By on July 15, 2019

The Rare Rides series has visited a performance 442 Oldsmobile previously, when we took a look at a one-off Hurst Intrigue 442 (which most everyone hated). Today we’ll see the very last time 442 appeared on a factory Oldsmobile.

It’s a Cutlass Calais Quad 442 W41, from 1991.

The Calais nameplate was a short-lived one. It started its life in the early Eighties, and barely made it into the Nineties before it was dropped. Available with two- or four-doors, the Calais was an N-body relative of the Buick Skylark, Somerset, and the Pontiac Grand Am. At debut for the 1985 model year it was simply called Calais, and filled in as replacement for the wretched and un-missed Omega X-body compact. Circa 1987 Calais married into the Cutlass family, as someone at Oldsmobile decided 90 percent of Oldsmobile offerings needed a Cutlass badge.

Calais used a total of four different engines. Inline-four offerings included the 2.5-liter Iron Duke and 2.3 Quad 4, and six cylinder power was via 3.0- or 3.3-liter mills. Sporting drivers could select a five-speed manual, and for everyone else a three-speed automatic filled the transmission tunnel.

The aforementioned Quad 4 was the performance choice for the Calais. That engine became available in 1987, on a new trim called GMO Quad 4. Oldsmobile quickly dropped the GMO name, and the Quad 4 eventually made its way into a new halo for the Calais line: the Quad 442. The 442 used a high-output version of the same engine for a total of 180 horsepower, and was paired only with the five-speed manual. An automatic version was available, but only on the luxury-oriented International Series trim.

In 1991, for the final year of Calais, Oldsmobile added a bit more trim complexity to its compact. The Quad 442 was now available with a W41 badge in its name. That meant under hood was the W41 version of the Quad 4, which made the most horsepower: 190.

But it was all very short-lived. In 1992 the Calais saw its replacement via the revised N-body Achieva SCX, covered by Rare Rides previously. But that version of the W41 had been through some exhaust port reductions, and sacrificed five horsepower in the name of NVH and emissions. Quad 442 W41 Calais was a peak moment.

Today’s Rare Ride is located in the scenic area of Buffalo, New York, which is near Canada. Appearing with 160,000 miles and in excellent condition, this 442 asks $4k.

[Images: seller]

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51 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Quad 442 W41...”


  • avatar
    dividebytube

    For a brief moment in time, it looked as if GM was trying to compete with some of the higher strung Japanese and German performance cars. At least I remember some buzz over these cars, but maybe it was only a Midwest thing. Same thing with the Beretta GTU/GTZ.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      It probably was. This was in an era during which people on the east and west coasts would have been exposed to better-built cars from Asia and Europe, but the domestics still had the middle-of-the-country markets cornered.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    190 hp out of a 4-cylinder that isn’t turbocharged in 1990-91, and not from Porsche, was one hell of a feat back then. I’ve written before that a manager of mine from my first ever job drove this exact car (same color) and before I left for college, made me an great offer to buy it because he needed something with four doors. And this 442 became known as the one that got away because to my 18-year-old self, the insurance would have bankrupted my limited budget.
    Yes, this car buzzed and rattled, even almost new ones. At high revs, the engine showed that there was almost no NVH control (critics were right – nails in a blender was a good description) and the interior was like sitting in a bucket. But what did we have at the time to compare it to? 130hp Hondas, Nissans, and Toyotas? Maybe a Daytona turbo but by comparison, they were very old and crude.
    This one engine…(grinds teeth now)…this is the one I wish GM would have taken the time and energy to keep fine tuning, smooth out the rough edges and it could have been a world-beater. Instead, like all things GM, when things start to suffer or get challenging in the slightest, oh well, cancel it.
    And this car for $4,000…Buffalo…mmmmm…

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Exactly, 180hp + 5-speed + a car probably weighing less then 3000lbs sounds like it might have been fun

      The “Calais” name may have been short lived for Oldsmobile, but it had a pretty long run as the Cadillac starter kit below the DeVille

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        They were a lot of fun to drive. The same FE3 suspension option that made it crash over every bump made it hold tight in the corners. The engine wanted to really rev, if you could take the noise. All GM/Oldsmobile had to do was keep polishing it when it hit the SCX and they could have had something.

        Few observations – if I’m reading that right and the sun glare isn’t playing tricks with my eyes, is that 1,500rpms at idle? Even at cold idle, that’s high! Might need to get that checked out.

        Notice the rare Delco CD player? In 1991, that was an expensive option. Saw the power driver’s seat as well. So why do I still have window cranks? C’mon GM!!!

