1966 Oldsmobile Toronado: Futuristic Front-Driver

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado

It’s telling that in most of the pictures that accompany this ad, the image of the car is larger than the picture! GM’s huge front-drive coupes have captivated many folks over the years. Jay Leno even created a rear-drive version. The powertrain was used in motorhomes and mounted in the rear of Corvairs and kit cars. Yet the clean lines of the stock version still appeal the most to me, like this one located in San Andreas, California. It’s up for auction here on eBay and has not yet met reserve.

Brochure courtesy oldcarbrochures.com
Brochure courtesy of oldcarbrochures.com

GM made a big deal about the technological differences between the Toronado and pretty much any other car on the market at its introduction. The front wheel drive paired with the large V8 was a combination that some critics said wouldn’t work; they were wrong! Here’s a period GM ad featuring Bobby Unser driving the car up Pike’s Peak—you can see that GM was trying to give the car a sporty image. They must have succeeded as almost 41 thousand 1966 Toronados were sold, and the car was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado Front End

Being the first model year, this Toronado has the cleanest lines of any of this series. However, there are a few fit and finish issues apparent in the pictures (the seller notes that the pictures are current and asks us to ignore the date stamp). There are several places where paint is flaking off, and there are certainly some panel fit issues, especially around the passenger side door. Chrome looks pretty good though, especially if you are looking for a driver.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado Interior

The 425 cubic inch V-8 was originally rated at 385 horsepower, which the heavy (~4,500 lbs) car needed. The 0-60 time of 9.5 seconds was pretty good for the time! I think I’d enjoy trying one of these on for size. While the interior of this example is a little less than perfect, the car is certainly in good enough shape to enjoy while you improve it.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado Rear View

Original California black plates seem to mean a lot to some folks, and this car has them. The seller has put a very detailed description in the auction and tells us that the car is rust-free and ready to drive, although as usual, the air conditioning just needs a charge. I really wish sellers would either charge the A/C or just say it’s broken or not working—that’s a pet peeve of mine. To me, the value of this car is just that: an enjoyable driver that you can make better over time. Would you enjoy driving this Toronado?

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Comments

  1. rdc

    Never liked them back in the day and still don’t. Not sure why except, to me, their appearance is awkward,

  2. Dan Farrell

    I went with my brother on a sales call back in the 60’s to the McCulloch Corp. One of the executives had a Black Toronado with oversize wheels and tires. I don’t remember if it was the first one I saw, but I do remember thinking that it looked awesome.

  3. Brian C

    I nearly bought a VW Karmann Ghia couple with a Toronado 455 with two four barrels in Dallas back in the early 90s. Seller wanted $3000 for it,….I drove it, and the right front wheel was locked up,….so, literally dragged the wheel up and down the alley behind his house. It had NO SUSPENSION in the rear,……they had to take it all out and weld everything solid in back,…as there was nowhere for the wheels to go up into the VW body on a bump. While attempting to drive it down the alley at 10 mph,….I hit a small hole, and due to the lack or rear suspension,…..I smacked my head on the roof of the car,….quite painfully,……that was it,….I was done. Shame, it had a beautiful red paint job with front flames, and a powered tilt body for maintenance.

  4. Chas

    I think that the 1966 Toronado was a work of art, brilliantly executed, and that it is timeless in its design. The razor sharp edges of the slab sided flanks of this car were completely revolutionary for 1966, and yet the design was softened by the subtle flares over the wheel arches.
    This was the first American front wheel drive production automobile since the elegant Cords of 1929 through 1937, and as a tribute nod to that classic design, GM incorporated the hidden headlights like those featured on the 1937 Cord, and the horizontal grill bars which were reminiscent of the grill bars on the “coffin nose” Cord hood. The turbine style wheels with the holes were also a nod to the 1937 Cord design as well.
    In my opinion, the 1966 was the most beautiful and classic design. The 1967 model retained all of these classic lines but altered the headlight covers slightly to incorporate a slight “reveal” or recess ledge to define the covers. Although I prefer the flush ’66 headlight covers, I also apprecaite the subtle detail that was accomplished with the 67 headlight cover reveal, and the 1967 still retained all of the other classic design features, and is just as appealing to my eye.
    Although I can still appreciate the later evolution of the classic design, the post 1967 Toronados lost the classic appeal for me, as the grill and rear valance treatment got more complicated and confused, and the edges and slab sided body flanks were softened to a point of losing that radical impact.
    Mechanically, the early cars were extremely fast, powerful, and bulletproof. As GM wanted this to be their flagship personal luxury car, they needed it to be reliable, and as a result, this thing was designed and build like a ocean tliner, with most components oversized or designed with capabilities far beyone what was necessary, including the innovative two inch silent chain drive transmission which allowed for the compact design which enabled the engine compartment to resemble that of a conventional passsenger car. This design also allowed for a spacious flat floor passenger compartment uninterrupted by a conventional drive shaft tunnel.
    The result was a deightfully pleasant car to own and drive, and one which turned heads wherever it passed. Ironically, it still turns heads today, with many people not sure what year it was produced because the design is so timeless. The tiny details like that wonderful “rotating drum” style speedometer, which works like the drum on an old bathroom weight scale, are just beautiful, as are the rear door handles to allow passengrs to open the long heavy doors without leaning over the seat to reach the front handles
    I had owned two of these cars, and desperately regretted selling both of them.
    I have recently acquired my third, and will not be letting that one go for some time.
    These cars were (and are) truly remarkable and have been underappreciated until recently. If you look very closely at the details of one today, or better yet, drive one today, it is even more striking that it must have been in 1966.

