The Story of the Oldsmobile Aerotech, the 275-MPH Supercar You Never Knew Existed

Oldsmobile Aerotech ST and LT prototypes 14 photos
Photo: Oldsmobile
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Retired in 2004, the Oldsmobile brand left behind 107 years of history and a long list of automobiles that incorporated groundbreaking technologies and designs. The Aerotech of the 1980s is perhaps one of its most radical creations.
Developed in the mid-1980s, the Aerotech was a series of experimental vehicles built to showcase a then-new four-cylinder engine. The experiment spawned cars that set numerous world records and reached top speeds of more than 250 mph (402 kph) almost 20 years before the Bugatti Veyron did.

The story of the Aerotech began in late 1984 when Oldsmobile was working on the Quad 4 engine. It was an inline-four with four valves per cylinder and dual overhead camshafts, an innovative setup at the time.

Knowing that the upcoming Quad 4 would outclass other four-cylinder offerings from German automakers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the engineers behind the project, led by Ted Louckes, asked GM management for approval and funding for a research vehicle that would showcase the engine's full potential.

The goal was to not only develop a far more powerful version of the Quad 4 but also build an extremely aerodynamic vehicle around it. One that could run at high speeds and set new records in the process.

Oldsmobile Aerotech ST
Photo: Oldsmobile
Development of the Aerotech began in early 1985 with a bunch of sketches that envisioned a sleek body inspired by race-spec Le Mans prototypes. Approved by GM top brass almost immediately, the Aerotech was "carved" from carbon fiber and bolted on a modified version of March Engineering's 84C CART chassis, the same that was used in the car that won the 1985 Indianapolis 500.

Designed by Ed Welburn, the extremely aerodynamic shell of the Aerotech originally incorporated a longer rear end, reportedly inspired by the Porsche 917 LH.

However, this design went against Louckes' plan for setting a closed-course record on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so Oldsmobile eventually went with a short-tail version.

The Aerotech looked somewhat radical for the 1980s, but its biggest innovation was under the shell in the form of an underbody fitted with adjustable panels. These changed the amount of airflow that went through the underbody tunnels, allowing the engineers to adjust the setup for different race tracks. On top of that, it generated a lot of downforce.

Oldsmobile Aerotech ST
Photo: Oldsmobile
Power came from a highly modified version of Oldsmobile's Quad 4 engine. The single-turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder reportedly generated about 900 horsepower, significantly more than any supercar available at the time. Finished in late 1986, the first prototype was tested by A. J. Foyt at GM's proving ground in Arizona at top speeds of up to 218 mph (351 kph).

In the meantime, the Aerotech team had decided to give Welburn's long-tail design a chance and began working on the second prototype in late 1985.

In addition to the elongated rear bodywork, this car also got a twin-turbo version of the Quad 4. Built in collaboration with Fueling Engineering, it generated more than 1,000 horsepower, an astounding figure for a four-cylinder mill.

With the second prototype completed, Oldsmobile unleashed both Aerotechs on the Fort Stockton test track on August 26, 1987. Again driven by Foyt, the short-tail version averaged 250.91 mph (403.81 kph), coming close to beating the previous closed-course record set by the Mercedes C111-IV prototype.

Oldsmobile Aerotech LT
Photo: Oldsmobile
As expected, the long-tail version proved to be notably faster and hit a whopping 275 mph (443 kph) on the flying mile. The next day, Foyt went out in the long-tail prototype again and averaged 267.39 mph (430.33 kph. Later that day, he also set a new closed-circuit record with the short-tail car, hitting 257.12 mph (413.79 kph).

While it never became a production model, the Aerotech hit 250 mph (403 kph) a whopping 18 years before the Bugatti Veyron did in 2005. And about a couple of years before the Callaway Corvette Sledgehammer set the road-car speed record at 254.76 mph (409.99 kph) in 1989.

The fact that it did it with a four-cylinder instead of a V8 or a W16 is downright massive.

But Oldsmobile didn't stop there. In the early 1990s, it built a third prototype around its then-unreleased Aurora V8 engine. Also tested at the Fort Stockton track, the Aerotech Aurora went on to set no fewer than 47 speed endurance records between December 7 and 15, 1992.

Oldsmobile Aerotech Aurora
Photo: DtRockstar1
While it was never intended to go into production, the Aerotech put Oldsmobile back into the spotlight in the late 1980s. The Quad 4 engine showcased in the prototypes remained in production for a solid 15 years (1987-2002) and powered a long list of Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, Buicks, and Chevrolets.

But even though the Aerotech made a big splash back in the day, it's an unsung hero that doesn't get the attention it deserves now that the Oldsmobile division is no longer around.

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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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