Watch: That Time that Oldsmobile Tried to Turn Darth Vader Into a Car

At first glance, the Oldsmobile Cutlass FE3-X doesn’t look all that different from the Grand National. But a pair of cylinders and your memory of one and not the other really tell the whole story.

In 1986, Oldsmobile had a bit of a reputation, so they wanted to shake it with a trio of high-performance. As a brochure from the era explains it, there was “a sophisticated silver Calais, a sporty red Firenza and the black muscle car—a Hurst/Olds described by Olds General Manager William W. Lane as the ‘Darth Vader car.’”

All three cars came with the same basic mods: better aero thanks to grille covers, a rear spoiler, and improved brake cooling. They also came with the FE3-X suspension modifications, that improved on the FE3 suspension.

And instead of the Grand National’s turbocharged V6, the Cutlass got a 5.0-liter V8 that made 200 hp—or 45 fewer than the Grand National.

But the point of the FE3-X wasn’t power, it was handling. All of the aero mods were designed to actually be aerodynamic.

“I see high performance as definitely affordable and I went into this project to emphasize function over styling,” said Bill Porterfield, who led the FE3-X project. “However, the cars also turned out to be good looking, which is a definite plus.”

The greatest evidence of the team’s commitment to actual handling improvements was perhaps the early G-meter inside. According to MotorWeek, it could actually register more than one G, which was better than the Corvette of the day, and remains something to brag about.

As for the Calais, power came from a 3.0-liter engine making 125 hp, whereas the Firenza–which you can see below–made 120 hp from a 2.8-liter V6.

Both were efforts to make FWD chassis that could handle well, but as remains the case, Oldsmobile was apparently happier drumming up attention for designing high-performance concepts than they were actually making them.

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