Oldsmobile Toronado

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.

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StylingUnder-Cover Reliability Testing and Tire RedesignToronado Engine and TransmissionToronado Year to Year Changes

The Toronado was also GM's first vehicle to use a subframe, which cradled the Toronado’s powertrain and torsion-bar front suspension. This provided more isolation from road and engine harshness. Oldsmobile designed the Toronado to compete in the personal luxury car market, which had been dominated by the Ford Thunderbird since 1958.

Ford had originally slated front drive for its 1961 Thunderbird, but was dropped due to cost and a lack of time to fully develop. Toronado's FWD was a radical engineering change that kept the 'crown' with GM’s (Oldsmobile) division. A month later, Motor Trend named the big front-drive personal luxury coupe its 1966 Car of the Year.

Oldsmobile began working on a front wheel drive platform around 1958, which was about the same time that Cadillac was working on one. By 1959 Cadillac had a running chassis built, but the concept was never a priority, as front wheel drive was viewed as too expensive and non-conventional for production at the time. Development costs were high, but interest in front drive remained. By mid year 1963 Cadillac and Oldsmobile had combined their efforts with a project coded XP-784.

The Toronado name itself, was first used on a 1963 Chevrolet show car, and doesn't really have any meaning- though, if you take the word "tornado" and add an extra "o" to it, you have Toronado, so it's reasonable to think this was its origin. Other names that were said to have been tested for the car included: Magnum, Raven, Sidewinder, and Starfire. Urban legend tells the story of designers who noticed a cleaning lady with a Tornado floor waxer. The name couldn't be secured by Olds because of its use on jet fighters, so GM turned to a similar name- Toronado- for which it had the rights.


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 Olds executives started looking in earnest for design ideas, this one apparently caught someone's attention. “That car was about the size of a Camaro,” North says of his Red Flame. But by 1962, Buick’s Riviera personal luxury car neared completion. Cadillac rejected the Riviera when its designer, Bill Mitchell, pitched it as a new LaSalle model. “Oldsmobile went to the corporation and said, ‘Look, we don’t have anything like that,'” North says.

Olds’s Starfire, a B-body with sporty trim, like Pontiac’s Grand Prix, helped Olds get the green light to chase the developing personal luxury market. Adds North, “John Beltz, Olds chief engineer and soon general manager, said if you can’t do a car that’s close to a Cadillac or Lincoln, don’t do it.”

The dominant theme was a long front with an uncommon amount of overhang and thrusting fenderlines (sometimes referenced to as "meat-cleaver" front fenders), suggestive of front-wheel drive. Designers initially favored a sloped tail end, but moved to a cropped Kamm-style that emphasized the front end. Hidden headlamps were coming into style, and there was no question the new Olds would have them.

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.

Oldsmobile lacked sufficient body assembly space at its home plant in Lansing, Michigan, where the new car would be built, so it decided to truck in bodies from the Fisher plant in Cleveland, hundreds of miles away. Meanwhile, production engineers began laying out a special single-model assembly line within the vast Lansing complex, intended to move at a slower-than-usual rate. This plus a veteran work force assured exemplary workmanship from the start. By early 1965, some 38 pilot cars had been built and were ready for final shakedown.

Under-Cover Reliability Testing and Tire Redesign

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.

Milford, Michigan and Arizona proving grounds were pressed into round-the-clock service, cobbled-up prototypes disguised as Ninety-Eights were evaluated on public roads, and no less a "test driver" than Bobby Unser took a pre-production aluminum-body car up Pike's Peak, just for good measure.

The result was 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 on 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.

Toronado Engine & Transmission

The 1966 Toronado utilized Oldsmobile's 425 cubic inch Super Rocket V8 engine, rated at 385HP (10 more horses than the same engine installed in Starfire, and 20 more than the Ninety Eight.) The intake manifold on engines made 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 (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. Notably, the chains were "pre-stretched" which meant they didn't require an idler to keep them properly adjusted.

The engine and transmission design were 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 used a partially unitized subframe, with the subframe ending just in front of the rear suspension, and 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.

When the Toronado was introduced, it shared its body shell with the all-new 1966 Riviera. Buick declined the chance to switch to FWD, and the Riviera didn’t go to front drive until 1979. Cadillac recieved the same platform and chose front drive for its more formal-looking 1967 Eldorado.

Though it weighed in at nearly 5,000 pounds upon its debut, the Toronado’s performance proved admirable, hitting 60 mph from a standstill in 7.5 seconds on its way to a 16.4-second quarter mile time.