        And until my last breath, I condemn all who designed and installed those awful door-mounted seat belts in GM cars to have them installed in their cars until they can drive no more. Was it that hard to install air bags? Chrysler did! They were really obnoxious in this car because the way they sat, it wrapped around your neck (really safe…) and every time you turned your head left, all you saw was seat belt. And then if the door opened in a wreck, you stood the chance of being dumped on the road. Hell of a design flaw!

        • 0 avatar
          Robotdawn

          Funny, I remember the Ford’s having sliding automatic seat-belts that were a no-go for me. I don’t recall the GM ones at all.

          As far as roll-up windows, I still had those on a 2002 Alero. In 1991 I’m assuming they were still very common. So many people I knew had stuck windows because the window motors would go out and I was not having any of that.

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            In that era, Ford had an airbag in the Taurus/Sable and all of their Lincolns but I think the rest of the lineup used the robo-belts. Just as ineffective, but at least they weren’t in your line of vision as much compared to the door belts.
            I don’t think many GM cars ever had the robo-belts – Saturn for one. If it was imported (like Geo), you got an airbag with the Storm and the non-robo-belt in the Prizm.
            Honda/Acura did the same thing – you’d get a nicely equipped car with a sunroof, cruise, decent stereo…and window cranks. To me, that just looked odd – have all of these (at the time) premium features, and they cheap out at power windows? I guess they figured that it’s only two windows to roll down and a small car – just reach over and do it yourself!

        • 0 avatar
          Blackcloud_9

          Your eyes technically aren’t deceiving you but the car isn’t idling @ 1500 rpm. It’s not idling at all. I had a 1989 Grand Am and it is just what the tach needle did when the car was off – it sat above 0. It would reset when you started the car. The engine did idle a little higher than “normal” IIRC – it was a long time ago – around 800 to 1000.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Not defending the design, but I nearly lived my entire life (like from ’89 to ’13) with the door-mounted seatbelts so “normal” ones still seem weird to me.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        I have to say 180HP in a 4 cyl in 1991 does seem like an impressive feat today. 95% of the N/A 4s we have today don’t even have numbers that good, what happened? The crazy thing is that it’s not even a big 4, only 2.3L, what the heck happened?

        • 0 avatar
          tankinbeans

          How is 2.3 litres not a big 4? I suppose it’s a medium sized 4 with larger ones, at least in street car applications going as large as 2.7 litres (Sienna, Highlander, Silverado).

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Thank god the license plate got blurred out. Wouldn’t want anyone seeing that.

  • avatar
    Dawnrazor

    Looks exactly like the one I had. Was looking for the Grand Am equivalent, ended up with the Olds because the deals were better. It was definitely rare compared with the Grand Am and was something of a “sleeper”, so it was fun to own.

    The engine actually was something special in its day, particularly given that it was a product of 80s GM, and the car was fairly quick (MT test data was comparable in most areas to the Mustang GT of the day). The 5-speed had well chosen ratios, but was somewhat notchy and lacked the great feel of a Honda or Nissan of the period. Unfortunately it blew a head gasket at 37k and ate three coil packs by 78k, and had the typical ambivalent fit and finish of 80s GM products with lots of deterioration in the interior over a four year period.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    As an absurd comparison, this is the same weight and power as the contemporary E30 M3, which must make it an absolute bargain!

    I actually sort of like the Calais 442 without the body kit (along with the Achieva SCX that followed), but this one (factory or not) seems a little much, like Oldsmobile’s people went nuts one weekend with a case of Zima and binging the Pontiac We Build Excitement! commercials.

  • avatar
    EGSE

    As I recall the Quad-4 had four head bolts per cylinder making adequate gasket sealing a problem. I don’t know if they compromised due to not wanting to impinge on the water jacket around the cylinders or they were driven by cost. Whatever it was, an engine with unrealized potential became a liability and drove lots of customers to those 130 hp Japanese cars. General Motor’s coffin to ruin wasn’t banged together with one nail but this engine was one of those nails. An opportunity missed…….

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “the Quad-4 had four head bolts per cylinder making adequate gasket sealing a problem”

      That’s a pretty normal number; actually 10 bolts for a 4 cylinder are common, with each cylinder sharing some bolts.

      How many would you propose?

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        I suspect manufacturers had so many head gasket issues in that era because they were putting aluminum heads on iron blocks, except for GM who saddled their HT4100 and Vega 2300 engines with the high center of gravity, cylinder erosion, and head gasket issues they could only achieve by putting iron heads on aluminum blocks. At least the Quad-4 had an aluminum head on an iron block. Whichever way they did it, having heads and blocks that expanded at different rates made hard work for head gaskets.

