A Fair Shake For the SCX

The folks at the automotive website Jalopnik have done it again...they've slighted a historically important automobile from years past for entertainment. This phenomena naturally occurs from time to time on their website and that's all fine and dandy. Most of the time I ignore things like this and go about my usual business of eating cheese balls and looking at other automotive websites. Most of the time. This past Friday was a different story as Jalopnik author Travis Okulski decided to trash the Oldsmobile Achieva SCX by digging up an old Motorweek clip from 1993 featuring a road test of the car, and followed up by calling it a "pseudo hot rod" and "Oldsmobile's idea of a performance car in the 1990's". Go ahead and give it a read, it takes 3 seconds. Naturally, a lot of less-than-expert analysis ensued in the comments section. Two things make this article particularly upsetting.

First, Mr. Okulski, as many Jalopnik contributors often do, failed to take into context the era and environment that led to the creation of that particular car. While we may have 300+ horsepower Subarus and Corvettes that come with factory superchargers in 2013, the early 1990's were a bit of a desert for the performance car. More on that later.

Secondly, I had the pleasure of owning one of these milestone cars...a 1992 red SCX C60 coupe, one of 1146 made, one of 472 red models. It still romps on small cars in greater Chicagoland. I can guarantee you that it is not only a good performance car for the 1990's, but it remains one today. In fact, the SCX is a record-holding IMSA Firehawk Series Champion and 5-time SCCA divison winner.

If that's not a performance car, you tell me why.

Let's take a close look at the Jalopnik's most recent swing and a miss.

Jalopnik's formula is genereally the same and carries on as follows:

How to Make LOLZ on Jalopnik
Step One: Google search an old car. Usually a domestic model. (A YouTube video search also works.)

Step Two: Compare the old car to modern cars and/or anything automotive as seen in a Vin Diesel movie. 

Step Three:  Post article to Jalopnik.com

Step Four: Stir the pot by allowing every Todd, Rick and Barry to react with snarky comments.

At one point, Jalopnik served automotive enthusiasts well because they wrote independent, unbiased reviews of special interest cars & trucks. They'd test drive sportscars the average consumer wouldn't get to...and then they told us (in our language) what that magical experience was like. Heck, they even recently did a nice writeup on the Achieva SCX's predecessor, the Cutlass Calais Quad 442. They called it a future classic. So why the hate for the later Olds?

For the most part, Jalopnik has become a haven of what we call "Bench Racers". These are young, usually 25 to 35 year-olds fresh out of a private college who happen to like cars. They almost always own an import, and would never be caught dead in a domestic unless its a Corvette, Viper, or tuner-built Mustang. Their new motto is to poke fun at anything American built in the past by slamming how much different it is to similar offerings of today. This Millenial "everything new is cool and everything older than me sucks" approach doesn't wash with me, esepcially when it comes to the Achieva SCX. That's why I blew off my Sunday morning Powerblock shows to write this rebuttal and share a few thoughts.

What Every Jalopnik Author & Reader Should Know About the Oldsmobile  Achieva SCX

1991 Oldsmobile Achieva Concept

1. The Oldsmobile Achieva was a Groundbreaking Aerodynamic Car Designed by Gary "Dean" Smith in the mid 1980's. 
At the tender age of 12, I recall a trip to the 1991 Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place, the world's largest auto show. Miles of exhibition space, cars, trucks, and models...oh those models. Out of every other concept car that year, the one that I still vividly remember is the Oldsmobile Achieva. As a Matchbox-collecting child of the 1980's I thought there were only two car designs. Regular cars were rectangles, and sports cars were triangles. Sure, you had the "aero" look on many Ford models leading up to that. The 1983 Thunderbird and 1986 Taurus were pioneers in aerodynamic styling...but GM was a little slow out of the gate to adopt the swept aerodymanic look. The 1987 W-body and 1988 L-body cars debuted it and by the time the curvacious Achieva emerged as a concept to replace the aging, rectangular N-body Cutlass Calais, it was a night and day difference. See for yourself.

