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1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass - Of Earth Movers and Oldsmobiles

Casey Walker's obsession with torque and a 468ci, 11-second Cutlass.

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Car crafters get involved with old cars through the unlikeliest of avenues. Casey Walker has always been a gearhead. His first car was actually an '81 GMC half-ton pickup to be used around the family ranch outside his Ashland, Kansas, hometown. After graduating from high school, he bought a '70 Cutlass S in 1993 from future wife Missy's family. For $500, it wasn't a car preordained to instantly induct him into the Musclecar Builders' Hall of Fame, but it had a couple of things going for it. Besides its righteous price and reasonable rust for a 23-year-old Midwest beater, the Olds presented enormous opportunity. That cavernous engine bay combined with GM's famed interchangeability made upgrading this midsize cruiser potentially fun-even if Casey wasn't a card-carrying Dr. Olds devotee.

Unlike most projects, this Olds didn't start out with a just-add-gasoline-and-stir engine swap like you see on those musclecar television shows on Saturday morning. This story went on hold for five years while Casey worked his way through an Automotive Technology degree at Pittsburg State University in Kansas then found his way to Peoria, Illinois, and worked for Caterpillar as a development engineer. Perhaps his occupation working with heavy-handed earth movers with ginormous torque found a home. Whatever the reason, there are way too many parallels between developing big diesel earth movers and a big-block Olds that is renowned in the musclecar world for its torque. You think there's a clue in the fact that Casey painted his Olds a hue not unlike one of his company's 800hp massive Wheel Dozers? Just think big, heavy, and yellow.

It all started out innocently enough. "I started this as a street build with a mild 455 and a four-speed. But after I won my first race in eliminations, I knew that was what I wanted to do with the car. I then changed everything-the engine, trans, rearend-so I could compete but still drive the thing on the street."

Torque may be what moves the car, but you still have to hook it all up on the starting line. The A-body GM cars have this dialed in with help from guys like Dick Miller. Dick's been quietly building a franchise around constructing big-block Olds power and then following that up with the suspension pieces to hook all that power to the ground. A glance under the rear end of Casey's car reveals no ladder bars, four-link, or even custom shocks. What you do see is deceptively simple: a set of adjustable upper tubular arms, tubular lower arms, and an adjustable HRpartsNstuff rear antiroll bar. Casey dials in a little bit of preload in the upper control arms, and the car launches straight and consistently every time.

Running 11.40s at 118 mph does not require as much horsepower as you might think, especially when you're making loads of torque. Somewhere in excess of 500 lb-ft of torque combined with a roughly 4,000-rpm stall speed converter and a streetable 3.73 gear all sound way too tame for this size car. But that's the key to Casey's earth-mover routine. He leaves the romantic, high-rpm stuff to those small-block Ford guys who like to watch the tach spin faster than a Formula 1 motor on nitrous. Instead, he's got a big, burly torque motor that just loafs down the track and runs as consistently as one of those big diesels with the yellow paint. Maybe that's because it's engineered that way. You think?

Tech Notes

Who: Casey Walker, Olds owner and Cat tester.

What: A '70 Oldsmobile Cutlass S that doesn't look as quick as it is.

Where: Mapleton, Illinois, which is a tiny little burg playing just south of Peoria.

Engine: It has a 455 iron "F" block bored 0.060 inch oversize with Speed-Pro 10.0:1 pistons, Federal-Mogul 1/16-inch rings, and Clevite 77 bearings. The crank is a stock, nodular iron Olds ground 0.010 inch undersize creating a 468ci combination with 4.186-inch bore and a 4.25-inch stroke. J & S Machine in Topeka, Illinois, did the meticulous machine work, including polishing the rods and balancing the entire assembly.

Camshaft: Casey opted for a popular Bullet flat-tappet, single-pattern, hydraulic, flat-tappet camshaft with 244 degrees of duration at 0.050-inch tappet lift along with 0.544-inch lift from the Harland Sharp 1.6:1 roller rockers. The cam also has a lobe separation angle of 108 degrees. Casey also added a set of Rhoades variable-duration lifters, which are high bleed-down units that build a little more low-end torque.

