Pay attention: Name the 'automotive blockbuster' of model year 1966. Answer: the Toronado. Not only did he make headlines in all the major auto magazines and most national news magazines, but in The States he also drew crowds to the auto shows and dealer showrooms from coast to coast. And what caused all the fuss was above all a feature. The almost flat floor in the passenger compartment. The Toronado was the first American front-wheel drive car since the Cord 810/812 three decades earlier.
A very large front-wheel drive
Not only that, it was the largest front-wheel drive car ever made: a large luxury coupé with a large 119-inch wheelbase and weighing over two tons. Skeptics said front-wheel drive would never work on such a heroic scale, but Oldsmobile proved them wrong - and did it convincingly.
The new was under the hood, and next to the block
The front-wheel drive Oldsmobile Toronado was a milestone in automotive engineering, but that would be forgotten when you look at it. Because then you only see the great jet-age sheet metal. In addition, the Toronado was an affordable, stylish alternative to the Ford Thunderbird or Pontiac Grand Prix. Motor Trend magazine awarded the Toronado the Car of the Year award in 1966, calling the car "symbolic of a revival of imaginative engineering and tasteful styling in the American auto industry."
Because for the Americans, front-wheel drive was a thing.
The Toronado's USP, the Unique Selling Point, was front-wheel drive, a first for General Motors or any automaker since Cord.
But front-wheel drive had already caught the attention of American automakers before the arrival of the Toronado. Partly in response to the Depression, the Big Three companies had explored the possibility of offering much smaller models in addition to their standard offering, should the market so desire. Those plans were shelved. But Oldsmobile put them back in the light.
A new beginning
Work on the project began in 1958 and ended with a longitudinally mounted version of Oldsmobile's 425-cubic-inch V-8, rated at 385 horsepower. The three-speed automatic transmission was placed next to it, connected via chain drive to the crankshaft-mounted torque converter.
The Americans had their reservations about the front-wheel drive.
Conservative as they were and are they thought it was rather a bizarre option for those weird, small European cars. And in terms of sporty driving with pulling instead of pushing wheels, they also had their reservations. But in terms of performance and handling, the General Motors progressive fared at least as well as its rear-wheel-drive relatives. To emphasize that, Oldsmobile deployed the Toronado on the Pikes Peak hill climbing rides.
The lines of the Olds matched the claimed dynamics: It deviated from the conventional 'box-upon-box' concept in lines and the arches of the wheel arches made it look extra dynamically impressive, as did its muzzle with the hidden headlights. The interior and instruments were futuristic.
In the meantime, Toronados are no longer viewed with crooked eyes.
A group of enthusiasts has emerged, but prices have not gone sky high in the past few years. In short: you buy one because you want one. Not because it would be a steamy investment project. Albert Venema from Drempt also bought that out of passion. Because what other V8 offers such a distinctive styling, such technical firsts and a serious racing history for that price?
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