Olds marks era when the family ride wasn’t a minivan
This is not Sebastian Tropea’s father’s Oldsmobile. It was, however, his grandfather’s Oldsmobile. The grandfather, also named Sebastian Tropea, bought the burgundy 442 new in 1968 for $3,600. The car was BOI — bought on the island — and has been in the Tropea family since it rolled off that island lot 47 years ago.
The younger Sebastian Tropea was 16 years old when he got the keys by direct bequeath from Grandfather. Not everyone thought that was a good idea. Both the formidable car and the teen driver survived the relationship, however; in part, perhaps, because of the vigilance of Alfio Tropea, Sebastian’s father, a hot-rodder and gear head who preached against street racing.
The 442 — an odd duck for Oldsmobile, a car company built on solid, middle-class respectability that built cars for accountants and bank managers — began in 1964 as an option on high-end Cutlass models. The tag — rendered 4-4-2 at the time — meant the car came equipped with a four-barrel carburetor, four-speed transmission and dual exhaust pipes. Lore has it that Olds scrambled to produce the 4-4-2 option after seeing the success of Pontiac’s Tempest beefed up with “GTO” options.
By 1968, the 442 had shed its hyphens and become a model in its own right. It went on to become one of the definitive versions of the American muscle car, rubbing fenders with Chevelles, Cyclones, Roadrunners, Gran Torinos and the Pontiac GTO, which some argue launched the brief, glorious muscle-car era.
The muscle car is an odd duck, too. It seems to have been a transition vehicle for people headed toward adult responsibility — children and mortgages, steady jobs and PTA meetings — but not quite ready for that staid sedan. Here was a car that could carry four or five kids and a week’s worth of groceries in the back seat, leave rubber on the shift between first and second gears and cover a quarter mile in about 14 seconds — America.
“This was the family car,” Alfio Tropea said. “This is the car we drove to Mass.”
For about $25,000 in today’s dollars, Sebastian Tropea the elder got a family car with a 400 cubic-inch V8 rated at more than 300 horsepower and mated to GM’s fabled Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 transmission.
The car has been kept original, right down to a few door dings and cracks in the lacquer paint.
“All we’ve done is take care of it; keep up the maintenance,” Sebastian Tropea said.
The car is pushing 50 years old, but has only 55,000 original miles on the odometer. It idles with a low, rumbling growl. With the hood up, you can just hear the hiss of that big carb sucking air. It will still make the back tires yelp on that shift between first and second gears.
Sebastian Tropea drives it only occasionally, mostly in parades and the like. Somebody tries to buy the 442 every time he takes it out. It’s not for sale.
“It means too much to us,” he said. “You can’t put a price on something like that.”