1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais

1992 Oldsmobile Achieva SCX
Nearly every angle of the production version of the Achieva was a compound curve. The greenhouse was massive, with lots of visibility throughout the cabin. The car also had a slight visual rake to it, and a rounded front & rear fascia. To me, it looked as if it came from the year 2000. (Or from Robocop.) The Achieva coupe and sedan bowed in 1992 and the motoring press lauded the car for its low MSRP, roomy interior, good gas mileage and peppy Quad 4 engine. The models available included the S, SL, SC and SCX. The SCX featured a 190-horse engine, a close-ratio 5 speed transmission and an FX3 adjustable sport suspension system only available on the SCX and the Corvette. An odd platform for a performance car, the limited production SCX was built in an effort to homologate the car for IMSA (International Motor Sports Association). Firehawk series racing, and showcase the Oldsmobile division as a leader in automotive design. They did it thanks to the W41 powerplant.

2. The SCX W41 Powerplant Made 190 Naturally-Aspirated Horsepower in a 4 Cylinder...21 Years Ago 
That was in 1992. 1993 models made 5 less. The Quad 4 basis for the SCX debuted in 1987 and was the first dual overhead cam engine produced by General Motors. Prior to that point, GM had turned to folks like Cosworth Engineering to source similar engines. The 190 horsepower rating was accomplished using a W41 specific variant of the LG0 high-output 2.3 liter Quad 4 engine. The motor featured TRW-designed valvetrain, a pair of performance profile camshafts and a special PROM ECM chip. By today's standards, getting 190 horsepower out of a 2.3 liter 4 cylinder with no power-adders or gimmicks is still impressive.

For Comparison

*A 1987 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe used a 2.3 liter single overhead cam engine with a turbocharger and produced 190 horsepower.

*A 1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse with a turbocharged 2.0 liter twin-cam engine developed 190 horsepower.

*A 2004 Chevy Cobalt SS with a supercharged 2.0 liter twin-cam engine made 205 horsepower.

*A 2013 Subaru BRZ with a 2.0 liter horizontally-opposed 4 cylinder makes 200 horsepower.


3. The SCX and Calais are Direct Descendants of the World-Record-Breaking, Quad 4-Powered, A.J. Foyt-Driven Oldsmobile Aerotech Test Car.
 When the engineers at Olds wanted to prove their new Quad 4 engine, they stuck a turbo on it, threw it into a March Indycar frame, and tapped Four-Time Indy 500 Winner A.J. Foyt to make the car go. Two versions were built, a short-tail and a long-tail car. With its aerodynamically sleek body and turbocharged engine, the Aerotech reached 257.12 miles per hour on August 27, 1987. This set an endurance speed record and proved that the Oldsmobile powertrain engineers could build a small 4 cylinder that could churn out high horsepower numbers for an extended period of time to run with the best of them.

4. Oldsmobile Would Sell You Custom Hot Rod Parts for Your SCX.
That's right, you could walk into your local Oldsmobile dealership in 1992 and ask for a copy of their "Rocketparts" catalog. A buffet of speed parts, the Rocketparts list included shortblocks, pistons, forged internals, headers, and many more parts to take your SCX to the local autocross course and drive it hard. Oldsmobile's final decade of existence kicked off with a tuner catalog and factory engineered performance parts. Today, names like SRT, TRD, Nismo, and STi are much more common among tuners for offering the very same thing.

5. Oldsmobile Fielded the SCX in Showroom Stock Racing...and Won.
With drivers Chuck Hemmingson, Buddy Norton, Paul and Karl Hacker at the wheel, the Oldsmobile teams did well with the SCX. Stints at Daytona, Road America, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Portland International Raceway were successful. These track cars battled  Eagle, Dodge, and other manufacturers while holding their own with only 1 DNF due to engine trouble early in the 1992 season.

This YouTube clip shows the Hacker brothers SCX 00 car racing at Sebring in 1993. Its 5:52 into the clip

Chuck Hemmingson had a perfect 1992 season with his Olds and won each of his 5 Firehawk races & took home the Driver's Championship Trophy for that year. In fact, the many of the C41 race SCX cars that duked it out then...are still running races to this day.

