1971 Oldsmobile 442

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by Joe Babiasz  More from Author

Top-down style meets 455 V-8 torque.

“It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” That was the marketing slogan Oldsmobile division used to help convince the masses that they had changed. And perhaps no Oldsmobile drove that slogan home more than a 442 with the optional W30 package. Anyone who ordered a W30 soon found out they owned a machine as close to a land-based rocket ship as was available in 1971, and it certainly wasn’t their father’s Oldsmobile. During the 60’s Chevrolet was revered as GM’s premier muscle car division, but Oldsmobile was working quietly in the shadows to develop its own performance car. In 1964, Oldsmobile set out to keep up with other GM divisions by marketing a mild mannered yet formidable 330 cubic inch, four-speed, dual exhaust A-body muscle car with the launch of the 442. Later, with the help of Hurst’s Jack “Doc” Watson, the 442 became a powerhouse in the factory hot rod wars, ready to take on just about anything that pulled up next to it at a stoplight. While it’s agreed that 1970 was the peak of factory muscle cars, 1971 wasn’t such a bad year either.

By 1971, the 442 evolved into a total performance package. Not only did it perform like gangbusters but unlike its other performance brothers at GM, the 442 provided the highest level of owner comfort out of all of the GM mid-size cars. From its firm bucket seats to the many available power options, the 442 surpassed any other GM muscle cars for total comfort. But for those buyers who wanted to do some serious racing, Olds made available a plethora of performance options including JL2 brakes, G89 performance axle package, M22 heavy duty four-speed transmission and the W37 dual plate clutch disc. For 1971 the 455 cubic-inch engine had it’s compression ratio cut to 8.5:1, but it still provided enough brute power to use up a pair of standard F70x14 inch Wide-Oval tires in no time at all.    

The basic body style was now in its third year of production. From the front, a 442 with the optional W25 fiberglass hood looked menacing, almost as if it would suck the opposition into its twin hood scoops, never to be seen again. From the side, the car looked somewhat formal, with sweeping front fenders and doors that blended into the quarter panel. The top of the quarter panel had a hard line kick-up which gave it a distinct look. Its rear end was similar to the 1970 model, with the exception of new horizontal tail lamps set within the rear bumper. Style steel wheels with raised white letter tires finished off the exterior.  

Oldsmobile went the extra mile when designing the interior of the 442. Comfortable vinyl or cloth bucket seats and a deluxe four-spoke steering wheel were standard equipment. The optional center console received a Hurst Dual-Gate shifter when an automatic transmission was ordered. The nicely styled dash included a three pod instrument cluster and faux wood-grain trim that extended onto the door pads. Oldsmobile had always been known for its comfort features; therefore a long list of power options were offered to improve the owner’s drive to work.

While most gearheads would be happy owning a standard 442, the gang at Oldsmobile was kind enough to offer horsepower-crazy people the legendary W30 package. This performance package included a 350 horsepower, 455 cubic-inch V-8, forced-air induction system, special fiberglass hood with functional hood scoops, sports-style rear view mirrors, and special paint stripes. But perhaps the most unique feature of the W30 package was the red plastic inner fender liners, which reduced weight and provided added visual enhancement. Transmission options included the M20 or M22 four-speed manual, or the tried and true Turbo-Hydromatic. Looking back, history has shown that Oldsmobile pushed the performance envelope and by all means exceeded everyone’s expectations.

And if you think the power-meets-style theme is great with the hardtops, 110 ’71 W30s left the assembly line as convertibles.  This month’s feature car is a very rare 1971 Oldsmobile 442 convertible with the W30 option and silver paint. In fact, you may be looking at the only silver 442 W30 convertible in existence, which drives up the current value of this particular car tremendously.

