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We’re Diving Head-First into an LS-Swapped G-bdoy Project, Project H/OMG!
Over the last three years, we’ve been building project after project and keeping ourselves extremely busy; be it with Project Redrum, Project Wicked6 or our recently IRS-upgraded Project Phoenix, it never ends! We promised ourselves that after our Grand National and ’84 Trans Am projects were complete, we would finally move out of the ’80s project cars, and turn all of our attention to the hardware of today.
That was the plan, anyway.
After seeing a few LS-swapped G-bodies out and about, and having to want to build one for years, we decided that we would consider such a project. Well that consideration turned into a full-on desire and after finding the “right” donor vehicle to consider, we went for it.
Choosing the Car
We didn’t want to LS swap our GN and we didn’t want to build another Regal, because we hate (essentially) repeating ourselves. We wanted a completely different car, of a different make and model in which to build from.
So that left us with the Chevy Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix and Oldsmobile Cutlass. As much as we dig the Grand Prix (especially the 2+2 “AeroCoupe”), we’re pretty much buried under Ponchos at the moment. We don’t need another one. We considered the Monte Carlo SS, but many of our contemporaries are building them right now, and we felt that it would just be white noise to our readers.
Our needs were simple, but precise; we eventually decided that we wanted an Oldsmobile, and not just any old Cutlass, but we wanted either a ’85-87 442 or an ’84 Hurst/Olds. The reasons for this were simple; we wanted something with some “performance” pedigree, and we wanted an example that left the factory with the stronger 8.5-inch 10-bolt rearend.
Not to be confused with the 7.5-inch piece found in your typical F-body or base G-body, the 8.5 unit is the same axle found in all ’84-87 Turbo Buicks, and as we all know, they’re a very stout piece. If we found a 7.5-inch equipped ’83 H/O for the right price and in the condition we were looking for we still would have bit, however.
Now if we were going for a 4-digit level power output, the rear axle wouldn’t matter and we would simply outsource a 12-bolt, 9-inch or a Dana 60 from an outside supplier. But we’re not, so we’ll suffice with the OEM 10-bolt — just with a beefed up differential and stronger axles. We’ll get more into our plans in a minute.
As of this writing, this was probably the most annoying, painful and somehow entertaining aspect of the project so far. We were initially looking for a solid roller; something super affordable that we can build from, “hack up” and not worry about “ruining” an all-original car. We searched high and low. We looked everywhere. We’ve searched Craigslist, eBay, Auto Trader, the various G-body related Facebook pages and groups, etc.
Eventually we were contacted by someone who allegedly had a ’87 442 roller that once already had an LS swap and a 5-speed manual in place. Even the three pedals were still dangling in the cockpit footwell.
Shortly after he sent us some images and a price through Facebook Messenger, he apparently disappeared off of the face of the Earth. Calls, texts and Facebook messages went received, but unanswered. We assumed he either decided to keep it, or was just full of BS. Oh, well.
We were also contacted by an Olds G-body collector who had an affinity for 442s and Hurst/Olds, but wouldn’t part with anything he had because we made the apocalyptic mistake of mentioning an LS swap — whoops!
Mostly because he kept presenting us with show cars that we didn’t want to mess with, or pay a premium for, given our plans. Even the one or two examples that he had that were absolutely begging for such attention, he simply wouldn’t part with.
He did pass us over to an ’83 Hurst/Olds owner that was selling his car for a great price, even with the weaker 7.5-inch rear. However, because we called past business hours (6:02 pm, MT) he went bananas with us on the phone and hung up. We can only assume that he’s not an actual business owner…
We then heard through the grapevine that a local auto auction just landed a super clean ’83 Hurst/Olds that would probably go cheap(!). We checked it out, made a couple of calls and ultimately found the listing. They were right, it was gorgeous. So gorgeous in fact that it probably would have been sacrilegious to “cut up” such a nice, all-original car. The auction came and went, but it ultimately sold for just a hair over $5,000. If we were just looking to land one to flip or collect, we would be kicking ourselves. Since then, it’s been popping up all over the place for everything from $15,000-20,000 with no apparent takers.
