Front-wheel drive? Four cylinders? Jay Leno drives the other Oldsmobile 442
Jay Leno has driven quite a lot of rare and obscure cars over the course of hosting Jay Leno’s Garage. In his latest episode, he gets behind the wheel of a rare sports compact from a company that’s definitely not known for building that sort of car: a 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais 442 W-41.
The Oldsmobile 442 began life in 1964 as an archetypal muscle car: a mid-size car with a powerful V-8 powering the rear wheels. Originally, the 4-4-2 nomenclature was said to represent a four-barrel carb, a four-speed manual transmission, and dual exhaust. That evolved a bit over the years to include 442s equipped with a three-speed Turbo 400 automatic, but the 4-4-2 name still worked as the cars used a 400-cubic-inch engine. By 1990, however, there was no four-barrel carb or 400-cubic-inch engine with which to create such a muscle car. Instead, Olds built a power-dense Quad 4 engine and put it into the smallest car in its lineup at the time, the Cutlass Calais. Now, 4-4-2 stood for four cylinders, four valves per cylinder, and twin cams. In 1990, it produced 180 horsepower from its 2.3-liter engine, which was equal to or better than the Olds 307 V-8s from the previous generation of 442 that ended production along with the G-body platform.
The example that Jay drives in this episode, owned by Olds guru Jeff Szafraniec, is one of 204 built with the W-41 option package, which included an upgraded engine good for 190 hp along with improved suspension and transmission gearing. Szafraniec gives Jay a brief and interesting lesson in Olds Quad 4 development with a beautiful race engine display before the two take a look at the production version of the 442, as well as race version of the 442, discussing the modifications that help the race version crank out an additional 50 ponies.
When they do take to the roads outside of Jay’s southern California shop, Jay has a lot of fun winding the little four-cylinder up to get the most out of it. Take a look and learn, like Jay did, about a forgotten piece of Oldsmobile history.