Oldsmobile Toronado (1966-1967)
Article by Mark Trotta
Visually striking and well-engineered, Oldsmobile's entry into the personal/luxury car market stretched out over 18 feet and weighed nearly 4,500 pounds. The Toronado was a crowning achievement for the Olds engineering team, and to classic car enthusiasts and collectors, remains one of the most desirable Oldsmobile models.
The Personal-Luxury Car Market
In 1958, Ford stretched the sporty two-seat T-bird into a four-seater, giving the public a stylish car with comfort and performance. Thus began the Personal-Luxury car market. Naturally, as Thunderbird sales increased, rival cars appeared. The first GM model to make a major impact was the 1963 Buick Riviera. The Riv was initially envisioned for the Cadillac division, but as they were selling as many cars as they could build, another model was not needed.
It was during this time that Oldsmobile and Cadillac were working jointly on a new front-wheel-drive platform, code-named XP-784. Intentions from both divisions were to launch personal-luxury coupes in several years. Once GM approved Oldsmobile's entry for the 1966 model year, the chosen body theme was taken from a painting by stylist David North.
Oldsmobile's engineering department had originally envisioned the new car on the smaller A-body platform, but for several reasons, most notably cost, the project was pushed to a larger, more expensive car. The 1966 Toronado would have it's own sheet metal and powertrain, but share a body shell with the E-body platform of the Buick Riviera. Using a partially unitized body, the sub-frame carried the powertrain, front suspension and floor pan. It also served as an attachment point for the rear springs, as well as providing greater isolation of road and engine noises. Flared wheel openings, smooth integration of the B-pillar into the body side, and fastback body gave the Toro a look all it's own - an important factor in the personal-luxury car market.
First Front-Drive Car
The first patent for front-wheel-drive design was given to J. Walter Christie in 1904. Although never seeing mass production, Christie's car produced 50 horsepower and competed in the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup and French Grand Prix.
Legendary race car builder Harry Miller designed the 'Miller 122' front-wheel drive car that ran in the 1925 Indianapolis 500. In 1926, C. W. van Ranst built the 'Detroit Special', a modified Miller 91 FWD that ran the Indy 500 from 1927 to 1929. Van Ranst then went on to work for Cord, who had bought Miller's patents and rights for front-drive passenger cars. The Cord L-29, produced from 1930 to 1932, was the first American front-wheel-drive car to be offered to the public.
The 810 and 812 Cords, offered in 1936 and 1937, were also FWD, with improvements over the underpowered and tail-heavy L-29. Concealed headlamps were a first for production cars, and an optional supercharger made the 812 capable of speeds over 100 mph.
The Suez Crisis of 1956 brought about a fuel crisis in Great Britain. To counter increased petroleum prices, British Motor Corporation set out to build a car that would be both space and fuel efficient. The result was the 1959 Austin Mini, whose front-wheel-drive layout allowed 80% of the area of the interior floor pan to be used for passengers and luggage. Designed by Alec Issigonis, the Mini is credited for being the first commercially successful production front-drive car. Modern production cars use the same transverse-mounted engine configuration.
The Toronado was offered in two models, a standard two-door Hardtop and optional two-door Deluxe. Vacuum-operated pop-up headlamps and a horizontal bar grille paid homage to the the Cord.
Realizing the significance of being a front-wheel-drive car, Oldsmobile wanted no problems with the Toronado. To verify strength and reliability of the FWD components, over a million test-miles were documented prior to public introduction.
FWD vehicles usually have transverse-mounted motors, but the 425 cubic-inch motor placed in the Toronado was mounted traditionally in the frame, that is, the front of the motor faced the front of the car. Because the motor didn't quite clear the hood-line, a depressed intake manifold was designed.
The Toronado was one of the first modern front-wheel-drive cars to have an automatic transmission, which was mounted off the driver's side of the motor. This unique arrangement allowed the engine to sit over the front wheels, giving a favorable 54/46 percent front/rear weight distribution.
The torque converter was mounted on the flywheel in its normal location at the rear of the engine, with a chain drive coupling the engine to the transmission. The output shaft of the transmission faced forward, which sent power to the differential. From there, left and right half-shafts took power to the front wheels.
While other Olds models used coil springs up front, the Toronado was fitted with longitudinal torsion bars. A heavy-duty front sway-bar was standard equipment. At the rear, a conventional solid axle hung on single leaf springs. To keep the back tires firmly planted on the road, four rear shock absorbers were utilized, two mounted vertically, and two horizontally. Large 11" drum brakes with power-assist were used all around, but worked only marginally on a car weighing nearly 4,500 pounds.
Sharing it's E-body platform with the Buick Riviera, the Toronado already had plenty of passenger compartment room, and the completely flat floor added even more space. Bucket-seats up front were optional at no cost on the Deluxe model, with a reclining passenger bucket an extra-cost item. Rear-mounted interior handles were also optional, allowing rear-seat passengers to open the doors without reaching across the front seat-back. Another unique feature was the lack of vent windows - a flow-through ventilation system pulled air in at the front cowl and exited at the rear cowl under the rear window.
On the driver's side of the dashboard, a podium-mounted instrument panel housed a vertically revolving barrel-shaped speedometer. This style gauge was first seen in the 1930's.
A slight facelift for 1967 saw the original eggcrate-mesh grille replaced by horizontal slats, with a similar style seen in the horizontal bar of the tail-lamps. The pop-up headlamps, formerly recessed, were now flush with the body panels. Due to customer complaints, suspension was softened for 1967. Concerns over drum brake fade led Oldsmobile to offer optional front discs.
Despite weighing over 4,000 pounds, the Toro had exceptional traction and handled reasonably well. The 425-cid "Rocket" motor produced 385-horsepower at 4,800 rpm, and had an SAE gross figure of 475-pound-feet of torque which peaked at 3,200 rpm. A dual-snorkel air cleaner and dual exhaust were standard on all models.
Published performance tests of the day show the 1966 Toronado accelerating from 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, with a top speed of 135 mph. Quarter-mile times were clocked at 16.4 seconds at 93-mph. Both 1966 and 1967 models used a final drive ratio of 3.21. After a 2,700 mile test, Motor Trend magazine reported 13 miles-per-gallon on premium fuel.
The re-introduction of an American front-wheel-drive automobile earned the 1966 Toronado Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" award, helping Oldsmobile sell 40,963 units the first year. The Toronado also had the distinction of being GM's 100 millionth car built in the U.S. (March 16, 1966). Although sales dipped to 22,062 units for 1967, the front-drive Toronado became a staple in Oldsmobile's lineup for the next 28 years.
The Toronado Owners Association is dedicated to the preservation and education of this historic vehicle. Ownership of a Toronado is not required to join, but certainly encouraged!
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