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This or That: 1970 Olds Rallye 350 versus 1971 Pontiac GT-37

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1970 Oldsmobile Rallye 350 (top); 1971 Pontiac GT-37 (bottom). Images by the author.

Editor’s note: This or That is not a comparison report between two vehicles, but rather a feature that enables us, in an idyllic world, to add a collectible vehicle into our dream garage on a weekly basis, but with a catch: We can only pick one vehicle from this pairing and it has to be for enjoyment purposes rather than as an investment.

This episode of This or That features a pair of Detroit’s budget muscle cars: a 1970 Oldsmobile Rallye 350 versus a 1971 Pontiac GT-37. Both former Hemmings Muscle Machines feature cars, each were furnished with the vibe of their big-block brethren, but without all of the otherwise standard bells and whistles that often led to a lofty price tag. But there was more behind the creation of these two visually hot cars than a lower sticker price.

As manufactures kept the conga line of performance cars moving off the assembly line, behind the scene were soon-to-arrive revised federal emissions standards and the not-so-slow progression to widespread use of unleaded fuel. In addition to these combined supercar hindrances, insurance companies – having contended with more than half a decade of horsepower escalation – finally put a foot down on coverage premiums: Owners of street-legal factory racers were now facing sky-high bills for the privilege of piloting a big-block beast down the boulevard. These factors led to the release of “insurable” performance cars, soon dubbed the “junior” muscle cars. Arguably, the wildest among the lot was Oldsmobile’s Rallye 350.

Introduced on February 18, 1970, assembly work for the Rallye 350 began as early as mid-January in the division’s Lansing plant. Given the W-45 option package designation, it was available on the Cutlass Holiday (hardtop) Coupe, the base F-85 Club Coupe and the F-85 Sport Coupe, all painted in Sebring Yellow with black stripes trimmed in red. Its grille was a blacked-out Cutlass S piece with silver trim, while both urethane coated bumpers – also finished in Sebring Yellow – were the same steel cores as their chrome counterparts; the rear bumper was a 4-4-2 piece with the cutouts intended for the trumpet exhaust tips. Visually the W-45 package also mandated the installation of G70-14 blackwall tires mounted to 14 x 7-inch Super Stock II wheels painted Sebring Yellow, the W-25 fiberglass hood, D35 sport mirrors, and W35 rear deck air spoiler. This package also upgraded the interior with the N34 Custom Sport steering wheel, while the A-body chassis was given the FE2 Rallye suspension.

Below the hood was the L74 350 V-8 engine fitted with the N10 dual exhaust. Thanks in part to a four-barrel 4MV Rochester Quadrajet carburetor and 10.25:1 compression ratio, the small-block was officially rated for 310 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Contemporary reports indicated that the L74 powerplant was capable of going zero to 60 in 7.0 seconds flat, or down the quarter-mile in 15.27 seconds at 94.33 MPH. It was the only engine available in the Rallye 350 and was backed by either a three-speed column-shifted manual transmission (in the F-85 body style) or floor-mounted three-speed manual (within the Cutlass or Cutlass S bodies). On the option chart was a four-speed manual or Turbo Hydra-Matic 350.

At the conclusion of the model year, Oldsmobile had built just 3,547 Rallye 350s: 2,527 based on the Cutlass Holiday Coupe body; 1,020 on the base F-85 Club Coupe; and 160 were on the F-85 Sport Coupe.

Also introduced in mid-1970 was Pontiac’s answer to the budget-conscious conundrum: the GT-37. Beginning with the stripped-down and lighter Tempest T-37 pillared coupe and hardtop, the GT Sport Package (a $198 option), automatically added 1969 GTO Judge-style accent stripes, hood locking pins, chrome exhaust extensions and GT-37 identification on each front fender and trunklid. Focusing on our featured year of 1971, the GT-37 – now part of the Le Mans line and only available in a hardtop body style due to the inclusion of sport mirrors – received a redesigned grille and nose piece and, initiated mid-year, a full-length body stripe made of reflective foil emblazoned with the GT-37 badge. A carry-over was the continued use of 14 x 6-inch Rally II styled steel wheels as standard equipment shod with G70-14 tires. Honeycomb wheels were made available in ’71. Interiors were utilitarian at best and featured Morrokide-clad bench seats that could not have been swapped for buckets. However, three different steering wheels – Custom Cushion, Custom Sports and Formula – were obtainable.

The GT-37 body and corresponding cabin accoutrements were bolted to a 112-inch wheelbase perimeter frame held stable by GM’s continued widespread use of a coil-spring front and rear suspension system. In its initial year, the GT-37 came with the code Y96 Ride and Handling package (beefier springs and shocks ) standard; however it was moved to the option chart for ’71. Incidentally, buyers could have optioned up to the same fully boxed frame utilized under other convertible A-body series.

Secured to the front crossmember were a series of standard and optional V-8 engines you almost need a road map to follow. We’ll simplify it for you a bit by focusing our attention on the 1971 offerings, beginning with the standard engine (L30) that, fitted with number 94 cylinder heads – yielded 250 horsepower and 285 pound-feet of torque. First on the option chart was the L65-coded, two-barrel-carbureted mill. Completed with number 99 heads it was rated for 265 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. This was followed by the L78-code four-barrel 400 equipped with number 96 heads that touted 300 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. Not enough? A checkmark next to the L75 option code provided a four-barrel 455 with a pair of number 197 heads that helped push 325 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque from the piston bores, while a high-output LS5 edition managed an addition 10 horses – on paper. No matter which engine was selected, all that power (note that all 1971 output ratings are gross, not net) was sent through one of five transmissions: a standard floor-shifted three-speed manual, the M20, M21 or M22 four-speed manual, or the Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 or 400 automatics. Transmission choice was partially dictated by engine mandates.

According to Eric White’s book, The GTO Association of America’s Pontiac GTO/GT-37 Illustrated Identification Guide, Pontiac produced 5,802 GT-37 models during the 1971 season. That figure can be broken down as follows: 5,015 came equipped with the L30; an additional 572 had the L78, 146 came with the L65, 54 were made with LS5 engines and just 15 GT-37s were built with the L75 option. For the record, our feature GT-37 was originally a three-speed/350 model. It was restored for Pure Stock Muscle Car Drags competition and now features an M21 four-speed and engine, built to their legal specs. At the time of the article’s original printing, the owner recorded a best quarter-mile time of 14.48 @ 96.7 MPH.

Armed with this condensed budge-muscle knowledge, which of the two would you add to your stable and why?