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Home/Technical Info/Oldsmobile/01. Engines/ 1964-1988
260-455 V8
1969 Cro-Sal & Oldsmobile Aluminum Can Am Olds 455 CID V8

The Can Am Giant in blazing color.
This PR photo graced the July 1969 issue of Hot Rod Magazine.
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Information about this item:

by Society Staff - reprint with permission only

Oldsmobile's Twin Turbo Can-Am Aluminum 455

Oldsmobile in road racing? Oldsmobile designing a purpose-built race motor? Come on, stop pulling my leg, you say. Well, we're not - this mill was built, it did run in anger (it still does), and it is as rare as the famous W-43 - but one is still firing shots in anger - really.

Yep, the sixties were a crazy time, with each and every make trying to use performance to get them into the sales winner's circle - all by working at putting cars across the finish line first.

First: Oldsmobile's History in Can -Am - why the aluminum 455 was built.

Oldsmobile was no exception to the "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" trend - even in road racing. And their start in Can Am began all the way back in 1966 with the famous McLaren team's M1B cars. A Small Block Olds was even found in a Lola chassis. Considering the over-abundance of Chevy and then Ford racing engines in the field, the Olds-engined cars acquitted themselves well in 1966, finishing in the money five times and qualifying for most races.

Toward the end of the '66 year, Olds and chassis designer Mike McKee got together with the idea of a joint effort (under the table, of course), and the McKee 6B6 chassis was built and raced, but the car was too new and did not finish.

In 1967, McKee built a new chassis car (7/2), and it was fitted with a more professionally-built small block Olds engine. In the first race of the season, it finished 10th - very respectable, when all other cars ahead of it were either Chevy-powered McLarens or Lolas raced by the likes of Bruce McLaren, Mark Donohue, John Surtees, John Hall. and Skip Barber. Next out it qualified 11th but dropped a valve. At Mosport, it was disabled in practice, and at Laguna Seca, it was being repaired so it did not run. Back in action at Riverside, it finished 7th, beating the likes of Chris Amon and Sam Posey and finishing just behind George Follmer, and, at Las Vegas, it reached the pinnacle - running 4th!

Oldsmobile and McKee/Salyer had high hopes for an even better year in 1968, and they stroked the new 350 to 389 cubes. McKee modified the Mk7/2 chassis and rechristened it the Mk10. The body had a wedge look (see picture at right). In its first outing at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, it finished 7th, beating a host of Chevy-powered Lolas and McLarens. The future looked bright. Strangely, it did not race at Bridgehampton, the second race of the season, and it stalled on the grid at Laguna Seca. It ran 30th at Riverside due to vapor lock and had an accident at Las Vegas.

1969 - Enter the 455

For all the expectations, the 1968 season was a big disappointment, but Olds and McKee/Salyer has big plans or 1969. The Mk 10 chassis would become AWD and be powered by an all-aluminum, twin turbo 455! Oldsmobile modified a Jetaway variable pitch transmission allowing it to have 4 forward speeds using the two gears and the pitch fixed in either high or low. Strange that they chose the more flimsy Jetaway rather than the T400 switch-pitch, which would have allowed six forward speeds (and we know would have been bullet-proof). Space may have been the issue.

The engine was quite a masterpiece and is the subject of this story. When Olds came up with the engine plan, they did not know if Can Am was going to allow unlimited engine sizes, so they had the foundry cast both 350 and 455 aluminum blocks for testing. The small block was again stroked to 389 cubes, and the 455 was left at 455, though it was rumored that a 4.3 bore model was tried with both 455 and 425 cranks.

Olds intended to take advantage of the "try anything" aspect of this series by race-testing ideas that they were considering for production. As the Division which reintroduced front-wheel drive to mass-produced, large American cars, they wanted to test the concept of all-wheel drive using a modified Toronado carrier and some of the typical components found driving the front wheels of their sport luxury car. The switch-pitch Jetaway was set up to give control over the pitch as well as the up and down shifts. This gave the driver the ability to have 4 speeds but also infinite gear ratios for launch off of the corners.

The aluminum block was wet-sleeved and featured 4-bolt mains but was otherwise stock in design. A set of aluminum heads were cast with no carb heat risers but also stock in design (think "D" heads). Two turbos used slightly modified stock dual exhaust manifolds turned to face forward. These shoved the air into two TRW turbos, which then pushed the compressed air into an overhead box that took the air through mechanical Lucas fuel injector units.