        • 0 avatar
          ktm

          Datsun 240z’s had aluminum heads on iron blocks in 1970 with zero head gasket issues. Each cylinder shared a pair of head bolts save for 1 and 6.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            That must be why there are still multiple sources for 240Z head gaskets. Try finding that for a Toyota sold by the millions in the past decade. The Datsun might not have been an outlier in 1971, but they had more head gasket failures than anything not sold by Subaru in the past 20 years. You can find youtube videos about how to change them on the L-series engine.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        There’s more to head gasket longevity than just the number of head bolts. The structural stiffness of the head and the size of the bolts (clamping force) are are least as important as whether there are four or five bolts around each cylinder.

        (I’m sort of replying to all of the replies to your original remark, @EGSE, but using your remark for my reply.)

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I don’t think the Q4’s problem was the number of head bolts, but like on the N* they were not long or coarse enough.

      I guess the silver lining is that the repair is a lot easier compared to the Cadillac.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    I had the Grand Am version, all black including the 16″ alloys before that was a thing, H.O. Q4 and a stick. Four exhaust pipes out the back, that was really sweet. First stick I owned in fact, and not exactly the one you’d want to learn on. Kept it maybe a year. Fun car but once I discovered Mazda and Honda sticks…

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Here’s a great example of why Oldsmobile disappeared.

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      Personally, I see this as something positive out of an era where not much of anything good was coming from GM. I think Oldsmobile disappeared primarily because GM’s brand hierarchy meant nothing in later years with horrible badge engineering jobs, poor quality across the board. I also personally feel that having “Old” in the name did nothing for the brand particularly when younger generations with no knowledge of past offerings were entering the market.

      My father had an 1980 something Olds 88, some sort of special edition. I recall it being a pretty nice ride.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        The Quad-4 engine was in production for fifteen years. At the end, it was less powerful than when it was introduced but still had issues with water pumps, timing chain tensioners, lubrication and head gaskets. The Quad-4 caused people to stop talking about how archaic GM engines were and start talking about NVH.

        GM sold plenty of Cutlass Calaises, Achieves and Grand Ams, but there were never enough returning customers for GM to repeat their success.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Car and Driver called the Quad 4 a “Jewel of an engine”…words they later choked on. A friend of mine got a Grand Am which lunched its head gasket at 70K and the car was replaced with a used Civic. Probably a fairly common occurrence.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Car and Driver: Don’t believe any of their praise, and even some of their criticism can be suspect if they’re trying to rank more than three cars in a comparison test. Some of their editors have been in it for the lifestyle since at least when their name changed and then they hit a critical mass of rent boys in the ’90s.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    In 1964, 442 stood for “4-Barrel Carburetor, 4-Speed Manual Transmission, and Dual Exhausts.” By the time this final 442 rolled out for 1990, the badge indicated “4-Cylinder Engine, 4 Valves Per Cylinder, Dual Camshafts.”

    Arguably, these early FWD small performance cars by GM were rough around the edges, and had no chance of matching the refined cars from Europe or the bubble-era Japanese rockets. But they were a decent first pass and cultivated some of the same poring over order sheets and bragging about package codes as GM’s 60s heyday performance cars. And yes, the Quad 4 itself was a bragging right.

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      This is an old memory, but I remember a friend exclaiming that “Oldsmobile is bring the 442 back!”. I got excited thinking about a l RWD, big block car, and ultimately disappointed by a FWD *A-body 4-banger.

      edit: actually a N-Body

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      The Quad 4 was a bragging right for a few years, but it was NEVER going to be a powerplant that could equal rivals with NVH. Reliability issues became an eventual problem and GM did what GM does – doesn’t address problems.

      The bragging rights ended within 5 years of the engine being released.

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge

    N BODY 4 LYFE

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    I remember when this puppy came out. As a West Coast kid who really wanted Detroit to get its act together and compete, I was truly excited about this car. You got the American virtues of headroom and a comfy seat, the Japanese virtues of a multivalve engine that gave your choice of sedate motoring at high MPG or thrilling horsepower at high RPM, and the European virtues of conservative-yet-sexy styling a la tuner car. I was so PO’d when Automobile magazine blasted it for an engine that was loud, coarse and unrefined — without having actually driven the car. (They had driven something else with the Quad 4.)

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “American virtues of headroom and a comfy seat”

      The N bodies had pretty lousy rear seat headroom (and the rear seats were pretty uncomfortable too). This isn’t necessarily a critique as much as a statement of what the car was intended to be- and if one accepts that it’s a 2+2 (or 2+ 2 1/2, since I think it had a rear middle seatbelt) then it’s perfectly fine.

