Toronado was unlike anything else available when it debuted in late 1965. It featured a long, sleek profile and concealed headlamps, but the biggest news was what was undernieth.
The Toronado was structurally related to the 1966 Buick Riviera and the following year’s Cadillac Eldorado, although each had quite different styling. The Toronado continued to share its E-body platform with the Riviera and Eldorado for most of its 28-year history.
The original Toronado (image) began as a design painting by Oldsmobile stylist David North in 1962. His design, dubbed the "Flame Red Car," was for a compact sports/personal car, and never intended for production. A few weeks after the design was finished, however, Oldsmobile division was informed that it would be permitted to build a personal car in the Riviera/Thunderbird class for the 1966 model year, and North’s design was selected. For production economy, the still-unnamed car was to share the so-called E-body shell with the redesigned 1966 Buick Riviera, which was substantially bigger than North had envisioned. Despite the efforts of Oldsmobile and General Motors styling chief Bill Mitchell to put the car on the smaller A-body intermediate, they were overruled for cost reasons.
Oldsmobile had been working on front-wheel drive since 1958, a project shepherded by engineer John Beltz (who would later become head of the division). Although initially envisioned for the smaller F-85 line, its cost and experimental nature pushed the program towards a larger, more expensive car. Engineer F. J. Hooven, of the Ford Motor Company, had patented a similar FWD layout, and Ford was seriously considering the design for the 1961 Ford Thunderbird. However, the time to develop and engineer such a design in such short notice made this a doubtful proposition. Oldsmobile spent 7 years developing the Toronado. Prior to introduction to the consumer public, over a million and a half brutal test miles had been performed to verify the strength and reliability of the Toronado front-drive components. Obviously, Oldsmobile did not want anyone to experience problems with the new design. History has confirmed that the Toronado design was indeed heavily over-built. The big front-drive GMC motorhomes of the 1970’s is testament to the fact, which used a basically unchanged Toronado-derived drivetrain.
Naming the Toronado was also an event in itself. Some of the known names being considered during development are: Magnum, Scirocco, and Raven.
During its 7-year development period, several General Motors innovations and designs came about because of the Toronado. Some of which are: Heavy-duty "Turbo-Hydramatic" 400 3-speed automatic transmission (425 in FWD form), "Quadrajet" 4-barrel carburetor, spherical shaped exhaust-manifold flange gaskets, which provided freedom of movement in the exhaust system, and prevented leaks, curved side glass, "Strato-bench" front bench seat (this also includes the "Strato-bucket" bucket seats), and the "Draft-Free" ventilation system, which reduced wind noise considerably by eliminating the conventional side vent windows.
Firestone also designed an 8.85" x 15" tire especially for the Toronado called the TFD tire, or Toronado-Front-Drive tire. It had a stiffer sidewall than normal and the tread and stylishly thin white pin-stripe were also unique.
The unusual Olds powertrain was dubbed the Unitized Power Package (UPP). It was designed to combine an engine and transmission into an engine bay no larger than a conventional rear-wheel drive car. The Toronado used a conventional, although performance-boosted Olds 425 ci (7.0 liter) V8 rated at 385 bhp (287 kW) and 475 ft·lbf (644 N·m) of torque. It provided an increase of 10 hp on the Starfire 425, and an increase of 20 hp on the standard 98 425. The Toronado’s intake manifold was unique and was depressed down to allow for engine hood clearance. The Turbo-Hydramatic heavy-duty 3-speed automatic transmission, (or THM400, TH400) came about during development of the Toronado. Called the TH425 in FWD form, the transmission’s torque converter was separated from its planetary gearset, with the torque converter driving the gearset through a 2" wide silent chain-drive called Hy-Vo, riding on two 12" sprockets. The Hy-Vo chain drive was developed by GM’s Hydra-Matic Division and Morse Chain Division of Borg-Warner. The chains were made from a very strong hardened steel and required no tensioners or idler pulleys because they were pre-stretched on a special machine at the factory. Although the rotation direction of the transmission’s gearing had to be reversed, a large number of components were shared with the conventional TH400. Use of the automatic also obviated the need to devise a workable manual-shift linkage; no manual transmission was ever contemplated, as engineers deemed performance to be adequate with the automatic transmission.
