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

Both 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 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 — especially 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 with water cooling and 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; 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 © 2009 Jack Snell (used with permission)
One of the very few American FWD cars to make it to production before World War II was the remarkable “coffin-nose” Cord 810/812. Aside from its dramatic styling, developed by Cord chief stylist Gordon Buehrig, the Cord 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 V-8 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: “1937 Cord 812 Beverley 4 Door Sedan ‘8H 73 60’ 1” © 2009 Jack Snell; used with permission)

Except for the unique V-8-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, both very 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 transversely mounted fuel-injected DOHC V-6. The FWD powertrain, developed by the corporate Power Development and Transmission 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 — the show cars didn’t run and their mock-up powertrains were rear-wheel-drive. The Engineering Staff didn’t actually complete a functional UPP prototype until sometime after the Motorama closed.

1954 LaSalle II four-door hardtop GMW-0255-0013 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14416)
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) V-8 to a three-speed 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 differential gears reversed the transmission’s rotation so the van wouldn’t move backward in Drive. Front suspension was by double wishbones and longitudinal torsion bars (adopted to allow the halfshafts to pass between the wishbones) while the rear used a dead axle with a dropped center section that allowed the van’s interior to have a deep, flat load floor.

In many respects, L’Universelle was very practical, offering maximum utility space in a relatively compact package, but the awkward cooling system layout — with a roof-mounted grille passing air to a radiator mounted behind the front seats — suggested that the van wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Nonetheless, GMC did seriously consider putting it into limited production for 1956, now with a transversely mounted 317 cu. in. (5,188 cc) Pontiac engine, dual-coupling four-speed Hydra-Matic, and a bus-derived angle drive system. High costs and the project’s likely very high price tag finally led GMC to pull the plug 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. Toward the beginning of 1957, Oldsmobile advanced engineering chief Andrew K. Watt embarked on a new project to develop an experimental FF powertrain.

As an Advanced group project, this was not originally tied to any specific production program, but later that year, the worsening “Eisenhower recession” prompted GM to launch the new X-100 program, aimed at giving each of the corporation’s mid-price divisions a compact car to sell. The result would be the introduction for 1961 of GM’s “senior compacts”: the Buick Special, Pontiac Tempest, and Oldsmobile F-85. Watt and Oldsmobile assistant chief engineer John Beltz thought the F-85 would be an ideal application for front-wheel drive, allowing greater interior space despite the smaller external dimensions. The senior compacts were already slated to have all-new engines and transmissions, so it seemed like a perfect time to try something new.

1988 Buick Regal 2.8 L engine Jayhind2008 PD
The V-6 engine originally intended for Oldsmobile’s stillborn FWD F-85 was a clean-sheet, 60-degree design developed by motor engineer Gilbert Burrell (who back in the forties had led the development of Oldsmobile’s first OHV “Rocket” V-8). Former Oldsmobile engineer Bill Thomas says Oldsmobile wanted to use the 60-degree V-6 — which had no relationship to the 90-degree Buick Fireball V-6 — in the 1964 F-85, but lost out to the cheaper Buick engine. Engineer Jim Dawson believes the Oldsmobile engine’s architecture later became the basis of GM’s 60-degree corporate V-6 family, which debuted in the 1980 X-body cars. The first generation of that engine was cast iron, but second-generation versions, like the 173 cu. in. (2,838 cc) version seen here in a 1988 or 1989 Buick Regal, had aluminum cylinder heads. (Photo: “2.8L Regal” © 2007 JayHind2008 at the Wikipedia project; released to the public domain by the photographer, resized by Aaron Severson)

In early 1958, Watt’s group began feasibility studies for a FWD compact. By 1959, they’d cobbled together an initial prototype powered by an all-new, Oldsmobile-designed 60-degree aluminum V-6 displacing about 215 cu. in. (3.5 L). A short front subframe carried the engine, transmission (a four-speed automatic, presumably Hydra-Matic-based), and differential. The engine and transmission were both mounted transversely, but the transmission sat behind the engine and was driven from the flywheel by a short length of chain. A second chain drive connected the transmission output shaft to the differential. The differential halfshafts used a combination of Rzeppa-type constant velocity joints and universal joints.

A second prototype, the A20A, was completed by early 1960. Different sources variously describe the A20A as being based on a 1959 Rambler Six, a Chevrolet Corvair, or a preproduction Oldsmobile F-85. In any event, the prototype shared the F-85’s 112-inch (2,845mm) wheelbase, but was 8.2 inches (208 mm) shorter, stretching 180 inches (4,572 mm) overall, and more than 400 lb (180 kg) heavier, tipping the scales at a hefty 3,363 lb (1,526 kg). The earlier test mule’s prototype V-6 was replaced by Oldsmobile’s version of Buick’s new 215 cu. in. (3,528 cc) aluminum V-8, which Olds dubbed “Rockette.”

Proving grounds testing of the prototype was encouraging, but by that time, the 1961 F-85 was already close to production, with the aluminum Rockette engine and a conventional FR layout. We’re not clear on whether Oldsmobile opted to forgo FWD for the initial F-85 because the FWD package was not yet sufficiently developed or for other reasons, but either way, it appears that the FWD package was still being seriously considered for future compact models, perhaps the second-generation F-85.

If that was indeed the plan, it changed considerably soon long after the 1961 models went on sale. The 1961 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 was 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 sank 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 the summer of 1961, Watt and Beltz had turned their attention to full-size cars; Oldsmobile’s third FWD prototype was a converted Dynamic Eighty-Eight.

Oldsmobile chief engineer Harold Metzel and division general manager Jack Wolfram pitched the idea of a FWD Eighty-Eight to corporate management, but met considerable resistance and no small amount of skepticism. A FWD compact was one thing, but a full-size car with a torquey modern V-8 was something else and some senior corporate executives doubted it would work. It was clear to Wolfram and Metzel that selling a big FWD Oldsmobile to the corporation would be an uphill battle.

THE OLDSMOBILE RIVIERA

Concurrently, Oldsmobile management was also facing another challenge: the Ford Thunderbird. The posh four-seat T-Bird actually outsold the comparably priced Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight by a fair margin and had a distinctive style and identity that no contemporary Oldsmobile could match. Oldsmobile’s closest rival was the new Starfire convertible, but that was essentially just a dressed-up Super Eighty-Eight. To really compete with the T-Bird, Oldsmobile needed a car with a unique body not shared with mundane models.

1961 Oldsmobile Starfire front 3q
Oldsmobile first used the Starfire name for a 1953 show car and then from 1954 to 1957 for the top-of-the-line Ninety-Eight. A new B-body Starfire was launched in January 1961, featuring brushed aluminum side spears and a sporty interior featuring bucket seats, a center console, and a console-mounted tachometer. It was initially offered only as a convertible, but a hardtop was added to the line in 1962. This car’s chrome wheels and low-profile tires are obviously not stock.

Oldsmobile had recently lost an internal competition for Ned Nickles’ XP-715 design, which subsequently became the Buick Riviera. Stylist Dave North, then in the Oldsmobile studio, says that almost as soon as the contest was over, Olds management began pushing for a Riviera-like specialty car of their own.

Such a specialty car seemed like another good candidate for front-wheel drive, if only for economic reasons. Interior space was not a major priority in that segment, but personal luxury cars were considerably less price-sensitive than compacts were. Furthermore, erstwhile Thunderbird buyers were more likely to be open to mechanical novelty than were shoppers looking for a cheap economy car. (In fact, Ford had considered introducing front-wheel drive on the 1961 Thunderbird for very similar reasons.)

1963 Buick Riviera rear 3q All-GM
Developed by Ned Nickles at the suggestion of GM Styling VP Bill Mitchell and originally badged “LaSalle II,” the Buick Riviera was intended as a styling proposal for Cadillac. After both Cadillac and Chevrolet rejected that proposal, GM held a competition between Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac for the right to produce the design, a contest Buick ultimately won.

By mid-1962, former Chevrolet general manager Ed Cole, now group vice president of the Car and Truck Group, decided that Oldsmobile should indeed have its own personal luxury car, as should Cadillac. Aside from the obvious market potential of such cars, Cole was looking ahead to the next-generation Riviera. The 1963 Riviera’s body shell, known in GM parlance as the E-body, was not shared with any other car, which meant higher unit costs. Having Oldsmobile and Cadillac share that body shell would make all three cars much more profitable to build.

It appears that Cole was less sanguine about front-wheel drive, a configuration that he had considered and discarded during the development of the Chevrolet Corvair (albeit for different reasons). However, he didn’t veto the idea outright. Around this time, Oldsmobile chief stylist Stan Wilen overheard Cole discussing FWD with Styling VP Bill Mitchell in terms that sounded at least encouraging.

