1966 | 1967
1968 | 1969
1971 | 1972
1973 | 1974
1975 | 1976
1977 | 1978
1979 | 1980
1981 | 1982
1983 | 1984
The Oldsmobile Toronado was built by the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors Corporation from 1966-1992. During this time period, the Toronado underwent four major changes, each with a distinct personality but all retained front wheel drive technology. When introduced in 1966, the Toronado was the first car built by an American manufacturer with front wheel drive since the Cord went out of production in 1937. Oldsmobile built the Toronado to compete in the personal luxury car market, which had been dominated by the Ford Thunderbird since 1958. Sister division Buick introduced its first car into this market with the 1963 Riviera [links in this article will open in a new window], which by 1966 was in the first year of its second body style since it debuted as a personal luxury coupe. Interestingly, Ford had originally slated front drive for its 1961 Thunderbird, but this was soon dropped due to costs and a lack of time to fully develop the idea.
The name Toronado was first used on a 1963 Chevrolet show car, and doesn't really have any meaning, although if you take the word "tornado" and add an extra "o" to it, you have Toronado, so it's reasonable to expect this was its origin, although that's really speculation as very little about how it came to be has been documented over the years.
Oldsmobile Division began working on a front wheel drive platform around 1958, which coincidentally was about the same time that Cadillac Division was also working on one. In fact, by 1959 Cadillac had a running chassis built, but the concept was never a top priority, as front wheel drive was viewed as too expensive and non-conventional for a production automobile at the time. Development costs were quite high, but interest in front drive remained, and by mid year 1963 Cadillac and Oldsmobile had combined their efforts with a project coded XP-784.
Toronado's original styling was inspired by a drawing titled "Flame Red Car" which was done in 1962 by David North, an Oldsmobile stylist at the time. North didn't create it with any particular project in mind, but when Oldsmobile Division got the word from GM that it was a "go" for a personal luxury car for 1966, Olds executives started looking in earnest for design ideas, and this one apparently caught someone's attention.
In order to keep costs down, the new car would share a body with the Riviera and a new Cadillac that was also planned for introduction at about the same time. Bill Mitchell, General Motors' styling chief at the time, wanted to put the new Olds on a smaller chassis, but that idea never gained traction due to the extra costs involved. Years later, Mitchell would be standing on a street corner as a Toronado passed by in front of him, turning right at the corner. At the time, he commented that the car was beautiful, but he still felt it was too large for what he'd originally envisioned for it.
Of utmost concern to GM was the reliability of this design, and great steps were taken to ensure it would be dependable and virtually maintenance free. Prior to the first car being sold, Oldsmobile tested their new design under real conditions as well as under conditions a normal car would never be subjected to in its lifetime. Over 1.5 million miles were racked up during this process, which took 7 years to complete. GM modified a Buick Riviera body to hide the fact that there was something new under the sheet metal. The result is a strong and reliable design that has now been proven by many owners over many millions of miles driven. The design was a good one, and it made a huge impact in the automotive world that is still being felt even today.
Because of the unusual characteristics of front wheel drive, Oldsmobile engineers worked with Firestone to design a new tire specifically for the car. The result was the Toronado Front Drive tire, or "TFD" tire, which by design had a stiffer sidewall than other tires of the day. A very thin whitewall stripe was also characteristic of the tire, and was much narrower than most other whitewalls on the market at the time. With a size of 8.85" x 15", the tires were said to have lasted much longer than a standard tire would under the same conditions.
The 1966 Toronado utilized Oldsmobile's 425 cubic inch Super Rocket V-8 engine, rated at 385 horsepower (10 more horses than the same engine installed in a Starfire, and 20 more than in a Ninety Eight.) The intake manifold on engines bound for Toronado installation differed from the standard variety in that the intake manifold was flattened somewhat to allow the air cleaner to sit closer to the engine, which provided necessary hood clearance.
GM's heavy duty Turbo Hydra-Matic 3-speed automatic transmission (also known as TH425 when modified for front wheel drive) was the only transmission available, since few buying a car of this nature would be interested in shifting gears themselves. The torque converter on this transmission drove the separate gearset with a 2" wide silent chain drive called Hy-Vo, which rode on two 12" sprockets. The Hy-Vo chain was developed through a coordinated effort between GM's Hydra-Matic Division and Borg-Warner's Morse Chain Division. Of note is the fact that the chains were "pre-stretched" which meant they didn't require an idler to keep them properly adjusted.