At this point, we were ready just to build a clone… or build one out of paper machey, until we received a message request from a friend of an owner of one who was letting a T-top equipped ’84 Hurst/Olds go. The car was in Louisiana. We’re based in Ohio. Luckily, I had already made arrangements to visit some of our GMEFI friends in Florida, so the trip wouldn’t be too far out of our way. I wasn’t sure if I was going to fly or drive up to that point, but after several phone calls and messages I hopped behind the wheel of The Mule and hit the road, planning on simply renting a trailer if the deal panned out.
When we spotted the car, we were almost deflated; it was filthy, sitting in a Louisiana front yard up to its rockers, covered with bird dung, tree funk and it had four flat tires. Oddly, the original 15-inch Hurst wheels were long gone, and in their place were gold 14-inch ’83 Grand Prix turbine-style wheels — yuck! The battery was dead, and wouldn’t even hold a charge.
The interior was decent minus the torn front seats and the iconic Hurst Lightning Rod shifters were still in place! The top three-quarters of the car were solid as can be, but the rockers, rear quarters and sections of the floor were extremely rough. Luckily, the three-piece rear spoiler was still present, as was the front air dam/ground effects, factory hood and hood scoop. Denoting a true H/O, the RPO label inside the trunk lid matched the VIN, and on it, was the three-digit code, “W40,” which translates to a Hurst/Olds.
Though it was certainly the same car as in the photos, it looked more solid on Facebook.
We threw a battery in and it fired up after we primed the carb. The engine was knocking — as in, a rod knock, not the timing kind. Not that I really cared, the plan was to ditch the 307 pretty much immediately, so that wasn’t a deal breaker. As long as it could move under its own power well enough to limp onto and off of the trailer, and into the shop, we were happy. I had no plans on stylin’ and profilin’ with this heap as it sat, anyway.
The asking price was $1900 (down from the original $2500, allegedly) — which if the body wasn’t as rough as it was, would have been decent. I ultimately talked the guy down to $1000, considering the out-of-the-way detour I took just to go look at the thing, seemed reasonable. I figured if the car didn’t pan out for a project, I could part it out for far more than I would have in it at that price. The seller accepted my offer.
Using a borrowed battery from the seller’s daily driver, we loaded the thing up onto a rented U-haul trailer, exchanged the monies, did the title transfer and hit the road. The first thing we did on the way? Stop at a coin wash and scrub the thing down to see how bad it really looked. As it turned, despite the rust, not too bad!
As the miles wore on and I kept looking into my rear view mirror and back up camera, I progressively became attached to the thing and made up my mind that I was just going to persist with the Hurst, regardless. The constant thumbs up, compliments, general interest and head nods we received on the way home from Louisiana were enough to make me reconsider parting the car out.
However, once we put the car on the lift at GBodyParts in Bethel, NC during a recent trip there… we got the full scope of the rust issue. As it turns out, it’ll need new trunk pan, floor boards, rear wheel wells, rockers, brake lines, fuel lines, and even rear frame extensions. Since we were already in G-body Heaven, we picked most of those items up while in town. GBodyParts’ owner, Brian Weaver, thinks we’re crazy for persisting, but totally supports our determination! It’s a good thing, because we’re going to need a lot of both!
Under the hood, was a humorous site: the all-stock 307 was packing a hidden treasure, by way of the Tornado. Remember those? They were a big hit in the ’90s and the ’00s. The idea was, that installing one of these things into your air cleaner or inlet duct would, in essence, be adding a sort of intake charge booster, providing additional horsepower and increased fuel mileage. It did neither. In fact, it was nothing more than a gimmick and an intake restriction. Not that it really mattered in the case of our 307, we pitched it.
Once we got the Olds back to the shop and unloaded, two other things became very apparent; the trans was on its way out, and the brakes were pretty much nonexistent. The Hurst Lighting Rod shifters were jamming up, too. Again, all of these will be getting upgraded in the coming months, but this is our reasoning why we didn’t provide you a driving review or any kind of baseline testing. It simply isn’t worth “repairing” these issues to do so, and we doubt the clanking coming from the engine’s rotating assembly would even make it down the end of the street, anyway.