THE FLAME RED CAR

Coincidentally, a few months earlier, Wilen had asked his group to come up with concepts for a new Oldsmobile specialty car. This was not a production project and there was no specific platform or configuration in mind; Wilen later explained that it was just a way of letting the stylists stretch their creative faculties a bit between duller and more mundane projects. This stress-relieving exercise yielded a number of interesting concepts, the most notable of which was a striking full-size rendering by Wilen’s assistant David North of a vivid red car against a black backdrop.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado front
The first-generation Oldsmobile Toronado’s jutting knife-edge fenders and bulged wheel wells were present even in stylist David North’s earliest design studies. Stylist Don Roper has noted that the flared wheel wells were also used on Cadillac’s 1962 XP-727-3 prototype, but that too was based on a concept North had done as a neophyte stylist in GM’s Design Development studio several years earlier. Cadillac stylist Ed Taylor (who had worked with North at the beginning of his styling career) subsequently developed North’s scale model into the XP-727-3, which reached the full-size model stage by late 1962. For the “flame red car,” North further refined the flared-wheelhouse theme as a deliberate homage to the separate fenders of the Cord 810/812.

The car depicted in that rendering was not a completely new design. North, who had previously been in the Pontiac studio, says he originally conceived the sporty coupe while on loan-out from Pontiac to Advanced Studio 3, envisioning his concept as a future Pontiac. North’s sketches and scale model of the design had greatly impressed Pontiac chief stylist Jack Humbert and stylist Irv Rybicki, former head of the Oldsmobile studio, and had helped to earn North his promotion to assistant chief stylist of Oldsmobile.

North’s “flame red car,” as it was subsequently dubbed, continued to make a strong impression. A few weeks later, when Ed Cole and Bill Mitchell told Wilen that Oldsmobile would be getting its own specialty car, Wilen showed them North’s rendering, which they both loved. It was selected as the basis for subsequent design development.

Soon afterward, Wilen was ordered to scale up North’s design to the dimensions of the Buick Riviera so that the new car could eventually share the Riviera’s E-body shell. This was a controversial decision; North had conceived the design for a future version of the new intermediate A-body shell (the first version of which would be introduced for 1964), and Metzel, Beltz, and Mitchell all felt that would be a more appropriate size.

Hoping to illustrate the point, Mitchell ordered the development of a full-size clay model of an A-body version of the design. To limit interference, he took the unusual step of pulling the project from the Oldsmobile studio and sending North’s design — and North himself — back to Advanced Studio 3 (then headed by Ed Taylor and future GM design VP Wayne Cherry), which was off-limits to all but a select few.

This stratagem failed to sway Ed Cole. The final decision was one of economics, not aesthetics: the tooling costs for the A-body were already shared by four divisions while the Riviera then stood alone. Oldsmobile’s specialty car would have to share the larger E-body.

Major size alternations can be disastrous to a design, but Wilen ultimately felt — and most subsequent observers have agreed — that North’s concept translated surprisingly well to the bigger platform. A full-size clay model of the scaled-up design, now designated XP-784, was presented for management approval in February 1963 and approved for production (with a few additional revisions) in April. For all the stretching and tweaking, the final XP-784 still looked remarkably similar to North’s original concept.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado front 3q2
Although Dave North’s original design was conceived as a future A-body Pontiac Tempest/Le Mans/GTO, the production version of the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado was considerably bigger: 211 inches (5,360 mm) long and 78.5 inches (1,994 mm) wide on a 119-inch (3,023mm) wheelbase, weighing over 4,500 lb (2,040 kg). Note the lack of vent windows; the 1966 E-bodies were the first GM cars to forgo the familiar vent windows, an innovation GM itself had pioneered about 30 years earlier.

THE UNITIZED POWER PACKAGE

Although Oldsmobile’s FWD test mules had traded the aluminum Rockette engine for the 394 cu. in. (6,460 cc) Rocket V-8, they had still mounted their engines transversely. Now that there was a chance the FWD package might need to be shared across divisions, Beltz and Watt switched to a more orthodox longitudinal engine layout, presumably to more easily accommodate other engines. While the big Oldsmobile V-8 fit transversely, the all-new V-12 the Engineering Staff was then developing for Cadillac (tentatively slated to debut in Cadillac’s E-car) would not have been so easy, nor would an inline six.

The switch to longitudinal engine mounting inevitably required some rethinking of the prototypes’ dual chain drive, which we can’t imagine had been terribly efficient in any case. Oldsmobile considered turning the engine 180 degrees and mounting it behind the transaxle, à la Citroën or the old L’Universelle concept, but according to engineer Frank Ball, that arrangement was deemed unacceptably bulky. At Beltz’s suggestion, Oldsmobile engineers Howard Kehrl and Jim Lewis, who developed the final powertrain layout, instead opted to offset the engine slightly forward and to the right (by 1 inch/25mm and 1.8 inches/46 mm respectively) and mount the transmission and differential flush against the left side of the block.

The transmission itself, known in production as the TH-425, was based on the new three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic (TH-400), used the same internal ratios and variable-pitch stator as other TH-400-equipped Oldsmobiles, Buicks, and Cadillacs. However, the gearbox was separated from the torque converter, turned 180 degrees (which also required reversing the directions of its internal gear rotation and clutch engagements), and offset to the left. The differential, a compact planetary unit, sat at the front of the gearbox, driving the front wheels through unequal-length halfshafts. The engine was raised 1.5 inches (38 mm) and the oil pan was reshaped to allow the longer right halfshaft to pass beneath the sump.

Oldsmobile Toronado Unitized Power Package B&W photo X48974-0314 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14416)
Other than the driveshafts, missing from this display model, this is the Toronado’s entire powertrain: engine, three-speed automatic transmission, and planetary differential. The engine was the new 425 cu. in. (6,964 cc) Rocket V-8, introduced in 1965. A big Rochester Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor, a hotter camshaft, reshaped ports, and a new intake manifold gave the Toronado version 385 hp (287 kW), 15 hp (11 kW) more than in other full-size Oldsmobiles. Otherwise, this engine was basically the same as the ones in other Oldsmobiles except for its engine mounts and unique oil pan. (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

As on Oldsmobile’s earlier FWD prototypes, the TH-425 transmitted power from the torque converter turbine to the gearbox input shaft via a short length of Morse “Hy-Vo” silent chain. The use of the chain raised many eyebrows — even among the engineers of Borg-Warner’s Morse Chain division, which designed and manufactured the chain — but Watt’s group found that chain drive offered a better compromise between efficiency, durability, and quietness than did any other alternative, including belts or gear drive.

The original halfshafts, developed by Oldsmobile and GM’s Saginaw Division, used permanently sealed Rzeppa-type constant velocity (CV) joints at each end, but the inner CV joints telescoped, allowing the halfshaft’s length to change slightly in response to lateral forces. Interestingly, the telescoping CV joint was actually invented by Pontiac’s John DeLorean, who patented it in 1959, and was originally intended for the rear suspension of the rope-drive Tempest, where it was supposed to reduce acceleration and braking squat. Oldsmobile used it, along with careful attention to steering geometry (including a slight negative scrub radius), to almost completely eliminate torque steer. (The telescoping halfshafts were replaced for 1967 by three-ball-bearing CV joints, which worked almost as well and cost less.) The right halfshaft also incorporated a rubber torsional damper that could twist up to 7.5 degrees to absorb driveline shocks and vibration.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado Hy-Vo chain drive B&W photo X50646-0019 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.
The TH-425 transmission’s “Hy-Vo” chain drive was jointly developed by Oldsmobile, Hydra-Matic Division, and Borg-Warner’s Morse Chain division. The chain, which was pre-stretched to obviate the need for a tensioner, was only about 2 inches (51 mm) wide — much narrower than Morse engineers, accustomed to stationary applications — assumed would be necessary for the Oldsmobile engine’s rated output. Andy Watt eventually convinced them that the narrower chain would be perfectly adequate for the actual stresses involved, which turned out to be correct. (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

The complete powertrain assembly, again known as the Unitized Power Package, was a marvel of packaging efficiency, taking up only a little more space than the engine itself. The entire UPP drivetrain fit neatly between the front wheels, avoiding the extreme nose-heaviness that had been a problem with some early FWD cars. The UPP also made good use of existing components. Other than the modified mounts and oil pan, the engine was basically stock and the TH-425 shared many major assemblies with the standard TH-400, although its internals had to be modified to alter their direction of operation. Less happily for GM, the layout was also appears to have been covered by a Ford Motor Company patent; see the sidebar below.

SIDEBAR: Fred Hooven and FWD at Ford

One of Detroit’s most vocal advocates of front-wheel drive in the late fifties and early sixties was Ford engineer Frederick J. Hooven. Born in Dayton, Ohio, Hooven was a one-time acquaintance of the Wright Brothers and worked as much in aeronautical and radio engineering as he did with automobiles. Hooven joined Ford in 1957 after 20 years as an independent consultant, but throughout his 10-year stint in Dearborn, he remained an iconoclast in a notoriously conformist industry.

Hooven was not a fan of the FR layout, which he considered antediluvian. To Hooven, the advantages of front-wheel drive were almost too obvious to belabor. He once wrote a satirical memo outlining the dubious advantages of switching from FWD to le Système Panhard, a pointed bit of whimsy that sat ill with some of Hooven’s superiors (not all of whom recognized that he was joking).

Around that time, Hooven developed a novel FWD concept using a longitudinal engine with the transmission reversed and mounted next to it, in much the same way as Toronado’s Unitized Power Package. The major difference between Hooven’s layout and the UPP was the arrangement of the right driveshaft, which in Hooven’s conception passed through the engine sump, between the main bearings. (Oldsmobile engineers experimented with this approach for the Toronado, but eventually concluded that it would be too difficult to seal; it may also have created problems with oil aeration. However, in the late eighties, Honda adopted this approach for the five-cylinder Vigor and Accord Inspire.)

