Out in Front: The Front-Wheel-Drive Oldsmobile Toronado, Part 1

Technologically and stylistically, the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado was a landmark — a striking, sophisticated big GT that was also the first front-wheel-drive American production car in nearly 30 years. This week, we look at the origins of the 1966-1970 Toronado and the evolution and development of its unusual FWD Unitized Power Package.

Note: This article replaces our original 2008 piece on the Toronado. It has been completely rewritten and expanded, adding a great deal of new information and new images.

1971 Oldsmobile Toronado badge

FORWARD THINKING

Today, front-wheel drive is ubiquitous, found on everything from tiny Japanese kei-cars to crossover SUVs. Until the early eighties, however, the majority of passenger cars in America, Europe, and Japan used what some automotive historians call le Système Panhard: a front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels through a central propeller shaft. The “FR” layout had its drawbacks, but it was simple, durable, and, more importantly, cheap. Various alternative layouts had been essayed since the earliest days of the automobile — Walter Christie built a number of successful FWD race cars as early as 1904 — but for various reasons, they failed to unseat the well-established incumbent.

Although mid-engine, rear-drive (MR) configurations came into vogue for sports cars in the seventies, the major rivals to the FR setup were the rear-engine, rear-drive (RR) and front-engine, front-wheel-drive (FF) layouts. Both the FF and RR formats offer several advantages over the FR layout. The first was superior traction, a result of putting the mass of the engine directly over the drive wheels. The second — particularly compelling for smaller cars — was packaging efficiency. In an FR vehicle, the occupants must share space with the propeller shaft and differential, which are particularly intrusive in low-slung cars like the first four-seat Ford Thunderbird. Packaging the entire drivetrain at one end of the vehicle leaves more room for passengers and cargo, and it can also facilitate assembly, allowing the powertrain to be installed as a single unit.

Both configurations also have notable drawbacks. RR cars are more practical with air cooling than water cooling, while their inherent tail heaviness reduces their straight-line stability and encourages some unwelcome cornering behavior. FF cars, by contrast, tend to be quite stable, but their front weight bias produces heavier steering and making the front wheels responsible for both power and steering also causes its own handling quirks. Front-wheel drive also tends to be expensive, in part because of the multiple universal joints needed to allow the driveshafts to accommodate the full range of wheel motion.

1937 Cord 812 Beverly sedan front 3q Jack Snell
One of the very few American FWD cars to make it to production before World War 2 was the remarkable “coffin-nose” Cord 810/812. Aside from its dramatic styling, developed by Cord chief stylist Gordon Buehrig, it featured a four-speed preselector gearbox (controlled by Bendix’s electro-vacuum “Electric Hand”) and an all-new 289 cu. in. (4,730 cc) Lycoming V8 making 125 hp (93 kW); the 1937 812 also offered an optional Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger, giving 170 hp (127 kW) and 110 mph (176 km/h) performance. The Cord had fine performance and roadability, but it was quite expensive and suffered a host of early mechanical problems. Only 2,320 were sold before production ended in August 1937. (Photo © 2009 Jack Snell; used with permission)

Except for the unique V8-powered Tatras, the RR layout tended to be associated with small economy cars, but before World War II, front-wheel drive had a much racier image. The lack of a prop shaft allowed FWD cars (particularly single-seat race cars) to be lower with a smaller frontal area and a lower center of gravity, all beneficial on the track. Engineer Harry Miller offered a number of quite successful front-drive race cars in the late twenties, which led to a brief vogue for FWD prestige cars like the Cord L-29, the short-lived Gardner and Ruxton, and a stillborn V-12 Packard. While the subsequent Citroën Traction Avant and Cord 810/812 were not quite luxury cars, they were definitely upscale in both price and appointments. Unfortunately, most of those cars suffered significant teething problems and the Depression was not an opportune time for launching new models with expensive new technology. Only Citroën’s Traction survived the decade.

POSTWAR FWD

When automotive production resumed after the war, European manufacturers developed a new generation of inexpensive FF cars, including the Citroën 2CV, Panhard Dyna, Saab 92, and Borgward Goliath. In America, however, front-wheel drive was all but extinct. Henry Kaiser‘s plans for a postwar FWD car never made it past the prototype stage and even early domestic compacts like the Nash Rambler and Hudson Jet had conventional FR layouts. The last American production car with front-wheel drive had been the Cord 812, which was discontinued in 1937. Still, the advantages of the FF configuration were not lost on Big Three engineers. In 1955, GM exhibited a number of FWD concept cars at its traveling Motorama show: a roadster and a four-door hardtop christened LaSalle II, and a compact panel truck called L’Universelle.

