Rare Olds Packs a Punch
Rare Olds packs a punch
Most automotive historians agree that 1970 was the pinnacle of the first great muscle car movement. The Big Three in Detroit had ramped up to execute machines built of sleek designs, wildly crafted exteriors, and unprecedented straight-line performance. However, the newly minted decade would bring with it a surge of ramifications and strict policing. This power-packed party was about to get raided.
With automakers aiming muscle car advertising straight at the kisser of the kids of America, the insurance companies started battening down and raising the stakes—and their premiums. Rising tensions in the oil-rich Middle East added to the worries of the gas-guzzling muscle car salesmen, and it was well known that the stench of unleaded gas was just over the horizon. It was time to start thinking about a change in the overall strategy of the American car market.
Building a Budget Brawler
Oldsmobile had made a bold statement with its A-Body redesign in 1968, and buyers responded by boosting sales. Many enthusiasts considered the F-85 platform the most appealing of the foursome of GM intermediate offerings. Automotive journalists raved about Oldsmobile’s vaunted 4-4-2 model. Add in the fact that the Olds performance packages were nothing short of stellar, and, well, that seemed a recipe for success.
Feeling proud of their accomplishments, the crew at Oldsmo- bile was still on the ball when the tide started turning in the muscle car era. Knowing that there would be a need for a budgetminded but sporty intermediate in the near future, the team started the process of morphing their Cutlass platform into an “economy” hot rod: a car that had the visual impact of a muscle ride and enough power to make the young guns happy, but from an engine that wouldn’t raise the hackles of insurance companies.
As we all know, it’s the powerplant that puts the muscle in muscle car. So Olds started with the Rocket 350 block, and gave it the provisions to make it punch out some good power numbers. At 310 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque, this small-block was no slouch. It made a statement that Olds didn’t need a big-block to build a muscle car. Add in a cool twin-scooped hood treatment with cold air induction, and you’ve got most of your bases covered.
It didn’t stop there. To stimulate the eyes, the Olds crew basted the car in Sebring Yellow, even painting the forward and aft metal bumpers in the hue. To break up the monochromatic look, orange and black accent stripes were laid on, with callouts on the flanks. With its bold scoops and deck spoiler out back, the car just
screamed, “I’m a player out here, guys!” For even more attitude, color-coded wheels were added to the corners, shod with optional raised-letter sport tires. The Olds people christened the new car the Rallye 350.
You could get your Rallye 350 in one of three submodels. The most prevalent was based on the Cutlass Holiday coupe; 2,527 of the 3,547 total Rallyes built started as one of these body styles. The F-85 Club Coupe made up the next 1,020 units, while the remaining 160 were built from the
F-85 Sport (post) Coupe. No matter which car you started with, they all received the same Sebring Yellow paint and full Rallye 350 W-45 option code list of goodies.
“In 1977, he took her off the road”
In 1970, Otto Hanell was an impressionable 19-year-old with a big dream. He was ready to purchase his first car, and he had read up on all of Detroit’s big muscle rides in his various magazines. Of course, being just out of high school, Otto was going to have to get his dad’s approval on any purchase. Not just because his dad was the master of the house, but also because good ol’ Pop had to cosign the loan.
First stop for the twosome was a local Plymouth dealer. And there it sat, a 1970 Hemi ’Cuda convertible. Yes, it was one of the very few, the now overly collectible, elready ephant-motored ragtops, and it was ready for the taking. It was Otto’s first choice, but his father shot that down with one blow. “No Plymouth is going to sit in my driveway,” he said. Well, we’ll just say that was the big fish that got away.
An Olds dealer was next. Young Otto became smitten with the lineup of muscle. “I loved the scoops on the 4-4-2, and the magazines said they really worked,” he remembers. He got the chance to drive a 455-powered drop-top with the salesman by his side. “I had big plans to drag race, and I had a parts list in my head already for the Olds.” But it was to no avail. Dad wasn’t for a big-block like this at the house.
Buick seemed like a safer bet to Otto, because, hey, it was a Buick. It turns out it wasn’t an ordinary Buick, but a hot one with a racing stripe and big deck spoiler, a 455-powered GSX. Still, the answer was a resounding no.
So it was back to Chet Swanson Oldsmobile in Traverse City, Michigan, where a yellow beacon caught Otto’s eye. It was a sporty ride, with a strong 350ci powerplant, and set up with all the punch and periphery that you would expect in a muscle ride. “And it was a small-block, which my dad was happy with,” Otto remembers.
With all bases covered, the Rallye 350 Holiday Coupe came home with him. “My dad didn’t know it, but I was still going to drag race the car,” says Otto. He kept his promise, setting it up to do some damage at the local quarter-mile strips in his native Michigan.
When he hit the track, Otto set his Olds up the same way many kids did back then for weekend racing. He first rejetted the carb to maximize the delivery of 100-octane to the secondaries. He also iced down the fuel pump to cool off the juice when needed. Next he added a set of Hooker headers for better exhaust flow, and then installed an ACCEL ignition, indexing the spark plugs as well. A pair of racing slicks was added at the track to get a better grip on the pavement.
Otto held onto his yellow-hued ride, pushing it aside in the cold months and driving a beater car. In the years to follow he kept it locked up while other cars became his daily driver, even in the summer, but he always kept a watchful eye on it. He kept up with maintenance and always treated her well. In 1977, he took her off the road and settled her into his garage space at home.
Today we see the fruits of his labor. After 48 years of ownership, the car has maintained its good looks and performs the way she should. “I fill her up with some 115 and she runs great,” says Otto.
The originality of this ride is pretty amazing. “She’s nearly 100 percent original. I had a quarter-panel touched up after a fender bender, but the rest of the paint is original. I also replaced the water pump.”
Besides that, only some of the wearables have been replaced. It’s as close as it gets to being an original ride, and that’s even after Otto blasted it down the dragstrip many a time. Today it stays alongside some new GM muscle in his garage, just waiting to hit the streets again.
n The Rallye 350 was a groundbreaking model for Oldsmobile, although sales fell short of expectations. One theory is that theSebring Yellow paint scheme just didn’t do it for many buyers. The monochromatic design from bumper to bumper was possibly too much of a good thing. Reports say that some dealers added chrome bumpers just to get them off the lot, a costly upgrade just to provoke a sale.
n The W-45 option package included the W-25 fiberglass hood, W-35 rear deck spoiler, N35 sport mirrors, and healthy L74350 V-8 with the N10 dual exhaust.
n After 48 years in Otto’s possession, the car’s interior is still in great shape. The bench seat and column shift add to the all-business look of the interior. His high school graduation tassel from 1970 still hangs from the rear view mirror. n Otto added this set of Stewart-Warner gauges to keep track of the Olds’ vitals during its racing years.
n The L74 Rocket 350 was a powerful engine for its size, pumping out a healthy 310 hp from its small-block stature. Otto Hanell’s engine has never been apart (other than his replacing the water pump) and continues to run well, though he likes to feed it 115-octane leaded fuel when he takes her out.
n The Rallye 350 wasn’t just a visual package. The L74 350 was a great performer, and Oldsmobile even gave the car a stout FE2 handling package to provide it with more appeal to buyers who weren’t just going to run it hard in a straight line.
n Otto didn’t skimp when buying his Olds. He boosted the price of the Cutlass Holiday Coupe by a third of the original asking price with a bevy of cool add-ons.