1962 Ford Thunderbird Sport Roadster front 3q
The most novel features of this 1962 Ford Thunderbird Sport Roadster are its Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels and rear tonneau cover, but had things gone according to plan, it might have been Ford’s first FWD production car. Our sources don’t indicate whether the contemporary Lincoln Continental — which shared some of the T-Bird’s structure and was produced in the same plant in Wixom, Michigan, would also have also gone to front-wheel drive — although that would have made sense. The Continental switched to front-wheel drive for 1988, but Ford has never released a FWD Thunderbird.

Ford seriously considered using Hooven’s design for the third-generation Thunderbird, which appeared for the 1961 model year. Ford ultimately spent about $3 million creating FWD prototypes, but the development proved troublesome, so the planned introduction was first delayed and then canceled entirely around 1960.

Although Ford never used Hooven’s design on any production car, Hooven applied for a patent on the layout in 1959. The patent, granted in September 1962, deliberately avoided specifying any particular engine, transmission, or transmission-drive arrangement; Hooven’s claims only the split-transmission concept. The UPP is remarkably similar to Hooven’s conception, with the exception that GM passed one driveshaft beneath a reshaped oil pan rather than through it. The author is not an engineer or a patent attorney, so we’re not qualified to say whether that distinction would have been sufficient to avoid infringing Hooven’s patent or the subsequent one filed in 1964 by Ford engineer George H. Muller outlining additional variations on the theme. We don’t know at what point GM became aware of the Hooven patent or what, if any, arrangement they may have made at Ford. However, Hooven’s patent didn’t expire until the late seventies, a period that encompassed the entire run of both the first- and second-generation Oldsmobile Toronado and E-body Cadillac Eldorado as well as the FWD GMC Motorhome (which we’ll discuss in part two of this article).

While Ford never offered a front-drive Thunderbird, a much smaller FWD model very nearly made it to production. Known as Project Cardinal, it was developed in Dearborn as a follow-on to the Ford Falcon, powered by a new 60-degree V4 engine. Probably inspired at least in part by the four-cylinder Borgward Goliath 1100, it had little relationship with Fred Hooven’s ideas, mounting its compact engine ahead of the transaxle. A U.S. version of the Cardinal, which probably would have been called Redwing, was slated for the 1963 model year, but Lee Iacocca, then Ford Division general manager, convinced Henry Ford II to cancel the U.S. version in May 1962. It went into production in Germany that September as the Taunus (P4) 12M, but was never exported to the U.S. Ford didn’t offer a front-wheel model in America until the arrival of the Fiesta in August 1977, 10 years after Fred Hooven had departed the auto industry for academia.

After leaving Ford in 1967, Hooven became an associate professor at Dartmouth College’s Thackery School of Engineering. He died in 1985 at the age of 79.

Until early 1964, the UPP was still not formally approved for production — Cole and GM president Jack Gordon wanted to see if it actually worked before giving the green light. They finally assented in February, after Beltz demonstrated a UPP-powered prototype at the GM Proving Grounds in Arizona.

THE XP-784 TAKES SHAPE

Since the E-car project now involved three divisions — Buick, Oldsmobile, and Cadillac — initial planning and development was coordinated and overseen by the central Engineering Staff, then headed by VP of engineering Harry Barr. By early 1964, the divisions were allowed to go forward with their own production engineering work, although development of some major systems would be shared between the three divisions, Fisher Body, and (as alluded to above) the Saginaw and Hydra-Matic Divisions.

Although GM stylists had described North’s design as “the monocoque look” for the way the sail panels flowed seamlessly into the rear deck and fenders, the production car would be another of GM’s exercises in semi-unitized construction. Harold Metzel was not a fan of full monocoque construction, which transmits more noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) than does a rubber-isolated separate frame. The XP-784’s body structure, designed by Fisher Body, would be essentially unitized, but to reduce NVH, the engine and front suspension were carried on a partial frame whose trailing ends carried the front shackles of the rear springs. Oldsmobile was not entirely satisfied with this solution, which was actually devised and developed by Cadillac, so the second-generation Toronado (launched for the 1971 model year) would adopt a full perimeter frame instead.

1966 Oldsmobile Starfire front 3q
Oldsmobile continued to offer the RWD Starfire through the 1966 model year, but its best year was 1962, when it accounted for nearly 42,000 units. The final Starfire, now offered only as a hardtop coupe, actually competed with the Toronado, but was nearly $1,000 cheaper and not nearly as well equipped; slightly more than 13,000 were sold. Oldsmobile revived the Starfire name again in 1975, this time for the new H-body hatchback. It was still rear-wheel drive.

The rear suspension, also developed by Cadillac, used a beam axle on single leaf springs (comparable to those used by the Chevy II/Nova) along with four tubular shock absorbers. Two were mounted vertically in the conventional fashion, but the other two were mounted horizontally, above and parallel to the rear springs, allowing them to do double duty as radius rods.

The front suspension was a typical double wishbone arrangement, but the halfshafts made conventional lower-arm-mounted coil springs impractical. Oldsmobile considered mounting the coils atop the upper wishbones, à la Nash Rambler, Ford Falcon, or Thunderbird, but finally settled on longitudinal torsion bars like those used by contemporary Chryslers or the old GMC L’Universelle. There was also a front anti-roll bar. Steering was by power-assisted recirculating ball with an overall ratio of 17.8:1; an additional shock absorber mounted on the steering linkage to avoid steering kickback.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado wheel
The first-generation Oldsmobile Toronado’s slotted steel wheels were inspired by those of the Cord 810; they also allowed more airflow to the brakes than conventional wheel covers. Oldsmobile considered disc brakes, but abandoned them for cost reasons, so the 1966 Toronado had 11-inch (279mm) drums with cast-in cooling fins. Contemporary reviewers preferred the 12-inch (305mm) finned aluminum drums used by the contemporary Riviera, which had slightly less swept area, but superior fade resistance. The Toronado initially used special 8.85-15 (about 225 mm) “TFD” bias-ply tires, developed for Oldsmobile by Firestone.

To better amortize the substantial development and tooling costs, Cole wanted all three divisions to share this layout and the UPP, each substituting their own V-8 engines. Cadillac agreed, but asked for and received an additional year for styling and mechanical development; Oldsmobile had a substantial head start in both areas. Buick general manager Ed Rollert, however, said no to front-wheel drive. Problems with untried technology had done Buick great harm in the late fifties and we suspect Rollert was not eager to go down that road again. Cole eventually agreed to allow Buick to adapt the chassis and cruciform frame of the 1963–1965 Riviera to the new E-body shell, retaining rear-wheel drive.

THE 1966 OLDSMOBILE TORONADO

The XP-784 still didn’t have an official name when road testing began in late 1964. Early press reports speculated that the car would be called Holiday, a designation Oldsmobile had used for its pillarless hardtops since 1950. In fact, leading contenders included Cirrus (a name later adopted by Chrysler), Scirocco (later used by Volkswagen), and Magnum (later used by Dodge). Chevrolet general manager Bunkie Knudsen finally offered the name “Toronado,” which Chevrolet had registered for an undistinguished 1963 show car.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado rear 3q
1967 Buick Riviera rear 3q 2
Although they have similar dimensions and share much of their inner body structure, including the cowl, the only exterior pieces the first-generation Oldsmobile Toronado and second-generation Buick Riviera have in common are their windshields and roof panels. The similarity between the two cars’ fastback profiles appears to have been largely coincidental; Buick chief stylist Dave Holls saw the more curvaceous fastback shape as a natural evolution of the first Riviera’s sharp-edged lines. Interestingly, despite its comparatively basic FR layout and self-supporting cruciform frame, the Riviera was more than 200 lb (91 kg) lighter than its FWD sibling.

The Toronado was officially announced in late July and went on sale September 24. It attracted considerable attention from the automotive press, which hailed it as the most interesting domestic car since the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. The Toronado promptly won Motor Trend‘s 1966 Car of the Year Award and Car Life‘s 1966 Award for Engineering Excellence.

Testers were surprised to discover that the Toronado’s front-wheel drive was almost undetectable. Despite the big V-8’s ample torque, there was no perceptible torque steer or steering kickback. With just over 60% of the car’s static weight on the front wheels, understeer was the order of the day, but contemporary testers didn’t find it excessive, at least compared to other large American cars of the time. Unlike a RWD car, however, it was impossible to bring out the Toronado’s tail with the throttle and the Toronado had none of the Mini Cooper‘s penchant for lift-throttle oversteer. As advertised, the Toronado’s high-speed stability was excellent and testers who had the opportunity to drive it in the rain found that the Toronado’s wet-weather traction was indeed superior to the RWD Riviera’s.