Conceived by GM Styling and the corporate Engineering Staff, the LaSalle IIs were intended to showcase various advanced features, including front-wheel drive, unitized construction, fully independent suspension, and a transverse, fuel-injected DOHC V6. The FWD powertrain, developed as a collaboration between the corporate Transmission and Power Development groups, was called the “Unitized Power Package,” or UPP, combining engine and transaxle into one compact unit. We’ve been unable to find detailed specifications for the LaSalle II’s UPP, but in any case, it appears they were largely notional — a working prototype wasn’t ready by the time the Motorama opened in January 1955, so the show cars had simulated rear-wheel-drive powertrains instead. The Engineering Staff didn’t have a functional UPP prototype until sometime after the Motorama closed.

1954 LaSalle II four-door hardtop GMMA GMW-0255-0013
The non-running La Salle II four-door hardtop, seen here at the 1955 Motorama. Both the hardtop and the roadster were sold for scrap after the Motorama closed, but a private collector later bought the remains and restored them, subsequently exhibiting both cars at concours events along with other vintage GM concept cars. (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

The GMC L’Universelle was slightly more realistic, mating Pontiac’s new 287 cu. in. (4,706 cc) V8 to a transaxle based on the four-speed Dual Range Hydra-Matic. Like the the Citroën Traction Avant and DS-19 (which bowed around the same time), L’Universelle had a longitudinal engine, rotated 180 degrees and mounted behind the transaxle; the final drive unit reversed the transmission’s rotation, so the truck would not move backward with the transmission in Drive. To allow space for the driveshafts to pass between the front A-arms, the front springs were longitudinal torsion bars. The rear was a dead axle with a dropped center section, allowing a deep, flat load floor. It was a very practical idea, offering maximum utility space in a relatively compact package, but the awkward cooling system layout — with the radiator mounted behind the cabin, exhausting through a roof-mounted grille — suggested that it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Nonetheless, GMC did seriously consider putting it into limited production (now with a transversely mounted engine and a bus-derived angle drive system), but cost considerations led to its cancellation in 1956.

THE FRONT-DRIVE F-85

There was also interest in front-wheel drive at some of the divisions, which in those days still did much of their own research and development work. Some of the strongest interest came from Oldsmobile, particularly from Olds advanced engineering chief Andrew K. Watt. Watt was an early proponent of front-wheel drive, and it was at his behest that the Advanced group began experimental work on FF powertrains in early 1957. The project had strong support from Olds assistant chief engineer John Beltz and at least tentative interest from chief engineer Harold Metzel, but Jim Dawson, then a senior project engineer in the Advanced group, said later that it was really Watt who had pushed for front-wheel drive.

Following the “Eisenhower recession” that began in mid-1957, GM launched the new corporate X-100 program, which eventually spawned the 1961 “senior compacts”: the Buick Special, Pontiac Tempest, and Oldsmobile F-85. When the X-100 project began, Andy Watt and John Beltz suggested that Oldsmobile’s version have front-wheel drive. Since the senior compacts were slated to have all-new engines and transmissions, it seemed an appropriate time to introduce a new layout and front-wheel drive would give the compact F-85 a useful edge in interior space.

1988 Buick Regal 2.8 L engine Jayhind2008 PD
The V6 engine originally intended for Oldsmobile’s stillborn FWD F-85 was a clean-sheet, 60-degree design, developed by motor engineer Gilbert Burrell; it was not related to the 90-degree Buick Fireball V6. Retired Olds engineer Bill Thomas says Oldsmobile wanted to use the 60-degree V6 as the base powerplant in the 1964 F-85, but lost out to the cheaper Buick engine. According to engineer Jim Dawson, the Olds V6′s design later passed to Chevrolet, where it became the basis of the corporate 60-degree V6 family, launched in 1980. The first-generation 60-degree V6 was cast iron, but the second-generation 173 cu. in. (2,838 cc) version, seen here in a 1988 or 1989 Buick Regal, had aluminum heads and 125 net horsepower (93 kW). (Photo © 2007 JayHind2008; released to the public domain by the photographer)

In early 1958, Watt’s group began development of an experimental FWD compact, powered by a new 60-degree, 215 cu. in. (3.5 L) aluminum V6. The engine was mounted transversely on a short subframe with two separate chain drive systems, one connecting the engine and transmission (a four-speed automatic, presumably Hydra-Matic-based), the other connecting the transmission to the final drive. The prototype was 180 inches (4,572 mm) long on a 112-inch (2,849mm) wheelbase, roughly the size of a Chevrolet Corvair. Various sources describe it as being based on either a ’59 Rambler, a Corvair, or a pre-production F-85, but the cobbled-together nature of its powertrain and front subframe brought the prototype’s weight to a hefty 3,363 lb (1,526 kg), more than 200 lb (91 kg) heavier than a contemporary Rambler Six and at least 800 lb (363 kg) heavier than the Corvair. At some point during the development, the V6 was superseded by Oldsmobile’s version of the 215 cu. in. (3,528 cc) aluminum V8, which Olds dubbed “Rockette.”

According to writer Michael Lamm, the first prototypes were not ready for testing until the spring of 1960. By then, the 1961 F-85 was already approaching pre-production, with the aluminum Rockette engine and a conventional rear-drive layout. Our sources are not clear on whether delays with the prototype led Olds to forgo front-wheel drive for its initial senior compact models or whether the decision had already been made for other reasons. Either way, it appears that the FWD package was still being considered for future models, perhaps the second-generation F-85.