Olds initially split the Toronado into two trim levels, base and Deluxe. The latter had a fancier “Strato Seat” with front center armrest and a nicer interior overall, including two door-latch handles per door, one on each end of the armrest so that the rear passengers could use them. Strato buckets up front were optional at no cost on the Deluxe, with a reclining passenger bucket an extra-cost item. Toro number one’s interior is plain, once you get past the flat floors, the dash, space-age vents, and that rolling-barrel speedo. It has no power windows or locks, common features even then on luxury cars. But it does have a power front seat, climate-control air con, cruise control, tilt wheel, AM radio with a rear speaker, and a power antenna. With those options, Toro number one’s sticker would’ve been less than $5600. A typically equipped Toronado Deluxe, by far the more popular version, easily topped $6000.

Year to Year Changes

1966 Toronado:

The 1966 Toronado utilized Oldsmobile's 425 Super Rocket V-8 engine, rated at 385HP (10 more HP than the same engine installed in a Starfire, and 20 more than in a Ninety Eight.) 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. Concealed, pop-up headlights with simulated scoops were the first thing many people noticed. The Toro used conventional drum brakes front and rear. Olds split the Toronado into two trim levels, base and Deluxe. Oldsmobile built 40,963 Toronados for 1966 at its Lansing, Michigan assembly facility.

1967 Toronado:

The '67 Toronado was the second year for the Toronado and was built in Lansing Michigan. The '67 featured a softer suspension and minor styling modifications. The headlight covers were now flush with surrounding metal (simulated air scoops gone). Front disc brakes and a vinyl roof were added to the list of available options. The suspension was also modified for a softer ride. Grill changed to having an egg crate design. Changed to egg crate pattern on taillights. Gas filler behind license plate. Sales dropped to 22,062, which may have been due in part to the introduction of the 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado.

1968 Toronado:

The '68 Toronado was built in Lansing Michigan and featured a softer suspension and major styling modifications. Grill was an overall different design where headlights were hidden behind a honeycomb grill and turn signals wrapped around the front corners. Tail lights moved to become part of the rear bumper, and gas filler was behind a gas door with an Oldsmobile rocket. Rear red markers feature a rocket emblem built into parking light on the rear quarter panel. A new 455 V-8 engine was introduced by Olds in 1968, which offered 375HP in its standard form, or 400HP in the new W-34 performance option.

1969 Toronado:

The '69 Toronado was built in Lansing Michigan. The overall grill and rear bumper design was similar to '68 but with a cross hatched pattern grill and tail light lens divided into three sections. Backup lights were integrated with the tail light lens, instead of on either side of the license plate as with the '68. Back end is squared off, having less of a fastback design, almost having small tail fins. Rear rocket marker lights are retained. Ignition switch moved to steering column, part of the new ignition/steering wheel interlock system that all GM cars received in 1969. First year of the rim horn.

1970 Toronado:

The 1970 (final year of this body style) model did away with the hideaway headlight idea that debuted on the 1966 model, for a slightly more conventional front end layout. Headlights were mounted within the grill, and front parking/signal lights are 3 vertical strips beside headlights. The vertical theme was prominent on the newly designed outer edges of the front bumper. Rear tail lights were similar to 1969, but rear marker lights are now rectangular and integrated to the side of the rear bumper. GT badging would adorn the W-34 optioned cars that year for the first and only time. Bumper notches for the exhaust on W-34 aka GT models returned (no notch in 69). Last year for the rim blow horn. True-Track anti-lock brakes were introduced late in the 1970 model year, as an option on Toronados.

1971 Toronado:

The Toronado was redesigned for '71 and resembled the previous generation Cadillac Eldorado (67-70) especially in profile with sharp creases in body panels and more formal styling. Grills below bumper. Circular headlight lenses were paired in a rectangular bezel. Upper or supplemental brake lights were added below back window. The deck lid was recessed to emphasize the lights when viewed from the rear. 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. 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 ran on low lead or no lead fuels to comply with US emission control regulations. Inside, a new instrument panel was identical to the one used in other full-size Oldsmobiles. An attractive brushed metal insert was unique to the Toronado, other Oldsmobiles used a simulated woodgrain. Toronado models were reduced from 2 (base or premium), to 1 model as buyers generally bought the premium. True-Track anti-lock brakes were available (only on the rear wheels). 28,980 Toronados were built for the 1971 model year, which was a 13.9 percent increase over 1970.

1972 Toronado:

Changes were minimal for 1972. Front grilles received new vertical grille bars, and black rubber bumper rub strips appeared to cushion minor parking lot impacts. 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. Sales of the 1972 Toronado were up 68.7 percent, with an increase of almost 20,000 units, making 1972 the best year to date for Toro sales.

1973 Toronado:

For 1973, revisions were made to the front bumper to meet government 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 taller 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 vertical in the ends of the rear quarter panels, looking like the 1967-1970 Eldorado. 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 the center (above the rear bumper). This is the first year for an EGR valve.

