The History of the Oldsmobile 350 Rocket V-8by Rob Wagner
General Motors-owned Oldsmobile produced the Rocket 350-cubic-inch V-8 engine from 1968 to 1980. The Olds V-8 was unrelated to other GM 350 V-8s. GM often mixed and matched its 350s with different make and model cars. However, other than the Cadillac Seville, the Rocket 350 only powered Olds models. Although it was generally a dependable engine, the Rocket 350 suffered from a weak oil system and troublesome valve train.
The 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 equipped with a 135-horsepower 303 V-8 was the grandfather of the Olds 350. Muscle car purists point to the Rocket 88 as the original muscle car, as Oldsmobile was the first to drop a powerful V-8 into a mid-size coupe. Ford had powered its 1932 coupes with a V-8, but the horsepower was only 65. Oldsmobile wanted to produce a small-block V-8 that packed a wallop. In 1964, Olds developed the small-block 330 V-8, and four years later the Rocket 350 arrived.
Specs and Applications
The Rocket 350, like all Oldsmobile small-block V-8s, featured a 3.385-inch stroke. The 350's bore was 4.057 inches. The 1968 to 1974 engines featured gold-painted engine blocks. The 1975 to 1980 350s blocks were painted metallic blue. The "Rocket" name was prominently emblazoned on the air cleaner until 1975. The 350 featured harmonic balancers and cast-iron crankshafts. Only the 1976 Cadillac Seville came equipped with a fuel-injected 350. Horsepower ranged from a modest 160 to an impressive 325. The 350 powered the Oldsmobile Cutlass, F-85, Vista Cruiser station wagon, the performance 4-4-2, the Delta 88, the 98, Toronado and compact Omega.
The automaker launched the Oldsmobile 4-4-2 in 1964 in response to the Pontiac GTO. Named the 4-4-2 to denote a four-barrel carburetor, four-speed floor shifter and dual exhaust, Olds offered its "W" options, including the W-30 that equipped the 4-4-2 with Ram Air induction engines for greater power. In 1969, Olds offered the W-31 option on the Cutlass and F-85 models with the Rocket 350 equipped with a special carburetor, camshaft and valves. The 350 generated 325 horsepower and 360 foot-pounds of torque. The 350 stood well against the 350-horsepower 400 V-8 that came with the W-32 option. However, the 350 became something different for the 1970 model year when Olds produced a new version called the Rallye 350 in the W-30 option package. Oldsmobile adhered to the prevailing industry philosophy that horsepower sold cars, but torque won races. The Rallye 350 saw a reduction in horsepower to 310, but its torque rating skyrocketed to 490 foot-pounds.
The W-31 option package with the Rocket 350 disappeared in 1971, and Olds downgraded the 4-4-2 from its own model to a Cutlass option in 1972. The muscle car era had ended with tighter emission controls, climbing insurance premiums and the federal government hammering away at Detroit automakers for manufacturing powerful cars with substandard safety features. Automakers also abandoned "gross" horsepower ratings for "net" horsepower. As a result, the Rocket 350 became a shell. For 1972, the 350 came in two horsepower ratings: 160 and 180. The torque rating for both engines was 275 foot-pounds. The 180-horsepower version remained for the rest of the 1970s.
Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.