This new engine and transmission design was named the Unitized Power Package (UPP) by Oldsmobile in recognition of the fact that it was designed to fit into the same size engine bay as would be provided on a car with traditional rear wheel drive. The 1966 Toronado was also the first General Motors vehicle to use a subframe, which was partially unitized, with the subframe ending just in front of the rear suspension, and in fact served as a mounting point for the leaf springs. The subframe carried the engine/transmission, the front suspension, and the floorpan, which allowed these items to be isolated from the body itself thus preventing vibration, noise transference, and harshness. Cadillac would also use this same basic UPP design for its 1967 Fleetwood Eldorado, although it was modified by Cadillac somewhat.
1966 Toronado styling was quite an attention grabber. Concealed, pop-up headlights with simulated scoops were the first thing many people noticed. These were operated by vacuum and used a locking system to make sure the lights remained in the "up" position when turned on. Wide open wheel wells gave the Toro a very sporty look, as did its fastback roofline. These two design touches on a car of this size were quite commanding. With a wheelbase of 119 inches, length of 211 inches, width of 78.5 inches, and a height of 52.8 inches, the Toronado was very obviously a luxury car, but it drove like something much smaller. Reports by test drivers at the time indicated the Toro felt more responsive than most cars its size, and exhibited vastly superior handling characteristics when pushed to the limit. About the only criticism most shared was with the brakes. The Toro used conventional drum brakes front and rear, and while the 11 inch diameter drums were adequate for normal driving situations, they overheated quickly and faded badly after just a couple of test panic stops.
Oldsmobile built 40,963 Toronados for 1966 at its Lansing, Michigan assembly facility, and received Motor Trend Magazine's Car of the Year award as well as Car Life Magazine's Award for Engineering Excellence.
Changes were few for 1967. The headlight covers were now flush with surrounding metal, instead of slightly recessed, and front disc brakes and a vinyl roof were added to the list of available options. The suspension was also modified for a softer ride. Sales dropped sharply, to 22,062, which may have been due in part to the introduction of the 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado. Many GM aficionados had been waiting for this introduction from the (then) recognized luxury car leader.
For 1968, the Toronado received a fairly heavy restyle with completely new front and rear appearances. The front end was not as aggressive as it had been in 1966-1967, and featured a honeycomb-patterned grille that rotated to expose the concealed the headlights. The front bumper split the grille in half vertically, and an Oldsmobile Rocket emblem was mounted on its center chrome bar. Parking lights were embedded in the edges of the bumper, which wrapped around the front fenders. The taillights were also toned down a bit and were recessed in the rear bumper. A new 455 cubic inch V-8 engine was introduced by Oldsmobile in 1968, which offered 375 horsepower in its standard form, or 400 horsepower if the new W-34 performance option was ordered. Just 118 Toronados were ordered with the W-34 option, which included a cold air intake for the carburetor, special camshaft, heat-treated valve springs, a modified distributor, and a low-restriction dual exhaust system with notches in the rear bumper for the tailpipes.
Changes to the 1969 models were minor up front. Basically the grille texture changed to a cross-hatch pattern, and the Olds Rocket emblem moved to the right side of the grill from the center bumper bar. Out back, the fastback look was not as emphasized due to changes in the rear quarter panels, which gave them a crisper body line near the top and small fins at their ends. The ignition key was relocated to the steering column, and was part of the new ignition/steering wheel interlock system that all GM cars received in 1969.
In the final year of this body style, the 1970 Toronado received a fairly major update. The concealed headlights were gone, exposing the beams for the first time. A more massive front bumper appeared, and turn signals were now three vertical slits in the bumper, nestled between the grille and the chrome bumper end at the forward edge of the fenders. In profile, the rounded wheel openings of previous Toros were now squared off, and the combination front turn signal/side marker lights which had previously been integrated into the wrap around bumper ends, were now separate components, with the side markers lower on the fender. Toronados equipped with optional front cornering lamps were more obvious as the combination larger clear and smaller amber lenses were visible for the first time. Rear marker lights were rectangular and were mounted to the wrap around rear bumper. The W-34 option was now the GT option, and was identified by the placement of "GT" lettering on the right side of the hood, next to the Toronado script. Sales never caught up to record year 1966, but major changes were on the way.
Upon first sighting, most did not immediately identify the 1971 Toronado as a Toronado. In fact, it bore a strong resemblance to the 1967-1970 Cadillac Eldorado more than anything else. Gone was any pretense of sport, the Toronado was by all appearances now a full-fledged luxury car, and this was apparently just what Oldsmobile's customers wanted. 28,980 were built for the 1971 model year, which represents a 13.9 percent increase over 1970, and set the stage for continued gains for the next few years.