1974 Toronado:

For 1974, color-keyed bumper rub strips were one of the most noticeable external changes. The central protrusion area of the hood above the front bumper received a small grille opening with three horizontal bars. Above the 3 bars, TORONADO was spelled out in block letters spaced evenly across this central area. Atop the hood stood a new stand-up Toronado "T" crest hood ornament. Inside, a new 'linear' instrument panel was introduced, which 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. Toronado also offered an Air Cushion Restraint System (air bag, or ACRS) option for 1974. Other new options for 1974 included a 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.

1975 Toronado:

The '75 Toronado went to body colored coordinated vertical rub strips at the rear, and horizontal taillights. There were grill openings in the front bumper itself, and headlights changed from 4 round, to 4 rectangular lights in chrome bezels. Upper brake lights still sat below the rear window. All Toronados had opera windows, a common element in a luxury car for the time. A 1/4 vinyl top was made available. Inside, the dash design was the same as the 1974, and had a wood grain pattern. Brougham models had pillowed seats. Customs had pleated pattern on seats. All models had color coordinated steering wheels. 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. Improvement on fuel economy was provided with a new 2.73:1 axle ratio to gain an extra mile or two out of each gallon of gas. Idle speed was reduced, carburetion improved, weight reduction steps taken. A fuel economy gauge was available.

1976 Toronado:

Very few changes were made to the 1976 Toronado. A 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 had a bold geometric pattern.

1977 Toronado:

Many styling revisions happened for 1977. A new front bumper was provided, the parking lights were moved under the headlights. 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 illuminated when either parking or headlights were on. A smaller 403 V8 engine with electronic spark timing was the only offering for '77. The Toronado was the last of the full-sized Oldsmobiles. A new model, the XS, joined the Toronado line. Featuring hot wire "bent-glass" rear window, which 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 provided great sightlines for the driver. Toronado production was almost 10,000 more than 1976.

1978 Toronado:

Toronado was in its final year as a full size car. The front grille was updated to have vertical bars. All Toronados had pillowed seating but there was optional pillowed leather seating surfaces offered in three colors: black, camel, or carmine. AM/FM radio became standard. Broughams had opera windows. The XS had the Wrap around back window.

1979 Toronado:

Toronado was all new for '79. Interior was rated at four passengers, down from six in previous years. The 403 engine was discontinued, and an Olds built diesel engine became available. Otherwise power came from a 350 cubic inch V8. Production moved to Linden New Jersey, where Toro was built along with Cadillac Eldorado and Buick Riviera, making this the first time Toronados weren't built in Lansing. The '79 Toronado had a unique grille exclusive to the year, similar to the '77 Toronado and consists of an egg crate pattern of five rectangular openings high, and four across. New innovations included independent rear suspension which improved handling and allowed for a deep trunk space.

1980 Toronado:

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. A new 5.0L, 307 cu in V8 became the new standard engine. It generated less horsepower than the optional 350, but fuel economy was better. New features for 1980 included 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 burgundy and Silver.

1981 Toronado:

For the first time, the Toronado had a V6 among engine choices, a 4.1L 252 Buick V6. It was not popular among Toronado buyers. The 307 moved to optional status, and the previously optional 350 gas V8 was dropped. There was a new aluminum sport wheel available, which ended up being 1981 exclusive. Inside, seats had a new ribbed stitching pattern replacing the square biscuit pattern. The full vinyl roof option was dropped, Landau vinyl roof was still offered. 1980 and 1981 Toronados shared the same grille design consisting of three horizontal slots running the cars width below the headlamps.

1982 Toronado:

For 1982, the sporty XSC option was dropped. Changes were minimal, but included a new grille design with five thin horizontal slots, separated by fine chrome bars. The '82, didn't have the Toronado "T" crest found in the center of the header panel like the '83 and the "TORONADO" name was on/in the grille itself in '83, instead of above in 1982. New standard features included cruise control and a tilt steering wheel. Rear disc brakes and a 4-speed automatic transmission (helping fuel economy) were also provided as standard. Inside, the instrument panel was revised to accommodate a new generation of Delco electronically tuned radios which included digital clocks. A driver's side power memory seat was a new option, allowed multiple drivers to program the most comfortable seat position.

1983 Toronado:

It was a quiet year at Olds, Toronado was no exception. There were minor changes to the exterior badging (mentioned above), and a new Delco-GM/Bose premium sound system became available. It featured individually-amplified speakers tuned to provide the best sound quality for each specific car interior.

1984 Toronado:

A new grille and a luxurious trim package were the big changes for 1984. The 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 a brushed metal strip 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 wrap over 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 was standard as was vacuum fluorescent digital (VFD) instrument cluster, an option on other Toronados. 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.