If that was the plan, it changed considerably soon long after the 1961 models went on sale. The ’61 model year was not a strong one in general and early sales of the Oldsmobile F-85 were sluggish. The F-85 was pricey for an economy car, in part because its aluminum engine made it expensive to produce; a FWD version would be even costlier. More profitable dress-up models, like the sporty Cutlass, launched in May 1961, seemed a safer bet for the compact market, particularly since the Ford Falcon‘s triumph over the Corvair suggested that economy car buyers had little appetite for technical novelty.

1960 Ford Falcon fordor front 3q
Not exactly the face that launched a thousand ships, but a commercial hit that sunk a variety of more ambitious cars. The first Ford Falcon was not technologically groundbreaking (although its unitized construction was still a novelty for American cars in those days), but a careful optimization of familiar technologies resulted in fine packaging efficiency and fuel economy combined with minimal curb weight. The strategy paid off: The Falcon proved to be the most successful of Detroit’s early compacts, outselling the Rambler, the Corvair, the Valiant, and the B-O-P senior compacts by a significant margin.

Oldsmobile was not ready to abandon the idea of front-wheel drive, but by July 1961, Watt, Beltz, and Metzel had turned their attention to full-size cars. Oldsmobile’s third FWD prototypes would be a converted Dynamic Eighty-Eight.

Harold Metzel and Oldsmobile general manager Jack Wolfram pitched the idea of a big FWD car to corporate management, but they met considerable resistance. Aside from the cost issue, some senior executives doubted it would work. A FWD compact was one thing, but a full-size car with a torquey modern V8 was something else. Selling a big FWD Olds to the corporation would be an uphill battle.

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  1. My parents owned 73, 75, and 79? Toronados and loved them all.
    I bought a 74 Toronado 455 from a junk yard and drove it for several years and many miles. I don’t remember the brakes being poor, but it was a monster of a car; the hood was a mile long. It was one of my all-time favorite cars.
    Interesting memories:
    Mine was an dual airbag car. GM offered it as an option for a couple years, before it disappeared for +20 years.
    The ride was so smooth, I blew a rear tire and never realized it until ALL the rubber was gone and I was running 60mph on the rim.
    I probably owned it for a year before I “burned rubber”. OMG! The torque steer was almost uncontrollable! I was amazed by the tire smoke curling over the front fenders.

    1. Great story! I would love to find such a car today. The airbags made it super rare too, only about 10,000 cars were made with those over three years. That’s not just Toros, but over all of Cadillac, Olds and Buick-about 9 models in total.

      The story abot blowing a tire at speed is impressive! In a way, I would love to exprience something like that in a car.

  2. I have a 92 red Trofeo that I bought new in April of 92 after two years searching for the perfect car. It is just getting ready to turn 70,000 miles………and is still the most beautiful car I have ever seen.

    I’m a kind of car nut, constantly looking at new models…….but nothing has come close to my Toronado in terms of aesthetical beauty.

    1. I have two 92 Tornado Trofeos and both of them will not start after running for awhile. I have to wait about 30 minutes for the car to cool down before it can be started again. Otherwise I love the car and put up with it. If there are any fix its I would like to know about it.

  3. Olds built two front wheel drive prototypes (using Corvair bodies) with an over-square 60 degree V6 engine transverse mounted, and automatic transmission. By the time we had these things running around, the F85 dressed up as a Cutlass was selling like hotcakes, so the idea of a small fwd car faded. I drove one of the cars once or twice, as it was being used as a utility car at the time. When Buick developed the 215 aluminum V8 into the iron V6, Olds wanted to use their own aluminum V6 from the fwd for the ’64 F85, but Buick won out and Olds had to use the Buick V6 as a base engine. I saw one of these Olds V6 engines sitting on the floor a couple of years ago at the Reo/Olds museum and no one there even knew what it was.

    We built up the first Toronado prototype was using a production Buick Riviera that we modified for the fwd package.

  4. Interesting! I knew that Olds had a V6 prototype, but I didn’t know it was aluminum, as well.

    John Beltz was definitely an interesting guy. John DeLorean later described sitting next to Beltz in a big group meeting with senior management; Beltz turned to DeLorean and whispered, “I wouldn’t hire any of these guys to run a [i]gas station[/i].” They were of like minds in that.

    I’m not sure what kind of cancer John Beltz had. One source I saw made it sound like it was prostate cancer, but whatever it was, it spread very quickly. A sad thing.

  5. Olds had an experimental iron V6, probably in 1948 or 1949. Looked just like the 303, same style heads and valve covers, manifolds, etc. Might have had a balance shaft in it, everyone back then thought a V6 needed one. Don’t know whatever happened to all those old experimental engines.

