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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

The first Oldsmobile Toronado, full of front-drive muscle, was never chained to convention | Hagerty Media

It's a chain that makes the Oldsmobile Toronado go. Two inches thick with multiple links, it rides on sprockets inside a carrier bolted to its three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic transmission, which is turned 180 degrees.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/magazine-features/oldsmobile-toronado-front-drive-muscle/
35 REPLIES 35
DUB6
Technician

In the summer of 1968, I had a job as "gopher/lot boy" at an Oldsmobile-GMC dealership in Carson City, Nevada.  There was a Jeep CJ for running parts and other errands, and occasionally to deliver and pick up customers whose cars were in the shop.  But for the extra-special customers (generally elderly wives of millionaires who bought big Olds vehicles and had them faithfully serviced every couple of months), the boss didn't want me to put them in that old, smelly Jeep.  So he would direct me to his '66 Toronado.  Of course, I didn't get much chance to test it for performance, but I sure did get a taste for not only its luxury, but its outstanding roominess and the "special" way one felt when driving it.  It was so much different than anything I'd ever driven.  One time, I was assigned to take a customer all the way up to the Cal-Neva Resort on Lake Tahoe, and got a feel for how it handled on that curvy road.  Although it wasn't the "car for me", I, as a hot-rodder and street racer, was suitably impressed!  I really didn't even figure out why the model didn't last very long - those first ones were far and away great American road cars (considering the other behemoths that the Big Three were putting out).

Sajeev
Community Manager

Wish I could experience one of those original FWD luxo coupes back when they were new, but if they are even remotely similar to the 1980s E-body they were indeed amazing cars!

relton
Detailer

I worked on the Hydra-matic 425 transmission in these cars, when I first came to Michigan in 1965. I ran them on the dynamometer, tore down and rebuilt them, and helped with the final development. OK, I was a coop student, so I got coffee for the guys who did the real work. I was way too young to appreciate the dedication and expertise of the engineers and management of Hydra-matic who were determined to build an exceptional quality product. These cars worked perfectly right from their introduction, no recalls, no problems.

I was also too young to appreciate the complete lack of torque steer. It wasn't until I drove later FWD cars that I had something to compare them to. Think about it: 425 or more ft-lb, through the front wheels, with bias ply tires, and not a trace of torque steer. And it's not my faded memories. I now have an Eldorado, with 500 ft-lb of torque, and it doesn't have a trace of torque steer.

When I got the Eldo a few years back, everyone who came by had to go out in the garage and see the Hydra-matic 425. Eventually people stopped coming by.
mhealy1
Detailer

The lack of torque steer comes from the equal-length drive shafts. In order to accomplish that, a transfer shaft ran from the differential on the driver’s side to the passenger side-through the oil pan! Truly some unique engineering.
hyperv6
Gearhead

I was lucky enough to drive some of these early cars over the years. The Olds really was a nod to the future.

I really wish I knew where the blue two seat version Bill Mitchell had built for himself. This made a really good looking car with the shorter wheel base.

Many also never knew that Olds did a Cutlass version with the Toronado drive train in it. It was found just a few years ago and is in private hands.

These cars were great for hard Smokey burnouts but traction was hard to find as the tires would easily break loose with weight transfer.

One late note. We had a local driver at Barberton Speedway in the late 70’s early 80’s run a 66 Olds stock car. It never did very well against much smaller and lighter cars but no one knocked him out of the way.
audiobycarmine
Advanced Driver

Back in those days I subscribed to a magazine titled “Science & Mechanics”, a lower-budget and slightly irreverent version of the “Popular both-of-those-words magazines”.
One of my favorite contributors was Joe Gutts, (“Ask Joe Gutts”,) whose writings were always both informative and entertaining.
A memorable letter exchange went thusly: “I think you are a fat, lazy ape who is too lazy to shave in the morning, and I’ll bet you a beer you won’t print this.” The indeed portly and bearded Mr. Gutts replied “I’ll do anything for a beer; when’s the payoff?”
Occasionally he’d do full-length road-test reviews, and he did one of the then-new Toronado. The totally flat floor was mentioned, as was the very long hood. Conducted in San Francisco, he had real difficulty when cresting their famous hills, since, until the nose was level again, one could not see ahead.