Fuel For Thought

Inner fender wells are red
“X” in VIN designates a W30 car
All vehicles had an aluminum intake manifold casting # 407570
Automatic transmission code was “OW”
All 442s had a 442 emblem on the glove box
All 442s had a special fuel filter between the fuel pump and carburetor
Last year for unique model
Total of 920 W30 cars were produced in 1971 and 110 of those were convertibles


Number built – 1,304 convertibles were produced
Construction – body-on-frame
Engine – 455 cubic-inch V-8
Power/Torque – 340/370, 350/410
Transmissions – three-speed manual, four-speed manual, three-speed automatic
Suspension front – independent coil springs with unequal length control arms and .937-inch stabilizer bar
Suspension rear – coil springs with .875-inch stabilizer bar
Brakes – 10.88-inch front disc and 9.5-inch rear drum
Length/width/height – 213.3/76.8/54.8 inches
Wheelbase – 112 inches
Weight – 3,792 lbs.
0-60mph/quarter mile – 5.7 seconds, 14.36 seconds at 100.22 mph (Car Life, March 1970 when testing a 1970 442 with W30)
Top speed – 116 mph (Car Life, March 1970)
MPG – 12.2 mpg during vehicle test (Car Life, March 1970)
Price  – MSRP $ 3,743; Today – $14,150 - $39,300

Insurance cost

Insurance cost is $225/year for a $26,100, 1971 Oldsmobile 442 convertible. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.

*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance,

Engine – The 455 cubic-inch engine is strong. Oldsmobile took engine reliability one step further by adding rotating exhaust valves that provided a constant cleaning of the valve seats. It offers brute torque at any rpm and absolutely destroys its factory-size bias-plys.

Handling – The Oldsmobile division worked hard to make the 442 handle better than other mid-size cars. Just the right amount of firmness was designed into the car so while it went into turns well and held tight, the ride is pleasant on the highway. It is a gentleman’s hot rod.


1971 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 convertible
Number built – 5,089 V-8 convertibles (no further engine breakdown)
0-60/quarter mile – 6.0 seconds,14.35 seconds at 97 mph
Top speed – 125 mph est.
Price – MSRP – $3,891; Today – $19,600 - $57,600


1970 Pontiac GTO convertible
Number built – 3,615
0-60/quarter mile – 6.0 seconds,14.6 seconds at 99.5 mph (Car Life, April 1970)
Top speed – 120 mph est.
Price – MSRP – $3,492; Today – $18,000 - $70,300

Strong Points

Stunning performance
Parts readily available
Moving up in the muscle car arena
Unique styling

Weak Points

Many un-restored cars are rusty
W30 package rare and expensive
Less popularity than a big block Chevy

Vehicle Category

Most cars fall into the weekend driver category. Owners enjoy showing their cars but with prices of W30 cars reaching record numbers, more owners might be inclined to store their alternative 401k plan.

What to pay

1971 Oldsmobile 442 Convertible

MSRP – $3,743
Low – $14,150
Average – $26,100
High – $39,300
*Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Classic Cars and Parts magazines are sold.

Parts Prices

Door pads $292.00
Full carpet $159.00
Baer Claw brake system $1,805
W25 fiberglass hood $639.00
Dash pad cover $35.95
Mr. Gasket engine gasket set $48.95
A/C compressor (new) $439.00

Year One Inc.



Oldsmobile 4-4-2 & W-Machines Restoration Guide by T. Patrick Sullivan

Oldsmobile Muscle Portfolio 1964-1971 by R.M. Clarke

Catalog of Oldsmobile 4-4-2, W-Machines & Hurst/Olds ID Numbers 1964-91 by Cars and Parts Magazine Matching Numbers Series by Cars and Parts Magazine

The Complete Book of Classic GM Muscle by Mike Mueller


Overall – The 1971 Oldsmobile 442 was a great performance car that did many things well. Unlike the other powerhouse muscle cars that did only one thing well (go fast in a straight line), the 442 was both a performance car and a turnpike cruiser. The engineers at Olds did their homework and provided outstanding power, great handling and a comfortable driver all in the same car.


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