Factory 5-Speed: 1976 Oldsmobile 442

The first time that I encountered one of these five-speed manual transmission-equipped Oldsmobile Cutlasses was about a year and a half ago at a local Cars and Coffee. A friend picked me up in his Challenger Hellcat and after making the warp-speed trip to the venue, I had to get out and just walk around a bit to regain my sense of balance. As I ventured on, I stumbled upon a ’76 Cutlass, not a 442 though, so equipped. I was shocked, I didn’t know such an option existed. I have to thank Roger for turning in this tip as I have wanted to take a closer look at such a model since my previous discovery. This 1976 442 is located in Denison, Texas and is available here on craigslist for $12,500.

Having worked for a Chevrolet dealership in the mid-70s, I knew that the Bowtie stopped installing four-speed manual gearboxes in their “A” body Malibu in ’74, and even at that, it was only available with the less than commonly selected 454 CI engine. I didn’t give a thought that other GM divisions were still offering such a lash-up. I couldn’t find production stats on this combination but this is not the first one that we have covered here on Barn Finds, my colleague, Todd Fitch, covered this ’76 442 back in August.

The model name, 442 has had several different definitions over the years but the original meaning was “Four-Speed Transmission; Four barrel carburetor and Two (dual) exhausts. By that rationale, this Olds would be a 521 though this example appears to have been enhanced with a dual exhaust system giving it an upgrade to a 522. Whatever the case, this is a fine-looking car and a nice attempt on Oldmobile’s part to keep the 442 performance magic alive in the rather dismal, malaise years. The unfortunate attribute is that this transmission is attached to a 110 net HP, 260 CI V8 engine. I state that because my M.I.L. had a Cutlass so equipped with this same, feeble engine and it wouldn’t get out of its own way – the manual transmission, in this case, however, is probably an enhancer. The driver claims that the engine of this 39K mile car (per the odometer, probably 139K miles) has been rebuilt and it, “Runs excellent. Drives great”. The engine compartment is clean and nicely detailed too. As mentioned, it appears that the single, catalytic converter-equipped exhaust system has been replaced with a dual system – that will coax a wee bit more power from the 260 lump. Other improvements include, “rebuilt transmission, new clutch, new shocks, new steering linkage”.

The exterior appears to be in excellent condition – it is a beautiful shade of blue with strong, bright graphics. The seller adds, “very solid body with rust-free, original floors” – easy to believe. Make no mistake per the graphics, this car is a 442, one of only 9,576 produced in ’76. While I was never really impressed with GM’s Colonnade body style, the shared greenhouse, in particular, I think Oldsmobile nailed the styling with this Cutlass’ waterfall front end treatment design. It really added a little pizazz to otherwise staid styling.

The interior is as nice as the exterior. The swivel seats were a big hit with these “A” bodies. They were offered by all four divisions but I never engaged the feature as I was constantly hopping in and out of countless Chevelles, Monte Carlo and El Caminos, all day long. While it’s a nice aspect of the seats, it was just another step to employ for ingress and egress and didn’t seem overly beneficial. Reviewing the rest of the interior, the carpet, upholstery, instrument panel and door cards, of this non-A/C equipped car, are all in good nick. There is a carpeted pad perched atop the dashboard which is probably covering a split dash pad – it’s a commonly found problem with this generation “A” body and, after all, this is a 46-year-old car. The interior, which is sporting what looks like its Delco original radio, appears to need nothing.

While not a muscle car in the traditional sense, it qualifies for what was available as one in ’76 and it really is in wonderful condition. It’s interesting to compare this 442 to a ’70 version – my how times had changed, dramatically. Of course values for ’70 versions are through the roof and this example is in a reasonable range, if not a bit on the high side. Nevertheless, it would make for a nice substitute if going fast, in a straight line, is not your primary concern, would you agree?

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Comments

  1. Evan

    It’s the weak Borg-Warner T-50, first seen in the Cosworth Vega. It’s behind a 260 V-8 because any engine more powerful than that will turn that trans into dust. And that 260 had no business being in a Colonnade body. Too much weight for not enough power.

    I’m convince the whole thing was just a test bed for that powertrain combo in the forthcoming downsized A-bodies.