Here are some of the key specs:

  • Aluminum block - steel liners
  • Aluminum heads - stainless steel valve seats
  • Race HP = 659 @ 6250 RPM
  • Race Torque = 554 @ 6000 RPM
  • Qualifying HP = 700+ @ 6500 RPM - Torque in excess of 600
  • Forged four-bolt main caps
  • Forged Toronado 455 crank
  • Forged-Tru 8.50:1 forged pistons
  • Carrillo forged billet rods
  • Crower 320 degree cam with 0.555" lift
  • Dual TRW 375 E-10 Turbos
  • Race Boost = 10.5 psi
  • Qualifying boost = whatever it takes
  • Lucas Fuel Injection
  • Olds-specific cast intake aluminum manifold

The motor had the potential to be a killer, and as was later proved in vintage racing, the combo was spot-on. Salyer and Olds had McKee build a new chassis as a takeoff of the Mk 10 designated MK 14, which used state of the art aerodynamics and a solid but heavier space-frame construction that McKee was known for.

The 455's Racing Success - or not

Unfortunately, the highly sophisticated and untried combo had typical teething problems, and while supported by Olds, it was not a high-dollar operation. As such, the MK 10 was fielded early in the season while the Mk 14 was sorted out. Testing was not publicized, but the word got out that the AWD drive car could pull even a 518 Traco Chevy in a conventional chassis off of a corner and actually out accelerate it. Brakes needed to be upgraded as the auto trans did not provide enough speed reduction via compression braking.

As a result, the car was not ready for the grid until August 31, 1969 at Road America. Cro-Sal wanted to shake the car down, and if capable of qualifying, do so, but they still felt that the car did not have enough brakes to run an entire race. Practice laps confirmed it, though acceleration and top speed were stunning. The car did not compete at this race.

Meanwhile, John Beltz, Olds GM, was called to Corporate headquarters. He was told in no uncertain terms that Chevrolet was the racing division and that support for the Cro-Sal entry must cease. When Salyer was informed, they halted further development and went back to the Mk 10 and Mk 6 for the remainder of the season. Thus, the 455 Turbo never fired a shot in anger in Can Am. The old MK 6 finished 3 races that year, but was clearly out-classed by newer equipment.

Where is it now?

The story should have ended there, but the Mk 14 car was not cut up or cannibalized as most non-competitive cars are. It languished in the hand of various collectors and would-be racers until the early 2000s, when Albert Way purchased it, refurbished it, and took it vintage racing.

The advantage of this is that we can see the car as a good representation of how it was intended to run back in the day, as it still contains the original engine, transmission, all-wheel drive, and the turbo setup, albeit with some changes in the interest of modern safety rules and other considerations.

The pictures on these pages give one a good idea of the construction and layout of the engine and the body. Unfortunately, Mr. Way has not been forthcoming in displaying the car with the front and rear sections of the body removed, and to our knowledge no pictures were taken of the car during its construction and while on the race circuit, so the details remain unknown.

What is known is that the car did shatter some perceptions and was very advanced for its time - and it came from Oldsmobile. No telling what might have happened if Olds had been able to continue to work on the project and what else might have come out the "back door" at engineering.

What it spawned

Of course, soon after the rejection of this idea, Olds turned to working on advanced cylinder head design for the 350 and 455, and the W-43 and OW-43 resulted.

The W-43 was discussed in the November issue, and the OW-43 will be seen on future pages of this magazine. Suffice it to say that Olds was not finished with racing, and the OW-43 was to be the replacement for the Cro-Sal Olds turbo motor. 700+ HP without supercharging . . . Hmmm, do you think they were on to something?

Click Here to see the article in the July 1969 Hot Rod magazine on the effort.

Click on any Images If Below
to See them Full Size

The McKee-Salyer concept for 1969. Note the Weber-carbureted 389 shown in this drawing. The actual car used the 455 turbo and was all-wheel drive. (See below).

The McKee-Salyer Mk 6 (top) and Mk 7 (bottom) here shown in Mk 10 format with the newer nose. These two versions were quite successful in the Can Am Series from 1966-1968, as private entries, and they induced Salyer (Cro-Sal) and Olds to go for broke.

The car as raced in vintage races today. Note that the front sports a conventional air intake.

This may be the only known picture of the Mk14 at the track. Gene Crow, the man responsible for the 455, is bending over the car and Mike McKee is adjusting something. Joe Leonard, the driver, sits on the Armco in the white driver's suit.

The side view of the engine, as fitted. Note that the turbos were moved to the side of the engine to keep heat away from the driver and that the air box was both streamlined and modified to add some down force.

The design was very straightforward. and the small, lightweight trans let the engine sit very low in the chassis.

Another view of the engine, from the rear of the car.














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