Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Deems Pelishek has some words of advice for his fellow car enthusiast. “Don’t ever sell your [old] car and say that’s going to be the last one, because you’re probably going to have another one,” jokes the West Salem, Wis., resident.
After a couple of Olds 4-4-2s, “about six GTOs and maybe a half a dozen ’55 to ‘57 Chevys,” Pelishek figured his collector car days were over. That was before he spotted a pristine, low-mileage 1979 Hurst/Olds Calais, however, and then the fun began all over again. The car was rare, gorgeous, all-original, fun to drive, reasonably priced and would likely grow in value and stature as a hobby car in the coming years.
It was all too much to pass up, and before he knew it, Pelishek was showing off his first “survivor” class car.
“I used to sell Oldsmobiles, and we never sold a new one of these,” he recalled. “We never got one. I guess I always liked the looks of the Oldsmobiles. I really started looking for a Cutlass Supreme or something like that, and I always liked this body style when it got smaller again. In '73 they got stretched out and doors got so long.
“This car I actually bought it down in Charles City, Iowa, from a motorcycle dealer. The guy was into motorcycles, but he also had a few cars… A guy had traded it in down there. He had bought it new and most of the time he stored it. He said, ‘I rode my Harley in the summertime and hardly ever got the car out.’”
The odometer on the beautiful black-and-gold coupe shows just over 23,000 miles today. The fancy Calais is both rare and wonderfully original. Aside from a set of new tires and true dual exhaust equipped with Flowmaster mufflers, the Olds is almost exactly the way it came off the Olds assembly line. “When it came from the factory it had a single exhaust coming back and then a cross muffler. The guy before me had that [dual exhaust] put on,” Pelishek noted. “I like it stock. It’s fast enough and I’m too old to hang onto anything too fast anymore!”
The ’79 Hurst/Olds may not have been the fire-breathing street demons that their predecessors were, but they were pretty impressive for the late 1970s — the Death Valley years of the hobby in many collectors’ eyes — and whatever they may have lacked in raw power they made up for in style and good looks. And they don’t grow on trees, either. Only 2,499 were produced to stay under the limit of 2,500 that would have forced GM to get the 350-cid/four-speed drive train certified. A total of 1,334 were given the black-and-gold treatment. The rest were painted gold and white. Pelishek’s car was also one of only 537 that received factory T-tops.
“It’s the first car that I’ve ever had that didn’t have to be redone — you know, restored,” he said. “I put tires on it and that was it.”
The 1979 Hurst/Olds Calais was the sixth version of the Hurst/Olds — a partnership that took off in 1968 when George Hurst dressed up his first Olds and stuffed a big 455-cid V-8 engine in the midsize Cutlass. The model returned for 1969, took two years off, then was reinvented from 1972-75.
Later versions ended up being more flashy than fast. For 1979, the downsized Cutlass Calais needed some extra dressing and excitement. Hurst went back to the drawing board and supplied the much-needed ingredients with a bold new Hurst/Olds package. In the past, Hurst/Olds cars had been shipped to a separate factory for the Hurst conversion, but the 1979 examples were set up for conversion right at the Oldsmobile factory.
For an extra $2,054 tacked on to the $5,631 base price, you got option W-30. A long list of other options could run the cost of a loaded Hurst/Olds well over the $10,000 mark — which put them in the same territory as a new Corvette or Lincoln Continental.
There was a W-30 decal calling out this option kit on each front fender. The extra-cost package included gold paint trim, gold aluminum wheels, gold sport mirrors, Hurst/Olds emblems on the sail panels, a Hurst Dual-Gate shifter — the last year of that offering — on the mandatory Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 and the Oldsmobile 350-cid V-8. Other goodies included reclining bucket seats, Rallye gauge package, power steering and brakes, digital clock, sport steering wheel, chrome rocker panel moldings and raised white-letter tires.
Gold paint was used on the hood, most of the top and tail end of the trunk lid. The grille and aluminum wheels were also painted gold. The rest of the car was either Ebony Black or Cameo White. Inside, the white and gold cars got Doeskin Derma Grain vinyl in Oyster White or Camel Tan, or Camel Tan Lochland cloth velour. Black cars had black or tan Derma Grain vinyl or the cloth velour.
Under the hood, the output of 170 net hp was nothing to brag about, but it was more appealing than the 130 hp being put out by the 305-cid V-8 used in most other GM vehicles at the time. Actually, GM had the 403-cid V-8 with 175 hp available — it was used in the Ninety-Eight and Custom Cruiser lineups, but used the 350 from the Delta 88 instead. The 14 x 6 wheels were stopped by 10 1/2 –inch discs in front and 9 ½ x 2-in drums in the rear.
Pelishek treats his Hurst/Olds pretty gently, but he has no reservations about hopping in it for a long ride. “It drives just like my 4-4-2 did, but the only thing is it doesn’t go like that!,” he laughs. “But it’s [good] for a 350. The thing I learned is don’t burn ethanol gas in it. The thing was always so doggy, but then I started going to Kwik Trip and buying that off-road gas. It’s a little expensive, but the thing gets about twice as much mileage and it does have a lot more power now.”
Pelishek isn’t obsessing about the car’s low mileage or going out of his way not to drive it, but he clearly enjoys having a car that is so unmolested and unique. He’s also noticed that the ’79 Hurst/Olds are beginning to become more appealing to enthusiasts and collectors. “I think it’s a little unique and I think someday it will be worth money, but unfortunately I’m getting so old!" he laughs.
“I think [the respect] is coming. It’s like years ago I went to shows with my 4-4-2 and there’d be a ’57 Chevy there, and I’d have no chance, you know. I’d be second place, because my car was too new. These cars are kind of like that.”
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