There’s a rather oddball car coming up for sale at the upcoming Mecum auction, and we genuinely can’t decide if it’s awesome or awful: a 1999 SEMA show car built by General Motors as the Oldsmobile Intrigue 442.
For those unfamiliar, the 4-4-2 is, or at least was, an institution as Oldsmobile. First introduced in 1964 in response to Pontiac’s GTO—this was at a time when GM brands were competing with each other—the Cutlass-based 4-4-2 offered a beefed-up chassis, bigger brakes, and a 330-cubic-inch (5.4-liter) V-8 souped up to 310 horsepower. The 4-4-2 designation indicated a four-barrel carburetor, four-speed manual transmission, and dual exhausts. (The designation stuck even after Olds started selling 4-4-2s with two-speed automatics.) The 4-4-2 was a huge hit, and despite the collapse of the muscle car market and the onset of the Malaise Era, Olds delivered a 4-4-2 every year through 1980.
Aside from a one-year revival in ’85 (when Olds applied the name to the ’83-84 Hurst Olds, itself a credible companion to Chevy’s Monte Carlo SS and Buick’s Grand National), there were no 4-4-2s in the ’80s, but in 1990 the name reappeared in the most unlikely of places: Oldsmobile’s aging Calais. The oft-forgotten (and now dehyphenated) Calais 442 version featured the high-output Quad 4 engine, GM’s first serious attempt at a modern 16-valve DOHC I-4. Oldsmobile said the designation stood for four cylinders, four valves per cylinder and two camshafts, which was still pretty hot stuff at the time.
Turns out the “2” also stood for how many years this model lasted. When the even more forgettable Achieva replaced the Calais for ’92, Olds turned its back on yesterday, naming the equally unsuccessful performance version SCX. And that was it for the 442—until the 1999 SEMA Show, when this strange little gem appeared. Oldsmobile was trying to imbue its dull-as-paper Intrigue with some actual intrigue, so it stuffed a 550-hp Cadillac Northstar V-8 under the hood.
Let us repeat that salient detail, lest it escape you. Olds, in the throes of General Motors’ dullest days, right smack dab in the middle of creating some of the most forgettable cars in the corporation’s then-90-year history, put a 550-hp Northstar V-8 in an Intrigue.
That sentence is truly magnificent, at least until you get to the last word.
That’s why we can’t decide of the Intrigue is awesome or awful. The Northstar’s shine had begun to dull by the end of the ’90s, but it was a good, smooth-running engine (the antithesis of the Quad 4!), and 550 hp is nothing to sneeze at, even if it was delivered through the front wheels. The Intrigue was a semi-credible sedan that Oldsmobile less credibly tried to sell as a luxury/performance car. In reality, our own testing found that it rivaled the Toyota Camry for both road manners and anonymity. There is a reason the Oldsmobile Intrigue is not the stuff of car shows.
We can’t decide if the Intrigue 442’s details are cool or crud. There’s the white-and-gold paint, a nod to the Hurst/Olds versions of the 4-4-2 that appeared sporadically throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. But the application of the old trim—as a stripe bracketed between gold renditions of Oldsmobile’s anonymous new logo—is clumsy. The twin-scoop hood is cool, but the gills on the front bumper look like room vents bought at Home Depot. (They are apparently actual grille inserts from a 1970 4-4-2, which just goes to show that real estate agents are right: Location is everything.) And those wheels—Hellooooo, Y2k!
We can’t imagine what this thing is like to drive; the torque steer must be epic. Nor will we know if GM ever planned to turn this one-off into a production car, because in December 2000, GM abruptly announced its plans to shutter the Oldsmobile brand. Development on new products stopped, the Intrigue was killed after 2002, and by the end of 2004, the historic brand was itself history.
And that is what makes this strange muscle car so intriguing—the last factory-produced 4-4-2 is a genuine GM-built piece of what might have been. The auction page doesn’t tell us a whole lot about this car, but it looks clean and largely original, and it’s selling with no reserve. If you buy it—and by all means, you should buy it—will you take us for a ride? Please?
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