The Toronado was GM’s first subframe automobile, which means it was partly unitized, and used a subframe that ended at the forward end of the rear suspension leaf springs, serving as an attachment point for the springs. It carried the powertrain, front suspension and floorpan, allowing greater isolation of road and engine harshness (the design was conceptually similar to the following year’s Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird). For space reasons, Oldsmobile adopted torsion bars for its front suspension (the first GM passenger car application of torsion bars), with conventional, unequal-length double wishbones. Rear suspension was a simple beam axle on single leaf springs, unusual only in having dual shock absorbers, one vertical, one horizontal (allowing it to act as a radius rod to control wheel movement). Brakes were conventional drums of 11 inch (279 mm) diameter), which were generally considered the Toronado’s weak link. The Toronado’s UPP enabled the interior to have a completely flat floor, but interior space was somewhat restricted by the fastback styling. Although a 2-door coupe, the Toronado featured elongated doors, allowing easier access for passengers boarding the rear seating area. Even rear-mounted door latches were available optionally for back seat passenger comfort.
Despite an average test-weight approaching 5000 lb (2300 kg), published performance test data shows the 1966 Toronado was capable of accelerating from 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in 7.5 seconds, and through the standing 1/4 mile (400 m) in 16.4 seconds @ 93 mph (150 km/h). It was also capable of a maximum speed of 135 mph (217 km/h). A special option code called W-34 was available on the 1968-70 Toronado. This option included a special performance camshaft and "GT" transmission calibrated for better torque multiplication at 5 mph (8 km/h)and firm and quick up-shifts. For 1970 only, the W-34 option code also included special "GT" badges on the exterior of the car. The W-34 Toronado was capable of 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds and the standing 1/4 mile in 15.7 seconds @ 89.8 mph (144.5 km/h).
The original Toronado was a little heavy for its brakes, however, and after several panic stops, the brake drums would overheat, resulting in considerable fade and long stopping distances. The addition of front vented disc brakes as an option in 1967 provided some improvement. Its handling, with noticeable front weight bias and consequent understeer, was not substantially different than other full-size American cars when driven under normal conditions. Many contemporary testers felt that the Toronado did feel more poised and responsive, and when pushed to the limits, exhibited superior handling characteristics to its full-size competition, although it was essentially incapable of terminal oversteer.
The Toronado sold reasonably well at introduction, 40,963 in 1966, and also gained great publicity for the division by winning several leading automotive awards, such as Motor Trend’s Car of the Year Award and Car Life’s Award for Engineering Excellence. It also was a third-place finisher in the European Car of the Year competition. Sales for 1967, which was most notably distinguished by a slight facelift, the addition of optional disc brakes, and a slightly softer ride, dropped to 22,062, and did not match the initial sales again until 1971.
In 1967 Cadillac adopted its own version of the UPP for the Cadillac Eldorado, using the Cadillac V8 engine. The Eldorado also shared the basic E-body shell with the Toronado and Riviera, but its radically different styling meant that the three cars did not look at all similar.
The first-generation Toronado lasted with the usual annual facelifts through 1970. Other than the brakes, the major changes were the replacement of the original 425 in³ (7.0 L) V8 with the new 455 in³ (7.5 L) in 1968, revised rear quarter panels (stylized fins) in 1969, and the disappearance of hidden headlights and the introduction of squared wheel arch bulges in 1970. Slight interior cosmetic changes were also implemented for each new year. The firmness of the suspension ride was gradually softened through the years as well, hinting at what Toronado eventually would become in 1971. Interestingly, a heavy-duty suspension was offered optionally on later first generation Toronados, which included the original torsion bar springs that were used on the 1966.