The late 80s and early 90s weren’t a great time for fans of American performance. True, there was the occasional bright spot, like the Impala SS, Buick GNX, and GMC Syclone. However, many muscle cars struggled to deliver on their famous names. That’s why import cars like the Acura Integra, Nissan Sentra SE-R, Mitsubishi Eclipse, and Honda Civic Si and CRX Si started gaining popularity. That’s what inspired the Fast and Furious movies. However, there was a GM car that could keep up with the Civic Si: the Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Quad 442.
The Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Quad 442
The ‘442’ part of the Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Quad 442’s name may sound familiar. It had been used by Oldsmobile in the 60s and 70s, Autoweek explains. Originally, it stood for ‘4-barrel carburetor, 4-speed manual, 2 exhausts.’
However, by 1990, the Oldsmobile Cutlass had changed from a rear-wheel-drive muscle car into a front-wheel-drive luxury car. And while the brand continued to use the ‘442’ name, it had largely lost much of its mystique. The Cutlass Calais Quad 442, though, was a bit more in-line with the original.
Now, Curbside Classics explains, the ‘442’ stood for ‘4 cylinders, 4 valves per cylinder, 2 camshafts.’ Under the hood, this Oldsmobile Cutlass came with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder putting out 180 hp and 160 lb-ft. And, in a break with Oldsmobile’s image, it came exclusively with a 5-speed manual.
But there was an even faster variant. To homologate the engine for racing, GM introduced the Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Quad 442 W41. This came with upgraded camshafts and a modified transmission and produced 190 hp.
While that doesn’t sound like a lot today, consider that the Camaro Iron Duke’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder only made 90 hp. r/Cars sub-Reddit users claim it took GM 20 more years to get more power out of a naturally-aspirated four-cylinder than the Quad 442. Plus, it was faster than quite a few import cars, including the Honda Civic Si.
Oldsmobile Cutlass Quad 442 vs. Honda Civic and CRX Si
In 1990, Car and Driver reports, the Honda Civic Si’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder only put out 108 hp and 100 lb-ft. 0-60, Automobile Magazine reports, came in 8.5 seconds. And in Car and Driver’s period test, the Honda Civic CRX Si ran the ¼-mile in 16.4 seconds.
In contrast, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Quad 442 could go 0-60 in 7.5 seconds. The W41 variant pushed that down to 7 seconds flat. And in the video above, one Calais Quad 442 owner managed to run the ¼-mile in 15.1 seconds. In a straight line, the Oldsmobile Cutlass would blast the Civic. Where it fell behind, though, was in the corners.
The Honda Civic Si came with 4-wheel independent suspension, and in 1990 offered upgraded anti-roll bars, Motor1 reports. True, Curbside Classics reports, in a 1990 Motor Trend test, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Quad 442 beat a Toyota MR-2 on the slalom. But the Oldsmobile simply wasn’t as engaging or fun to drive. It tended to understeer and had noticeably body roll. It was also, according to Hagerty, about 400 pounds heavier. The Oldsmobile Cutlass Quad 442 may have been faster than the Honda Civic Si, but the Civic was arguably sportier.
Pricing and availability
The Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Quad 442 was only offered in 1990 and 1991. And the W41 version is even rarer: only about 200 were made, Barn Finds reports. However, even so, the Cutlass is actually rather cheap compared to a contemporary Honda Civic Si.
The example listed on Barn Finds was offered for $6,750. Meanwhile, Hagerty reports a good-condition Honda Civic CRX Si sells for $11,000-$15,000. Bring a Trailer reports a similar price range for an early 90s Honda Civic Si.
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