    The aluminum V6 was a 60 degree engine, a small and narrow package, very modern, and as I said was very over-square – big bore and very short stroke. One of the engines we evaluated in our development was a Lancia V6. A nice engine too, but not as nice as the Olds. The Buick V6 was a 215 V8 cast in iron without the front two cylinders. We had a early prototype for test, from Buick I think, but maybe we at Olds built it up. Anyway this prototype was a cast iron 215 V8 with nothing in the front two cylinders. Cheap and easy, just cast a V8 in iron. This is a 90 degree block. At the time no one thought that a 90 degree V6 would work because of the uneven firing. Today there are big diesel 90 degree V6 engines.

    For the Toronado transmission drive, we first tested timing belts instead of the chains that were eventually used. The belts were quieter and didn’t require lube, but belt life was a question.

    long time ago…

    1. [quote]Olds had an experimental iron V6, probably in 1948 or 1949. [/quote]

      Was that the three-liter engine Charles Kettering developed to test the benefits of high compression ratios? I recall that there was an experimental engine running 12:1 CR, too high for any pump gas at the time.

  6. You’ve already done the Toronado and Eldorado. (Both are terrific write-ups, BTW.) Are you planning on doing a write-up on GM’s UPP-powered GMC Motorhome?

  7. Too bad you neglected the last Toros…
    My daily driver is a 1990 Trofeo, and it is as fun to drive as the Alfa 164 I had! 28 mpg in mixed driving, too.
    And folks still say it was GMs best looking car that year…

  8. My best friend was an ASE Master tech, and he owned an immaculate 1980 Toronado that came with the 350 Oldsmobile engine.
    He put in a rebuilt 403, but it came with a piston slap… so he “dropped in” a high-compression 455 from a wrecked late-60′s 98.
    Of course, he had many problems to overcome, but he was an extremely skilled fabricator. By the time he got done, the 455 was running Holley ProJection, a modified ’74 HEI distributor, 2.5″ exhaust from a diesel, a fake catalytic converter, and about its ninth or tenth ‘strengthened’ TH325 transmission (sending torque through the fifth or sixth differential). I found him a set of heavy torsion bars from a diesel Eldorado, and an Eldo Touring Coupe donated its swaybars and rear springs. We had to put a steel T-brace to tie the front of the powertrain down: otherwise, the AC compressor would pop up high enough to lift the hood.

    This car was [b]ridiculous.[/b] Dry roads were like rain-slicked pavement; damp roads were like glare ice, and snow? Forget it! It was capable of hiding itself in a cloud of tire smoke, and it would chirp the tires when floored at 60+ mph. At highway speeds, he could actually warn the passenger “Brace yourself: I’m gonna bounce your head off the headrest…” and, even though they tried to hold still, flooring the pedal would cause their head to snap back like a rear-end collision.

  9. [quote=w. thomas]For the Toronado transmission drive, we first tested timing belts instead of the chains that were eventually used. The belts were quieter and didn’t require lube, but belt life was a question.[/quote]

    In one of his “Miscellaneous Ramblings” columns, [i]Road & Track[/i] editor John R. Bond said he thought it was pertinent that the Toronado wasn’t offered with a stick shift. He speculated that snap shifts would have been rough on the Hy-Vo chain.

    While this may have been true, my 2 cents is that the typical Toronado buyer probably would have preferred automatic anyway.

    Only similar drivetrain layout I can think of (longitudinal engine, transmission alongside engine, chain drive) would be the Saab 99 and early 900. But Saab turned the engine end for end to put the flywheel in front.

    1. Oldsmobile engineers told [i]Car and Driver[/i] that they were still not confident a manual gearbox would work with the UPP. The torque converter played an important role as a vibration and shock damper, as well as acting as a fluid clutch. Even if it didn’t present chain durability problems, a friction clutch and manual gearbox may have been hard pressed to provide acceptable levels of NVH. (It’s worth noting that reviewers of the original Pontiac Tempest, with its big slant four engine, found that it was notable smoother than the manual-shift car, for much the same reason.)

      But yeah, even if they had gotten a manual gearbox to work, it’s hard to see many Toronado buyers caring, even as a no-cost option. In terms of flexibility, the Turbo Hydramatic didn’t give up very much to a four-speed, in any case. Breakaway multiplication (torque converter x low gear) was 5.46:1. The switch-pitch converter acted as a sort of 3.5-speed transmission; the stator pitch would change when you stabbed the throttle, providing a torque boost without an actual downshift (which was also available if you pressed hard enough to trigger the kickdown). A well-ratioed four-speed might have given better acceleration in the 0-50 mph range, but not enough to make buyers in that class want to shift for themselves.

  10. The Strato bucket seats were a no-cost option on the Toronado Deluxe from 1966 to 1970. For 1966-67, cars so equipped could also be ordered with a short consolette with storage compartment as could the Eldorado and Riviera (latter also available with a full shift console). The 1968-70 Toronado Deluxe models with the bucket seat option could be ordered with a full center console that included floor shifter and storage compartment. That console was nothing special as it was the same one found in bucket-seat equipped Cutlass Supreme and 442 coupes, and the full-sized 67-68 Delta 88 Custom and 69-70 Delta Royale coupes.