1971 Toronado styling had a more formal appearance, with sharp creases and an overall look that made it clear it was a luxury car above all else. The header panel had a pronounced center section flanked by dual headlights set in a chrome bezel. Dual radiator grilles were mounted in the bumper below the headlights, giving the Toronado a very unconventional appearance. From the rear, the Toro was more squared off than ever before, and featured standard high level brake and turn lights mounted up near the base of the rear window. The deck lid was recessed to emphasize the lights when viewed from the rear. The high level lights operated only when brakes or signals were activated, and were a first for an American production car. The lower taillights were recessed into nooks made by the deck lid and rear bumper, and the back end featured a center protrusion similar to the one in front. Louvers in the top surface of the deck lid were part of a new ventilation system, and would only appear in this location for one year. Squared off wheel openings and polished stainless full wheel covers were strongly reminiscent of the earlier Eldorados.
The subframe platform of the previous Toronados was replaced by conventional body on frame construction, and the rear multi-leaf springs were replaced with coils in an attempt to provide a smoother, quieter ride. The 455 Rocket V-8 was carried over, but now ran on low lead or no lead fuels to comply with increasingly stringent Federal emission control regulations.
Inside, a new instrument panel appeared which was identical to the one used in the full-size Oldsmobiles. Attractive and well laid out, it consisted of three modular cubicles placed side by side in front of the driver, with the outer ones angled slightly for better visibility. The headlight, wiper/washer, cruise, and heater controls were in the left cube, speedometer, warning lights, and fuel gauge in the center, and radio, cigarette lighter, and seat belt reminder light in the right cube. The clock was mounted in front of the passenger, and two separate ash trays were provided near the lower center area of the panel. An attractive brushed metal insert was unique to the Toronado, as other Oldsmobiles used a simulated woodgrain instead.
Changes were minimal for 1972, which is normal for a body style in its second year. The front grilles received new vertical grille bars, and black rubber bumper rub strips appeared to cushion minor parking lot impacts. A chrome body side molding was available for the first time as an option to reduce door dings, and the deck lid lost the ventilation louvers located there in 1971. Oldsmobile celebrated its 75th Anniversary this year, and to commemorate the event a special 1972 Ninety Eight Regency was built, which included a Tiffany & Co. clock designed exclusively for the car. Sales of the 1972 Toronado were up a whopping 68.7 percent, with an increase of almost 20,000 units, making 1972 the best year to date for Toro sales.
More changes became apparent for 1973, with revisions to the front bumper to comply with the new Federally mandated 5 mph impact requirements. Small grilles were now mounted on the top bumper surface, just below the headlights which were now set in individual chrome bezels. Front turn signals were larger than before, and a new Oldsmobile Rocket emblem with winged bezel was mounted at the center of the hood. From the rear, the taillights were now placed vertically in the ends of the rear quarter panels, looking very much like the 1967-1970 Eldorados from which this body style obviously got its inspiration. The rear deck lid featured an expanded "V" section in the middle, and the rear bumper was now mounted on hydraulic rams. A color-keyed horizontal and chrome strip ran from taillight to taillight, and incorporated rear reflectors, back-up lights, and the fuel filler door at its center.
For 1974, new color-keyed bumper rub strips were one of the most noticeable external changes. The central bulge area of the hood just above the front bumper received a small grille opening with three horizontal bars. Just above this new grille, TORONADO was spelled out in block letters spaced evenly across the central bulge area. Atop the hood sat a new spring loaded stand-up Toronado "T" crest hood ornament. Inside, a new linear instrument panel was introduced, which again was shared with the full-size Delta 88 and Ninety Eight. The instrument panel featured simulated woodgrain for the first time during this series, and a digital clock was also included.
The Toronado was one of a handful of General Motors cars to offer an Air Cushion Restraint System (air bag, or ACRS) option for 1974. In fact, the first car so equipped was a Toronado ordered by GM president Ed Cole. Other new options for 1974 included an attractive quarter vinyl roof with opera windows, and an updated automatic climate control system called Tempmatic, which reportedly worked better than the Comfortron system it replaced. A one piece lap and shoulder belt became standard as well.
