Retrospect: 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado
The first generation was built from 1966 until 1970
Here’s the car that started it all…the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. It created the front-wheel drive personal luxury coupe niche in the automotive industry. It is the first front-wheel drive car since the 1937 Cord. This full-size personal luxury car shared its “E-body” platform with the Buick Riviera and Cadillac Eldorado nearly all of its 28 year history. Long, low, and sleek is the silhouette that became one of the foremost in the industry. The Toronado is powered by the famous Olds Super Rocket V8 engine.
It was the Motor Trend “Car of the Year” in 1966. Here’s a bit of trivia; the Oldsmobile was the “test brand” for GM’s Cadillac Motor Division. If Cadillac had a new feature or option to introduce the Oldsmobile Series Eighty-Eight and Series Ninety-Eight were the test cars, and it wasn’t until that feature became a hit before the “Standard of the World” would use it. The 1967 Fleetwood Eldorado was a spin-off model from the formidable Olds Toronado. The Oldsmobile Unitized Power Package (UPP) introduced an entirely new component concept of which the rest of the automotive industry followed. The first generation of the Toronado was built from 1966 until 1970.
General Motors pioneered contemporary front-wheel drive. Oldsmobile had been working on the project since 1958. GM engineer John Beltz, the brain that also gave us the Oldsmobile 4-4-2, designed the highly successful Toronado. The original front-wheel drive concept was meant to be a much smaller car; a compact sport or personal car that was never really intended for production.
The 100 millionth GM vehicle was a 1966 Toronado built March 16, 1966. Style code #9487 Toronado hardtop coupe was base priced at $4,585 with a mid-year price increase to $4,617 and 6,333 units were built. Style code #9687 Toronado deluxe coupe was base priced at $4,779 with a mid-year price increase to $4,812 and 34,630 units were built. Air conditioned equipped vehicles exceeded 51 percent. Imagine…a personal luxury coupe with prices like these in today’s world!
Oldsmobile researched and tested over 1.5 million miles while developing the Toronado. They performed rigorous gauntlets of testing to verify the strength and reliability of all its components. During this seven-year development, GM introduced many innovations because of the Toronado. The Turbo Hydra-Matic THM-425 front-wheel drive automatic 3-speed transmission, the Rochester down-draft 4-bbl carburetor, spherical-shaped exhaust flange gaskets that allowed freedom of movement within the exhaust system and prevented leakage, flow through ventilation which eliminated the vent windows that also reduced wind noise, and a Toronado-based design drive train for GMC motor homes are just a few of the myriad innovations introduced by the Oldsmobile Toronado. Firestone designed the 1966 Toronado’s 8.85 x 15 tires. They were heavy-duty with stiffer sidewalls and a stylishly thin white stripe. The rest of the industry followed suit with the thin whitewall tires.
The revolutionary new Unitized Power Package was designed to fit both V8 engine and transmission into the engine bay no larger than that of a traditional rear-wheel drive vehicle. This was adopted by the other GM divisions for the front-wheel drive models. The legendary Super Rocket V8 engine powered the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. The potent 7.0 litre 425 CID 16-valve naturally aspirated V8 produced 380 hp @ 4,800 rpm with 644 Nm of peak torque @ 3,200 rpm.
The Super Rocket V8 engine produced 10 hp more than the Oldsmobile Starfire and 20 hp more than the Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight. The newly developed THM-425 3-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission for front-wheel drive applications was mated to the engine. Longitudinal acceleration is rated as 0-60 mph in 9 seconds with a top speed of 127 mph. The 1966 Toronado could do the ¼ mile @ 93 mph in 16.4 seconds.
The unique transmission has a torque converter separate from the planetary gearset. The patent silent chain drive named Hy-Vo managed the gearsets on two 12” sprockets. This transmission was a joint venture between GM and Borg-Warner. Because of the nature of this type of transmission, the gearing has to be reversed. The one-way clutches freewheel in the opposite direction.
The Toronado uses a longitudinal engine placement coupled with a split transmission, it turned engine power 180 degrees. Power is supplied to a differential mounted to the transmission case. The transfer case has two half shafts providing power to the front wheels. The half shafts, CV boots, and CV joints all together convert power to the front drive wheels. The drive line is set at the center point of the wheels for better weight distribution. The engine had to be raised requiring a lower intake system.
The Oldsmobile Toronado was the first GM subframe vehicle. It was partially unitized and served as a support to manage the power train, front suspension, and floor pan. It isolated vibration and road noise. The Toronado was the first GM passenger car to utilize the torsion bar suspension with wishbones of unequal length. This type of front suspension was used to conserve space due to the engine and front drive arrangement. The rear suspension was a beam axle on leaf springs. It used dual shock absorbers, two vertical and two horizontal. This set-up acted as a radius rod to control wheel movement.
