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The Hurst Olds Story, Part One

The story goes that Oldsmobile needed an image boost. Yes, Olds had the stalwart 442, but sales lagged behind the Pontiac GTO and Chevrolet Chevelle SS. To fight back, Oldsmobile teamed up with Hurst to create the Hurst Olds. This gentleman’s hot rod blended big block power with luxury car amenities. It was a winning combination that made the Hurst Olds a contender, ready to take on any of Detroit’s best muscle. Let’s venture back to see what made the Hurst Olds a muscle car classic.

1968: Just What the Doctor Ordered

The creation of the 1968 Hurst Oldsmobile was the brainchild of Jack “Doc” Watson. Watson was an engineer known to show up at drag races donned in medical clothing. Watson conceived the Hurst Olds prototype for George Hurst, president of Hurst-Campbell, Inc. Watson outfitted the Hurst Olds with Peruvian Silver paint borrowed from the Toronado, walnut interior trim, and, of course, a Hurst shifter. Once the prototype was shown to Oldsmobile dealers, a maelstrom of excitement surrounded the car. This enthusiasm was the catalyst for creating additional copies of George’s one-of-a-kind supercar. Thus, the Hurst Olds was born.

However, getting the Hurst Olds to dealer showrooms hit a few bumps in the road. Rumor has it corporate red tape halted production and, during this time, Watson left Hurst. Eventually, the Hurst Olds got the green light for production and Watson returned as a consultant to the project.

Watson then contacted Demmer Engineering of Lansing, Michigan to build the Hurst Olds. John Demmer, an automotive aficionado, had shown interest in the Hurst Olds when the prototype was being shown.  Demmer’s outfit went to work and set up operations to custom build the Olds Hurst. Under the gun, they were given just over 40 days to complete the Hurst Olds.

Each 1968 Hurst Olds came with Peruvian Silver and black paint, unique Hurst Olds badging, and silver 14×6-inch Super Stock II wheels with oversized Goodyear G70-14 Polyglass whitewall tires. Inside, black Strato bucket seats, a woodgrain three-spoke steering wheel, and Rocket Rally-Pac with tach greeted the driver.

The Hurst Olds came equipped with a 455 cubic-inch V8. Cars without air conditioning came with the W45 version and air conditioned cars had the W46 455 engine. Both engines had a 10.5:1 compression ratio and were rated at 390 horsepower and 500 lb.-ft. of torque. These engines featured high performance cylinder heads, a high lift, long duration camshaft, and forced air induction. A three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission with the Hurst Dual/Gate shifter also came standard.

Motor Trend put the Hurst Olds to the test in their September 1968 issue. The Hurst Olds sprinted from 0 to 60 in 6.65 seconds and the non-A/C version ran the quarter mile in 13.97 seconds at 97.30 seconds. Motor Trend stated “With the Hurst Olds, you get uncompromising street and road performance and all the guts of a hot supercar, but with extra-wild engine noise and a concrete spring ride effect eliminated.”

Word is that orders for 2,600 Hurst Olds were received, but the final production number was capped at 515. It’s believed that roughly 162 are still around today.

1969: The Second Time Around

The Hurst Olds returned for 1969, this time more flamboyant than the 1968 model. The 1969 Hurst Olds, based on the 442 Holiday coupe, featured Cameo White paint with Firefrost Gold stripes and black pinstriping. Up front, two colossal dual-inlet air scoops fed fresh oxygen to the beast lurking under the hood. A full-width rear deck spoiler helps turn high-speed turbulence into a little extra grip for the Goodyears. 64 pounds of down thrust at 120 mph in case you’re wondering. The 1969 Hurst Olds also featured dual racing mirrors, 15×7-inch Super Sport II wheels, and special Hurst Olds badging.

