With an immaculate 1969 Hurst Oldsmobile in his possession, Rodney Holland has to be one of the luckiest guys around
The true muscle car era was brief. It really only lasted from 1964 through to the end of 1970. From 1971 the US government enforced new anti-pollution regulations, which saw compression ratios and power figures plummet as manufacturers were forced to convert their engines to run on nasty low- or non-leaded fuel. In 1973 new frontal crush zone regulations were introduced, and manufacturers scrambled to graft ugly, bulbous plastic noses to the fronts of their existing cars. In just three short years, the muscle car industry had been reduced from a frenzy of excitement, colour and power to goofy, boat-like wheezing hiss-boxes, with acres of front and rear overhang, and almost zero street-cred. But while it lasted, the muscle car era produced some of the most memorable vehicles to come out of the US.
The true definition of a muscle car is a little clouded, but the early factory variants were those that combined the engine from a full-sized car with the body of a mid-sized car, purely for added performance. The 1964 Pontiac GTO is considered to be the first true factory muscle car. Its creators, John De Lorean and Russell Gee, were both Pontiac employees and performance car enthusiasts. General Motors had just recently placed a ban on any company motorsport involvement, yet the more switched-on marketing employees realised that without that important motorsport connection, the company would lose a vital link that helped portray its sporting side, thus risking the loss of its lucrative youth market.
To overcome the ban, the concept of creating a production vehicle with true performance capabilities, one that could be sold direct to the public, was formed. Thus the GTO was born.
The GTO was effectively a mid-sized Tempest, a vehicle with a displacement of 326ci as its maximum engine size. De Lorean and Gee fitted the Tempest with the 389ci V8 from the full-sized Catalina and Bonneville models for an instant performance punch.
However, GM had also stated that no mid-sized vehicle could be fitted with an engine larger than 330ci. In order to skirt this self-imposed policy, the company simply marketed the bigger engine as an option package, rather than standard equipment. The name, GTO, was ‘borrowed’ from the hugely successful Ferrari GTO sports car.
GM’s own GTO was approved and readied for production. Although effectively a marketing ploy that avoided GM’s in-house red tape, the new model would surely help its own cause by proving popular with the public.
As it was effectively the first in a market segment that hitherto didn’t exist, initial sales forecasts were pessimistic. Pontiac sales manager Frank Bridges limited the GTO to just 5000 units. In fact the new muscle car market was grossly underestimated ” Pontiac sold 32,450 GTOs in its first model year. Given the popularity of the GTO, Pontiac’s rivals ” both within GM and from the other American car companies ” immediately began producing muscle cars of their own.
Today, models such as the Ford Mustang, Pontiac Firebird, Chevrolet Camaro, Plymouth Barracuda, Dodge Challenger and so on are often referred to as muscle cars. However, back in the ’60s these smaller V8 models were known as Ponycars. Although the line between the two is blurry, muscle cars appeared to have strong drag racing influences, being predominantly mid-sized vehicles fitted with full-sized engines, usually big blocks. Ponycars were sporty two-plus-two vehicles promoted for their good handling, and were more at home in road racing than drag racing.
However, few would argue that a big block Camaro or Mustang is not a muscle car.
Muscle Car Madness
By the late 1960s, all the US car manufacturers were on the muscle car bandwagon, all pushing the envelope in what was already a wild market that had quickly outgrown its original roots. Although the muscle car appeared most at home on the quarter mile, it was also well represented in the high-stakes world of Nascar stock car racing. The 1969-’70 Dodge Charger Daytonas and Plymouth Superbirds were perhaps the ultimate muscle cars, and arrived just before the entire muscle car market collapsed under its own weight. These insane machines featured a NASA-developed front nose cone and a huge 584mm-tall rear deck spoiler designed for improved aerodynamics, greater top speed and less drag.
One of these cars, a Dodge Charger Daytona driven by Buddy Baker, became the first Nascar to reach more than 200mph, around the Talledega super speedway. The Dodge Charger Daytonas and Plymouth Superbirds were produced in very small numbers, making them some of the rarest cars built during the muscle car era. However, they still weren’t as rare as our feature car, of which only 914 were ever produced.
The Hurst Touch
The name Hurst Performance is well known in the enthusiast car industry. It was founded in 1958 by George Hurst to produce transmission shifters, and by the late 1960s had become the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for several US car makers, featuring predominantly on high-performance vehicles. Hurst products were fitted to vehicles from American Motor Company, Pontiac, Ford, Plymouth and Oldsmobile. This association led to collaborations resulting in low-volume Hurst-named vehicles, including the 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler, 1971 Hurst Jeepster and, most famously, the ongoing series of Hurst Oldsmobiles.
The Hurst Oldsmobile first appeared in 1968, and was followed by models in ’69, ’72-’75, ’79, ’83 and, finally, 1984. It shared its body with the Olds Cutlass and 442 models.
In 1968 GM still had policies in place regarding engine sizes fitted to its own cars. A mid-sized GM vehicle, which is what the 442 was, could not be fitted with an engine larger than 400ci in capacity. However, George Hurst owned a ’68 442 into which he fitted a 455ci from the full-sized Toronado. The 455 was actually lighter than the 400, thus the handling of the Olds was not compromised.
This first Hurst Olds was also fitted with a Hurst shifter, some engine modifications, custom paint and walnut dash. The first run of Hurst Oldsmobiles (H/Os) was to be limited to just 500, but a further 15 were produced due to demand from one Oldsmobile dealer who had pre-sold several cars.