    Like 19
    • Patrick

      Except there was no A-body after this generation. Now, as a test of some sort for the soon to come new G-body platform, yes.

      Like 3
      • Evan

        Hm. I think the midsize, RWD chassis was called the A-body until the introduction of the midsize FWD car in 82 or 93, when the RWD chassis became the G-body.

        Like 6
  2. Stephen Miklos

    Wow nice looking 442.. did anybody zoom in on the front exhaust pipes? That’s home made set up! I guess they didn’t make a dual set up for this 442. If I had this 442. I would yank out the engine and trans and with all that room drop in a hot 455 with a real 5 speed. Beef up the rear end with a posi unit and 3.73 gears. Now it’s a real 442! 😄

    Like 15
  3. Snotty

    Stephen Miklos, great minds think alike. Nothin goin now except for the stick.

    Like 2
    • Stephen Miklos

      😄… I had a real 442.. 1970 455 built motor M21 4 speed ..3.90 12 bolt posi. That ride brought the wheels up. And it had AC and power windows… I wish I kept it. Wrong time no where to store it. 🤦

      Like 3
  4. Miguel

    Does the stick shift really add that much value to the car.

    I don’t think it does.

    442 in name only.

    Like 3
    • Stephen Miklos

      Miguel.. believe it or not but it does. Example.. 70 Challenger R/T 440-6 Pak. Two same cars one auto the other stick. 10,000 more for the stick. People like to row there own in muscle cars.😄

      Like 4
    • Phil D

      In a real muscle car a stick adds value.

      In this case, no. As previously mentioned, this is no muscle car and that’s no muscle car five speed — it’s designed to live behind a four cylinder, and lives in that Olds only because the 260 is so weak by V8 standards.

      Like 1
  5. Rosko

    Too bad they didn’t give it a nice console. This set up looks like it belongs in a C-10

    Like 1
  6. Keith Crawford

    Had a cutlsss s w-31 w rocket 350 auto. Bought it in ‘92 when finished college. Like 60,000 miles from guy who’s gmom had it! Those were the days! Think paid 4K for it. Had same ram air hood as 442 w a 350. Was still fast car, but step below 442. Had air. Drove it 10 years, only stranded me ONCE and got rid of the points for electric and the Rochester q jet for new Holley as choke was bad on a jet. Should’ve kept

    Like 2
  7. Christopher Gentry

    It may not be a “muscle car” anymore. But I love that body style. And I’m a import /ford Guy. But I love those Oldsmobile cutlasses. Their just a cool boat.

    Like 2
  8. wjtinfwb

    These were definitely built with fuel economy in mind, not a hint of performance in the 260/5-speed combo. I drove a couple of these in both the larger and downsized A-body configuration and all were slow. The 2.41 rear gear didn’t help that at all but they would deliver decent highway mileage. I later had a ‘77 Salon with the 350 and THM350, in no way a fast car but much more responsive than the 260.

  9. Stigshift

    I’ve seen a Cutlass Salon coupe with that combo before, back in the late ’70s. Belonged to a neighbor. I remember sitting at the school bus stop one morning, and the lady owner drove past. I was shocked that it was a stick, and walked over to their house after school and talked to them and found out that not only was it a stick, but a 5-speed. Then I found out it had the lame 260. I now am the 2nd owner of a ’77 Cutlass Supreme 4-door with the only worse combination- a Buick Oddfire V6 and automatic…

  10. Gus Fring

    The “dual exhaust” does nothing to enhance performance, as it isn’t actually “dual exhaust”…and the generic vinyl graphics don’t even resemble the original decals. This is a $2500 car, at best. Good car for a teenager, in the rare case a teenager wants to get started in the muscle car hobby. As everyone else has stated, it’s really only good for a swap candidate. A 455, M-22, and a stout rear end would be the only possibility. The pedal assembly is worth as much as the rest of the car.

  11. Popawfox

    The dash didn’t crack in the Cutlass. From 76 and older anyway. (Never had a 77 so I don’t know about them.) But from 1978 on up they cracked all to hell! Plus the A pillar covers, door panels, head liners, and center console lids seemed to turn to dust. GM changed the plastic “formula” for these parts in 78 and really screwed it up. Plus they changed the steering gear boxes in 78. Sloppy steering after that year.

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