    While bucket seats were considered a very important part of the personal-luxury image of most such cars (i.e. Grand Prix, Thunderbird), they just weren’t very popular among Toronado (or Eldorado)buyers due to the front-drive, flat floor configuration, so the Strato bench seat was the most popular for both cars. Riviera also went to a standard bench seat with the ’66 models, which turned out to be more popular than the optional buckets and Ford made a bench seat standard on the ’68 T-Bird in response to the popularity of such seats in Riviera, Toronado and Eldorado.

    The 1971-78 Toronados didn’t offer any bucket seat option, just a standard notchback bench or optional 60/40 bench in cloth or Morocceen vinyl, with velour added for 1974. Sportiness was out and Brougham-style luxury was in – with the base model now called the Toronado Custom (trim same as previous Deluxe models) and the uplevel was now the Brougham. Due to the slow sales of the original Toro, Oldsmobile chose the ’67-70 Eldorado for the styling direction of the second-gen Toro while the flagship Caddy got boxier styling with opera windows and a convertible – and Buick went wild with the boattailed Riviera.

    Although the ’71 Toronado still came with the 455 Rocket as standard power, it was considerably detuned as part of GM’s mandate that its engines be designed for regular leaded or unleaded gasoline.

    1. It’s interesting to note that while buckets were a no-cost option on the Toronado deluxe, they were [i]not[/i] free on the Eldorado — Cadillac charged $184 with leather, or $292 with cloth (as a special order). As the interior photo in this article indicates, with the Deluxe interior’s upholstery design, a Strato-Bench with the armrests folded down looks like buckets at a casual glance. Since most contemporary buckets aren’t any more supportive than that anyway, there wasn’t much reason to switch.

      The installation of bench seats in the Thunderbird was only partly in response to market trends. Until the 1967 model, bench seats had not really been possible with the four-seat Thunderbirds from a structural standpoint. The ’58-’66 unitized T-Birds had a very prominent driveshaft tunnel, which also served as a structural spine. Since there was no hiding it, the Thunderbird design team decided to decorate it and turn it into an interior styling feature. The ’67 models went back to body-on-frame construction, so the tunnel was no longer any more prominent than any other RWD car; since there was also the Landau sedan, a bench seat made sense. However, the Thunderbird design team also said they had essentially exhausted the possibilities for the previous interior treatment, which had been so widely imitated. I think it’s likely they would have gone for six-passenger seating, even if GM had not.

      We’ll talk more about the styling and features of the second-generation Toronado in part two. It’s worth pointing out that the trend toward Eldorado styling was apparent even in 1970, the last year of the original body. I don’t have a rear three-quarter shot of the 1970 Toronado, but if you look at the rear fender treatment and the reshaping of the rear fenders, it definitely looks like they were straining for an Eldorado look. I’ve reached out to some contacts to see about getting more specific information on the design process of the ’71 Toronado.

      1. Strange that Cadillac charged more for the bucket seats with cloth upholstery than for the leather. Usually it’s the other way around – leather was an extra-cost $200 option on T-Bird during this time. And despite the high cost of the bucket-seat option in Eldorado, you still got only a consolette – no floor shifter to go with it. And it wasn’t very popular so the option was dropped with the advent of the second-gen front-drive Eldo in 1971.

        The next Eldorado to offer bucket seats was the 1982 Touring Coupe, which included leather upholstery and a short consolette. Eldorado would not offer a full shift console until the downsized ’86 model.

        1. The buckets option did not [i]include[/i] leather upholstery, which was a separate, $158 option. If you ordered leather, the buckets were an extra $184. Without leather upholstery, you could only get bucket seats as a special order, which then cost $292. So, in that sense, the cloth buckets were $50 cheaper.

          1. Extremely confusing. But that was the way Detroit was back then. And I suspect the short consolette was yet another separate option, too. It too is possible that Cadillac made the cloth bucket seats an expensive special order (at only $50 cheaper) to discourage such orders or possibly to better sell the leather option. Actually, cloth bucket seats weren’t all that common back then – most bucket interiors were only offered with all-vinyl upholstery, or optional (extra-cost) leather on the more expensive models such as T-Bird, Grand Prix, Corvette, etc.

            Oldsmobile didn’t offer leather upholstery on any of its cars in this period – not even the flagship Ninety-Eight, where the convertible had Morocceen vinyl and closed bodies had cloth. The last Olds I’m aware of to have real leather seats was the ’65 Starfire (the final ’66 version was downgraded to all-vinyl to lower the price to the market segment previously held by the short-lived 64-65 Jetstar I, which was directly competitive to the Pontiac Grand Prix).

            Olds would not offer leather as an option on the Toronado until 1978, final year for the ’71 body before the ’79 downsizing. Buick offered real leather on the first ’63 Riviera but dropped it after that year and would not offer such trim again until 1974.