If the Toronado’s handling was a mostly pleasant surprise, its stopping power was not. Car and Driver, Car Life, and Consumer Reports all found the Toronado’s brakes inadequate, reporting lengthy stopping distances, substantial fade, and a tendency to lock the lightly loaded rear wheels. Both Car Life and Car and Driver took issue with Oldsmobile’s contention that the Toronado didn’t need discs; Car Life also recommended adding a pressure-limiting proportioning valve, like that of the contemporary Thunderbird, to delay rear-wheel lockup.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado rear
Considering its substantial mass, the first Oldsmobile Toronado had reasonably brisk acceleration, with 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) taking between 8 and 9 seconds. Quarter mile (402 meter) trap speeds, a good indicator of power-to-weight ratio, were consistently in the 85 mph (137 km/h) range, although elapsed times varied considerably, suggesting that the FWD layout required different launch techniques for optimum drag strip acceleration than did RWD cars. Top speed was in the neighborhood of 130 mph (209 km/h), impressive for such a large car.

Brakes aside, the Toronado was a remarkable piece of engineering. No less an authority than Alec Issigonis, BMC technical director and designer of the Mini, had declared that front-wheel drive was impractical with engines over 2 liters (122 cu. in.), but the Toronado coped admirably with 6,964 cc (425 cu. in.), 385 gross horsepower (287 kW), and 475 lb-ft (644 N-m) of torque. For all its novelty, the Unitized Power Package also proved to be remarkably reliable. The production line — established in a separate building from other Oldsmobiles — had its issues early on, but there were few problems with the drivetrain in service.

Although the FWD powertrain was relatively trouble-free, several sources claim the Toronado was prone to engine fires due to elevated under-hood temperatures and issues with the Rochester Quadrajet carburetor. We found no hard data on Toronado engine fires, but GM later admitted that some early Quadrajets — though not specifically those used by the Toronado — had defective fuel inlet plugs that could cause fuel leaks and potentially start an engine fire. In the seventies, that issue became the subject of a lengthy court battle between GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which ordered GM to warn owners of Quadrajet-equipped ’65 and ’66 Chevrolets and Buicks of the fire danger. GM’s own affidavits linked the defective plugs to more than 650 engine fires, a number the NHTSA insisted was conservative. Rochester later redesigned the inlet plugs and some owners and restorers substituted aftermarket plugs or sealed the plugs with epoxy to avoid leaks.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado DX dashboard
1967 Oldsmobile Toronado dash
The dashboard of the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado (top) had an appropriately high-tech flair with its novel rolling-drum speedometer and angular horn ring, but some testers found the interior materials a let-down, both in quality and style. The 1967 dash (bottom) was similar, but substituted a more conventional steering wheel along with an energy-absorbing steering column. Note the completely flat floor — unlike most modern FWD cars, the Toronado lacked even a vestigial center tunnel.

Perhaps the most remarkable demonstration of the UPP’s durability didn’t involve a Toronado at all. In the summer of 1965, John Beltz, stung by pre-launch skepticism about the UPP’s unusual chain drive, commissioned Jack “Doc” Watson of Hurst Performance Products to develop a Toronado-powered drag racing exhibition car. The result was the “Hairy Olds,” a 1966 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 powered by two complete Toronado drivetrains, giving it four-wheel drive. Each of the two engines was bored out to 432 cu. in. (7.1 L), fuel-injected, and fitted with a GMC 6-71 supercharger; together, the two supercharged made than 1,000 horsepower (750 kW).

The performance of Hairy Olds, which made its debut in Bakersfield, California in March 1966, was spectacular in every sense of the word, although it was not easy to drive; Watson said it had substantial torque steer at both ends. The Hairy Olds was sidelined by engine failure in 1967 and subsequently destroyed by Hurst, although an Oldsmobile club created a faithful replica in 2002.

The Toronado was also the basis of several other custom cars, including a Dean Jeffries special built for New Orleans Saints owner John Mecom, Jr., featuring extended front fenders and a grille transplanted from the Dodge Charger; a quartet of stretched-wheelbase “67-X” cars built by George Barris for an Imperial Oil contest; a unique Toronado convertible, designed by George Barris for the TV series Mannix; and a number of Toronado limousines. Oldsmobile’s Engineering Shops also created a single short-wheelbase Toronado emergency vehicle, shortened by 52 inches (132 cm) and fitted with a single seat, wooden bumpers, and a spotlight.

1967 Oldsmobile Toronado seats
Bucket seats? Not quite. This 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado Deluxe has “Strato-Bench” seats with bucket-like upholstery and folding armrests, standard on Deluxe models. The rare base model, which cost nearly $200 less, had plain bench seats front and back. True “Strato-Bucket” individual seats were optional, but rarely ordered. Even with a flat floor, the Toronado’s rear seat room was not generous; legroom was adequate, but the fastback roof restricted headroom.

AN UNDERWHELMING DEBUT

Despite the critical acclaim, Toronado sales were disappointing. Oldsmobile had hoped to sell 50,000 units a year, but the 1966 model fell short of that mark by nearly 20%. The ubiquitous Thunderbird outsold the Toronado by more than 28,000 units despite being in the final year of its three-year styling cycle. The rear-drive Buick Riviera also topped the Toronado by more than 10%.

Why? It probably didn’t help that the Toronado was roughly $200 more expensive than either of those rivals and its main advantages — better winter traction and somewhat greater passenger room, courtesy of its flat floor — were not key selling points for buyers in this class. The Toronado also had a rather stiff ride for a personal luxury car, particularly compared to the wafty T-Bird. (The Toronado’s sporty feel was not illusory; Oldsmobile commissioned racing driver Bobby Unser to test the pre-production Toronado at Pikes Peak in early 1965. Production Toronados won the the stock class at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1966; came in second in 1967; and took first, second, and third places in 1968.)

The modest sales appear to have given Oldsmobile management second thoughts about the Toronado’s exterior styling. Dramatic as it was, its sporty character and fastback shape were at odds with the tastes of luxury car buyers, who were gravitating toward baroque formality. The Toronado also had little stylistic relationship with other Oldsmobiles, which limited its value as a flagship model. Wilen was instructed to make future iterations look more like the rest of the Olds line.

The Toronado received only a few changes for its second year, among them a pressure-limiting brake proportioning valve and optional front disc brakes. The discs made for better emergency stopping distances, although road testers complained that the brakes still faded dramatically in repeated use. Since buyers apparently hadn’t shared the motoring press’s enthusiasm for the 1966 car’s stiff springs and shocks, Oldsmobile also softened the suspension in the interests of ride comfort.

1967 Oldsmobile Toronado front
The most visible external changes to the 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado were flush headlight covers and a new eggcrate grille. Front disc brakes were now available, a $78.99 option, although period testers still found their fade resistance marginal; the Toronado probably should have had four-wheel discs.

Unfortunately, it seemed that many of the people who wanted a Toronado had bought one in the first year. Sales fell from 40,963 in 1966 to fewer than 22,000 in 1967. Although the Toronado now had slightly less internal competition — the slow-selling RWD Starfire was gone — it now had an all-new Thunderbird to contend with. The T-Bird once again outsold both the Toronado and the Riviera. (The FWD Cadillac Eldorado also arrived for 1967, but it was a substantially more expensive car and we’re not sure how much direct impact it had on Toronado sales.)

1967 Oldsmobile Toronado rear 3q
The 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado’s taillight treatment echoes the new eggcrate grille. Unlike the ’66, which had styled steel wheels, the ’67 offered “Deluxe” wheelcovers, although they still incorporated prominent slots to allow airflow to the brakes. The grille below the rear window is the exhaust vent for the flow-through ventilation system.

THE TORONADO EVOLVES

Over the next three years, Oldsmobile seemed increasingly uncertain what to do with the Toronado. For 1968, it got taller gearing, a bigger 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) V-8 with less power but more torque, and an even softer suspension that some reviewers found disconcertingly under-damped. All that implied a move toward Thunderbird-like sybaritism, but an aggressive new split grille suggested otherwise, as did the newly optional W34 Force-Air engine, which boasted a whopping 400 gross horsepower (298 kW). Customers looking for a 4,700 lb (2,130 kg), $7,000 Supercar were apparently scarce; fewer than 150 buyers opted for the W34 package that year.

1968 Oldsmobile Toronado front 3q
The 1968 Oldsmobile Toronado’s hidden headlights gave the drivetrain a run for its money in the over-engineering department: When the lights were off, a pair of dummy grilles snapped down over both sides of the grille. While very impressive, this wasn’t ideal for engine airflow, so cars with the W34 option had a thermostatically controlled switch that would automatically open the headlight covers if coolant temperature exceeded a certain threshold. Note the wraparound lights in the corners of the bumper, an artful way of complying with new federal side marker requirements.

Although committed to the basic 1966 body shell through the 1970 model year, Oldsmobile gradually deemphasized the Toronado’s fastback shape. Since 1967, a vinyl roof had been available to break up the body’s visual mass. For 1969, Olds stylists reshaped the tail and sail panels, making the Toronado look more like a notchback. The following year, the Toronado got squared-off wheelhouses and a new grille with exposed headlamps, apparently aimed at increasing its resemblance to its Cadillac Eldorado cousin. At the same time, however, the 1970 W34 package added prominent GT badges and tape stripes along with an optional F41 heavy-duty suspension that restored some of the firmness of the original 1966 model. Surprisingly, the GT package seemed to strike a chord with buyers, about 20% of whom ordered it. We don’t know how many opted for the F41 option, but we suspect the number wasn’t high.