It’s been a long-held belief that GM tried out new high-end technologies with the Oldsmobile brand, before allowing them into Buick or Cadillac, and possibly tarnishing those names. The Toronado fits that practice.
My God, was it ever a gorgeous car…
DUB6
Technician

Amen, audiobycarmine, it was (and still is) beautiful.  And by-the-way, I think Joe Gutts is one of the all-time great "guy" names.  Not sure how my life might have turned out differently, but I kinda wish that I'd been given that name!  😉

Alikat51
Pit Crew

Loved the Toronado! How about the Terrifying Toronado, it was a drag Toronado with front and rear drivetrains. Seeing all 4 wheels smoking on take-off was wild!
HHCO
Intermediate Driver

My mom had a 66 toronado,wonderful car,fast and great in the snow,I had barrel speedometer around to 135 mph,was very loaded and was starting to get hard to get parts for.hated to see it go

JAG
Intermediate Driver

The 66 Toro was a stunning car. The 67 Eldo was allowed to steal it's thunder. Don't know which one I would want, although I saw on "junkyard gold" that Cadillac made room for a V12, that obviously never happend. The "sideways" chain driven trans (based on a stout Turbo 400) was so solid they put the whole unit in the GMC motorhome. Fuel mileage was terrible but no real quality problems with the drivetrain.
dhaugh
Intermediate Driver

When I was 17 I worked in a gas station with a guy who had one of these, actually it was a 67 Eldorado but it shared the front drive transmission. The guy who owned the car was a bit of a nut job and liked to get the car airborne, quite the feat with a tank sized car. On one entrance into the station parking lot he got the front wheels off the ground and when they reconnected at full throttle the chain (the one noted in the article) broke. Turns out the whole mess has to come apart to change the chain even though it is accessed through something like a timing chain cover on the back of the trans axle. We pulled back the carpet, took an air chisel and opened up the flat floor and replaced the chain, all in about 3 hours. A hack job for sure but he got his car back on the road.
Tsaxman
Detailer

My older brother had a junior-high class tour of the Oldsmobile plant in Lansing when they were building the first series Toronado. He came back with brochures and schematics and we both loved them. A neighbor had one, though, and we learned that they were murder on bias-ply tires, with front wheel drive and a big V8. Still, they were beautiful and good in Michigan winters.
1959Imperial
Pit Crew

Growing up in the 1960's I remember "Mechanics Illustrated" with Jim Dunne on the front cover in a 1966 Toronado. He was looking at the highly detailed Toronado chassis next to him. I looked at many since, passing for several reasons. In 2020 I found the right one in same color as the car in this article. It was purchased by sellers Grandfather in West Bend WI. new and passed down to him. It needed a few things but do your homework to be an informed buyer. I personally like the dark colors as they show the accentuated body lines. This car rocks and I'm proud to finally own one and add to my collection.
MrKnowItAll
Detailer

There are only two cars that stand out in my youthful memory of the 1966 Los Angeles Auto Show at the old Pan Pacific Auditorium: the new Toronado and the turquoise Rambler Marlin "Tahitian" show car.
I thought the Toronado was strikingly beautiful, and even then saw the Cord styling cues. I mused, at the time, that it would be better 3/4 scale... it was big!
The 66-67 were gorgeous, but GM completely botched the Toronado from 68 on... that horrible grille and raised quarter panels. It only got worse from there.

