" engine was gaining steam in GM's lineup at the time. A 180hp, naturally aspirated 2.3L 4 banger.....It was a bit like the yamaha V6 in the Taurus SHO at the time - ridiculously fast for what it was but for the love of all that was holy, keep up on maintenance and repairs. My dad first started getting into being a GM technician in the early 90s after being a VW/Audi/Porsche tech in the 80s.....The results of skipping your 30/45/60k etc checks were NOT pretty. I don't remember the exact interval he said but the number in my head is 40k or 50k between timing belt services? Basically an unreasonably short time for a four cylinder motor meant for an econobox. But you bought it for the 180hp, not to have a base model calais! And actually, if you checked the 'W41' box, you got 190 hp and a 7400rpm redline. Due to a few parts upgrades and some general badassery, the calais with the W41 442 combination was a mini muscle car that surprisingly looked the part and managed to keep "GM Performance" relevant in the oldsmobile division.
A homologation special.....from Oldsmobile?!?!?!
You read that title right, oldsmobile made this particular car as a homologation special. The W41 package came with modified gear ratios and an oil cooler in addition to the power increases in the engine. Why? Well they wanted to make sure that the oldsmobile quad 4s were competitive in SCCA racing......I'll give you a moment to pick your jaw off the floor and let the picture below do the talking. It is glorious. Simply glorious. Sadly only 204 road cars were made, and 7 were earmarked for race cars before they even left the factory so they were essentially cars in white.
Why was it forgotten?
Well they only made 204 W41s so obviously hands on experiences with one are limited. But besides the W41,they did make the quad 4 powered calais for a few years. It ranged from 150hp all the way to 180 in non-W41 form. The quad 4 lived on in high putput form in cars like the achieva SC/SCX, the grand am GT, and the beretta. But to me, its best home will always be in the calais 442 W41.
Why should I remember it?
Because the comments for this car when it featured in a NPoCP are ridiculous. All the complaints about it not being a muscle car and questioning its performance. Yes, it is not a point and squirt muscle car, it is a sport compact that can also pull a 1/4 mile in the mid to high 14s. The "muscle cars" of that same time period couldn't do much better.
In all seriousness, if we're going to remember the cobalt SS and neon SRT-4 as performance compacts from America, then we need to remember their inspirations. The SRT-4's heritage is linked directly back to the tuned shelbys of the late 80s and the Spirit R/T. The cobalt SS? Well it owes a lot more to the calais 442 W41 than people seem to realize. The racing victories, the brutal focus on speed, and a development program that was far better than it had any right to be...... And somehow, in the 'modern' era, people act surprised when chevrolet releases a sport compact with a high power output. A lot of magazines made note of the original Cobalt SS making 200hp (on par with the GTI mark V) and then the turbo version making 260hp with their forced induction engines. But to me, that shouldn't have come as a surprise. The Omni GLHS, Charger GLHS, and Spirit R/T from chrysler showed the world that compacts from America need not be slow and boring. And in a perfect world, we would hold the calais 442 W41 on the same level for making similar power levels as the supercharged cobalt SS almost 15 years before. Plus....well just look at it!
If you know someone who has one, ask for a ride. And if they let you drive it, you are held by a code of honor to help them fix it when it breaks. And it will break. But you will love it anyways. The 1991 Olsmobile Cutlass Calais 442 W41 - It WAS your father's oldsmobile, his brawny, shouty, alphabet soup trim packaged oldsmobile that could beat some unsuspecting chump in a camaro or mustang at the light. But unlike your father's oldsmobile, this one could leave them behind on a track.
Power/Torque: 190hp /160 lb.ft
0-60: 7.0 seconds
1/4 mile : 14.7 @ 95 mph
top speed: 125 mph (electronic limiter)