The ’68 model H/Os were fitted with the 390hp W-45 Rocket motor, although cars fitted with A/C had the W-46, which produced 10hp less. The 455s featured big valve heads, a lumpy cam, and modified carburettor and distributor. The ram-air induction system from the W-30 was fitted, and featured twin scoops beginning under the front bumper. Inside was a walnut inlay fitted to the dash, and a specially made console to house the Hurst shifter. All ’68 Hurst Oldsmobiles were finished in Peruvian Silver, a GM colour applied only to the Toronado, over which black stripes ran across the bonnet, boot lid and waist line. GM sidestepped its engine size ruling by implying the engines were fitted by Hurst, when in fact they were factory fitted. However, the cars were then shipped across town to Lansing, Michigan, to Demmer Engineering, where the Hurst items were installed.
The ’68 Hurst Oldsmobile proved a huge hit. But if there was one criticism, it was that the colour scheme was a little subtle. That was to change for the ’69 model, which was finished in a bold yet stylish combination of Firefront Gold over Cameo White, with matching gold painted wheel centres.
Other than the colour, the ’69 Hurst Oldsmobile differed from the ’68 in several areas, including the new for ’69 Olds grille treatment, a wild fibreglass ‘mailbox’ bonnet scoop featuring ‘H/O 455’ decals down each side, a boot lid spoiler, and 15-inch wheels (the ’68 was fitted with 14-inch wheels). It also had racing-style wing mirrors, H/O emblems on the front guards and boot lid, and a blacked-out grille. Each ’69 H/O featured genuine hand-applied pin -striping, apparently all done by just one person. Inside, the ’69 H/Os had painted gold stripes on the head rests, a Hurst Oldsmobile emblem on the glovebox door, and the same centre console as the ’68, although featuring different wood grain. Under the bonnet the ’69 models were given a slightly milder cam for better drivability. They were fitted with a unique intake manifold, chrome valve covers and a special vacuum-operated air cleaner lid to allow cold air from the bonnet scoop into the carburettor. Once again, the Hurst items were fitted at Demmer Engineering.
In all there were 914 ’69 model Hurst Oldsmobiles built, two of which were convertibles.
The ’69 Hurst Oldsmobile proved a popular model, with Motor Trend magazine dubbing it the ‘Hairiest Oldsmobile’. In stock form it could run the quarter mile in high 13-second times, but with slicks and free-flowing headers it could get into the low 12s.
GM relaxed its self-imposed engine policy for 1970, allowing mid-sized cars to now be fitted with engines over 400ci. Thus there was no Hurst Olds for 1970 or 1971. When the next Hurst Olds appeared in 1972, the true muscle car era was over. Although the name continued until the mid-’80s, the ’69 model was the highlight.
With just 914 ’69 model Hurst Oldsmobiles being built, and with muscle cars becoming so unpopular during the mid-’70s oil crisis, survival rates are low. So it comes as something of a surprise to discover that one of these incredibly rare cars resides right here in New Zealand.
Rodney Holland has owned this beautiful example for two years, but first learned about the car 17 years ago and had wanted it ever since.
Despite running a restoration business specialising in valuable cars such as this, out of all the vehicles that have passed through Rodney’s hands, the Hurst Olds has stood out the most. So taken by this car was Rodney that he took a photo the day he first set eyes on it. He still has that photo.
Rodney’s Hurst Olds is in incredibly original condition, even featuring the original eight-track radio, interior trim and carpets. It was repainted a decade or so ago, so the original hand-painted pin- striping is long gone, but this is still an amazingly honest car. So when Rodney found out through his good friend Owen Grigg that the Olds was for sale, he couldn’t believe his luck.
It had originally been imported into New Zealand around 19 years ago, and is thought to be the only ’69 Hurst Oldsmobile in Australasia. According to the Hurst Register, of which Rodney is a member, his is build number 467.
Rodney Holland is a very fortunate guy. Muscle cars of all types are becoming harder to find, and prices are skyrocketing, even on non-original, mass-produced versions. To own such a rare, interesting, original machine, created in a partnership between one of the great auto manufacturers and one of the legendary performance accessory icons, makes Rodney very lucky. But then again, he had to wait 17 years for luck to come his way.
Rodney Holland – Owner Profile
Occupation: Horticultural specialist/part-time restorer
Previously owned Cars: 1965 Ford Mustang, 1967 Ford Galaxie, 1968 Chev Impala, 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass
Length of ownership: Two years
RODNEY thanks: Owen Grigg; I can’t thank him enough for telling me about this car. Roger Williams for his sound advice. David Morris for his support, the guys from www.jeffmeister.com and http://members.cox.net/witrob/
1969 Hurst Oldsmobile – Specifications
Engine: 455ci (7455cc) Oldsmobile Rocket
Driveline: TH400 H/O, limited slip 3.42:1 ratio
Suspension/Brakes: Power discs front, drums rear. All original
Wheels/Tyres: Original Superstock II wheels in Firefront Gold. BF Goodridge 235x60x15 front tyres, BF Goodridge 255x60x15 rear tyres
Exterior: Firefront Gold over Cameo White (factory colours)
Interior: Original custom sport steering wheel and the famous Hurst duel-gate shifter
Performance: Approx 380hp (283kW). Has run 12.4 quarter-mile at Meremere
Words: Steve Holmes Photos: Adam Croy