The same basic body style was carried over to 1975, but there were numerous changes that set it apart from previous models. New rectangular headlights appeared in front, and horizontal taillights returned in the rear. All Toronados for 1975 had opera windows, which were pretty much required on luxury cars at this point. The main focus for 1975 was on improving fuel economy, and Oldsmobile provided a new 2.73:1 axle ratio to squeeze an extra mile or two out of each gallon of gas. To help, idle speed was reduced, carburetion was improved, high energy ignition was made standard, and weight reduction steps were taken. An optional fuel economy gauge on the instrument panel indicated to drivers when they were getting the best fuel mileage.
Power windows were made standard for 1975, and an optional theft deterrent system flashed the front and rear lights and sounded the horn if the car was tampered with while the alarm was set. An illuminated entry system was also available, which turned on interior lights and illuminated the outside door lock when the door handle was pulled. To further reduce emissions, a catalytic converter was included as standard equipment.
Very few changes were made to the 1976 Toronado. A new trunk lock cover with Toronado "T" crest appeared, and a new semi-automatic load leveling option was made available. Toronado Brougham models got a new loose cushion look, inspired by the Ninety Eight Regency, and the velour upholstery sported a bold geometric pattern. Oldsmobile dug around in Cadillac's old tooling box and drug out the tooling for its attractive 1969-1970 Eldorado wheel covers. The Cadillac emblem in the center was replaced with a Toronado emblem, and GM saved a bit of money with the recycling.
Major styling revisions happened on the way to 1977. A new front bumper was provided, the parking lights were moved just under the headlights, and a taller egg crate pattern grille with four rows appeared in the center of the hood. Small Toronado "T" crest emblems were mounted on the forward edge of the front fenders, and gently illuminated when either parking or headlights were on.
To improve fuel efficiency, a new smaller 403 V-8 engine with electronic spark timing was the only offering for 1977. With the rest of the Oldsmobile line down sized, the Toronado was the last of the full-sized Oldsmobiles. A new model, the XS, joined the Toronado line. Its most distinctive feature was its hot wire "bent-glass" rear window, which literally wrapped around to the side of the roof panels, all the way to the wide B pillar. This panoramic rear window was one of the most distinctive features of any car on the road at the time, and gave the driver an uncanny view to the rear.
The Oldsmobile Division was the number three make in America at the time, and achieved its first one million car model year in 1977, due largely to the extremely popular Cutlass model. The Toronado experienced a production upswing this year as well, making almost 10,000 more cars than in 1976. Four Season Air Conditioning was included as part of the base equipment package.
Along came 1978, and the Toronado was in its final year as a full size luxury car. The front grille was updated with vertical bars and an AM/FM stereo radio was made standard. New optional pillowed leather seating surfaces were offered in three colors: black, camel, or carmine (red). Base price increased by almost $1,000 and horsepower dropped to 190 due to a slight reduction in engine compression. The time had passed for traditional full-sized cars in America, and the Toronados that would follow for 1979-1985 would be smaller and more efficient.
With an overall length of 204 inches, the 1979 Toronado was a much changed car from its previous version. Sitting on a 114 inch wheelbase, the new Toro was designed to be more fuel efficient, without requiring its owners to sacrifice interior room or luxury. Seating capacity dropped from 6 to 4, but leg room, shoulder room, and head room were generous for 4 occupants. Powered by a 350 cubic inch V-8 engine, it was a better performer than it had been in recent years. An Oldsmobile-built 350 cubic inch V-8 diesel engine was also available, but some owners reported difficulty starting it, and other mechanical issues plagued it to the point that it developed a bad reputation for reliability, and used Toronados with diesel engines had lower book values than those with gasoline engines. The 403 engine introduced in 1977 was no longer available.
New innovations included independent rear suspension which improved handling and preserved a smooth, comfortable ride. Styling changed very little during the 1979-1985 era, with the 1979 models the easiest to spot due to their different front end styling. The grille featured an egg crate pattern that was 5 high and four across, with Toronado spelled out just above the top openings. This left a somewhat tall nose area above the grille, giving the car a powerful appearance. Rectangular headlights with turn signals just below were slightly recessed from the center hood bulge and front fender edges. Linear taillights in back gave the Toronado a continuity of appearance, although the 1979 design was simpler than before.
In profile, the front end was blunt and the rear sharply angled. The rear roofline was almost vertical, and Toronado's typical open wheel wells gave the car a sporty flair. Inside, a new instrument panel design gave the interior a spacious look, controls were positioned for clarity and vital controls were within an arm's reach of the driver.
1979 was a significant milepost year for the Olds Toronado, as it was no longer built in Lansing, Michigan. Production was moved to Linden, New Jersey, where the car was built on the same assembly lines as the Buick Riviera and Cadillac Eldorado.
