Long after other names under the vast General Motors empire seemingly gave up on true muscle, the Oldsmobile division still held on to one of the most famous names of the era. The Cutlass 442 was once a formidable muscle car, combining ample amounts of power with a touch of class that only the Oldsmobile name could offer. However, the advent of CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy), stringent emissions standards and punishing insurance rates transformed the average muscle car into a shadow of its former self.
The 442, Colonnade-Style
At this point, the Colonnade-bodied Cutlass 442 was more of an appearance package than anything resembling a genuine muscle car. Nevertheless, it still offered its fair share of goodies, including the FE2 suspension package with upgraded front and rear sway bars. Buyers could also spring for an optional sport steering wheel, full instrumentation with tachometer, factory T-tops and optional all-vinyl Strato bucket seats but sans the swiveling feature of previous years.
The 1977 Cutlass 442 was also the only vehicle in the Cutlass lineup to proudly wear the slanted waterfall grille initially designed for NASCAR, as the Cutlass S finally adopted the vertical grille featured on the Cutlass Supreme.
Let’s Talk Horsepower…or Not
Under the hood, things weren’t what they used to be. The beefy 455 cubic-inch V8 had already bowed out by 1976, leaving only the weak-chested 260 cubic-inch V8, a serviceable Rocket 350 V8 and a new 403 cubic-inch V8 rated at just 180 horsepower. There was also a Buick-derived 231 cubic-inch V6 available as standard equipment, along with the choice of a three-speed manual or Turbo Hydramatic transmission.
Despite having much of its potential smothered by a single-exhaust system, a primitive catalytic converter and a sluggish 2.41:1 ratio rear end, the 403 V8 in the 442 still managed to offer somewhat respectable performance for its day. It was possible to squeeze 1/4-mile times of somewhere around 17 seconds – not bad for a car stuck in the middle of the “malaise” era.
Popularity of the Cutlass 442
Only 11,649 examples of the Cutlass 442 were built back in 1977, making it a relatively rare beast. These Colonnade-era coupes haven’t had much of a spotlight shined on them until recently, making them a pretty good deal for collectors in search of some interesting post-muscle era history.
Meanwhile, the 442 name would live on in a variety of permutations, including a front-wheel drive coupe with a 180-horsepower DOHC four-cylinder engine. Even in all of its variations, the 442 is still a treasured name in the annals of muscle car history.
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