"620 hp aside, this engine...
"620 hp aside, this engine looked so clean you could eat off it. Miller puts an extraordinary effort into every engine we've seen him build."
- Johnny Hunkins
The end may have come for General Motor's Oldsmobile division in 2004, but faithful fans of the brand are relentless in their quest to improve the breed. And while Oldsmobile, as a make of car, may have lost its high-performance roots on the journey toward its final years, the history of Olds performance is enough to make any fan proud. Notably, Oldsmobile (concurrently with Cadillac) launched the modern era of the high-performance V-8 with the introduction of the "Rocket 88" overhead-valve V-8 in 1949. The original Olds V-8 began as a 303-cube powerplant, and the same architecture carried on to 1964, in displacements up to 394 ci. The early Olds gained quite an enviable reputation in the dawning days of hot-rodding, but in keeping with advancements of the time, an all-new engine design debuted in 1964, to carry Olds through the musclecar era and beyond.
The "modern" Olds V-8 was introduced as a 9.33-inch, short-deck, small-block, 330-inch engine in 1964. That same basic design was carried over in a 10.625-inch tall-deck version to create the long-stroke big-block Olds 400 and 425 the following year. Deck height is the major distinguishing characteristic between the small- and big-block Olds brothers, as they shared the essential architecture. From its original displacement, the Olds small-block went on to be produced in 260-, 307-, 350-, and 403-inch versions, while the original tall-deck Olds big-block line was augmented with the introduction of the 455 in 1968 (see sidebar, pg. 87). This new engine design was adopted for Oldsmobile's muscular, 442 mid-sized performance car, with the 400 engine's availability in 1965.
And the legend only grew through the '60s. First was the offering of the significant W-30 performance package on the 442. Next came the 455-powered Hurst cars, beginning with the redesigned Cutlass in 1968, and then the hot small-block W-31 350s were offered in 1969 and 1970. The year 1970 was particularly important for Oldsmobile enthusiasts, as the 455-cube monster was finally available in the mid-sized Cutlass 442. Further fueling interest and excitement was the unique Dr. Oldsmobile advertising campaign, as well as numerous contemporary magazine stories elaborating the details of Olds performance-stories which didn't go unnoticed by a young Dick Miller.
Miller needs no introduction to those familiar with Oldsmobile performance, having built a reputation on some of the stoutest examples of Rocket power anywhere. Just what sparked his long association with Olds? As Miller tells it: "I saw a magazine article on a 1970 W-31. James Garner had one, and the article sort of read that you could buy one of these off the showroom floor, take them racing, and away you go. [PHR, Mar. '70-ed.] Well, being naive and as young as I was at the time, I bought one and found out that was just the beginning." Miller continues, "In 1969, I bought a brand-new 1970 Olds Cutlass-and I still have it. I just started drag racing, and by the mid '70s I was running NHRA Stock Eliminator. Later I got into brackets, and I built a few engines over this period. In the early '90s, I built a '91 Cutlass tube-chassis car, and was running NHRA Super Comp and Super Gas with that. I got involved as an Oldsmobile parts distributor then. In 1994, I started my own business, Dick Miller Racing [DMR], doing what I am doing now: racing, selling parts, and building engines."