Iso_Grifo
Advanced Driver

I have a theory that if a couple of these car customizer shows would do Toronados, the values would double. It would certainly be a whole lot more interesting than the 50th Chevelle or 75th 1st gen Camaro for any of them. It's already a real design statement with a strong, unique presence, so I'm not sure what they could do to "enhance" it -- but it would make for an interesting episode.
Numberscruncher
Detailer

Beautiful Car.
Callen
Pit Crew

My shop teacher in high school had an early Toronado and I always thought it was a cool car, but was more impressed with his other cars, so I never paid that much attention to it. His other cars, a Tucker, a Cord Sedan, and a 48' Ford Woody that were all fully restored. He also had a Cord convertible project car, but don't know if he ever finished it. I was his TA in my junior and senior years(I graduated in 1975) so I got to do his special projects (side work). I rebuilt several Ford flathead V8's, but the coolest was a Lincoln Zepher flathead V-12. Three angle valve job, lapped and valve lash set through grinding. He had a set of Jans (sp?) pistons and I honed each cylinder to fit the pistons. We built and engine stand and fired it up in the shop, it was thing of beauty. I actually got a chance to see him again a few years back when his Tucker was featured at the Ironstone Show in Murphys, CA.
1956olds98
Pit Crew

Growing up, my GM employed neighbor drove a new 66 Toro this color. It looked like it was moving while sitting still. I bought a used Tropic Turquoise 66 Deluxe, with 60,000 miles on when I was 18 in early 1974. Growing up in Michigan I REALLY appreciated the FWD, however, the room for 6 made me the favorite for driving the buds barhopping (remember legal at 18?) or quick trips to Lansing to visit the Michigan State girls. Dropped one of the girls back to Lansing at 2a.m. on a Sunday morning after attending a wedding, and wanted to see if I could rotate the speedo fully, on my way back to Grand Rapids on I96. I did. The car was tight and went straight and fast. Only shaking was me around 120. I decided to back it down. I didn't want to blow a bias ply, and have to explain to my father why I was 3 mile off the road in a corn field. All of a sudden, a Michigan State Trooper, came out of nowhere to say hi. He said he clocked me at eighty. I said I would never do that. HE LET ME GO, and just told me to take it easy. Drove that car to Florida pulling a small pop up camper and got 16.8 mpg. I often forgot it was even back there. The car was beautiful! That is the one I should never have let go.
ALTurkeyBum
Pit Crew

Man your post brings back memories. Grew up in GR, went to Michigan State (yes, when 18 was legal drinking age, what were they thinking?). Dated a girl in North Muskegon, now my beautiful wife 50 years later. Spent a lot of time pounding up and down I-96, only for me it was in a '64 TR-4, later a '68 TR-250. Late at night you could really wind it up around Marne, never got nailed by a Trooper once. Thanks for bringing back memories.
AMcA
New Driver

A friend of mine has a theory that the Toronado was the inspiration for the styling of the Ferrari Daytona of 1968.

He notes first that the Daytona had a low belt line that ran through the wheel arches, just as the Toro did. A very unusual feature for the time.

He notes second that the rear fender surface continues unbroken into the sail panel on both cars, again, an unusual feature.

And third, the chopped off Kamm rear end, canted slightly upward. Not to mention that long, long hood and absence of a rear deck.

All in all, and given the cars are two years apart, I think he's right: Pinninfarina must have looked very closely at the big FWD monster from America when they cam up with the design for the Daytona.
1956olds98
Pit Crew

OMG! I can't believe I never caught that! I'll bet you're right......

 

SJ
Advanced Driver

Even the steering wheel is classic.
1956olds98
Pit Crew

You got that right. It was slightly smaller than others. Mine had the tilt and Telescopic wheel and power seat, which was great for when my 4'11" pleasingly plump mother borrowed it.

Doug42
Intermediate Driver

Oldsmobile sure made beautiful cars in the day!
Maestro1
Instructor

I bought a '66 from a San Francisco Olds dealer and loved every minute of it, including some of its eccentricities. Example: In some of the early Toros, the headlight flaps were operated by vacum. So
at 60mph the flaps would close, generally when one is on a road with no lights. In Los Angeles traffic sometimes the stop lights (tail) could not be seen because of the way they were designed. In s subsequent '66, bought years later, I put high intensity lights in the rear and that solved the problem.
The car handled amazingly well for its bulk, and was a pleasure going down the highway. I'm sorry I sold both cars. Thank you for this.
1956olds98
Pit Crew

Only problem I ever had with the lights, was when my well meaning friend installed a Craig eight track player in the car for me. The only lights that worked, were the headlights. All interior and rear lights didn't work, which I discovered on the highway, later that day.  