She's still got it. A 92 C41 Firehawk Racer on the track in 2012.  Credit: Quad4Forums
21 years after their debut, SCX's are still competitive race cars at many tracks and SCCA solo events across the country. They were not just a sticker and chin spoiler stuck on a family sedan. These cars had a great deal of hardware on the wall back in Lansing. Above all else, the humble SCX's were something fresh in an era dominated by mediocraty and badge engineering by the big three.

Now if that's laughable today, I'm not finding the funny.

6. I Don't Miss All My Old Cars, But I Miss Owning an SCX
My Old SCX as it appears today, as owned by my brother Gordon. Well over 100K and it still runs like a champ.
I purchased a 1992 Oldsmobile Achieva SCX from a family up the street from my parents house in the spring of 2001. It was one of two sold by Raymond Chevrolet-Oldsmobile that year, and was a common sight after school in my high school years. My family knew it was special as we never saw another one on the road. It sounded like an angry bear cub at idle and as it burbled up and down the street it made a wonderful racket. When my Dad helped tip me off that the car was 'sitting' in the neighbor's driveway for quite a while, I called their house and talked to the wife of the owner. She told me it wasn't running and probably needed a battery, but that they weren't going to fix it up and wanted $1500 for it. I came home two weeks later with cash in hand and pushed the car down the street to my parents house for repairs. An alternator, a catalytic converter, and a few vacuum hoses later and I had my first performance car.

After driving it for a year, I stored the car and eventually passed it down to my brother Gordon when he was taking driver's education in 2005. Gordon and my parents replaced & painted the cracked front bumper, threw some new parts at it and he's been driving it ever since. I still miss its high-revving engine, smooth-shifting transmission, and point & shoot handling. I also know its being looked after well by another Scott family member who appreciates what it is.

7. Besides Jalopnik, There Are Great Online Resources for the Last of the Oldsmobile W-Machines

Learn about the design and development of the Oldsmobile Achieva from the man who did it, Gary "Dean" Smith. BTW: His website is incredible! 

This article from Autosavant describes ownership experience of an SCX.

Read the Oldsmobile press release about the SCX's successful IMSA and SCCA wins in 1992.

Check out the Quad 4 Forums.


  1. I really appreciate you for all the valuable information that you are providing us through your blog.
    Kia Weston
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I found this by chance after a google search - very nice write up!

    Jonathan @ Quad4forums

  3. Great trip down memory lane. In 1993, I bought one of three "leftover" 93 SCX from an Olds dealer in Merrillville, IN. I had the choice of three colors, Red, Black or White. I took the white. I put a personalized plate on it that read : SCXXY 1 (only the Olds guys truly got it). It was a fast, fun , reliable and great handling car. The ONLY issue I ever had was the ubiquitous head gasket that once replaced, never needed it again. Even teh clutch lasted well over 100K miles. I drove it for about 7 years until (regretfully) selling it for a family minivan :( It's the one car of many that over 20 years later I still wish I had today. Great article and thanks for sharing!!!Long Live the Olds Achieva SCX..................

  4. I was just starting high school when the Achieva's first hit the market. I remember reading in one of the mags (probably Autoweek, since I subscribed) mentioning that the Achieva got a later start than the platform mates (Grand Am, Skylark) because they redid the rear wheel wells to make them open/round. The first review I read was on the Achieva SC. I loved the look of the car, and really wanted one. Then reading about the SCX, I was enamored even more. Although at the time I didnt believe that a car with smaller wheels (14" vs 16") would handle better... but it did. In college I drove an SC 5-speed, but just didn't have the funds to purchase at the time. I've recently been bitten by the Autocross bug. I need to find a car (that isn't my daily driver) to autocross.... I think that I'm gonna make it the SCX.

    1. I Have One Low Miles Anyone Interested?

    2. The story of the design of the SCX: http://www.deansgarage.com/2009/development-of-the-1992-oldsmobile-acheiva-scx/. Gary D. Smith


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