The 4-4-2 for him
Story and photos by Bill McCleery
Car buffs generally appreciate all varieties of vintage vehicles with little regard to how many times they have been bought, sold or swapped. Still, there’s something special about a sharp old car still owned by the person who bought it new — especially when the automobile retains the attributes that made it distinctive from the day it rolled off the assembly line.
Such a car is testimony to the fact that it stole the owner’s heart from the very beginning, and he or she never let it go.
Belonging in that category is the 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass 4-4-2 owned by Clifton Cummins, 53, who ordered the car in March 1976 from the Johnny Kool Oldsmobile dealership in Indianapolis. It was built on April 23, 1976, and Cummins picked it up about three weeks later.
“I went looking for that model,” Cummins said. “I liked the striping and the clean body. I liked that it didn’t have all kinds of spoilers and scoops and all that kind of stuff that was being put on other cars.”
Cummins (pictured above) knew he’d like to keep the 4-4-2 for a long time from almost the day he bought it, he said. From the beginning, he avoided driving it during winter when road crews salted Indiana’s roads. He drove the Olds when it was nice outside and kept it clean, garaged and well-maintained.
“I always had another car to drive,” Cummins said. “In high school, I had a 1963 Rambler Ambassador I drove to school.”
The mileage on his Oldsmobile today? Right around 60,700.
“It’s got the original paint job, of course,” he said, “and everything else is pretty much original, except things like tires that you replace as part of regular maintenance.”
His car has the 4-4-2 Rocket 350-cid V-8 engine with a Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor good for 170 hp. (4-4-2s could also be optionally equipped with an engine of up to 455 cubic inches.) Cummins’ car also sports the 4-4-2 package’s standard FE2 rally suspension, which was stiffer than the Cutlass suspension upon which the car was based.
“I always liked the way it drove and the way it handled,” Cummins said.
General Motors’ Oldsmobile division produced 9,576 Cutlass S fastbacked Colonade hardtop coupes in 1976, and an unknown fraction of those were optioned with the $134 W-29 4-4-2 appearance and handling package. The W-29 package could only be ordered on the base 1976 Cutlass, the Cutlass S, which sported the Colonade roof and a sloped front grille arrangement. Meanwhile, costlier Cutlass Supreme, Supreme Brougham and Salon models had a more vertical waterfall grille and a formal roofline for 1976.
The 4-4-2 name originated with the first 4-4-2 of 1964: F85 and Cutlass models with four-barrel carburetors, “four on the floor” manual transmissions and dual exhaust. In 1965, when Oldsmobile added automatic and three-speed manual transmission options, the designation was said to stand for the 400-cubic-inch engine, four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust. In years thereafter, however, the name ceased to have any particular correlation to features on the car and simply was a designation for performance features on midsize Cutlass models. From 1968 to 1971, the 4-4-2 was a model name in its own right. Thereafter, it became an option package on the Cutlass, as it had been through 1967.
During the time he has owned the car, Cummins has made memories that make it all the more special to him.
“My grandmother and I went down to Knoxville, Tenn., in it for the World’s Fair in 1982,” he said. “That was a really nice time.”
In 1997, Cummins drove it to Lansing, Mich., for the Oldsmobile Centennial, an event celebrating the company founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897. Cummins recalls one particularly special moment from that event.
“It was raining when I was trying to park, and this guy knocked on my window,” Cummins recollected. “He said, ‘Hey, I painted your car. I painted your car.’ You know, I was trying to get out of the rain, and I didn’t even get his name. It was pouring down. It was like a monsoon. But I’ve always wished I would have stopped and had him sign something.”
Cummins, a lifelong Indianapolis Eastsider, says he expects his 4-4-2 will remain part of his family for the rest of his life.
Looking back, Cummins said, it seems like fate had pegged him as an Oldsmobile man from an early age.
“My first pedal car was an Oldsmobile,” he said. “It was a blue Holiday.”
If the Olds 4-4-2 adds up to one of your favorites, learn more about it with the Standard Catalog of Oldsmobile 1897-1997, the ultimate reference guide for Oldsmobile fans and auto historians. It's back with updated collector pricing through 2004 models!