1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass - Double Negative
They Said In Algebra Class, A Negative Times A Negative Equals A Positive. Jeff Schwartz's LS7-Powered Cutlass Is The Proof.
From the September, 2009 issue of Popular Hot Rodding
By Stephen Kim
Photography by Rahboud Ahkmakinafin
Spray an Olds Cutlass in Barrio Gold, and the thing could damn well start hopping up and down spontaneously right there in the paint booth. And that's before the obligatory-shapely Latina is airbrushed onto the hood. To the go-fast crowd, the concept of livin' the low life-where gazillion-spoke wheels and Ron Jeremy-spec velvet upholstery reigns supreme-can seem downright bizarre. Ironically, combining an oddball gold '71 Cutlass and an oddball car builder in Jeff Schwartz has yielded a creation that's pretty darn normal. Like you learned way back in high school algebra class, a negative times a negative really does equal a positive. This Cutlass packs a 600hp LS7, rides on a cutting-edge Pro Touring chassis, knocks down 20 mpg, and changes direction like a raggedy House Speaker. On second thought, this thing's way better than a merely "normal" g-Machine.
If the notion of applying the Pro Touring motif to a gold Cutlass-a Supreme roofline no less-seems a bit out of the ordinary, then allow us to take you on a tour of Jeff Schwartz's past creations. The car that first earned him some recognition in the national print media was an '82 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham that ran 11.80s in the quarter-mile, and pulled 1.02g around the skidpad. Powered by a nitrous'd 500ci Cadillac producing 710 hp, the 4,200-pound tank chronically embarrassed sports cars and Teutonic sedans alike around Road America and countless autocross circuits. "I've always been into oddball stuff. My goal was to build a Cadillac like an AMG Mercedes that could beat up an AMG Mercedes on a road course," Jeff quips. Intrigued by the prospect of what could be accomplished in a car half the weight, Jeff's next project was an Ultima GTR kit car, a machine still capable of annihilating the greatest supercars today. [One like it holds the production car world record for 0-to-100-to-0.] Essentially a mid-engine GTP car for the street, Jeff's Ultima boasts a 1,000hp twin-turbo LS2 bolted in its tube chassis. The result is 211 mph in the standing mile, 10.90s at 131 mph in the quarter with the boost turned way down, and 1.1g in lateral acceleration on plain-Jane street tires. "I used to race IMSA, so I've always been a fan of GTP cars. The Ultima is the closest thing I could get to a street-legal GTP car. I've driven it 50,000 miles, and it gets 23 mpg on the freeway."
Please pardon the long-winded background info, but it's essential to understanding how Jeff's past projects have ultimately culminated in this '71 Cutlass. As with the Cadillac, Jeff wanted to infuse the qualities of a high-end German sports sedan into a more traditional muscle car this go-around, but of course, it couldn't be too traditional. That meant a ubiquitous Chevelle wouldn't do, so he opted for a Cutlass instead. "The goal with this car was building something that drives more like a German luxury sedan than an old muscle car. In addition to improved driving dynamics, I put a lot of effort into bringing the overall build quality up to modern standards. For instance, the doors close with a solid thunk, there's Dynamat everywhere, there are HID headlights for better visibility, and the leather Recaro seats are heated and have adjustable air bladders," he explains. "Whenever I build a car, my primary objective is to keep it purposeful and functional. I'm all for trick body mods, but retaining the classic styling of a car while enhancing durability is always a priority."
The old-school vibe underhood...
The old-school vibe underhood required painstaking efforts to achieve. Beneath the custom air cleaner is a Schwartz-built adapter that mates the MAF sensor and throttle-body to the GMPP single-plane LS7 manifold. The unsightly stock ignition coils are hidden inside a custom "double-deck" valve cover design. To fit the air cleaner beneath the stock hood, the motor mounts were lowered several inches.
Not wanting to hack up a rare 442, Jeff tracked down a less-desirable Cutlass SX and got to work. "The SX was more of a business man's Cutlass in the '70s, which I thought suited the car's subdued nature very well, and it has a very unique C-pillar compared to other Cutlass trim levels. Of all the A-bodies of this vintage, the SX has some of the most unique body lines," Jeff opines. Since the car had already been restored years earlier, the only metalwork that needed to be performed was patching the quarters and fenders. Although the original 455 big-block and TH400 trans were in good working order, Jeff had more grandiose plans in mind to complete the powertrain makeover. "I thought it would be cool to stroke an LS7 crate motor to 455 ci using the same 4.125x4.250-inch bore and stroke dimensions as the original Olds big-block. Getting the 4.250-inch Eagle crank to fit was quite a chore. I spent countless hours on the lathe and mill turning down the counterweights so that they'd clear the bottom of the custom Wiseco pistons. I had to massage the small ends of the stock rods for clearance as well," he says.
In order to maintain a near-stock appearance in the engine bay, Jeff fitted a single-plane GMPP intake manifold to lightly massaged factory LS7 cylinder heads. The truly trick part, however, is a custom spacer that adapts the stock MAF sensor and drive-by-wire throttle-body on top of the plenum. The end product is a stock EFI system using the original electronics that's neatly hidden under a carb air cleaner assembly. Matched with a COMP 232/242-at-0.050 hydraulic roller cam, the combo is good for 600 hp and 580 lb-ft of torque. "The displacement figure of 455 is partly for nostalgia, but increasing the LS7's stroke by a quarter-inch gives the motor a torquey feel reminiscent of a 455 big-block Olds," Jeff explains. Torque splitting duties are handled by a Tremec T56 six-speed trans fortified with Dodge Viper internals. Out back is a Winters 9-inch floater rearend with an aluminum center section, and freeway-friendly 3.50:1 gears.
