Regular Jay Leno’s Garage viewers are likely familiar with the Oldsmobile 442, as a well-preserved 1966 442 previously appeared on the show. This time, though, Leno is featuring a very different take on the 442 nameplate.
The 1991 Oldsmobile Quad 442 W-41 was one of the last attempts to bring back the hallowed nameplate after its heyday of the 1960s. Like the original 442, the Quad 442 was a performance version of a more humble model, in this case the Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais. Oldsmobile didn’t stuff a powerful V-8 under the hood, as in the original 442, though, as Jeff Szafraniec, owner of the W-41 road car and race car shown in the episode, explains.
In the late 1980s, General Motors began working with outside engineering firms to develop a high-performance 4-cylinder engine for its many small front-wheel-drive models. The result was the Quad 4 dual-overhead cam inline-4, a 2.3-liter version of which powers the Quad 442.
While that may not sound as exciting as the V-8 engines that powered early 442s, the Quad 4 has an impressive resume. GM installed a twin-turbocharged version—producing around 1,000 hp—in the first-generation Oldsmobile Aerotech prototype, which four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt drove to a world closed-course speed record of 257.123 mph at a Texas test track in 1987.
Around the same time, GM also began building Quad 4-powered Calais race cars for SCCA competition. The SCCA didn’t like teams racing—and winning—with a non-production engine, which is what actually prompted GM to build a Quad 4 Calais road car, Szafraniec explains in the video.
The result was the Quad 442, which launched in W-40 form (referencing the W-30 code used on some previous versions of the 442) for the 1990 model year, with the W-41 following for 1991. The W-41 produced 190 hp, up from the W-40’s 180 hp. It also got different suspension tuning and different gearing for its 5-speed manual transmission (no automatic was offered). Racing versions got a forged crankshaft and titanium connecting rods, a 240-hp output, and lacked creature comforts like air conditioning.
The one-year-only W-41 is one of the rarest 442 models, with only about 200 built. All cars were built in March 1991, but the race car shown here wasn’t delivered to its team until 1992, according to Szafraniec, indicating some cars sat on dealer lots for awhile. There was admittedly a lot going on performance-wise at GM in 1991, with everything from the C4 Corvette ZR-1 and GMC Syclone competing for enthusiasts’ attention.
It may not have made much of an impression when new, but the Calais-based 442 is still a fascinating part of the nameplate’s history. Watch the full video for more details on this 4-cylinder 442.