      Also, there are lots of American cars with pretty mediocre seats. Too often the Big 3 (or Big 4 when there was still AMC) would take a mediocre cloth seat whose only virtue was that it is pretty big, tart it up with soft leather, and voila it’s “comfortable!” Except it’s still the same seat underneath. The Swedes mastered comfortable seats way back in the 1960s. Plenty of American cars still get built with mediocre seats even these days. ;)

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I give Olds credit for trying – the running gear was competitive for the time, but all they had to put it in was this Cutlass Supreme wannabe notchback. They went for it, though.

    Meanwhile, you could get a Probe or Eclipse that performed similarly without the silly styling.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Some friends and I have been looking at cars to prep and race at our local asphalt oval in the FWD class, looking at the bottom of the craigslist barrel (sub $800). Happened upon a ’90 Grand Am with the Quad 4 and an automatic and initially got excited, but then realized aside from that motor (itself a bit problematic historically), the car surrounding it including the 3spd(!) auto was junk for what we need.

    • 0 avatar

      80s/90s three-speed automatics, which domestic did them best?

      I vote for TorqueFlite.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Need to divide that category by FWD/RWD…

        THM125 was a darn fine FWD three speed auto.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        For FWDs?

        Chrysler 3spd auto, no personal experience but anecdotally it seems to be the most reliable historically. Although the GM ones aren’t exactly unreliable either.

        Coincidentally the car we’ve selected as our final choice is a Mopar ($500 ’98 Neon R/T), thankfully they only made them with a stick shift.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        The 3 speed in the typical K car was really an A904 Torqueflite that was put in a transaxle case. As you would expect for a torqueflite, it possessed rock-like durability. Mine went over a quarter-million miles and the trans was still perfect. The head gasket blew and I was given my mother’s Sable to replace it – a car I still rely on to get me to the train on time.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        I go with GM. In my experience, they were more responsive and less slushy than the Chrysler and Ford offerings, many (most?) of which didn’t even have a lock-up torque converter.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          American automatics worked better before they adopted lock-up torque converters. My vote is for the Chrysler 3-speeds. I worked at a dealer that sold both Chrysler and GM products in 1989. GM 3 speeds were fine, but the Chryslers could actually stand up minivan use and they made the most of the limited power of era engines. FWD GM 3 speed automatics were almost all glacially slow, relying on exhaust resonators to sound like they were accelerating. The illusion usually worked, right up until a work truck walked away from someone’s new 6000STE. I suspect GM was faster to go to badly sorted 4-speeds and lock-up torque converters because their automatics consumed more power than Chrysler’s. Ford’s FWD 3-speed automatics weren’t slushy in my experience, but they slammed downshifts as you came to a stop and then broke before too long.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            GM went with lockup torque converters and three speeds after their first try at four speeds were not all that reliable (went back to three speeds but figured out how to put a lockup torque converter on them). It actually worked pretty well, with fuel economy almost as good as the four speeds would have had, although more engine noise when cruising on the highway… it was a pragmatic choice while they got their four speeds sorted out.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          …Chrysler and Ford offerings, many (most?) of which didn’t even have a lock-up torque converter….

          IIRC, the 2.2 Chryslers did not use the lockup but the 2.5s did…

  • avatar
    The_Guru

    Part of my dislike for GM comes from when my step dad stupidly bought an early quad 4 in a Calais. Custom order and everything. He was so hype to have that engine. Thing was JUNK, and LOUD. I remember how that thing used to wake me up early when it shook the house on startup in the morning. Went back to the dealer so many times lost count. The 85 Honda Accord it replaced, on the other hand, was still as reliable, and the engine just as smooth as the day they bought it. Just under powered. The quality of that Honda absolutely destroyed that Calais. It was laughable.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    There are three parties to blame for those miserable motorized belts, but GM (and all the carmakers who had them, which was pretty much everybody) bears much less than half of the blame.

    The majority of the blame goes to a few dumb folks in the gooberment and the motorists who were too dumb to buckle regular seatbelts. The former took it upon themselves to enable the latter, using Man’s laws to prevent Darwin’s laws from running their course. If some people are too dumb to buckle up then we’ll just have to put “passive restraints” in every car that is built!!

    Sigh…

    Like a lot of top-down “good ideas,” this one was implemented dumbly- anchoring the shoulder belt to a goofy motorized track in the *door* instead of bolting it to the primary structure of the vehicle. The same mentality brought us the overly powerful airbags meant to work as *primary* restraint systems, again, to accomodate/enable people who are too lazy to read a five or ten word sentence (“buckle up, airbag is *supplemental* restraint system”).

    Sigh…

    I would love to randomly meet the government officials who were responsible for this, in some kind of a social setting, and on behalf of self-respecting motorists, I would loudly berate them to the point of tears for their misdeeds of years past. Alas, most of them are probably senile or gone by now.

    How many “likes” can I get for this post?? :)


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