Back in the late 1980s, Oldsmobile tried to shake off their geriatric image with the "Not your father's Oldsmobile" ad campaign. It did not work. But around the same time, they put out a futuristic concept car that looked like an Olds your great-grandkids would drive someday.
Unfortunately, they aren't, as nobody drives Oldsmobiles anymore unless they're bargain used cars, hand-me-downs, or they have them confused with Honda Accords for some reason.
The late '80s weren't the best era for Olds, but that's no reason to ignore the 1987 Oldsmobile Aerotech concept, one of the more interesting race-inspired concepts from the '80s.
Oh, and it once hit a flying mile record of 267 mph. Not your father's Oldsmobile indeed.
(Welcome to Long Lost Concept Cars, our semi-regular series on Fridays where we highlight amazing concepts from years past that never made it to production — but maybe should have.)
How did such a crazy-looking car come from Oldsmobile of all the brands in the GM portfolio? It starts in the mid-'80s with the development of the Olds Quad-4 engine, a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine whose 150 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque rivaled a lot of V6 engines in its day.
As Automobile tells it, certain people at GM saw a ton of potential in the Quad-4 motor, and they decided to prove it in the most ostentatious way possible: breakin' speed records! They tapped Ed Welburn, an endurance racing fan and then the assistant chief designer in the Oldsmobile studio (and today Vice President of GM Design North America) to design a sleek body that could hit the speeds they sought.
But not just any normal human being can pilot a car designed to break speed records. You need someone with unassailable skill behind the wheel, someone with huge brass balls. Someone from Texas, preferably.
How does A.J. Foyt sound?
What was it? An experimental high-speed vehicle built for the purpose of breaking speed records.
What were the specs? The Quad-4 was good, but you're not gonna hit unfathomable speeds with that puny engine. Power was added by turbo-ing the living crap out of it. The GM Heritage Center says there were two Quad-4 engines used in the Aerotech I: a single-turbo version with 900 horsepower and a twin-turbo version with 1,000 horsepower.
As for the car itself, if it looks like a race car, that's because it started life as one. The chassis came from a modified March 84C CART racer used to win the Indianapolis 500 that year, and the body was made of carbon fiber. Three versions were built: one with a long tail and two with a shorter tail.
What else made it special? It takes more than just power when you're gunning for speed records. The Aerotech I also had adjustable underbody panels that could control the distribution of downforce from front to rear. It was also one of the most aerodynamic vehicles ever designed.
What did it look like on the inside? AMAZING. The Aerotech was designed to be more like an F16 fighter jet cockpit than a car, so it featured digital instrument screens and a transparent HUD in front of the driver. As Car Design News put it in their recent story, "This was a car to be piloted, not merely driven."
Did it actually run? Oh ho ho. You better believe it did.
In late August 1987 the Aerotech team headed to a 7.712-mile test track near Fort Stockton, Texas and broke multiple speed records, several of which remain unbroken today. Outright Olds sums them all up best:
Foyt broke the old closed course mark, held by a Mercedes-Benz streamliner since 1979, with a speed of 257.123 miles per hour in a "short-tail" Aerotech. And while he was at it, erased the 2-liter class world flying-mile record, set by Phil Hill in an MG streamliner in 1959, with a two-way average of 267.399 in a "long-tail" car; on one leg of the run, Foyt's Aerotech was timed at 278.357 mph.
In the straights, Foyt went as high as 290 mph. Clearly, the cars got the job done.
Was it ever planned for production? Doubtful. The cars were always meant to be high-speed record breakers, not precursors to street cars. The Quad-4 did see duty in various Pontiac, Buick and Olds cars, but clearly not with the kind of insane power seen here.
Should it have been produced? How? As some kind of supercar? Perhaps, but that was probably quite unlikely. The Aerotech later inspired several other more realistic concept cars with that name, one of which previewed the 1990 Cutlass Supreme.
And then in 1992, Oldsmobile came back to Fort Stockton with a new version of the Aerotech, this time packing a 4.0 liter Oldsmobile Aurora V8. It broke 47 endurance speed records over eight days.
All of the cars were used extensively in Oldsmobile PR ventures for years. It wasn't enough to save the brand, or convince young people that they made exciting cars for the street, but the Aerotechs remain highly influential and notable for the ludicrous speeds they achieved.