1985 Toronado:

This was the last year for the '79 body style, the last time Toronados were powered by a V8, and along with the other E-Body cars became the last front-wheel drive cars to feature full frame construction. The previously standard 4.1 V6 was dropped, and the front grille was revised. '84 and '85 Toronados look much alike with a body colored horizontal bar dividing the grille. However, the grille itself consists of two horizontal bars in each opening for '84 and a crosshatch egg crate pattern for '85. The 307 V8 again became standard with the 350 diesel V8 remaining as the sole option.

1986 Toronado:

Toronado, now in its 4th generation ('86-'92) was downsized, now on an all new unibody platform. This time, customers didn't respond well to the smaller cars and sales plummeted more than 62% from 1985 levels. The sole powerplant was the durable and dependable 3.8L V6. It provided 150HP, 10 more HP than the previous years V6. Toronado was the only E-Body to retain a bench seat in front, though bucket seats with a floor console shifter became available. All models had digital gauges. Front styling consists of six horizontal bars for '86. It regained its trademark hidden headlights, and full-width taillights appeared in back.
There was a special edition to commemorate Toronado's 20th anniversary. The 20th Anniversary WL1 option included/required:
Platinum Metallic upper with Medium Gray Metallic lower or Black upper with Platinum Metallic lower. A red accent strip around side glass, at the two-tone break, and over tail lamps. A flat hood emblem and sail panel emblem. Inside, the 20th anniversary edition featured: Leather wrapped steering wheel with 20th ann. hub emblem, leather trimmed seats with pigskin inserts, registration plaque reading "This car made especially for...", floor console with floor shifter, 20th anniv floor mats, a jeweled ignition key, and 15" aluminum wheels with P215/60 black wall tires.

1987 Toronado:

Toronado saw additional exterior colors for '87. The stereo and climate control area were revised to for larger, easier to use, buttons. The biggest news, was the sporty new Trofeo model was rolled out in an attempt to help the prior year's low sales. It featured fog lamps, low pressure dual exhaust outlets, FE3 suspension, and leather bucket seats. Tail lamps are smoked out and unique on the Trofeo, backup lamps are central in the tail lamp bar instead of being on the bumper as they are on regular Toronados. Sales continued downward to only 15,040 units including Trofeos. Grille consisted of five horizontal bars (down from six in '86).

1988 Toronado:

Trofeo was marketed as a separate model and featured new Lear Siegler bucket seats and monochromatic paint. Climate control buttons were reconfigured and enlarged. Message center now included oil change reminders. 3-point seatbelts were added to rear outboard seating positions. Wet arm windshield wipers were standard. Wire wheel covers were dropped. Engine was revised to feature sequential port Electronic Fuel Injection, which improved horsepower (165HP up from 150HP) and torque. The engine also included balance shafts. 1988 Toronados were visually identical to '89s, having 3 horizontal grille bars on the Trofeo and four on the standard Toronado.

1989 Toronado:

Anti-lock brakes and a new steering wheel with radio/climate controls became standard on the Trofeo. Bucket seats and a center console with shifter became standard on Toronado, split bench seats still available as an option. A new high tech option was the available color Visual Information Center. The VIC could store and recall up to 51 visual displays and integrated with the available mobile phone for hands free dialing. 1989 Toronados have 3 horizontal grille bars on the Trofeo and four on the standard Toronado.

1990 Toronado:

The Toronado was restyled for 1990 receiving all new sheetmetal, with the exception of the hood, gaining a over a foot in length. This was done in part to address the issue of Toronado looking similar to the lower Calais. Interior was revised featuring a standard driver's airbag and larger glovebox. Analog gauges were now standard on all models. Digital gauges were included with the optional split bench seat. 1990 Toronados differ from the '91-'92 only in the badging. A '90 Toronado will have TORONADO on the front edge of the door and the T crest on the C-pillar. The '90 Trofeo will have the T crest on the rear of the front fender and TROFEO on the rear quarter behind the door. For '91-'92, all models will have TORONADO on the rear quarter and the T crest on the front fender.

1991 Toronado:

Remote keyless entry and anti-lock brakes were now standard on all models. Engine upgrades resulted in a slight power improvement (170HP vs 165HP in 1990). Astroroof sliding glass panel became available in combination with the bench seat. The 55/45 divided bench seat option also included column shifter and electronic gauge cluster. Exterior color choices were modified slightly. There was also a new Ultrasuede interior available in the Trofeo.

1992 Toronado:

1992 would be the final year for the Toronado. There were few changes for the Toronado's last year. Wire wheel covers were a new no-cost option for the Toronado and Trofeo's received a firmer suspension. The 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora would be the successor to Toronado. Aurora was announced in '92-93 and went on sale in 1994 (as a 1995 model car).