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Car of the Week: 1971 Oldsmobile 442 coupe

Black and gold perfection in this '71 Olds 442 keeps the Waunakee, Wis. owner grinning from ear to ear.
Car of the Week 2020

Matt Hofeldt took a long look at his menacing black 1971 Oldsmobile 442 coupe, slowing scanning the car from front to back and pondering the question: “Is there anything on it that you want to work on or improve?”

Finally the answer came. “No, not really. I don’t have any squawks with it. Everything is fine, in my opinion.”

The menacing black 1971 Oldsmobile 442 coupe's muscular lines appear to be on the ready to pounce at all times... even standing still.

The menacing black 1971 Oldsmobile 442 coupe's muscular lines appear to be on the ready to pounce at all times... even standing still.

This winter, Hofeldt, a resident of Waunakee, Wis., says he’ll probably do even more deep cleaning and polishing on the beautiful Oldsmobile, and he plans to rebuild the original Rochester carburetor at some point, but for the most part his 442 has reached the “just leave it alone and admire it stage.”

“I’m pretty picky about the quality of things, and I wanted something that would be a really fine example,” Hofeldt says. “And that’s what this is.”

No denying the 442

No denying the 442

Indeed, it would be hard to find a more stunning and all-around impressive 442 than Hofeldt’s sinister black-and-gold W-30 muscle monster. It must have been quite a site when the original owner picked it up from the dealer and took it to the drag strip for the first time, and 50 years later it’s perhaps an even better car than it was originally.

“It was originally ordered by a Mr. Brown in Shelbyville, Ind.,” Hofeldt says. “He ordered the car custom, picked out everything. He wanted to go drag racing. That’s really all he wanted it for, so that’s why it came this way. And sometime shortly after that, he blew the first engine up and the block that’s in this is a correct VIN-stamped warranty engine. He had it for a time when he was racing it and driving it, and apparently he put it away and it sat for a number of years before it was purchased by another gentleman in Indiana."

“That owner and his son set off on about a 20-year restoration of the car — the best of everything… His son, unfortunately, passed away in a motorcycle accident and he parked the car and wasn’t able to sell it for about 20 years. It was purchased by a dealer somehow in Illinois and before it came into inventory they called me and I bought the car from them.”

Who wouldn't want to get behind this wheel rowing gears?

Who wouldn't want to get behind this wheel rowing gears?

Hofeldt had been checking out a lot of cars in person by that point and put out a lot of feelers. He hadn’t pulled the trigger on anything, even after casting a wide net. His efforts finally paid off, however, and he was able to get it before anyone else had a chance.

I’ve been looking for one of these cars for quite a long time. People knew I was looking,” he said. “I got this from a dealer, but it never hit the open market, if you will.”

“I knew that I wanted a four-speed, I knew that I wanted ’70 or ’71. The ’70s are more coveted, but I liked the way the ’71s looked better. Of course, that is totally a matter of personal preference, but they changed the grilles and that’s what I liked better. When I found this one that was a ’71 and in such a unique color combination … this car had had its engine completely rebuilt, with ’70 internals and a slightly different camshaft. So I essentially got everything that I wanted as it related to the power output, and also the way that the car looked.”

A look at the '71 grille

A look at the '71 grille


If the 1964 Pontiac Tempest/GTO is generally conceded to be the first true American muscle car — with apologies to the ’49 Rocket Olds, early ’50s Hudson Hornets and ’55 Chrysler 300, among others — then the Olds 4-4-2 wasn’t far behind.

The first Oldsmobile 4-4-2 was a 1964 midyear offering for drivers who wanted just a bit more performance and handling than the standard midsize Oldsmobile delivered. On the official price sticker attached to the window, this $285.14 package was described as “Option number B-09 Police Apprehender Pursuit.” One piece of Oldsmobile factory literature called Product Selling Information for Oldsmobile Salesmen explained the 4-4-2 like this, “police needed it — Olds built it — pursuit proved it.”

This literature clearly pointed out the original meaning of the 4-4-2 designation was as follows:

“4-BARREL CARBURETION — plus high-lift cams boost the power of the “4-4-2” Ultra High-Compression V-8 to 310 hp—up 20 hp over Cutlass V-8.

4-ON-THE-FLOOR — stick shift synchromesh transmission captures every power advantage both up and down the entire gear range.

2 DUAL EXHAUSTS — complete dual exhaust system features less back pressure for better performance … aluminized for longer life.”

The Oldsmobile sold for $2,734.57, compared to $3,120 for the Mustang and $3,161.31 for the GTO LeMans. Even the fancier Cutlass Holiday Coupe with the 4-4-2 package was only $3,144.46.

For all its successes and popularity, the 4-4-2 didn’t become its own model until 1968, which was also when it the company started to drop the hyphens in the name, at least on the on-car badging, and started referring to the model as the 442.

In 1971 the W-31 package was phased out due to emissions but the W-30-optioned 442s were continued.

In 1971 the W-31 package was phased out due to emissions but the W-30-optioned 442s were continued.

The 1971 model year was the last hurrah for the 442 as a separate series. In 1972, the model would become an appearance and handling option for the Cutlass “S.” Standard 1971 equipment included a special 455-cid engine, a dual exhaust system, carpeting, special springs, stabilizer bars, special engine mounts, Strato bucket seats, heavy-duty wheels, special emblems and a deluxe steering wheel. Oldsmobile offered a choice of vinyl or cloth upholstery. The standard tires were G70-14s.