Heads: M & J Proformance in Louisville, Ohio, did the head work, starting with a set of stock iron "C" heads that were ported with flow numbers of 277 cfm on the intake and 175 cfm on the exhaust with 2.07/1.710-inch Manley stainless valves and dual valvesprings. The heads are bolted down with a set of ARP bolts and sealed with Corteco gaskets.

Induction: With an emphasis on airflow, Casey decided on an Edelbrock Torker intake straight out of the box and combined it with a Barry Grant Speed Demon mechanical-secondary 750-cfm carburetor. He also built his own cold airbox out of aluminum sheet to direct cold air through a 3-inch-tall K&N filter. A Mallory 140 electric fuel pump makes sure there's sufficient fuel on hand, and this whole combination runs on 93-octane pump gas.

Exhaust: Kooks makes some of the nicest headers for lots of applications, including the second-generation Olds. Casey chose a set of 2-inch primary pipes with a 3.5-inch collector along with 3.0-inch exhaust pipes and a cross-pipe feeding into a pair of DynoMax 3.0-inch Ultraflow mufflers.

Power: Casey estimates the Olds makes around 500 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque at roughly 3,800 rpm, but he admits this is just a guess. Our ancient power-speed calculator put his power based on weight and quarter-mile trap speed at 470 hp.

Transmission: Olds motors are famous for torque, so a TH400 is almost a necessity. Casey plugged in a TransGo valvebody modified by his friend Jim Bollinger along with a B&M trans cooler and connected with a Dynamic 4,000-stall torque converter. Casey rows with a B&M Z-Gate shifter.

Rearend: The Olds purists may shudder a bit, but that's a Chevy 12-bolt under the rear with Richmond 3.73 gears and a set of Strange 31-spline axles connected to a Strange spool. The axletubes have also been converted to the big Ford housing ends with bolt-in flanges that eliminate the need for the stock C-clips.

Suspension: With all this torque, chassis tuning becomes an obsession. Casey began by tying the framerails together with a six-point rollbar built by Eric Vicary. The front has a pair of Competition Engineering front shocks, Moroso drag springs, and PST polyurethane bushings. He even kept the factory power steering and tilt steering wheel. After all, this is still an Olds. Where more science is applied is with a complete Dick Miller Racing rear suspension package consisting of tubular upper and lower bars and a set of Comp Engineering shocks. Finally, an HRpartsNstuff rear antiroll bar keeps the body level when the Olds really hooks. The rear springs are vintage Olds.

Brakes: The original factory discs work well to haul the big Olds down from its 118-mph blasts. All Casey did was eliminate the booster. The rear brakes are stock GM 9-1/2-inch drums that are both simple and light.

Wheels/Tires: It doesn't get much simpler than a pair of Weld Pro Star 15x6-inch fronts to keep the weight down mounted on Goodyear Invicta 205/70R-15 tires. On the rear, the same style Welds are a little wider at 15x8 inches and mount a set of Mickey Thompson 28x12.5-15 ET Street tires.

Body: The biggest change from stock is an original factory Olds Ram Air hood that is a fiberglass shell mounted over a steel subframe with functional airscoops. Casey did all the bodywork on the Olds, and then his friend Matt Mylott painted the car '94 Dodge Viper yellow back in 1999. We think it looks suspiciously like Caterpillar yellow!

Interior: Casey changed a short list of items in the interior, adding an Auto Meter tach along with water-temperature, oil-pressure, and amp gauges. To keep the weight down, he also added a pair of lightweight buckets with fixed-aluminum mounts and an RJS five-point harness. Oh, and the heater box took a hike.

Performance: It runs 11.44 at 118 mph in the quarter-mile and 7.25 at 93 mph in the eighth-mile. The Olds weighs 3,500 pounds without driver, which means it hefts a solid 3,700-plus pounds with driver and fuel each time down the track. It takes torque to move that kind of weight that quickly.

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