It may be hard to believe today, but at one time, Oldsmobile distinguished itself among General Motors divisions with its advanced engineering. Olds was the first to offer a mass-produced automatic transmission and, later, a high compression (a.k.a. “Rocket”) V-8. Then, in 1966, Oldsmobile introduced the first American front-wheel-drive car in thirty years: the Toronado. The luxurious coupe was one of GM’s many ripostes to Ford‘s Thunderbird, but the Olds stood out for its advanced powertrain in a dramatic package that was a showstopper in its day. And still is.
In many ways, the Toronado was an homage to the highly revered (but commercially disastrous) Gordon Buehrig-designed Cord 810 from the 1930s. The ill-fated Cord, which also was propelled by a lusty V-8 driving the front wheels, was styled like absolutely nothing else on the market, with a long nose and hidden headlights, attributes reprised on the Toronado.
Under GM design chief Bill Mitchell, Oldsmobile adopted the fastback profile of a true exotic car, albeit on a huge, Detroit-size scale. Despite its bulk, the first-generation Toronado had a svelte appearance, perhaps because it was so low-slung – no taller than a Chevrolet Corvair! The lack of a break between the body sides and the greenhouse is one of the many design details that make the Toronado the rolling embodiment of GM’s design prowess. The whole look is boldly unique and – there’s no other way to say this – very testosterone-y.
A hormonal rush was provoked not only by the manly styling – those bulging wheel arches, angular fender lines, and neo-fastback hind quarters – but by brute power from the 425-cubic-inch V-8. The engine was set longitudinally under the expansive hood and pumped 385 hp through a cleverly situated automatic transaxle connected by a chain-and-sprocket setup. Amazingly, all that cutting-edge technology worked well and didn’t screw up (as one might have expected from a brand-new GM platform of the day).
For a beast that weighs more than two tons, the Toronado pulls away from stoplights like nobody’s business. And yes, it’s quite possible to smoke the (front) tires if you stomp on the long pedal. The Toronado is a cross between a locomotive and a chariot pulled by an exceedingly coordinated and eager team of steeds. It can cruise effortlessly at speeds in excess of 120 mph – at least until you run out of fuel. Surprisingly, torque steer is not an issue. Impressive traction helps make this a true driver’s car, despite a significant front weight bias.
The interior has the ambience of an intimate living room, and although the front bench seat now seems an odd choice for a coupe, it does show off the “look Ma, no hump!” flat floor made possible by the absence of a transmission tunnel and driveshaft.
Sadly, later versions of the Toronado lost their distinctiveness, and the car became just another overstuffed luxocoupe. But the original is one of, if not the, most innovative design/engineering packages of its era. The Toronado was the Rocket division at its zenith, and it’s perfect for a man (or woman) of true distinction, now as then.
What to pay
A well-preserved, original example with few needs shouldn’t cost more than $20,000. A nicely restored car bought at auction will, of course, run up the tab.
Two-door, five- or six-passenger coupe.
40,963 in ’66; 21,790 in ’67.
Watch out for
Front tire wear. High underhood temperatures can cause engine fires. Considerable thirst. Front drum brakes tend to fade when asked to stop two-plus tons in a hurry, but front discs were optional for ’67.
SPARES & DEALERS
USA Parts Supply
Toronado Owners Association
Oldsmobile Club of America
The ’66 is the purest, with its horizontal grille and indented headlamp doors. Trumpet gold or ocean mist (pictured) look great on this beast. And for God’s sake, if you find one with a vinyl roof, tear it off immediately!