          2. Odd “mandatory option” combinations are still quite common, so that much hasn’t changed.

            Aside from cost, I think Detroit went through a period where automakers didn’t really see the advantage of vinyl (or actual, rather than simulated wood), and “synthetic” was not necessarily a derogatory term. Detroit was getting better at making leatherette look like leather, and it usually wore better. (Finished automotive leather upholstery didn’t necessarily look that rich, either, which is also the case with some modern leather packages.)

          3. During this time, Pontiac claimed that its Morrokide vinyl upholstery had the “look and feel of top quality leather” but with far more durability and practicality for everyday use. The Wide-Track people during this time only used leather on the top-line Bonneville convertible through 1965 (from 1966 to 1970 only when the Brougham option was ordered) and as a $199 option on the 69-70 Grand Prix but wasn’t very popular so it was dropped for 1971.

            The early 1970s set an all-time low for the use of leather upholstery in American cars. In 1972 you could count fingers on two hands all the cars that still offered real hide either as standard or optional and several makes didn’t offered leather on any model including American Motors, Plymouth, Dodge, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick.

            Only the luxury makes including Cadillac, Lincoln and Imperial offered it on most models while the lesser makes only on certain flagships including Chevrolet (Corvette), Ford (Thunderbird), Mercury (Cougar XR-7), and Chrysler (New Yorker).

  11. The Toronado section of the ’67 Oldsmobile full-line brochure shows a photo of an all-vinyl bucket seat with the sentence “If you think buckets are basic, these tailored Morocceen upholstered bucket seats are available at no extra cost on Toronado Deluxe.”

    I also have the ’66 Olds full-line brochure on which the listing of popular options on all model lines on the back cover. The one for “Strato bucket seats” states under the Toronado heading as “Optional”.

    Also note that while Eldorado offered bucket seats as an expensive extra-cost option in either cloth or optional leather, Toronado only offered them in all-vinyl or possibly cloth-and-vinyl as did Riviera, while T-Bird offered buckets with vinyl, cloth or leather.

    The Eldorado’s most direct competitor, the Continental Mark III introduced in 1968 did not offer bucket seats as an option or otherwise. Only seating choice was a Twin Comfort 50/50 bench with dual armest in cloth or leather. Just as Eldorado shared body/chassis with Riviera and Toronado, the Mark III used the Thunderbird base.

    In addition to the front-drive flat floor of Toronado and Eldorado, probably another reason that bucket seats were become increasingly passe were the emergence of even sportier personal-luxury cars based on intermediate platforms such as the Pontiac Grand Prix and Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which were lower in base price but could be similarly optioned in plushness and power.

    1. I haven’t done a detailed study of Toronado interiors, but some contemporary reviewers, notably [i]Car Life[/i], were not terribly impressed with the Toronado’s interior materials, either stylistically or in terms of quality. [i]Car Life[/i]‘s reviewer felt that leather upholstery would have been more appropriate for the first Toronado’s GT character, and wondered if Oldsmobile had cut corners on the interior to make up for the cost of the drivetrain.

  12. Toronado interiors on the early models were no better or worse that that of Riviera or T-Bird, or even other Oldsmobiles – and pretty much on par with the C-body Ninety-Eight. Possible that the tester was comparing the Toro’s interior to that of the Thunderbird’s “rolling jukebox” full of gadgetry or the 1963-65 Riviera’s dash with round instruments, brightwork and walnut trim. Both of those cars had 4-place cabins with bucket seat/console interiors.

  13. A friend’s dad had a 66 and a 70 Toro. The 66 was a very impressive car, although I never drove it or the 70 model. I thought the 66 was and is one of most beautiful cars ever. The 70 looked a prehistoric beast and was just ug-lee. It’s a shame that Olds felt it had to make the Toro styling just as boring as the rest of the line, which traditionally had about as much flair as a top-loading washing machine. They screwed up the Aurora too by making a (surprisingly) lesser copy as a Riviera and diluting the cachet the car had for a brief while. I did drive an Aurora and it was one of better 90s American cars I’ve experienced. The Olds staff never seemed to lack for imagination but it seems they were always stifled by clueless division and GM management.And then they wondered what happened…

    1. Well, ‘clueless’ needs some qualification. While the Oldsmobiles of the seventies didn’t win a lot of critical acclaim for their styling, they were amazingly successful. Olds displaced Pontiac in the number-three sales slot in 1972, and held on to that position in 1973 and from 1975-1981. (They lost out to Plymouth in 1974, thanks mainly to the OPEC embargo.) By 1977, they were consistently selling more than a million cars a year. The second- and third-generation Toronados, while never a big hit, sold a lot better than the original. So, while I don’t care much for the aesthetics personally, it certainly worked commercially. Whether they would have maintained that success into the eighties if not for the dramatic loss of autonomy under Roger Smith, though, is an interesting question.

