In 1964, General Motors sent the automotive marketplace into a frenzy with release of the iconic Pontiac Tempest LeMans GTO. Widely regarded as America’s first muscle car, GM had decided to do the unthinkable — stuff a large-displacement engine in a midsize, two-door coupe.
The car became an instant hit, and soon big-block performance was all the rage. In each passing year leading up to 1970, GM’s other divisions followed Pontiac’s example and developed muscle cars offerings of their own. Buick released the Skylark GS in 1965, and Chevrolet and Oldsmobile launched the Chevelle SS and Cutlass 442. All four divisions stretched the cubic-inch limit to its very limit and fully believed there was no replacement for displacement.
In 1970, it appeared that big block muscle cars could soon lose their luster. The call for increased emissions standards would certainly result in the death of high-compression engines. As fuel costs continued to rise and insurance companies started charging sky-high premiums for big-block muscle cars, the demand for more affordable performance grew.
One company that took notice of this shift in the marketplace was Oldsmobile. Even if the cubic inches were no longer there, buyers still had a strong desire for that classic “muscle car look.” Thus, the popularity of “junior” muscle cars with high-performance small-block V8 engines gained traction.
Perhaps the most unique among the “junior” muscle cars was the 1970 Oldsmobile Rallye 350. Available only in Sebring Yellow, its striking appearance was highlighted by color-matched bumpers and wheels that gave the Rallye 350 a look unlike any other muscle car on the street.
In an era when chrome was still cool, Oldsmobile’s monochromatic color scheme was certainly daring and influential on the future styling of performance cars. Instead of adhering to Oldsmobile’s traditional touch of class, the Rallye 350 was bold and muscular. Nearly a half-century later, we’re still waiting for today’s luxury automakers to get with the times. Yes Buick, Lincoln, and Cadillac — we’re looking at you.
A unique deck lid spoiler and a fiberglass W-25 cowl induction hood definitely signaled this was no ordinary Olds. But the Rallye 350 was much more than an appearance package: The sole powertrain option was a bulletproof 350 cubic inch V8 engine with an impressive 310 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Perhaps Oldsmobile was right — no big block was needed after all. With just the little 350 at the helm, this junior Olds could sprint to 60 in seven seconds flat and complete the quarter mile in 15.27 seconds at just over 94 miles per hour.
If you wanted to go even faster, customers could choose to upgrade the Rallye 350’s standard 3.23:1 open differential. A 3.42:1 and 3:91 ratio were also available with Anti-Spin — Oldsmobile’s classy name for a posi. Transmission choices were also plentiful, with the option of a floor-mounted three-speed manual, Muncie M-21 close ratio four-speed, or a Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 automatic.
While the Rallye 350 certainly wasn’t about to win any road course races, it was still quite agile and fun to toss around corners with Oldsmobile’s FE2 “Rallye Sport Suspension,” which included stiffer springs and larger front and rear sway bars. Compared to the 442 anchored by its much heavier 455 big-block V8, the Rallye 350 felt like a slot car.
Surprisingly, just a little over 3,500 Rallye 350s were built in 1970, and the model was discontinued after just a single year of production. Reports say that Oldsmobile dealers struggled to sell them and often replaced their painted bumpers with chrome alternatives simply to move them off dealership lots — a costly endeavor. While the Rallye 350 may have helped prove that the muscle car era could survive without big block engines, the market just wasn’t ready for its radical monochromatic styling. Like many other incredible cars that didn’t sell particularly well, perhaps the Rallye 350 was simply ahead of its time.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.