Oldsmobile 4-4-2 W-30
Keywords: 1971 oldsmobile 4-4-2,w-30,larry chernow,steven chermow,mcbetts racing,rare engine,455ci
Description: Only after Larry bought this 1971 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 did he come to find out how rare the W-30 was. Just 910 W-30 hardtops were built that year, he says.
Any muscle car fan knows what happened in Detroit after the 1970 model year. Emissions regulations and soaring insurance rates delivered a one-two punch that emasculated the era's super cars with lower compression and a growing tangle of pollution controls. That was also when OE manufacturers started reporting engine output in net amounts rather than gross. So even if a motor was lucky enough to sneak into 1971 mechanically unchanged, on paper the net horsepower rating made it look wheezy compared to just a year before.
That being the case, one would naturally assume that Larry Chernow's 1971 4-4-2 hardtop was likewise hamstrung by its date of birth. Even its membership in the legendary W-Machine family couldn't help it escape the big power plunge of 1971, right?
Larry is a self-described fanatic when it comes to original muscle. That's one of the things that initially drew him to this Olds when he saw it advertised in a local newspaper back in 1986.
"I didn't like the color," he says now of the car's Bittersweet paint with white stripes and vinyl top. But the car was being sold by the original owner, a woman whose father gave her the brand-new Olds as a high school graduation present in 1971. "It was in incredible original condition," he says, "with all the correct nuts, bolts, and clamps. It was never hot rodded. I couldn't believe how well the car ran and drove."
Only after he bought the car did he come to find out how rare the W-30 was. Just 910 W-30 hardtops were built that year, he says.
He cleaned the car up a bit and then took it to a local Oldsmobile show, where the judges awarded it 60 points out of 100. That motivated Larry to dig deeper and mount a yearlong restoration in 1989-1990. But because of his love of things original, he was choosy about what he changed. The seat upholstery was redone, he said, and he put in new carpet, but the rest of the interior was just cleaned up. The body was treated to a new coat of code 62 Bittersweet lacquer—not an easy thing to get done, even then—but the firewall was left untouched, as was the panel in front of the radiator and the red inner fenders. So the blemishes, drips, and markings underhood aren't just factory correct. They're factory, period.
The finished W-30 hit the show circuit, advancing through the Oldsmobile Club of America judging ranks to earn Senior Preservation status in 1991. Even so, Larry kept tinkering with the car, finding little things to improve as wintertime projects so the Olds would be even better when spring rolled around.
By 2009, though, a bigger task loomed. He said the engine was starting to feel "sloppy." It was "idling rough and smoking when you started it," and a leak developed at the rear main seal. An overhaul was due.
He pulled the motor and sent it to McBetts Racing in Bohemia, New York, for machining. The crew there confirmed the engine had never been apart and had all its original components, and then performed a 0.030-inch overbore on the block. Larry meanwhile tackled the cylinder heads—rare pieces that fit 1971 W-30s only—by matching the ports, blending the pockets, and doing a four-angle grind on the valves.
When it was time to put the motor together, Larry went with a fresh set of J&E forged pistons that compressed the air-fuel mixture into a 1970-spec 10.5:1 ratio rather than the stock 8.5:1. He resisted the suggestion to put in a hotter cam, though. Since his is an automatic transmission/air-conditioning car, the cam is the mildest of the three offered in the W-30 that year. Still lopey but not as aggressive as, say, the manual-transmission bumpstick. A new cam would mean more power, but the idle characteristics would have meant changing out the original torque converter for one with a higher stall speed, something he did not want to do.
The assembled engine went back to McBetts for break-in on the dyno, a must, Larry feels, with a flat-tappet cam and today's engine oils. The machinist didn't make any power pulls, but Larry feels that with the higher compression, the motor should be putting out about 385 horses, up substantially from the factory's 300 net and 350 gross ratings.
"I'm not afraid to beat on it," says Larry. "I try to put 300 to 500 miles a year on all my cars. The other day I went out with my son and hammered it. It has the numbers-matching carburetor, a performance Quadrajet that I've upgraded with AX rods in the secondaries. It runs a little rich, but when you hammer it, it just goes. It'll leave stretch of rubber while the whole car goes sideways."
Though he has won his fair share of trophies with the immaculate 4-4-2, Larry Chernow says the hardware isn't what motivates his meticulous nature. "I don't care about trophies. I take pride in my workmanship."
During a 2009 rebuild, the W-30's engine was treated to a 0.030-inch overbore, fresh pistons, and some head work. Otherwise the motor is nearly 100 percent factory original and uses most of its born-with accessories, like the starter, air conditioning compressor, and open-face alternator.
Flow through the original heads was improved by matching the ports, blending the pockets, and doing a four-angle valve job. Larry also pumped the motor's compression by two points to 10.5:1, matching 1970 specs. With the tighter squeeze the motor pinged on 93-octane pump premium, so Larry now blends in some Cam 2 110-octane race gas to calm the detonation.
The exotic W27 alloy axlehousing Oldsmobile offered in 1970 was replaced with a corporate 10-bolt in 1971. The new differential did away with the axle's C-clips and upped the size of the ring gear to 8 1/2 inches. A finned aluminum W27 diff cover was available as an option from the factory or as a dealer add-on; the cover on Larry's car was fitted at the dealership.
During the Oldsmobile's late 1980's restoration, Larry added new seat skins and carpet, but the rest of the interior was just spruced up. Keeping white upholstery this clean for that many years is a true labor of love.
The Hurst Dual Gate shifter stirs an OW-code Turbo 400 trans, a high-performance model with extra clutch packs and a higher shift point. "This thing shifts high, at about 5,500 rpm," Larry says.
Larry has full documentation for his W-30, including the build sheet and original Protec-O-Plate. "The build sheet is the key on W-30 cars, as there are a lot of fakes out there," he warns.
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