1968 Oldsmobile Toronado rear 3q
In 1968, the Toronado’s engine was expanded from 425 cu. in. (6,964 cc) to 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) while the final drive ratio fell (numerically) from 3.21 to 3.08; the transmission also lost its variable-pitch stator. Peak output dropped to 375 gross horsepower (280 kW), but peak torque rose from 480 to 510 lb-ft (651 N-m to 691 N-m). The W34 engine, with a hotter cam, freer-breathing exhaust, and a cold air intake system, claimed an impressive 400 gross horsepower (298 kW) and 500 lb-ft of torque (678 N-m), potentially good for 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in under 8 seconds. At $210.64, there weren’t many takers, so for 1969, Oldsmobile cut the price to only $47.39.

The 1970 Toronado finally made front disc brakes standard equipment, which they probably should have been from the beginning. Midway through the year, buyers could supplement the discs with a new “True-Track” anti-lock braking system. Developed by GM’s AC Electronics Division, True-Track was similar to the Kelsey-Hayes “Sure-Track” ABS offered on the contemporary Lincoln Continental Mark III; the Cadillac Eldorado offered a similar system, dubbed “Trackmaster.” Since it worked only on the rear wheels and did nothing to alleviate brake fade, True-Track was not a panacea, but it did address longstanding complaints about rear-wheel lockup in hard stops.

None of these changes brought much life to Toronado sales. The 1968-1970 totals were somewhat better than the dismal 1967 tally, but the Toronado still failed to top 30,000 units a year. By 1970, it had even fallen short of the Eldorado, which was remarkable considering that the Cadillac cost nearly $2,000 more — enough to buy a new Ford Maverick in those days.

1970 Oldsmobile Toronado front 3q © 2008 Bull-Doser (PD - modified by Aaron Severson)
The 1970 Oldsmobile Toronado was 3.3 inches (84 mm) longer than the 1966 model, thanks mostly to the reshaped tail. In addition to the new grille and exposed headlights, this final first-generation Toronado had a new dashboard, standard front disc brakes, and available rear ABS, a $205 option. (Photo: “Oldsmobile Toronado (Rigaud)” © 2008 Bull-Doser; released to the public domain by the photographer, resized and modified 2010 by Aaron Severson)

Total production of the first-generation Toronado came to a modest 143,134 units in five model years. That was almost 25,000 units more than the rear-drive Starfire had managed in six years, but the Starfire had been far cheaper to develop. We doubt the first-generation Toronado was ever a profitable car for Oldsmobile; Harold Metzel, who retired in 1969, always maintained that it was not. Toronado owners were loyal — in Popular Mechanics surveys, more than 90% of buyers said they would buy another one, and many did — but there just weren’t enough of them.

A PARTY OF ONE

Lackluster sales performance made the Toronado a rather Pyrrhic victory for Metzel, Andy Watt, and John Beltz. They had overcome great odds just to bring the car to market and they had demonstrated convincingly that front-wheel drive could work for big American cars. However, the Toronado was so expensive to build and public interest was so lukewarm that it hardly seemed worth the effort. The contemporary Riviera handled as well or better, had much better brakes, cost less, and was some 250 lb (113 kg) lighter despite nearly identical exterior dimensions. The Toronado’s imposing fastback shape, meanwhile, seemed to appeal more to critics than the buying public while sacrificing much of the FWD layout’s potential packaging efficiency.

1967 Oldsmobile Toronado badge

It might be tempting to look at the Toronado as a proof-of-concept exercise for front-wheel drive, but Beltz later insisted that wasn’t the case. Indeed, Oldsmobile wouldn’t offer another FF car until the 1980 X-body Oldsmobile Omega and the division participated in that project (whose FWD layout was very different from that of the Toronado) only reluctantly.

Buyers were definitely aware that the Toronado was FWD — a 1970 Popular Mechanics owners survey found that more than 40% had chosen the Toronado specifically because of the drivetrain — but Oldsmobile did very little to promote that fact. Early Toronado advertising mentioned FWD only in passing — there were none of the highly technical ads that Campbell-Ewald had done to promote the Corvette Sting Ray’s independent rear suspension — and even those references would gradually disappear.

We’re not entirely sure why Oldsmobile was so reticent to publicize Toronado’s FF drivetrain, although it’s possible that it had something to do with the Hooven patent; we can understand why GM might have been reluctant to promote an invention on which it may have been paying royalties to Ford. Whatever the reason, Oldsmobile swept its own considerable technical achievement under the rug.

If anything, the Toronado may have convinced Oldsmobile that it didn’t really need front-wheel drive, which in the mid-sixties was probably true. In the mid-seventies, buyers would have lined up around the block for an efficient, V-6-powered FWD car like Watt’s earlier prototype, but a decade earlier, we suspect it would have lost out to the cheaper, simpler Ford Fairlane, the same way the Corvair lost out to the more conventional Falcon. With the Eisenhower recession fading from memory and the OPEC embargo still years away, front-wheel drive was little more than a curiosity.

In our second installment, we’ll look at the rest of the Toronado’s history, along with an unusual spin-off of its Unitized Power Package concept: the 1973-1978 GMC Motorhome.

FIN


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Special thanks go out to Kathy Adelson of the GM Media Archive for her invaluable assistance in tracking down historical photos for this article.


NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources on the development and evolution of the Toronado included an AC Spark Plugs ad in Popular Science Vol. 191, No. 3 (September 1967), p. 21; C. Edson Armi, The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988); the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1966-1970 Oldsmobile Toronado,” HowStuffWorks.com, 15 October 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1966-1970-oldsmobile- toronado.htm, accessed 22 October 2010; Ray T. Bohacz, “Mechanical Marvels: Chain Gang: Exploring Camshaft Drive Mechanism,” Hemmings Classic Car #12 (September 2005), pp. 66–69; “Car and Driver Road Test: Ford Thunderbird and Cadillac Eldorado,” Car and Driver November 1966, reprinted in Cadillac Eldorado 1967-78 Performance Portfolio, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2000); Chris Carlson, “Oldsmobile Toronado,” ClassicOldsmobile.com, 2005, encyclopedia.classicoldsmobile. com/toronado/index.html, accessed 13 November 2010; Linda Clark, “1964 Oldsmobile 4-4-2: Muscling in on the Ponycars,” Special Interest Auto #69 (June 1982), reprinted in Cutlass & 4-4-2 Muscle Portfolio 1964-1974, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1998), pp. 124-131; Helen Jones Earley and James R. Walkinshaw, Setting the Pace: Oldsmobile’s First 100 Years (Lansing, MI: Oldsmobile Division of General Motors Corporation, 1996); Craig Fitzgerald, “1966 Revolutionary Ride,” Hemmings Classic Car #4 (January 2005), pp. 14–21; John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Rev. 4th Ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); Maurice D. Hendry, Cadillac: Standard of the World: The Complete History (Fourth Edition update by David R. Holls) (Princeton, N.J. : Automobile Quarterly, 1990); Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997), pp. 172-187; John F. Katz, “SIA comparisonReport: 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado vs. 1967 Cadillac Eldorado,” Special Interest Autos #168 (November-December 1998), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Cadillacs (Hemmings Motor News Collector-Car Books), ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2000), pp. 110-119; Michael Lamm, “Toro & Cord: So different and yet so much alike!” Special Interest Autos #35 (July-August 1976), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Oldsmobiles: driveReports from Special Interest Autos, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), pp. 100-107; Todd Lassa, “Drive: 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado: Rule Breaker: 40 Years On, It’s Still the Most Radical Olds Ever,” Motor Trend October 2005, www.motortrend. com, accessed 22 October 2010; Richard M. Langworth, Illustrated Oldsmobile Buyer’s Guide (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1987); Jay Leno’s conversation with Dave North, Jay Leno’s Garage, 9 December 2007, www.jaylenosgarage. com, accessed 22 October 2010; Karl Ludvigsen, The V-12 Engine: The Untold Inside Story of the Technology, Evolution, Performance and Impact of All V-12-Engined Cars (Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset: Haynes Publishing, 2005); Donald MacDonald, “Developing the Toronado,” Motor Trend Vol. 17, No. 12 (December 1965), pp. 40-45; Steve Magnante, “Hurst Hairy Oldsmobile – Keeping the Legend Alive: The Hurst Hairy Olds Returns,” Hot Rod December 2002, www.hotrod. com, accessed 6 November 2010; Mark J. McCourt and Jeff Koch, “Leading the Way,” Hemmings Classic Car #27 (December 2006), pp 22–29; Bob Merlis, “Collectible Classic: 1966-1967 Oldsmobile Toronado,” Automobile February 2009, www.automobilemag. com, accessed 26 October 2010; “Motor Trend Interview: John Beltz,” Motor Trend Vol. 22, No. 12 (December 1970), pp. 72-76, 92-93; “1966-1985 Oldsmobile Toronado,” Automotive Mileposts, n.d., automotivemileposts. com, accessed 10 November 2010; Oldsmobile Toronado ad, LIFE Vol. 65, No. 5 (2 August 1968), p. 16; Oldsmobile Motor Division of General Motors Corporation, “Step Out Front in ’66 … in a Rocket Action Olds! Toronado: New one-of-a-kind car…engineered by Oldsmobile!” [advertisement], Car and Driver Vol. 11, No. 5 (November 1965), pp. 46–47; “Oldsmobile Toronado: The Most Carefully Engineered and Thoroughly Tested Car,” Car Life Vol. 12, No. 2 (November 1965), pp. 28-37; Ken Pilidis, Olds Faithful (the Oldsmobile Northern Lights Chapter newsletter) July 2009, p. 2; “Road Research Report: Olds Toronado,” Car and Driver Vol. 11, No. 5 (November 1965), pp. 29-35, 94-99; Herbert Shudliner, “Spotlight on Detroit,” Motor Trend Vol. 17, No. 4 (April 1965), p. 11; Daniel Strohl, “1968 Oldsmobile Toronado,” Hemmings Classic Car #12 (September 2005), p. 102, and “Success! Cadillac’s OHC V-12 engine photos found,” Hemmings Blog, 14 April 2010, blog.hemmings. com, accessed 19 October 2010; Kris Trexler, “Steve & Matt Butcher’s 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado Deluxe,” North Texas Oldsmobile Club, n.d., clubs.hemmings. com/ clubsites/ ntexasoca/ images/ 1967_Oldsmobile_ ToronadoDeluxe.pdf, accessed 26 October 2010; “Unusual Toronados,” Toronado by Oldsmobile, n.d., www3.telus. net/ toronado/ unusual.html, accessed 1 November 2010; vistacruiser67, “1966 Oldsmobile Toronado Pike’s Peak Hill Climb 425 Rocket,” YouTube, https://youtu.be/ziYJVoaOeiI, uploaded 2 February 2008, accessed 10 November 2010; “Youngmobiles: Can-Am engines and other hot rockets,” Motor Trend Vol. 21, No. 10 (October 1969), reprinted in Oldsmobile Muscle Portfolio 1964-1971, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1999), pp. 96-99; the Oldsmobile Toronado Wikipedia® page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldsmobile_Toronado, accessed 13 November 2010); emails to the author from George Camp, Tom Falconer, Tom Matano, Richard Ruzzin, and Gary Smith, 11–28 November 2010; comments and emails to the author from David North, 18–21 November 2018; and comments made by former Oldsmobile engineer William Thomas on the earlier version of this article, 25 April to 29 April 2010.

