When the Oldsmobile Toronado was introduced in 1966 it would become the first front wheel drive American production car since the Cord 810/812 from almost 30 years prior in 1937.
The front wheel drive layout would be almost prophetic, with a significant swathe of production automobiles switching to it over the years after the Toronado appeared in the mid-1960s.
Fast Facts – The Oldsmobile Toronado
- The Oldsmobile Toronado wasn’t originally intended for production, it started out as a design sketch by David North in 1962. It was a personal coupe with futuristic styling – the executives like it so much it was given the green light to enter production on the E-body platform.
- Oldsmobile intended the Toronado as a personal luxury car to compete with the likes of the Buick Riviera, the Pontiac Grand Prix, and the Ford Thunderbird.
- The name Toronado has no pre-defined meaning, it’s believed to be a joining of the word “Toro” (Spanish for “Bull”), and the word “Tornado” and it was first used on a 1963 Chevrolet concept car.
- When it was released for 1966 the Oldsmobile Toronado was named Motor Trend car of the year, in won the Car Life’s Award for Engineering Excellence, and it even finished third in the European Car of the Year competition – a rare accolade for an American vehicle.
The Accidental Production Car
The Oldsmobile Toronado had stared out as a compact personal luxury car penned by Oldsmobile stylist David North in 1962. It was a design exercise rather than a production proposal, but Oldsmobile needed a competitor for cars like the Riviera, the Grand Prix, and the Thunderbird – and they believed that the Toronado design was just the ticket.
The original design was for a relatively small car by American standards, so North was tasked with increasing the size to better suit the larger E-body platform which was more similarly sized to the competition.
Oldsmobile executives knew they needed a unique selling point for their car and they had had engineers experimenting with front wheel drive systems since the late 1950s. It was decided that the new Toronado would use such a system, and that no rear wheel drive version would be offered.
At the time of release the Toronado was fitted with the prodigious 425 cubic inch (7.0 liter) Rocket V8 producing 385 bhp and 475 lb ft of torque. Despite the hefty curb weight of 4,496 lbs (2,039 kgs) the car could do the 0-62 mph dash in just 9.5 seconds with a top speed of 135 mph (217 km/h).
The only transmission option was the Turbo-Hydramatic heavy-duty three-speed automatic which had been mated to a unique silent chain-drive system called Hy-Vo in order to send power to the front wheels.
Perhaps the only downside to the Toronado was the fact that in its first year of production it came with drum brakes on all four corners. Given the weight of the car these brakes tended to fade relatively quickly with heavy use – an issue that was rectified in 1967 when vented front disc brakes were offered as an option.