  14. The fourth-generation Toronado introduced in 1986 was a sales disaster due to a drastic downsizing to near-subcompact dimensions (in comparison to generations 1 and 2, and still much smaller than the “downsized” 79-85 models which were mid-sized). It did have more common styling to other Oldsmobiles such as the split grille (with hidden headlights for first time since ’69)but looked way too much like a Cutlass Calais that sold for half the price.

    The ’86 Toronado (along with Riviera and Eldorado) were designed in 1981 when gasoline prices were $1.50 per gallon and rumors of $2 to $3 per gallon gas by 1985 were running rampant so GM pushed the panic button and made plans to drastically downsize all of their cars including the C-body luxury models and the B-body full-sized family cars – both of which also courted disaster when their front-drive replacements appeared due to the fact that gas prices had dropped to around $1 per gallon and Americans weren’t “thinking small” and went back to larger cars.

  15. Production for 1968-70 W-34 optioned Toronados:

    1968: 111 (NOT 150, as mentioned in this article)
    1969: ?
    1970: 5,341. 1970 W-34s were referred to as GTs.
    0-60 times was about 7.5 seconds
    On a good day, quarter mile times were about 14.7 sec @ 97 mph.
    1968 w-34 only had the “Force Air-Induction” and radtior switch 1968 and 1970 W-34s had a notched rear bumper, 1969 did not.
    All W-34shave aOM transmission code and dual exhaust. Most 1968-70 Toros are/were single exhaust, when these E-Bodeis left the Lansing factory.

    1. Jerry,

      If you look back at the text, it does not say there were 150 W34 cars in 1968; it says there were [i]fewer than[/i] 150. I’ve seen at least two sets of conflicting figures — one was 124, one was 111. Since I didn’t have a definite total, I said "fewer than 150," just to illustrate the general magnitude of production (i.e., not a lot).

      Automotive Mileposts quotes 2,844 for 1969 W34 production. I don’t know what their source was.

  16. I was a 10 year old car nut in 1965 when the Toronado was introduced and my parents were “Oldsmobile people”, so I followed all the news about the Toro. I remember very well the reports of the many underwhood fires in ’66 Toronados. I don’t remember the cause, but there was a recall to correct it. I tried in vain to get my parents to buy one, but in addition to having only two doors, they thought it was ugly. I still think it’s one of the best-looking cars ever made.

    1. I’ve heard various anecdotal reports of Toronado engine fires, but I wasn’t able to find any hard data on recalls, etc. — if you know of any specific sources, please let me know!

  17. The comparison of the Toronado to the Riviera is slightly askew from the more directly similar Cadillac Eldorado, which used the same GM front wheel drive system, whereas Riviera comparison leads to Thunderbird, Lincoln Continental Mark cars, and then in ’67, even the larger intermediate AMC Marlin.

    1. It’s true that Buick rejected front-wheel drive for the Riviera until the late 1970s, but the Riviera, Eldorado, and Toronado all shared the same E-body shell. It would be reasonable to describe them as fraternal triplets; not identical, but closely related.

      Although the Toronado was not that mechanically similar to the Riviera, the need to share the latter’s body shell strongly influenced its design, particularly its overall size. Their overall dimensions are nearly identical. They were also direct competitors; the Toronado was actually a few hundred dollars more expensive than the Riviera, but their "fully equipped" prices were very similar.

      All the personal-luxury cars were intended to compete in the same market segment as the Thunderbird. The Eldorado and Continental Mark were aimed at a richer buyer, of course, but they were conceptually similar to their less-expensive brethren. The Eldo, naturally, was very similar to the Toronado, whereas the Continental Mark III was derived from the Thunderbird.

  18. Thanks again for another great article.

    I owned a 66 Toronado. It was indeed a stunning car to look at. The brakes, however, were hair-raisingly bad. What for a modern car was just a normal stop could become a standing on the pedal and pray longest moment of your life count your sins event.

    How they could allow this design to be produced is beyond me. And yet, its sheer massive sculptural beauty compelled me to hang on to it for many years.

    1. The Oldsmobile engineers were aware that the brakes had their work cut out for them — that’s why they had finned drums and the slotted wheels — but I’ve never heard a convincing answer as to why they didn’t use discs, at least in front. The Toronado was an expensive car, so cost wasn’t as pressing an issue as on an A-body. A set of Corvette discs all around would have made the Toronado a lot more reassuring to drive.

  19. Indeed.
    The Buick T-types of the 80s sure performed and handled tho GM tried to make Olds the sport-luxo group, but then into the 90s GM made Buick more so as the sport-touring division, with Olds less sporty. The 4th gen Toros/Trofeos were the sportiest E-boies, and the last Trofeos were great road cars. MT compared the Trofeo to the BMW 326i and the Olds beat it in the slalom, and Motorweek TV proclaimed the Trofeo the rebirth of the American GT, just in time for the SUV craze/insanity.

