In a concession to his street-race upbringing, Dan jams the throttle on his off-brand Olds
Ahh. It's a warm spring day ... in 1970. You hop in your L-79 Nova and go for a cruise around the 'hood. Yeah, there's Congo in his SS Chevelle and Woody, Davis, Smitty, and Jerald in theirs, too. Lopez is wheeling his Ram Air Goat and so are his buds Louie, Reacher, Sammy, and Jack. Yow, there are too many Camaros to count. Hey, Sammy's got those bitchin' Hurst Wheels on his GTO. Looking good, bro! The Brand X guys? Lobo and Max are spinning the rims off their 'Stangs, and there's Whipsaw putting the leg to his big red '63 1/2 medium-riser Galaxie. Mopars? Not in this part of town, chief. And what's that chooglin' down the pike right next to you? It's a 4-4-2! For every 10 GM sistahs, you see maybe one of them. Yeah, they just don't have the hook the Chevys and Pontiacs do. Hey, bud, you wanna road race?
Lauded for its good road manners and handling ability by the new-car press as well as the buff books of the day, some owners of the Oldsmobile 4-4-2 probably sailed down the pike with that thought in the back of their heads-nevermind that the car world was all tangled up in an orgy of straight-line acceleration. The wanks at Car & Driver even squeaked their apologies for testing Detroit Iron, saying that the 4-4-2 was "strictly speaking, a musclecar, but one ... too gentlemanly to display the gutter habits of its competitors." What, like laying a patch and grabbing Second was somehow uncouth and socially unacceptable behavior? The stench of burned rubber on those button-down shirts and knife-pressed khakis didn't play at dancing school?
As a matter of fact, the big, sexy Oldsmobile probably did handle better than its contemporaries. The 455ci engine weighed about the same as the 400ci big-block that it succeeded. If it was equipped with the W-30 package (complete with fiberglass hood), like the one Dan Kroll owns, it was factory-rated at 370 hp at 5,400 rpm (five more than the standard 4-4-2 motor).
Though Dan was only 8 when this 4-4-2 popped out of Lansing, he's done enough car carousing for three law-bending citizens. Sure, he lives in a bedroom community, but his heart is in the lore and the fable of Chicago. Chicago is Dan's locus even today. He grew up with the old street race mafia, Chuck Samuel, Nick Scavo, Spiro Pappas, and Jeff D'Agostino among them.
"We were all racing off-brands then. I had a 9-second Pontiac and all my friends had Oldsmobiles. I had a '69 HO and another had a four-speed W-30 car. I guess that's where my love affair with Olds began. I was from the streets of Chicago and running with pretty much a big-block Chevy crowd. I always liked off-brand cars, running low 8s in a 'Cuda in the original NMCA," Dan crows.
"All my cars have been mostly original with lots of character. I don't like over-restored show cars. Everything I have, I've had a long time, some cars my whole life. I like big-block matching-numbers cars with credentials in original form and original stuff like window glass, paint, and interior."
When Spiro and the boys would street race, they dressed the car up poor in some raggy looking body. The cruder the car looked on the outside, the stupider people were about racing them. But even the most ingenious ruse didn't last long because the community was small and word got around like water. What kind of sawed-off shotgun did Dan carry to street-race stealth? He used a box, an off-brand with a killer motor. In the '80s, he ran an '80 Grand Prix that would blow 9.50s on a single kit and a 10-inch tire. There were some pissed off people about that car.
Eventually, Dan seemingly moved beyond this smoky little microcosm, expanded his horizons, and became a human. He met the woman of his life, Cari, and the two brought forth a fold of heirs, the youngest now 13. Thing is, that damn car jones never goes away, never leaves you alone. Dan's had more than 70 of them in his short but storied career.
So what's the deal with this 4-4-2? Well, he was getting his hair cut when he spotted it. He went home and told his wife Cari about what he saw. The next morning, he says, she grabbed some cash and bought it for his birthday. That was about a year and half ago. "It was the best present I could ever get," Dan gushes, but with qualifiers. "It was in good shape but not really what I wanted. I pretty much drag race everything I own. I put it in training camp for 12 weeks and enlisted some of the best Oldsmobile guys I know: Bill Trovato (www.btrperformance.com), Mike Glasby, and Mike Miller at Rocket Engineering."
It was Glasby, Miller, and Paul Fruen who did the main thrashing though. The car is as original as they could keep it, right down to the 43-year-old crud clinging obstinately underneath. Although the crew examined every bolt, NOS, and original part that went into the build, they kept the dirty side dirty. The car had but 57,000 on the clock and was cherry on the outside ("[Paul's Auto] gave the paint a fresh wet-sanding and buffed it out"), but the crew was obliged to leave the 4-4-2's oily side very much the way it had come through Chicago's salt, cinders, and tears. If nothing else, it is a testament to use, to being driven regardless, and presents quite a contrast to its bright Rallye Red paint and broad white stripes. In every respect, Dan's 4-4-2 is the epitome of "back in the day."
Rejuvenation included new engine and drivetrain parts, a new suspension, brakes, and a fuel system. Nobody would have known enough to do a body-off resto years ago, and that's the vibe Dan wanted for this car. Its race prep, or rather the lack of it, is about as basic as you can get and was done as it would have been: drag shocks and springs, waste the anti-rollbars, put an air bag in the right rear spring, put the tires on the back, and let it fly. Same goes for the fuel system. Nothing even hints at high tech here. A good electric pump drawing from an aftermarket sump the boys sunk in the gas tank.
The theme is thoroughly original though, and aside from the wicked new stance, aided and abetted by a missing coil on the Moroso drag springs and the race-oriented rubber on those Weld Rod-Lites, it deviates not one iota from the primal form.
Scoops on the fiberglass hood on Dan Kroll's W-30 feed cool ambient to the original Roches
OK, that Auto Meter tach didn't come from the factory, but it's strapped to the steering post just as it would have been when Dan was a kid. The line lock stuck to the factory shifter looks like it was born there. Dig the seats, too, man. That parchment gut was a popular choice for many GM press cars of the era, too. We left grease on more than one of 'em.
You pop that hood, first by turning the big drawer-pulls on its corners (the 4-4-2 was the only car to have them), and see something you haven't for many long years. Zang-suddenly it is 1970. Save for the grungy Hookers, there's not a stitch of visible aftermarket junk on that wide-ass 455. It wears all the original hardware and seems to celebrate and exalt the W-30 cold-air package and the Q-jet carb squatting below. It takes ambient air through the hood rather than from underneath the bumper. The only thing missing is the battery, since removed to a spot over the right rear wheel. That's an old drag-racer trick, you know.
Dan Kroll didn't grow up at Disneyland. His gruff, impatient exterior is like Chicago, and fosters an equally gruff, impatient interior, at least until he gets to know you. Both cut through BS like a big, hot laser. Yeah, so much for propriety and gentlemanly behavior.