Additional driving impressions for the Toronado came from “Buick Riviera: beauty only skin deep?” Road Test, July 1966, reprinted in Buick Riviera Performance Portfolio 1963-1978, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2000), pp. 64-69; “Car and Driver Road Test: Oldsmobile Toronado: A giant 400 horsepower, two-and-a-half-ton Mini is a gas, but it’s not for citizens with cardiac conditions,” Car and Driver Vol. 13, No. 10 (April 1968), reprinted in Oldsmobile Muscle Portfolio 1964-1971, pp. 64-67; “Car Life Road Test: Oldsmobile Toronado,” Car Life Vol. 12, No. 5 (February 1966), reprinted in ibid, pp. 43-47; “Car Life Road Test: Riviera Gran Sport” and “Toronado vs. Riviera: An On-the-Road Comparison,” Car Life Vol. 12, No. 5 (February 1966), reprinted in Buick Riviera Performance Portfolio 1963-1978, pp. 56-61; “Cars Road Test: Toronado vs. Riviera,” Cars September 1966, reprinted in ibid, pp. 70-76; John Ethridge, “5 Luxury Specialty Cars,” Motor Trend Vol. 19, No. 8 (August 1967), pp. 68-73, reprinted in Buick Riviera Performance Portfolio 1963-1978, pp. 78-83; “Giant test,” Car October 1966, pp. 44–51; Michael Lamm, “Toronado Owners Really Dig FWD but say Gas Mileage a Bummer,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 133, No. 6 (June 1970), pp. 118-121, “Two fwd giants: Both excel in prestige and gas guzzling,” and “What’s ahead for front-wheel drive?” Popular Mechanics Vol. 137, No. 4 (April 1972), pp. 100-107; “Oldsmobile Toronado (Autocar Road Test Number 2061),” Autocar 14 January 1966, pp. 79–84; Bill Sanders, “Luxury with a Flair,” Motor Trend Vol. 21, No. 2 (February 1969), pp. 74-85; and Don Sherman, “1966 Oldsmobile Toronado: When men were men, cars were cars, and GM feared no technological frontier,” Car and Driver Vol. 31, No. 2 (August 1985), pp. 40-49.

Additional information on the Oldsmobile Starfire and Jetstar I, the Toronado’s predecessors in the personal luxury sweepstakes, came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1954-1966 Oldsmobile Starfire,” HowStuffWorks.com, 18 November 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1954-1966-oldsmobile-starfire.htm, accessed 1 November 2010; and Josiah Work, “1964 Oldsmobile Jetstar I: Marvelous Marketing Mistake,” Special Interest Autos #86 (March-April 1985), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Oldsmobiles, pp. 92-99.

Additional background on the F-85/Cutlass came from “Car Life Road Test: Oldsmobile F-85,” Car Life Vol. 8, No. 8 (May 1961), reprinted in Oldsmobile Automobiles 1955-1963, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1989), pp. 66–70; “Oldsmobile F-85,” Car and Driver Vol. 6, No. 11 (May 1961), reprinted in ibid, pp. 71–73; and “Oldsmobile F-85,” Motor Trend Vol. 13, No. 2 (February 1961), reprinted in ibid, pp. 61–63.

Some additional information on GM’s early FWD show cars came from “California Dreaming: Concours D’Elegance to Feature GM Dream Cars from Joe Bortz Collection,” Old Cars Weekly 29 January 2008, www.oldcarsweekly. com, accessed 10 November 2010; Don Keefe, “1955 GMC L’Universelle – Department X,” High Performance Pontiac September 2003, www.highperformancepontiac. com, accessed 27 October 2010; Dave Newell and Robert L. Hauser, “L’Universelle: Front Wheel Drive in ’55,” Special Interest Autos #70 (August 1982), pp. 18-23; Yann Saunders, The Cadillac Database, 1996-2010, Cadillac Database, www.cadillacdatabase. com, accessed 29 October 2010; and David W. Temple, “1955 GMC L’Universelle,” Hemmings Classic Car #61 (OCtober 2009), pp. 52–55.

Information on Fred Hooven and Ford’s FWD efforts during this period came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “Ford Cardinal: Dearborn’s Would-Be World Car,” Cars That Never Were: The Prototypes (Skokie, IL: Publications International, 1981), pp. 50-53; David Halberstam, The Reckoning (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1986), p. 521; Frederick J. Hooven (assignor to Ford Motor Company), “Vehicular Power Plant,” U.S. Patent No. 3,052,313, filed 15 July 1959, issued 4 September 1962; Richard M. Langworth, The Thunderbird Story: Personal Luxury (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1980); Tim Moran, “The Radial Revolution,” Invention & Technology Magazine Vol. 16, Issue 4 (Spring 2001), www.americanheritage. com, accessed 22 October 2010; George H. Muller (assignor to Ford Motor Company), “Vehicular Power Plant,” U.S. Patent No. 3,213,958, filed 14 April 1964, issued 26 October 1965; Myron Tribus, “Frederick Johnson Hooven,” Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 3 (1989) pp. 201-204, reprinted at www.falconregistry. com, accessed 2 November 2010.

Background on the Cord 810 and 812 came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996) and “1936-1937 Cord 810/812,” HowStuffWorks.com, 29 October 2010, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1936-1937-cord-810-812.htm, accessed 31 October 2010; and Arch Brown, “Supercharged Sensation: 1937 Cord 812-SC,” Special Interest Autos #110 (April 1989), pp. 28-35.

Information on the Rochester Quadrajet came from Jim O’Clair, “Rochester Quadrajet Carburetors,” Hemmings Motor News January 2005; Gary Goms, “Diagnostic Dilemmas: Servicing Quadrajet Carburetors,” UnderhoodService.com, 1 May 2008, www.underhoodservice. com, accessed 6 November 2010; George Nenadovich, “Rochester Quadrajet Common Problems and Decoding,” BuickPerformance.com, accessed 1 November 2010; and United States of America v. General Motors Corporation v. Brock Adams, Secretary of Transportation, et al, 565 F.2d 754 184 U.S.App.D.C. 179, Nos.76-1744 and 76-1745, United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, 1977.

Additional background and technical details came from “Auto Brevity: Anti-Lock Brake Systems,” Automotive Mileposts, n.d., automotivemileposts. com, accessed 31 October 2010; Patrick Bedard, “A Car Is Born: X,” Car and Driver Vol. 24, No. 11 (May 1979), pp. 62–65; “Car Life Road Test: Oldsmobile Delta 88,” Car Life Vol. 11, No. 7 (April 1965), reprinted in Oldsmobile Muscle Portfolio 1964-1971, pp. 33–37; Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); John DeLorean, “Universal Joint,” U.S. Patent No. 2,898,750, filed 24 September 1958, issued 11 August 1959; Honda Motor Co., Ltd., “Ascot/Accord, Accord Inspire/Vigor (Fact Book),” 13 September 1989, www.honda. co.jp, accessed 12 February 2015; Geoff Moore, “60° V6 Family Tree,” 60° V6 Website, n.d., 60degreev6. com, accessed 26 October 2010; the Productioncars.com Book of Automobile Production and Sales Figures, 1945-2005 (N.p.: 2006); Don Sherman, “The New Approach: X,” Car and Driver Vol. 24, No. 11 (May 1979), pp. 80–82; and Andrew K. Watt (assignor to General Motors), “Front Wheel Drive Torque Steer Compensator,” U.S. Patent No. 3,283,842, filed 8 December 1964, issued 8 November 1966.