  20. the la salle II show cars mentioned in the article- the 2 seat roadster and 4 seat/4 door hardtop- were both configured as f/r drivetrain, not fwd. joe bortz is currently restoring the roadster, and i had this car in my shop recently to renew the brake system. i also inspected the hardtop car for reference on the many parts missing from the roadster. both cars have identical drivetrains and chassis features, except the roadster has rear coil springs while the longer hardtop uses rear leafs.
    the drivetrains are very convincing from the outside. all aluminum DOHC V6 with direct injection. all aluminum automatic transmission with, very very short center section as if it was all to be driven from the torque convertor without bands or planetaries. conventional driveshaft goes to a chassis mounted differential with independent axle shafts, but the wheel hubs are mounted on a large beam that goes behind the differential to both sides, so it is not truly independent. all done with very elaborate castings and chromed accessories such as starter, axle tubes, injection lines, etc, but everything is completely for show only. engine and trans have no internal parts nor do they include any castings where cylinders, cam, valves, etc could even be placed.
    i’ve owned many toros and eldos over the years, still have my ’66.
    best regards
    larry claypool

  21. Great site, can’t believe I’ve only just discovered it.

    I have a question on the ’65-66 Starfire and Jetstar. Did they use a unique hardtop body? The straight through sill and deep C-pillar don’t match the 88 hardtop’s kickup and fastback C-pillars, or the 98 hardtop’s more formal look. And I can’t think of a Pontiac or Buick with the same roofline. Wondering if this was an interim solution to the lack of a personal luxury car, in the wake of the Riviera and T-Bird?

  22. The whole body wasn’t unique, but the Starfire does have different sail panels than the 88 Holiday coupe. I don’t know about the roof panel itself; I’d have to look at them side by side. In any case, the concave backlight looks very similar to that of the ’65-’66 Pontiac Grand Prix, albeit again with different sail panels.

    In those days, each division had an annual tooling budget, which gave the divisions a certain amount of leeway to create new exterior panels. How much each division could do with that budget depended on how many model lines they had and how they were spending their money. By the ’60s, the individual divisions didn’t generally have the resources to do a completely new body on their own (although there were some exceptions), but they did have enough to give certain models a unique roof or something like that. In some cases, two or more divisions would agree to split the tooling cost for some new panel they could both use; for instance, that’s what happened with the roof panel used by the 1969-70 Pontiac Grand Prix and Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Other times, divisions were ordered to share certain things, although until the ’70s and ’80s that was more the exception than the rule.

    (I should note here that it’s also possible to modify a single set of tooling to produce several variations of the same panel; sharing tooling doesn’t necessarily mean that the resulting panels are identical or interchangeable.)

    It’s important here to distinguish between personal luxury cars and specialty cars. The distinction parallels the distinction between Supercars like the Pontiac GTO and sporty cars like the Firebird; one is a suitably massaged standard body shell, the other a unique body. You can make a standard car into a personal luxury car of sorts by giving it some unique styling details and dressing up the interior, which is what GM’s divisions did in the early sixties. The Thunderbird, however, was a specialty car: It had its own body shell not shared with anything else (other than some non-obvious commonality with the Continental), so it looked unique. The GM divisions were initially reluctant to go that route because it was very expensive even by GM standards, but it finally became clear that it would take specialty cars to fight specialty cars. Hence, the E-body.

    The Jetstar I was a different story; its main target seems to have been the Pontiac Grand Prix. The Grand Prix was not exactly a Thunderbird fighter, since it was basically a Catalina with a different roof and trim, but it was very popular. Oldsmobile had had the Starfire since 1961, but the Starfire’s list price was a lot more than the GP, it arguably didn’t look as good, and it wasn’t marketed as aggressively, so it wasn’t a big seller. The 1964 Jetstar I looks like an effort to turn a Starfire into a Grand Prix fighter with less content and a lower base price. However, Oldsmobile muddied the water by introducing a new price-leader B-body with a similar-sounding name (Jetstar 88), plus the fact that a Jetstar I with a full load of options actually cost more than a Starfire. So, the Jetstar I was largely a flop and what units it did sell came mostly out of the Starfire, which wasn’t really very strong to start with.

    I don’t think either was a Toronado stopgap per se — both the Starfire and Jetstar I were the sort of thing GM’s divisions routinely did anyway, often quite successfully.

  23. I have already read several articles or books about UPP program and I wonder who initially was GM’s engineer which had the idea for this layout (fwd + transversely-mounted engine)? In addition, In the GM engineering journal on Olds Toronado, Andrew K. Watt told about a compact car with a more simplified design but stopped because Olds already envisaged a full-size car. I’d like too to know more infomations about that.

  24. hey all – nice comments and a fab thread. I am in the process of buying an Oldsmobile 1978 Toronado….the car is in great shape accept that the brakes feel non existent…the guy tells me it has a 7.5ltr V8 engine….this will be my first car as a classic and i was fascinated when i test drove it….

    Any thoughts, areas to look out for etc–will be super helpful.

    Thanks and keep up the great effort of sharing so much information.

    Chris

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