The 1969 Hurst Olds was powered by a modified 455 cubic-inch Rocket V8. This engine came equipped with a Rochester four-barrel carb, D-code heads, and a special cast-iron intake manifold. With a 10.5:1 compression ratio, this engine was rated at 380 horsepower and 500 lb.-ft. of torque. The 1969 Hurst Olds was also equipped with a revamped forced air intake system. An enormous dual-inlet hood scoop fed fresh air to the carburetor through a vacuum-operated flapper door. The only available transmission for this powerplant was the three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic. 

And what Hurst Olds would be complete without the Hurst Dual/Gate shifter? During “normal” driving, the left gate allows everyday PRND2L shifting. The right gate allowed manual shifting through the D2L gears, which eliminated the driver accidently throwing the car into park, neutral, or reverse. As you can see, “manual” shifting an automatic transmission for added performance isn’t something all that new.

Motor Trend gave the 1969 Hurst Olds a thrashing in their June 1969 issue. When the dust settled, the 1969 Hurst Olds walked away with a 0 to 60 time of 5.9 seconds and a quarter mile speed of 101.28 mph at 13.98 seconds. The boys at Motor Trend seemed pretty impressed with the Hairy Olds stating “The Hurst/Olds is intended to be a kind of American Grand Touring machine and it succeeds admirably. It accelerates like a rocket-sled, stops and corners better than many of its European peers and is uncannily smooth on the road”. The magazine also praised the Hurst Olds handling and braking abilities, even going so far as stating the Hurst Olds “is quite possibly be the best handling domestic sedan in the country.” The 1969 Hurst Olds even graced the cover of the issue.

Approximately 906 Hurst Olds were produced for 1969, making it an instant collectible.

1972: The Times Are A-Changin’  

After a short absence, the Hurst Olds returned for the final year of the third generation A-body platform. This time around, the Hurst Olds was based on the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme hardtop and convertible. Cameo White with reflective gold adhesive decals were the color choices for this year’s cruiser. The 1972 Hurst Olds also received a fiberglass ram air hood, gold 14-inch Oldsmobile Super Stock III wheels, and Goodyear Polysteel G60-14 tires. All coupes were also adorned with a vinyl landau roof.

The 1972 Olds Hurst Olds was equipped with a 455 cubic-inch V8 with 270 horsepower and 370 lb.-ft. of torque. Opting for the W-30 package got you 30 extra horses and 40 more lb.-ft. of torque. The only transmission available was still the three-speed Turbo-Hydra-Matic automatic. And of course, the 1972 Hurst Olds came equipped with a Hurst Dual/Gate shifter. 

The Hurst Olds came with a list of interesting options, including a burglar alarm for both car and wheels, electric sunroof, Indy 500 pace car replica decals, and W-30 high performance engine. The one option that really stands out is the Digital Performance Computer. It worked by giving the driver a readout of speed and quarter mile times and elapsed times.

Motor Trend got their hands on a 1972 Hurst Olds to review for the May 1972 issue. The Hurst Olds could run from 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds and get through the quarter mile in 15.2 seconds at 94 mph. The magazine called the car “an excellent highway car” proclaiming “This family of GM intermediates has always been one of the most pleasant series of cars ever built in the U.S. and the Hurst/Olds has all the favorable attributes plus a few extra.”

The 1972 Hurst Olds was chosen as the pace car for the 56th running of the Indianapolis 500. After the pace car debacle of 1971, where a dealer got squirrely and ran the pace car into the photography stand, most manufacturers were skittish about supplying a car. The 1972 Hurst Olds was also the first and only pace car to be supplied by a company other than a car manufacturer.

And just like before, the Hurst Olds was produced in limited numbers, with 629 created, including 130 convertibles and 220 with a sunroof.

Looking back, it’s a wonder the 1972 Hurst Olds ever saw the light of day. High insurance premiums and emission restrictions were putting the smackdown on the muscle car. And the OPEC embargo of 1973 didn’t help matters either. Soon, gas guzzling muscle cars showed up in droves on used car lots, being traded in on smaller, more economical vehicles. The times were definitely changing and the Hurst Olds would change as well.

The story isn’t over. Part two of the Hurst Olds story is coming soon!

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