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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 had a 1966 Toronado and do not remember any torque steer at all since Olds used unequal half shafts to control it. I also had a 2000 Eldorado with a transverse mounted engine it suffered horrible torque steer. But the 66 Toro had drum brakes that after some moderate fast driving in neighborhood streets, the pedal became hard and you virtually had no brakes until the drums cooled. Brake fade.
      Loved both cars though.

      1. The Unitized Power Package from the original Toronado and FWD Eldorado really didn’t produce much if any torque steer. Brake fade, though, was another matter. Weight distribution was a big part of the problem. The brakes were the same as a RWD Oldsmobile 88, but there was a lot more weight on the nose, which would dump more heat into the front drums than they could manage while unloading the rear wheels and allowing the rear brakes to lock prematurely.

  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.

      1. I had that issue with a brand new one , on the third try from the Olds Dealer they finally figured out it was the electric fuel pump in the gas tank. At the point of the third repair I was hoping they would miss the problem again as we had a lemon law in NH if they failed the third time it was either a new car or my money refunded. But it never gave me the fits again,

  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.

    1. This is a message to W. Thomas. Did you work in engineering at Oldsmobile? If you did which projects did you work in or on? I would suspect that you have plenty of interesting stores to tell! Now is the time to pass this on so it will not be forgotten. I am active on classicoldsmobile.com a web forum for Olds owners.fanatics. You may already be aware of that site but just wanted to pass on the info that will be read by many should you care to have some interest in your work experiance in Detriot.

      Thank you,

      Regards,
      T. Ryan – Owner of a few W31s.

  4. John Beltz was a real class guy. Died early from a brain tumor I think.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

    1. The GMC Motorhome will appear in Part 2, coming soon.

  8. 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…

    1. The second part of this story, coming soon, will talk more about the later Toros.

      1. tks, i know u put alot of work into this

  9. 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.

  10. [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.

  11. 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).

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    2. I thought Olds Aurora was one of the better riding front drive cars with the strut suspension

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

  18. Good to have you back writing new content, Aaron! Your work is in my opinion incomparable, and has been missed.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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

    1. Thanks for the clarification!

  23. 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?

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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

  27. This is a great recounting of the First Toronado and it’s development. There were a lot of Oldsmobiles in my family back in those days, and an uncle bought one of the first Toronados in 1966. He had been a long time Pontiac man and was driving a Bonneville when my aunt had to go to the hospital for an operation. My uncle announced the need for a new car to my aunt in the hospital,and asked her what she wanted. She said, “Get one of those Toronado things,” and that’s what she got. He later got a 1970 Toronado.

    Later, a friend’s young broth got a 66 or 67 (I can’t recall, as it has been so long now) with the optional 3.42 axle ratio. For such a heavy car, it was a veery potent machine.

    One note to your excellent write-up, Aaron: the Toronado didn’t share exactly the same engine with the other models in 66 or 67. The Toronado 425 and the 400 that came in the 442 had special large 0.921″ lifters, which allowed more radical cams than the 0.842″ diameter lifters the other models’ engines received.

    Thanks for a fine, well-researched article!

    1. Thanks for the note — I knew the Toronado engine was a little hotter than the standard 425, but I didn’t catch that it had 4-4-2 lifters.

      1. Sessler’s Ultimate American…….book has five tunes of Olds 425 cid in 1966 and 1967. Top tune is unique to the Toro.

        1. Yes: The Dynamic and Delta 88 had the 2V version of the Super Rocket HC engine, which took premium fuel, but had a two-throat carburetor and single exhaust, giving 310 hp. A low-compression regular fuel version with 300 hp was optional, as were the 4V Super Rocket HC, with 365 hp, and the Starfire V-8, which as far as I can tell was the same as the L77 Police Apprehender engine — 4V, slightly higher compression, dual exhausts, 375 gross hp. The 4V Super Rocket was standard on the Ninety-Eight and optional on the Dynamic and Delta.

  28. What ever happened to the 1967 X cars produced for an Imperial Oil contest.. where are they now?

  29. Well written piece,lots of info that is new to me.

  30. The Toronado “died” after the 1985 model year. GM’s E bodies for 1986 were major design disasters. It was downhill for GM until the corporation restructured after bankruptcy. Now it seems GM is actually interested in quality automobiles once again.

  31. The first car I ever owned was a 1976 Olds Toronado. My dad bought it for me in 1982. Everyone else was driving around in little imports, the Prelude being the car of the day. They made fun of my ‘land yacht’. I never could parallel park the thing. But when youthful boasting got down to serious business and cars lined up on the pavement to have a go, true, most beat me off the line. But from 60 mph and up that big block ate those little rice burners alive!

    I have never had a car with so much to give! It didn’t matter how fast you were going, if you asked it for more, it gave you more, never broke a sweat. Nowadays I get nervous if I have to pass a vehicle. In my Olds, heck, I’d whip out and blow past two at a time, never a worry, that speed was there! And it rode like a dream. I could jam 5 other people and we’d head out. Did our fair share of off-roading in it too.

    It died when I hit a van and then drove under a semi with it in terrible snow conditions in BC’s mountains. The front of that car was mushed, but I still put it in park and turned it off and to the shock of all the witnesses, I stepped out of the car. Anything smaller and I would not have lived to learn what the internet is.

    I bought my 2nd 1976 Olds Toronado several years later and loved driving it, but it had advancing rust and mechanical problems and husband was having fits over trying to find parts, so I sold the car. To my eternal regret. In my opinion no car has ever had that sexy look and cool appeal that the Olds Toronado had!

  32. hello indeed inpresif story but i havean question
    good morging I am Cees and living in Holland Have Toronado makeyear 1968 drove it in 1998 in Arizona and take ik Home to Holland. Last week a was working on the Toronado for the fist time and get it a live big problems ( of corse ) whit the fuel line Must totaly clean it out and get out pomp replace filter make al hoses clean. Well, it running now perfect but I have an queastion about the Boots of the axels of the 1968 Toronado two are broken so I must replace Boots on driveshaft rightsite
    I can not find manual fot this action.
    please somebody send or tell how to do en what to do. can i get out only the driveshaft or must i do more
    Yesterday a start to work on the right front shaft axel to get it out it is lose but do not want to get out the upper and lower controle arm shock and olifilter are out now but still big problem must i lift it up? or must I remove one of the controle arms..
    somebody knows the rigt way? thanks so far and greeting Cees

    1. Cees,

      I’m not qualified to provide mechanical or repair advice — sorry!

      1. okee Aaron no problem ofcourse read some info in an Clinton auto repair manual book (1973-1980) but i think that is not the right info (newer Toronado) so must start looking again.

        1. Cees,

          It sounds like what you really need is an actual Oldsmobile shop manual that covers the ’68 Toronado. Where you’d come by one at this point I really don’t know — in the States, a big city public library might have one, but I don’t suppose that’s likely in the Netherlands. You might be able to find one to purchase online, I suppose.

  33. Aaron Problem solved .. drive-axel is out must only get-out the starter the reason is that on the driveshaft there is an big balancer mouted in the middle of the axel.(of 10 cm wihte !!? ) so I can start repairing the BOOTS now. In the Clinton repair manual 1973-1980 the write only to get out the oilfilter.of the TORONADO . so I am happy now.. thanks for the support

  34. My favorite US car of all time – to me the styling of the 1966 Toronado was beyond reproach. Also it was a technical tour-de-force.

    I was an engineering student at the time and built the usual AMT model – it looked great in metallic blue. Then I discovered the General Motors Engineering Journal at our engineering library while looking for something else.

    The Quarters 1 and 2 of 1966 go into the design of the car in great detail. Almost 20 years ago, I scored the 1966 GMEJ bound Annual, when the library dumped old “stock”. Other people got other years, darn!

    The articles are written by all the people you mention in yours, but don’t answer any questions as to origin directly – they themselves say the XP-784 genesis and development are unclear up to the late 1950s and even beyond.

    What is clear is the incredibly complicated organizational structure GM had in those days. Nobody in charge of anything except Mitchell in styling. So you had GM Central Office Engineering making UPP’s out of Caddy engines, and Oldsmobile Advanced Engineering making UPP’s for F-85, what they call a small car. Completely separate programs. Developing this and that apparently on whims. It wasn’t until 1962 until they sort of got together. Anyway, GM spent a whole chapter on organization in the EJ, so that the budding engineer reading this stuff could make some semblance of order out of the jumble of articles from different divisions, with nothing from Cadillac or Buick. Read it three times in a row, as I have this weekend, and you sort of get some idea of what transpired. Sorry, I’m not about to precis it here – too much, too complicated.