The first generation 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado is quite a looker. Not only were the mechanics all-new, so was the appearance. Its silhouette is long, low-slung, and it is as elegant as it is sporting. The Toronado invented the personal luxury class. The Toronado has a long hood, fastback roof line and short rear deck. This too was quickly copied by the rest of the automotive industry. Even the pop-up head lamps were replicated by almost every automaker. The 1966 Toronado rode upon a long 119” wheelbase, was 78.5” in width, and measured 211” in total length. The Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado was next in line with the personal luxury coupe class. The Buick Riviera was also a trendsetting GM product. This famous trio dominated the personal luxury car niche for many years.
The 1966 Olds Toronado had the largest interior in its class. With the revolutionary new front-wheel drive, there is no transmission tunnel. It was astounding, without the traditional transmission hump there is more room than a Cadillac. With its completely flat floor it was like a rolling guest room. The wide doors provided ease upon both entry and exit. There is another set of door handles on the deluxe trim version so rear seat passengers could open the doors without reaching around the front seat passengers.
The Strato bench seat with head restraints and folding armrest
The Deluxe trim offered door handles for rear seat passengers
The Toronado offered a spacious interior
The unique front-wheel drive had no transmission hump
The 1967 Toronado had a smoother front end design
Photos courtesy of Daniel Schmitt & Co Classic Cars
The 1967 bucket seat with center console
The 1968 Oldsmobile Toronado
The formidable Olds W-34 option offered even more thrilling performance for $210.64 extra. This option was available in 1968 through 1970 models. This option is extremely rare and highly sought after: for the 1968 model year only 124 were built, for the 1969 model year only 2,844 were built, and for the 1970 model year only 5,341 were built.
If you are in the market for a Toronado from this genre, there are certain things that need attention. The Toronado’s flow through ventilation system is exhausted through the air vents above the rear deck lid. Water was drained through tubing that cracked or got clogged which led to horrific corrosion; therefore’ a complete inspection of the trunk, deck lid, trunk floor especially around the rear wheel housings. The front “A” pillars also collected water from the windshield rubber seal and the chrome clips that retained the moldings.
This area led to corrosion, this is where to look first
The hood hinges wore out quickly because of the weight. There were many ‘shims’ between the hood hinges and door hinges that would most likely need realignment. These doors and hoods were extremely heavy. While under the hood, check the Quadrajet carburetor for gasoline leakage which is common for this vintage. Also check the fuel well plugs for leakage which would occur if the car sat for a few days. Carburetors were a massive pain in the butt, plus, they sucked up so much more fuel than a fuel injected engine.
Interior issues include the wiring for the power windows. The windows may intermittently work or operate when the door is partially open, check the wiring harnesses in the doors. They are in a sleeve that cracks with age. Most likely one would have the vehicle re-wired to do the job the correct way keeping the vehicle in its original form. Restoration for this type of car is expensive.
This genre Toronado needs a brake upgrade, the factory version wasn’t sufficient enough to provide the proper stopping power because of the massive weight of the front end with the front-wheel drive network. GM had to “get used to such” after which they became the purveyors.
Photos courtesy of Bob Adams Classic Cars
The 1970 Oldsmobile Toronado
The first generation Oldsmobile Toronado was unlike any other car when it debuted in 1966. It stood out from the rest with its revolutionary new styling. Its superior handling characteristics, interior spaciousness, and the flow of power that pulled you along instead of pushing, was an exciting new way to travel Oldsmobile style. This trendsetting vehicle introduced many firsts such as the 4-bbl Quadrajet carburetor, Unitized Power Package, the THM-425 automatic transmission for front-wheel drive cars, flow through ventilation system, and lest we forget…the Toronado introduced the personal luxury car niche. Powered by the legendary Super Rocket V8 engine, the Olds Toronado is as sporty as it is luxurious. General Motors pioneered the contemporary front-wheel drive, the Toronado was the first American automobile to feature it since the Cord 810 of 1937. This is definitely not your father’s Oldsmobile…it was the preface to a contemporary new era of motoring superlatives. There was a special feel – in an Oldsmobile!
The car that started it all…the Olds Toronado
I think this is one of Detroit’s all time great designs. Radical, abstract, muscular, svelte, understated. Beautiful!
Yes indeed James! This is one is a jewel in the crown of GM! The Unified Power Package set industry standards for the front-wheel drive cars of today. The Toronado was third in the 1966 European Car of the Year contest, a distinction no other U.S. car has achieved before or since, and won the 1966 Motor Trend Car of the Year award in the U.S. Yes, this is impressive. It just about KILLED me when the Oldsmobile brand ceased…I am still in shock!
DEFINITELY ONE OF THE ALL TIME GREATS. I PARTICULARLY LIKE THE ’69 WHEN THEY SQUARED OFF THE DECK-LID.