The W-31 version of the 350-cid 1970 Cutlass V-8 had to be discontinued in 1971 since it couldn’t pass emission control tests that were coming online at the time, but W-30-optioned 442 models were continued in 1971. The W-30s had an 8.5:1 compression ratio, accomplished by using a piston with a dished-out top.

The 455-cid engine used in the 442 had a net horsepower rating of 260. The gross horsepower rating shown in the Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975 is 340 at 4600 rpm. While Oldsmobile was reluctant to give out the W-30’s ratings for 1971, the 1970 rating was 470 gross hp.


A unique 1971 feature was the use of valve rotators on the exhaust valves of 442 and W-30 engines. In addition, valve rotators were fitted on the intake valves. Special alloy exhaust valve seats were installed in the cylinder heads and the valves themselves had aluminum seats and hardened tips.

The rear ends on all Cutlass-based cars were given larger pinion bearings and stronger pinion shafts while the clutches in limited-slip differentials were such that they developed higher maximum friction torque. Optional on the W-30 cars was a dual-disc, dual-plate clutch that offered 10 percent greater torque capacity, 40 percent less pedal effort and a 100 percent increase in clutch life.

Among the ’71s, the 442 convertible is definitely the rarer prize with 1,304 produced. Hofeldt’s stellar black machine is one of 6,285 two-door hardtops built for the model year.


Hofeldt recently unveiled a new venture in Marshall, Wis., that he calls Capital Speed. The business is part collector car dealership, part resto/repair shop, and part clubhouse. Hofeldt’s plan is to use the business to buy and sell cars, but also as a public hangout for anybody that loves the car hobby or folks who just need a cool space to hold an event.

A look inside Hofeldt's Capitol Speed.

A look inside Hofeldt's Capitol Speed.

Part of the décor in the dealership is a store front for an Amoco station. It is a tribute to Hofeldt’s first job when he was a kid, which is also what ultimately led him to his pride-and-joy 442.

“My grandparents and my dad went to Fred’s Amoco in Middleton, Wis., on University Ave. And when I was 14, I wanted a job. So my dad marched me down there, and I asked Fred Ceibel (the owner) if I could work at his filling station. And he told me yes, and I’d ride my bike there literally every day in the summertime, and that’s why I have the Amoco station… It was my first job and the first place that I really appreciated and learned about cars. He really gave me my start.”

Another employee at the station “who was older than me and who I thought was really cool” had a hot Oldsmobile, and Hofeldt decided that was a good enough reason for him. He said he always wanted one after that, too. Finding a ’71 that had been so well restored, had a known history and complete documentation, put a happy ending on his lengthy search.

We dig the down-to-business look of the poverty caps.

We dig the down-to-business look of the poverty caps.

Taking into account that the car was ticketed to be a race car right off the lot, the odds of it winding up in one piece — let alone in its current spectacular condition — certainly seem long. 

“[The first owner] didn’t tub it or do anything funky with it. He pretty much just raced it,” Hofeldt notes. “Certainly, when he was racing it it was completely stock. I can only imagine what that was like on the bias-ply tires! It had to have been interesting.”

Hofeldt has had the car a little over a year now and has only done some minimal work to it. He buffed out the paint, changed a few “hardware pieces underneath the car that nobody would ever see” and installed some new rear shocks. He also swapped out the bias-ply tires for more driver-friendly radials.

 “The wide oval radials that Coker makes, they look just like they should … and the ride of the car had been all over the place, following grooves. So we went with a really nice gas shock and those tires and it rides nice.”

He also put a new headliner in the 442. He’s not positive, but it’s possible that it’s the only thing inside that not original. 

“The gentleman who had restored the car in Indiana only put 1,000 or so on the car, and the seats show a bit more patina than that. They are in beautiful condition, but I don’t think [they have been redone]. They very well could be all original, because the car is a 57,000-mile car right now. So I would be very apt to believe that those are original. We did decide to do the headliner. From sitting so long one of the bows let go, so we did replace that.”

“It’s pretty much exactly like it was ordered: FM radio, the wing in back was added. The paperwork we have shows the wing was not ordered on the car originally. The dealer added that after. His mindset was, anything that didn’t make the car go faster, he didn’t add. When he sat down with Oldsmobile dealer it was: “I want a 442, I want a W-30, I want it in these colors, and that was it.’ Nothing else got checked… And everything is highly documented with the car. I’ve got the original broadcast sheet, the original Protect-O-Plate. All that stuff.”

Hofeldt jokes that the ’71 442s where not well suited to extra tall riders or anybody who is claustrophobic. 

“Not a big car by any means,” he says. “You have to kind of slide down in the seat.”

 Indeed, the muscle Oldsmobile offers minimal headroom, but the ride is surprisingly smooth and the acceleration is off the charts.

He hasn’t taken the car back to its roots and had it to the drag strip yet, but he admits it won’t much arm twisting. Mr. Brown would no doubt approve of the ’71 picking up a few more pink slips. 

“I think it would be really neat to have that experience, so yes,” Hofeldt says with a smile. “Hey, it’s dyno tested over 500 hp, so it would be fun to see.

“Do I worry about driving it? Yeah, I worry, but not enough to keep me from doing it. Cars are meant to be driven and I do enjoy sharing it.”

Hofeldt and his 442.

Hofeldt and his 442.


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