From Loophole to Indy Pace Car: The 1972 Hurst/Olds

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From Loophole to Indy Pace Car: The 1972 Hurst/Olds

It all started in 1968 as a clever ploy to circumvent corporate policy. The higher-ups at GM had decreed that its divisions could only install engines larger than 400 cubic inches in cars with full-sized bodies. Thus, it was only through collaboration with George Hurst of Hurst Performance that the 1968 Hurst/Olds became the lone intermediate-sized Oldsmobile powered by a 455 cubic-inch engine that year.

The Hurst/Olds were assembled as 442 hardtops at Oldsmobile plants; however, no engine or transmission was installed. The cars were shipped out to Hurst who had them equipped with 390-horsepower Super Rocket V8 engines, similar to those found in the full-sized Toronado and Delta 88. Hurst also installed a three-speed Turbo Hydramatic transmission with the Hurst Dual-Gate shifter, allowing for automatic or manual shifting. The special Peruvian Silver and Black paint scheme was applied and the cars were shipped out to dealerships without Oldsmobile ever having broken the rules.

Though the Hurst/Olds returned in 1969, the model was temporarily dropped for the next model year because GM removed the 400 cubic-inch engine limit, permitting the divisions to install larger engines in their intermediate muscle cars. The Hurst/Olds made a triumphant return in 1972, however, this time with a decidedly different genesis.

In 1971, Dodge dealer Eldon Palmer earned the unfortunate distinction of being the only driver to ever crash an Indianapolis 500 Pace Car after pacing a yellow flag. Apparently, due to the removal of a pylon he had set up as a braking reference, Mr. Palmer was unable to stop the car in time and crashed the 1971 Dodge Challenger Pace Car into a temporary press box, injuring 19 people. The incident resulted in a decided reluctance on the part of auto manufacturers to supply the pace car for 1972.

George Hurst stepped up to the plate—or perhaps more appropriately, the start/finish line—and became the first auto parts manufacturer to have his company name included in the pace car title. The 1972 Hurst/Olds Indy Pace Car, driven by 1960 Indy 500 winner Jim Rathmann, was based on the Cutlass Supreme, but powered by a 455 cubic-inch 300hp V8. The production Hurst/Olds Pace Cars were powered by a slightly lower 270-horsepower engine. A total of 629 were produced, including 499 hardtops and 130 convertibles, all featuring Cameo White paint with Fire Frost Gold reflective decals.

One of the 130 convertible 1972 Hurst/Olds Indy Pace Cars will be on the block at the Branson Collector Car Auction this October. This car is a true, un-restored survivor with 15,669 original miles and is in outstanding condition. Six additional Hurst/Olds will also be offered, along with nearly 300 other classic, vintage, sports, muscle and collectible vehicles, in the two day auction October 19 and 20, 2007, at the Branson Convention Center in Branson Missouri. Vehicle consignment and bidder registration information is available at www.bransonauction.com or by calling 800-335-3063.