Truth be told, the ’83-84 Hurst/Olds and the ’85-87 442 were nothing to write home about from a performance standpoint. Under their performance-minded exteriors and their throwback callouts, was a modest 180hp/245 lb-ft, 307 cubic-inch Oldsmobile mill, paired with a 200-4R automatic transmission that sends power to the 10-bolt out back. The differential housed a set of 3.73 gears inside, with a limited-slip as an optional extra.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, the rear axle was the same unit found in Turbo Buicks, just with different gears (Turbo Buicks had 3.42). The 200-4R, however, was shifted with a Lightning Rod shifter, a unit that allowed the same relaxed comfort driving as a traditional shifter, with the ability to manually shift gears without having to use a clutch. Check out the clip below:
It was a nod to the classic, “His and Her” shifter from the late-60s and early ’70s, typically found in many GM A-bodies, like the Hurst/Olds, 442, GTO and others. The idea was to have a shifter that anyone can drive, but provided the gearhead of the family a chance to “row through the gears” on Saturday night at the drag strip.
Speaking of which, the Hurst/Olds when it was shiny and new, fresh from the factory and in its prime, was good for 0-60 times of over 9-seconds, and mid-16 quarter-mile times. Maximum top speed was roughly 115mph. Stopping the 3500-lb. G-body from 60mph happened in about 205 feet. For a simple comparison, the 2012 ZL1 Camaro (which weighs nearly 1,000 pound more than our Olds) can manage that feat in less than half of that distance.
You can chalk it up to the previous generation ZL1’s massive binders, but considering the Olds has 10.5-inch vented discs up front and cast iron drums out back, there leaves a lot to be desired. Larger brakes, modern technology — sure — but we think H/OMG deserves better.
The Hurst/Olds was more than a badge and a shifter, though, truth be told. It was a way to harken black to the glory days of the muscle car; bold graphics, a menacing rumble from the dual pipes and sweet Hurst shifter in your hand. The striping, rear spoiler and hood scoop are testament to that. The performance that the 5-liter powerplant may not have earned their street credibility, but this particular example certainly will!
Well first and foremost, we need to address the obvious before it gets any worse — the body! The shell will be pulled from the frame to repair the floor and trunk pans, the rockers, wheel wells and anything else pertaining to the body.
The rear spoiler, factory hood, graphics and paint scheme will all remain, as will much of the interior though we may replace those torn up hides with very supportive, and color-matching, racing buckets. We want the comfort, but we’ll need the additional support.
As cool as the Hurst Lightning Rods are, which ours keep jamming up, we may forego a transmission rebuild for a 6-speed swap, with a Hurst shifter rowing the gears (obviously) but with an interesting twist that will somehow provide a tribute to the OE shifters. We want it to remain true to the Hurst/Olds theme, the heritage of this collectible car, but we want it to be relevant now and for much of the future.
We want it to be quick, fun to drive and reliable. It needs to be fast down the 1320′ (well, much faster than factory, anyway) and we would like to put it into the corners. We looked at offerings from Baer Brakes for binders, and are considering a simple OEM wheel replacement, but we’ll see in the future installments on how that will look. A serious suspension upgrade is planned, too!
Now for the best part, the drivetrain. The 307 is obviously out, rebuilding it would be a waste of time and a “traditional” Olds engine isn’t going in its place. In a recent mention on a Hurst/Olds Facebook page, we summarized our plans for the car and the shrewdest of the purists hated it. Oh, well.
Obviously an LS is going in, though a GEN-V LT1 would be even better. We entertained that idea at first, but we keep reminding ourselves that we scored a brand new Chevrolet Performance 5.3L bare block from Summit Racing‘s clearance section for less than $200 out the door early last summer, and we need something to throw it in — might as well put it in this!
We want an Olds displacement, though, and the easiest way to get there with a 325 cube LS, is go a little larger in the bore sizing for a displacement of 330-ish cubic inches, and the Rocket Olds hue sprayed onto the block! Some suggested we were a little nuts, but apparently, we’re no the only ones to think this way as a ’65 442 built by JH Restorations took the exact same route, and looks killer to boot!
A set of CNC-ported heads, a carb-style intake manifold, aftermarket EFI and a lumpy cam will become part of the recipe, as will stainless long-tube headers and a free-flowing exhaust system. The goal is a car that will lay down somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 hp to the rear tire, handle, stop and brake with an entry-level Mustang GT or Camaro SS of today and be comfortable to drive anywhere, any time. The exact specs and hardware aren’t rock-solid yet, but we’ll bring Project H/OMG updates to you as they come!
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of GMEFI Magazine, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.