After nearly twenty three years of waiting, Ed Welburn , General Motors’ vice president of design, finally had a chance to slip behind his favorite project -- the Oldsmobile Aerotech -- for the very first time. Welburn learned lessons designing the Aerotech that are still helping him design cars that balance aerodynamic requirements with appealing exteriors, but it wasn’t until September 24, 2010 that he learned what it was like to be behind the wheel of the record-breaking concept car.
Although the sleek, high-performance single-seater seems like the stereotypical concept car fodder dreamt up by pie-in-the-sky stylists, the Aerotech wasn’t exactly the brainchild of General Motors’ Design Staff. Credit for the entire program is largely due to a small group of Oldsmobile engineers and managers seeking to show off a new engine while simultaneously pushing their troubled division into the limelight.
In late 1984, Oldsmobile was wrapping up development of the Quad 4, a new inline four-cylinder engine design that incorporated dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. This isn’t exactly heady technology by today’s standards, but it was relatively innovative for a four-cylinder, let alone one crafted by GM in 1984. Olds touted the engine as the perfect mixture of fuel economy and power, and the Quad 4 certainly delivered the latter. In its early 2.3-liter displacement days, the engine was capable of delivering 150 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque, eclipsing other domestic four-bangers and rivaling competitors’ V-6 offerings (Honda’s 2.5-liter V-6, for instance, was rated at 151 horsepower and 154 pound-feet in 1986).
Olds’ top officials were bullish on the Quad 4’s potential, but none more so than Ted Louckes, the division’s chief engineer and father of the Quad 4. Louckes quickly formed a group to develop the Aerotech, a so-called research vehicle designed primarily to demonstrate the Quad 4’s performance potential to consumers and engineers alike through setting a world speed record.