    What is noticeably missing in your summary is that in fact Fisher Body made the Toronado from the cowl back, including all trim. They production-engineered the lot from drawings produced by Styling. The inner structure may be shared with the Buick, but you wouldn’t know it from this Oldsmobile had the subframe and engine to add to the Fisher production after the finished bodies were literally trucked from their plant in Euclid OH to Lansing for final assembly. The chapter is a dense 10 pages long as to how Fisher Body managed it, including the design of sheet metal drawing dies and window lifts.

    The other noticeable thing is how much was optimized through computer-programming, and how much automatic machinery the General had, apparently haphazardly strewn all over the place, for durability testing. The left hand hardly knew what the right hand was doing – this comes across in the articles where someone or other will emphasize their group’s or division’s accomplishments, without mentioning anyone else! Nope, they’re on in the next article. It’s a bit of a hoot. Automatic welding stations, that we would call robots today, were also in evidence.

    I highly recommend you read the Journal for 1966.

    The only factual error I found in your article is that the fore-aft shock absorbers were mounted above, not below, the rear springs. But at the same time, much is missing from your summary. Finally, I’ll note that the engine had nowhere near 385 hp. A speed of 85mph in the quarter-mile even on a 4600 lb car suggest more like a so-so 250. These days, 290 hp in a 4400 lb MDX will get a less than 15 second quarter at well over 90 mph.

    They sure are nowhere near, not even close, however, to this styling masterpiece.

    1. Bill,

      The easy parts first: You’re right about the horizontal shock mountings, so I’ve amended the text, and I agree that the Toronado’s net horsepower would probably be more in the realm of 250-270 hp. There are some dangers to comparing performance figures of modern cars simply because there are other factors involved (such as having more gears, better tires, and engines capable of maintaining a flatter torque curve over a considerably broader rev range), but there’s no doubt that Detroit’s gross ratings of this period generally had little direct relationship to actual, as-installed output. Also, I tend to suspect that with the early UPP/TH425 Toronado, a little less of the engine’s as-installed output made it to the drive wheels than would have been the case with an identical engine hooked to a conventional TH400 and RWD prop shaft. Still, lacking factory net output or drive-wheel horsepower figures, I’m left with the advertised output and the test figures.

      For obvious reasons, it’s difficult for me to comment on sources I haven’t seen (and to which I definitely didn’t have access when this article was written). I would certainly be interested to see it if I’m ever able to. That said, even within the sources I did have, there was a lot of information I deliberately skipped or shorthanded in the interests of coherency or not further extending what is already a very long article.

      As you observed in the engineering journal, the full story of any car produced by a company like GM or Ford involves the work of hundreds if not thousands of people in different divisions, departments, and work groups who don’t necessarily have — or care about — the bird’s eye view of the whole process. (One of the realities of any large organization is that people in each division or department are primarily interested in and accountable for their own group’s performance, regardless of how well the other groups are or aren’t doing.) That means a lot of granular detail in which to potentially get lost.

      Obviously, with this or various other cars, people could write (and have written) entire books about the nuances of the development, engineering, or just the sort of fine technical points of concern to restorers. However, as a historian or an observer — even if you don’t have a fixed word count to meet — you have to ask yourself at some point, “Am I drawing a map or compiling an atlas?” I often feel like I tend toward the latter, so I’m occasionally bewildered (meaning no offense) when people point out all the things I’ve left out. I suppose this is what I get for having all these 10,000-word articles; one expects more than with a 500-word encyclopedia entry!

    2. I have read these GMEJ articles and I felt too that GM’s engineers weren’t clear about UPP’s origin and its timeline. According to GMEJ, the La Salle II concept should have to get the first fwd tech but they didn’t tell if these prototypes should have used the DOHC V6 with fwd. I still wonder who was the first GM’s engineer to talk about front wheel drive? I could say some names like Charle Chayne, Charles Mccuen, Oliver Kelley or a ford transfuge but I have no certitude.
      I have found an interesting testimony from a former gm’s engineer, Carl F. Thelin, which worked for GM Structure and suspension dpt (headed by Von D. Polhemus) on the fwd technology (http://cxsi.blogspot.be/2011/01/nih-factor.html).

      1. Edmond — an interesting account I hadn’t previously seen. Part of the confusion, from my perspective anyway, is figuring out to what extent these projects were done by the corporate staff and to what extent they were done by the advanced engineers at the individual divisions. I assume the divisional engineers had access to the corporate projects at some stage (it wouldn’t have made much sense if they didn’t), but I don’t know how much the reverse was true. As far as I know, engineers in one division weren’t necessarily privy to what their counterparts in other divisions were doing at the same time unless someone moved divisions.

        Any time you have a bunch of people working on collaborative projects, it can become very difficult to sort out who first came up with what. Add to that the fact that said people were working in different and operationally separate divisions of a very large company, not all of which communicated with one another, and it’s even tougher to create any kind of timeline. (It’s that much harder if you’re partially reliant on secondary sources that don’t grasp the separation of GM divisions in this era.)

        Having been delving through his work in recent months, I don’t think Oliver Kelley was involved with the UPP concept to any great extent. Until he became Buick chief engineer, he was principally involved with transmission development; he did some concepts for rear transmissions or transaxles, but I’ve been digging through dozens of his patent filings and haven’t seen anything pertaining to FWD.

        (P.S. Comments here are screened — it’s the only way I can keep a handle on all the spam — so if you post a comment and it doesn’t immediately appear, it just means I’m not online to approve it immediately.)

        1. Thank you for your response. I thought that there was a problem with my comments. For Charles Chayne, I’m more certain because I have read an Bill Mitchell’s interview where he told that he (Chayne) saw the FWD car as a sedan or wagon rather than as Harley Earl which envisionned a fwd as a sport car. In your article, you tell that the early F-85 prototype was featured by a four speed hydramatic however the GMEJ articles learnt us the use of a two speed dual path transmission on a running prototype and a four hydramatic in a testing fixture.

          1. As I said before, I haven’t read the Engineering Journal material, so it’s difficult for me to comment usefully on what it does or doesn’t say. The account in this article is based on the recollections of some of the Oldsmobile development engineers as quoted in other sources. They indicated that the test mule’s transmission was based on Hydra-Matic. Since those accounts were years after the GMEJ feature, it’s possible they were misremembering it or that the two accounts are talking about different things.

            That said, it would make a certain amount of sense to use the Dual-Path transmission in such test mules simply because it was substantially lighter and somewhat more compact than even the smaller version of the three-speed Hydra-Matic and weighed less than half as much as the four-speed Hydra-Matics.

  35. Fair enough.

    Two points I was trying to make were: Both corporate Central Engineering and Oldsmobile had separate FWD UPP development plans for a very long time; and Fisher Body had a huge role in the production engineering of the main body.

    All that changed when GM reorganized and Fisher Body was changed to GM Assembly, while the divisions didn’t go off on tangents by themselves. A more coordinated approach was taken which baffled customers finding Chevy engines in Olds cars and so on.

    I love that first Toronado, but now I feel that I shouldn’t have even mentioned the GMEJ to you. I was just surprised you didn’t have access to the Engineering Journal given the huge list of other references.

    1. It would certainly be of interest, but how I would lay hands on such a thing is quite another question. Neither the county nor the city public library systems have it, and while it’s conceivable that my alma mater’s engineering libraries might, that would probably be a project in itself. (I assume they would theoretically let alumni browse the collections, although I don’t know that I could check anything out that way even if it were circulating — probably not.) If I ever get a chance to take a look at it, I certainly will and I’ll bear your thoughts in mind. I don’t dismiss them by any means, it’s just hard for me to comment without actually having access to the material.

  36. I have a 1970 Toronado GT that I was thinking about putting in a Manual transmission with an overdrive. Will that be possible especially since the Toronado was more of a luxury car.

    1. I’m not qualified to provide any kind of mechanical advice, particularly on an endeavor of the magnitude of what you’re describing. To add an overdrive manual transmission to a first-generation Toronado, you would basically have to MAKE a new transmission with reversed-rotation gears and a detached bell housing that would fit in the space intended for a TH425. Any off-the-shelf parts would probably have to be modified extensively and a lot of the cases and linkages would likely need to be fabricated from scratch. It would be a major engineering project, not a shade-tree swap. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has done it, but I can’t imagine it was cheap or easy.

  37. I have a 1966 Toronado with an early production number of 19,014. Is it true that some of the early Toronados came with a Pontiac green painted emgine?

  38. Does anyone know if the early production ’66 Toronados came with the engines painted with the Pontiac green paint or were all of them painted the slate blue?
    Thanks,
    Paul

  39. Just purchased my dream car back after 40+ years. Unfourtnately, Uncle Sam did not issue her in my seabag and my father could no longer store her. Soon, I will be working on my 66′ Toronado and would appreciate anyone that has a conversion for disc breaks. I am a bit worried of the safety factors and not so much mine. Any help and knowledge would be appreicated.

    Thanks,
    Michael

    1. I’m not qualified to advise you on modifying your car, I’m afraid. As you may know, front discs became optional on the Toronado for 1967, but I don’t know if those can be added to a ’66. (I don’t think it’s a straightforward swap and would likely require replacing more than just the brakes.)

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