Waterboy1KHY80
Intermediate Driver

My family had a 66, I drove it, it was one of the most powerful cars i ever drove. Basically a good looking, spacious, rocket-ship. If i ever have the chance to purchase another, it is on my "list" to do so.
DanNancyGB
New Driver

My first car was an Old88. Had that for a few years. It was nice, but not exactly what a young guy thought was kind of classy being it was a 4 door sedan. A fellow I knew told me about a '69 Olds Toronado that had had a rear drivers side accident and the car was totaled, but really it was the corner was pushed in a bit. I took a look and found out a guy who did good body work could repair it nicely. It was Caribean Turquiose with a White Vinal top. Sharp car!! I bought it for a good price and has him repair it. It was great. I ran great and looked beautiful. Should have kept it. Would like to have it back now. Oh well, you live and learn. But still have great memories.
TG
Instructor

I had a chance to buy one of these back in my younger dumber days in the 90s fairly cheap. Half of me wished i did, the other half of me is glad i didn't because i would have destroyed it whooping on it
Reinhold_Weege
Advanced Driver

It's not mentioned here, but the original plan was not a specialty/personal-luxury car; this drivetrain and flat-floor were to be the future of Oldsmobile sedans in general. It finally occurred 20 years later once the competition had already run with the idea. Not surprisingly, these 3800 V6 Oldsmobiles's were solid sedans that could deliver 200k when that was uncommon. How history might have been different if some bean-counter hadn't gotten in the way and allowed GM to actually make the most of having all those semi-independent divisions.
DUB6
Technician

I did not know that this was part of a plan to convert the entire fleet - interesting!  It's just one more example of how the entire direction of either a division or an entire automotive company was altered by "the suits" not wanting to take a chance on something that was potentially ground-breaking.  All of the major car manufacturers have had similar instances.

KenJen
Pit Crew

My first car was a 1967 Olds 88 4-door hardtop with a 425/2 barrel. Back in that day (1976 when my parents gave me their car!) when a car got about 90,000 miles on it, my dad considered it "wore out!" I drove it several years, had almost no problems mechanically and it surprised several "street racers" that dared me between lights! Right after I graduated in 1977, I took a job 180 miles away and had to "grow up" and do things for myself. I never will forget that my aunt and uncle's next door neighbor had a black 1966 Toronado and as a 17 year old kid I was amazed at the barrel speedometer. I asked the owner if I could drive it and he said "NO!" Awesome car and one that is on my bucket list of cars to own...one of these days!!
jsfury
Intermediate Driver

Much like the Buick Riviera's of that era, the Old's Toronado was a custom strait out of the Oldsmobile factory. It would take very little to dress these cars up. Case in point. look at the fender flares front and back. Very easy to put some cool wider tread tires on there with either custom wheels or simply widening the stock steelies.
Bill
Detailer

I love everything with a bench seat, but no, never a valuable collectable. But always a great driver. I hate the cars selling for outrageous money cuz they never get driven. ..... Until the market crashes. Olds Toronado is one of those GREAT used cars you can drive.
cnicol
New Driver

Great article about a milestone car. I remember when they first came out. I was stunned then and I still want one now! I own and have had several GMC motorhomes, which used the same Toronado engine and FWD drivetrain.As a testimony to how overbuilt they were, the engine, transmission, and differential easily pull the 12,000 pound motorhome, often with an additional tow vehicle that brings the combination up to 16,000 pounds. NOTHING wears out! Engines, transmissions, drive-chains, differentials, and axles easily go 150,000 miles even with more than double and sometimes over triple the weight! That's incredible! One factual error in the article: The Toronado was not GM's first unit body or unitized car (paragraph 5). That honor falls to the '60 Corvair. Like the Toronado, early model Corvairs are famous for their torsional body stiffness.Reading this makes me want to start looking for a '66 or '67 Toro!