Just when you thought you’d seen it all, and that hand-built LS ingenuity couldn’t get any more intriguing, along comes a custom car so wild that you can’t help but scratch your head in wonderment. Such were the thoughts that permeated our brains when we first encountered Brian King’s all-wheel-drive, LSX-swapped, 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Packing 841horsepower, this ProCharger powered, home-built coupe is quite the retro 1980s throwback, blending OEM aesthetics with one-off performance mods that are both resourceful and purposeful.
The story of King’s Cutlass dates all the way back to 1994, when he discovered the car in his hometown, just in time for the novice gearhead’s 16th birthday. Reasonably priced at $400, yet in desperate need of a $300 engine swap, the 3.8-liter V6 snoozer was the perfect set of first wheels for King, and he adored every aesthetic of his classic Cutlass. But it wasn’t until a few years later, when a secondary daily beater materialized, that Brians Cutlass transformed from commuter to project car.
Many hours in the garage later, and King’s copper-colored Cutlass had been reloaded with a far more ferocious Oldsmobile 455 rocket engine and a reinforced rearend. Since then, the Nebraska native admits to having swapped four engines into the chassis, with the most recent one done out of necessity. King tells us that despite his last LS engine being a beast of a boosted bruiser, it was short lived due to running on entirely too much boost. So with the V8’s cylinder heads marred beyond repair, and every form of internal malady imaginable following thereafter, Brian King’s Cutlass was reduced to being little more than a retro paperweight.
Prior to grenading his previous engine, King had received a stroke of inspiration when he stumbled upon images of a Corvette that had been converted into an AWD ass-kicker. Almost immediately, King concluded that this was precisely what his old Cutlass needed, saying that he, “…wanted to try a project not many can say they’ve done… break away from the normal builds.”
And breakaway he did. Inspired beyond belief by the thought of paddling into uncharted waters, the hobbyist switched into “research mode,” and devised a plan. After weighing his options carefully, King decided that buying another Cutlass would be the first step, as it would allow him to safely experiment in order to determine what was needed in order to swap frames and whatnot. Around this time King also purchased an Oldsmobile Bravada in the hopes of affixing the car’s front frame section to his build — a time-consuming procedure that King admits took a few months and numerous garage hours.
By this time, King’s Cutlass had over 200,000 miles on its odometer, with quite a few of these coming from burnouts and street shenanigans. Improving the way in which his Cutlass performed and prolonging its longevity had become a core focus for King, and he had all of the right ingredients to make it work. The car that had gotten him into racing and modifying automobiles were becoming way more than just a DIY project with sentimental undertones — had become an outright obsession.
We were not exaggerating when we mentioned that Brian King likes to tinker. Every stitch of carbon-fiber on this car, from the hood, trunk, engine bay, dash, steering wheel, trim pieces, and more were constructed by this car’s owner. So while the fact that this Cutlass generates power to all four wheels certainly grabs most people’s attention, it’s the extensive amount of one-off carbon work that really raises a lot of eyebrows. King has even gone as far as posting a series of YouTube videos on this lightweight material, allowing viewers to see firsthand the levels of patience and attention to detail required in order to craft car parts entirely from carbon-fiber.
Back on the piston-pumping side of things, King’s old LS2 engine was completely toasted, so he decided to contact Texas Speed & Performance about securing a fully customized 427 LSX build. This latest engine upgrade not only received a fully reinforced lineup of internals, but a hefty amount of fueling accouterments, as well. These included a set of 1300cc injectors, a high-flow Walbro fuel pump, and an Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator. Airflow was increased as well, with an LS3 intake manifold, a 90mm throttle body off a Trailblazer, and a custom cold-air intake that King made entirely from carbon-fiber. King also had a set of Pacesetter headers attached, along with a full 3-inch Magnaflow exhaust, as well as a ProCharger F1-X kit running 23-pounds of boost. This last addition features a Treadstone TRV259 intercooler, a race blow-off-valve, and 3-inch hot and cold piping.
Focusing upon the AWD setup on this classically styled Cutlass, you will see a smorgasbord of one-off mods, and the recycling of all sorts of GM components. While the front end is off a Bravada, the all-wheel-drive conversion itself comes from a Trailblazer SS, with the steel factory driveshaft underneath being cut to fit. This means that shifts are controlled via a GM E67 PCM from a 2007 Trailblazer SS, and that a 4L70-E transmission rests beneath the hood, with Moser axles and a 4.11 rearend transferring torque out back. While geometry issues between driveshafts definitely was a concern, King tells us that the biggest issue with converting his Cutlass to AWD was modifying the floor pan underneath the seat so that it would clear the transfer case.
Rebuild and conversion complete, King’s Cutlass was shipped out to Zzy Performance in California, where it was tuned on an AWD dyno. While safely sending 840 horsepower to all four wheels deserves applause, King’s Cutlass was unable to provide more power due to running out of fuel up top. While there will always be room for larger injectors and a re-tune down the line, the 35-percent drivetrain loss that was detected on the dyno is something that is impossible to remedy. King surmises that without this loss his Cutlass is generating around 1,300 horsepower to the crank, and that he is completely fine with exchanging power for all-wheel drive grip.
So how does Brian King’s crazy, carbon-fiber clad, ProCharger-powered, AWD Cutlass handle? When we asked the dent repair specialist to describe the sensation of controlling such a unique machine, he responded with a simple, yet effective answer: “It’s great for long road trips, acceleration, and grabbing attention. The car performs amazingly, and AWD adds to drivability and cornering. It has quicker acceleration in normal street conditions, too.”
Asked as to whether or not he would change anything on the car, King tells us that there isn’t a whole lot about this build that he would alter. “It’s been such a learning curve with this car,” King says. “I have developed so many things for it and changed so many things. All in all, this car has just been a blast.”
Some of these modifications included an extensive round of adjustments to the coupe’s Strange coilovers in order to lower the chassis to the right AWD ride height, along with rectifying any under-hood clearance issues retain a stock look. Carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes, Spohn sway bars, and WELD S71 wheels with Toyo 888 tires make their presence known while the car is in motion.
This Cutlass interior is also a real attention-grabber, with custom carbon-fiber parts and pieces throughout. These touches include a set of Kirkey racing seats, some Dakota Digital and AEM gauges, and King’s very own handmade carbon-fiber center console, door panels, steering wheel, sill plates, dash, and more. However, as impressive as these additions may be, one of our favorite parts of this car is the “lightning rod shifters” stuffed within that carbon center console.
Even today, this multi-armed Oldsmobile Cutlass gear selector remains one of the most iconic automotive accouterments from the 1980s. Made in limited quantities for Hurst versions of the Cutlass, these wild gear shifters were only available from 1983 to 1984, and like many GM enthusiasts, King loves the look of these unique, multi-rod shifters. We couldn’t imagine a more appropriate vehicle for something sporting the word “lightning”, too, especially after watching Brian King’s burnout video, where he smoked all four tires on a set of wheels that he had made entirely out of epoxy. See? We told you this car was a retro riot.