Changes to the 1980 models would be minor. A new grille consisted of 3 horizontal slots that ran from fender to fender, concealing the new parking lamps and turn signals, which were taller than last year. 1981 models would use the same grille. A new 5.0 Litre, 307 cubic inch V-8 became the new standard engine. It generated less horsepower than the optional 350, but fuel economy was better.
New features for 1980 included a side frame jacking provision, a design which was shared with other Oldsmobiles for 1980. Halogen high beam headlights were standard, providing a brighter, whiter light than conventional sealed beam headlamps. A new XSC trim package included high back bucket seats and console, a leather wrapped steering wheel, a gauge package, firm ride and handling suspension, color-keyed sport mirrors and wheel discs, body accent stripe, and XSC nameplates on the sail panels. Interiors were available in just two colors, Claret (dark burgundy) and Silver.
1981 is notable for the fact that a V6 engine was standard equipment. Buick's 4.1 Litre 252 cubic inch engine was not popular due to the fact it seemed a bit anemic in the somewhat heavy Toronado. The 307 introduced as standard in 1980 was now optional, and the gasoline 350 was discontinued. An attractive optional aluminum sport wheel was introduced in 1981, and was only available for one year, making them very rare today. Buyers could no longer get a full vinyl roof, the Landau style roof was the only one offered. Inside, the seat upholstery sew pattern changed from a biscuit pattern to a ribbed one.
For 1982, the XSC option was dropped as were the aluminum sport wheels. Changes were minimal, but included a new grille design with five thin horizontal slots, separated by fine chrome bars. New standard features included cruise control and a tilt steering wheel. Rear disc brakes and a 4-speed automatic transmission were also provided as standard. Inside, the instrument panel was revised to allow for a new generation of Delco electronically tuned radios which included digital clocks. A driver's side power memory seat was a new option, which allowed multiple drivers to program the most comfortable seat position, and restore that position at the touch of a switch.
Very few changes differentiated the 1983 models from the previous year. Up front, the Toronado nameplate moved from the header panel above the grille on the driver's side to the grille itself. A Toronado "T" crest emblem was mounted at the center of the header panel. GM worked in concert with Bose to create a new line of Delco/Bose sound systems, which featured individually-amplified speakers tuned to provide the best sound quality for each specific car interior.
A new grille and a luxurious new trim package greeted 1984 Toronado buyers. The new grille featured a body-colored horizontal bar that split the grille lengthwise. Smaller chrome bars ran horizontally above and below the body-colored bar. The new Caliente trim package featured distinctive touches inside and outside to set it apart. A brushed metal strip appeared as a grille header, and was duplicated on the lower edge of the trunk lid. Heavy brushed metal side moldings ran from the tip of the front fender to the rear edge of the rear quarter panel. A heavily-padded Landau vinyl roof with brushed metal wrapover molding and Caliente nameplates just behind the rear side glass made this trim package stand out, as did the wide polished stainless rocker moldings that ran between the front and rear wheel openings.
Inside the Caliente, leather upholstery was standard as was the new vacuum fluorescent digital instrument cluster, an option on other Toronados. If leather wasn't your thing, lamb's wool shearling inserts were available as an option on the Caliente. A new electronic day-night rear view mirror was offered, which featured a motorized base that would tilt the mirror when headlights from behind created glare.
In its final year of this body style, the 1985 Toronado was little changed. The grille received an updated appearance with a fine egg crate design. A small Toronado nameplate was mounted on the lower driver's side of the grille. The unpopular 4.1 V6 engine was discontinued, and the 307 V-8 would again become standard with the 350 diesel V-8 remaining as the sole option. 1985 would be the final year for a Toronado powered by a V-8 engine, and it would also be the last time full frame construction was used by GM on a front wheel drive car.
The new 1986-1989 Toronado was much smaller, and was powered by GM's durable and dependable 3800 V6 engine. It regained its trademark hidden headlights, and full-width taillights appeared in back. Although the Toronado was Oldsmobile's upscale two door coupe, in profile it bore a resemblance to the lower priced Calais, which was an issue for many buyers.
The Toronado was restyled for 1990, and while its new styling was very attractive and distinctive, it did not sell in numbers large enough to justify continuing the line. 1992 would be the final year for the Toronado, one of the most distinctive and admired automobiles ever built by Oldsmobile. During its time in production, the Toronado always represented a different twist to personal luxury motoring. It was sporty, powerful, luxurious, and earned a dignified spot at the top of Oldsmobile's line up of quality automobiles.
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