Given Jeff's road racing background and the cornering prowess of his prior concoctions, straight-line performance is just one of the Cutlass' many talents. The underpinnings hidden beneath the body are arguably even more impressive than what's underhood. Jeff started his own shop, Schwartz Performance (www.schwartzperformace.com), in 2005 after working for 26 years as an industrial machinist. Combining his expertise as a racer and machinist, Jeff designed a line of custom bolt-in frames for A-bodies, F-bodies, C1 Corvettes, and Mustangs. Naturally, building the Cutlass served as an opportunity to showcase his state-of-the-art frames to the public. The setup features mandrel-bent rails, custom tubular control arms and coilovers at the corners, revised suspension geometry, enhanced tire clearance, splined sway bars, and vastly improved stiffness. "Not only are our frames 125 pounds lighter than stock, they're also 200 percent stiffer in torsional rigidity," says Jeff. "In stock form, the Cutlass could only manage 0.76g on the skidpad. With our frame and suspension setup, it now pulls 1.08g on regular street tires." With the corner-exit and straightaway speeds made possible by all that grip and power, the Olds relies on 14-inch Baer brakes clamped by six-piston calipers to slow things down before the next apex.
Inside, the goal was to keep...
Inside, the goal was to keep things as simple as possible. Despite the fancy seats, the dash, gauges, and steering wheel remain stock. The Hurst T-handle shifter with a rubber boot lends the look of a simpler factory four-speed. The controls for the Vintage Air A/C system are neatly integrated into the stock dash panel.
So what's next for this self-professed oddball of a car builder? "Right now, I'm working on an '81 Turbo Trans Am. No one really likes those late second-gen shovelnose cars, and they were such turds from the factory that they have the potential to really catch people off guard," he explains. "I plan on building a twin-turbo LS9 for it and shooting for 1,500 hp." Just when we thought Jeff had reached the pinnacle of purposeful outlandishness with this Cutlass, he may just top himself yet again with his next project. Nonetheless, with its mysterious aversion to hopping up and down, this Barrio Gold Oldsmobile continues to prove that multiplying two "negatives" does indeed yield a positive. Who says you'd never use this algebra junk in the real world, anyway?
When fitting an LS7 into a...
When fitting an LS7 into a muscle car, many people ditch the factory dry sump for a more conventional wet sump setup. Jeff doesn't see the point of this logic. "The factory dry sump works great in hot rods because it's so simple. Since the pump is internal and it doesn't have multiple stages of scavenging, all you have to do is hook up the feed and return lines to a tank and you're done. I used a Peterson tank," Jeff explains.
From beneath the car, the...
From beneath the car, the additional space provided by the Schwartz frame is clearly evident. Along with custom mini-tubs, the frame accommodates massive 345/30R19 rear meats. The exhaust features mufflers in addition to resonators to help mellow the interior resonance.
The 442-style ram-air hood...
The 442-style ram-air hood retains its functionality. Although we've made a few cracks about the gold paint, Jeff says this particular hue was offered by Olds from the factory.
|BY THE NUMBERS |
|'71 OLDSMOBILE CUTLASS |
|Jeff Schwartz * Crystal Lake, IL |
|Type: ||GM LS7 |
|Block: ||factory block with standard 4.125-inch bore |
|Oiling: ||stock LS7 dry sump with Peterson tank |
|Rotating assembly: ||custom Lunati |
| ||4.250-inch steel crank, |
| ||stock 6.077-inch Titanium rods, |
| ||12.0:1 Wiseco pistons |
|Cylinder heads: ||GM LS7 castings |
| ||with mild bowl blending |
|Camshaft: ||COMP 332/242-at-0.050 |
| ||hydraulic roller; |
| ||0.610/0.610-inch lift; |
| ||115-degree LSA |
|Valvetrain: ||stock LS7 |
|Induction: ||GMPP LS7 single-plane intake manifold |
| ||modified for EFI; Schwartz custom |
| ||Throttle body adapter and air cleaner; |
| ||factory LS7 throttle body and MAF sensor |
|Ignition: ||stock coil-on-plug ignition system |
|Fuel system: ||Rick's Hot Rod Shop tank, |
| ||Bosch pump, Aeromotive regulator |
|Exhaust: ||Schwartz 17/8-inch |
| ||long-tube headers, custom X-pipe, |
| ||dual 3-inch SLP mufflers and resonators |
|Cooling: ||Be Cool radiator, Spal electric fans |
|Output: ||601 hp at 6,700 rpm and 580 lb-ft |
| ||at 5,200 rpm |
|Built by: ||Schwartz Extreme Performance |
|Transmission: ||D&D Performance T56 six-speed, |
| ||Hurst shifter, |
| ||stock LS7 clutch and flywheel |
|Rear axle: ||Winters 9-inch floater rearend |
| ||with aluminum center section, |
| ||31-spline axles, 3.50:1 gears, |
| ||and Detroit Truetrac differential |
|Frame: ||custom Schwartz chassis |
|Front suspension: ||Schwartz upper and lower |
| ||control arms and sway bar; |
| ||QA1 springs and shocks |
|Rear suspension: ||Schwartz upper and lower |
| ||control arms and sway bar; |
| ||QA1 springs and shocks |
|Brakes: ||Baer 14-inch discs and |
| ||six-piston calipers, front and rear |
|WHEELS & TIRES |
|Wheels: ||Forgeline |
| ||18x9 SP3P, front; 19x12.5, rear |
|Tires: ||Michelin Pilot |
| ||255/40R18, front; 345/30R19, rear |