    Like 2
  5. Howard Member

    The chain drive Oldsmobile. I had a friend in the early 70’s whose dad had a car like this. As a kid, he remembers it never getting stuck in the snow. His dad died shortly after he bought it, and it sat in the garage with very few miles. He moved away and a couple years ago, I reconnected with him. I said, what ever happened to your dad’s Toronado? He said, after he moved, he rented out the house, and that car sat in the garage for 30 years, until recently, when they sold the house, the car was auctioned off. Makes you wonder how many are still around, which obviously, makes this site possible.

    • Strve

      I remember helping a guy who did get one stuck in a Wenatchee Washington snow bank in early 1966. It was about 10:00 PM. When I spotted him, he had the back end jacked up and was putting on his chains. He “never realized it was front wheel drive”!

  6. jim s

    this is going to make a great daily driver. one of the few cars with an automatic that i would like to own. i have to wonder where the reserve is. great find

  7. Chas

    Talking about these old Toronados reminded me of an experience I had with my first Toronado.
    In 1973, I had acquired a VW camper bus from my brother who wanted to trade it for a Triumph Spitfire that I was driving. He had a really hot and extremely horny girlfriend who he was tiring of, and I agreed to the car trade if he would “throw Sue in with the deal”. He (and Sue) agreed and she and I dated for another year or so after that. The VW camper bus came in very handy during that time, as did her father’s school bus which had been converted to a camper as well.
    A few years later, I traded that same VW bus for my first 1966 Toronado, along with a Lincoln arc welder. That old Toronado was like a tank and would drive through the most intimidating weather and snowy conditions, never leaving me stranded even once. As an irresponsible kid, I drove it straight through huge snow drifts that were as tall as the hood, and it just plowed through everything.
    Later that year, I had scored a date with another very beautiful, and very sexy girl who was at school at Salem State College on the North Shore in Salem Massachusetts, which was about sixty miles away from my home.
    As I set out on an incredibly snowy evening to meet her in anticiption of our soiree, I must have broken a rusty brake line and completely lost the brakes on that old Tornonado. I was so excited about the possibility of a sexual encounter with this girl, that I was not willing to abort the trip.
    I drove all the way to Salem (about 60 miles) that night in the blizzard, with no brakes except the foot operated parking brake. I had to hold the brake release out all the time so that the rear wheels would not lock up on me. It was hard to drive slowly as I was so excited to see her.
    I will spare you the details, but let’s just say that it was worth the risk to take that trip that evening, and I drove home the next morning without any service brakes either. Fortunately I made it all the way there and back home without any collisions or death or injury to me or anyone else. No conceptions either.
    Ahhh, the innocence and ignorance of youth!

  8. John Newell

    Seven gold 1967 Toronados were offered in a contest sponsored by ESSO during Hockey Night in Canada During the play-offs that year. And that year was the last time Toronto won the Stanley Cup. They featured swivel bucket seats and had options found in no other Toronado as far as I remember. What they were I don’t know. But they were beyond the reach of anyone unless you won the contest. They were a glorious looking car and in Toronto, historically significant.

  9. Vince Habel

    I wanted one till I drove it. i thought it had a heavy feel that I did not like. did not like rear vision either.

  10. Leon

    As a high schooler a used car lot had a 73 triple white one for sale. Wanted my parents to buy it for me. It kinda looked like a pimp moblie. Lol

  11. Howard Member

    I agree with Chas, this was one of the most beautiful designs and totally out of the box thinking. I just don’t think America was ready for front wheel drive, and look what happened.
    Last summer, I was headed to N. Wis. and it happened to be the weekend of the Iola car show. I stopped in Stevens Point to get gas, and off to side was a gold 1966 Toronado, in beautiful condition with the hood up. Curiosity got the best of me, and wandered over to see if I could help. An older gentleman, and 2 friends were staring intently at the flooded quadrajet, with gas drenching the motor. The owner was pulling the top off the carb, which revealed a broken tab on the float, causing the needle valve to drop, flooding the motor. He tried in vain to remedy the problem, but a replacement float was in order, something I just didn’t have in my toolbox. Sadly, I had to leave and he did have friends with him, but I felt bad, as he said he had a 3 hour ride ahead of him. The joy of classic cars, I wonder if he ever got it going?

    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Hi Howard. Yes, I agree with you guys; the Toronado was one of the best designs ever. It was a tough act to follow from the get-go. My dad sure looked at one but ended up buying the white Delta 88 instead. Needed a four-door, for us kids…

      Flooded Quadrajet. That happened when they were in their prime. Usually it was a saturated float (composite foam eventually got soaked). I could replace them in my sleep when I worked for GM.

  12. Dolphin Member

    I also agree with Chas, this is one of the most handsome designs ever. I don’t prefer front WD or cars this heavy, but I can imagine it would make traveling across the country by car very pleasant.

    That promo with Bobby Unser hustling it up Pikes Peak is a hoot. I know I’ve seen it before. I guess if anyone could hustle this baby up that high on dirt and gravel it would be Bobby. I remember when he was racing, and then when he did color commentary for the Indycars. A straight shooter and good guy.

  13. James Walker

    I have owned both one of these and a 1972 Eldorado
    They were the most comfortable car for long trips I ever drove
    But I have to admit it was like driving a Battle Ship
    Slow to accelerate and slow to stop

  14. DLM

    I agree on the styling and thought when they came out they were like a modern day Cord. Amazing. One thing that I would note is that the car is driven. The advantage of a car in this condition and having been driven regularly is huge compared to the same car/condition that has been sitting for 30 years. No brake system rebuild, carb rebuild, dry rot tires and so on.

  15. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Just wanted to tell you folks that I really enjoyed your thoughtful comments on this story, and all the experiences you’ve related. Fun reading! Thanks!

  16. Charles

    This is one time that GM stepped foreward and got it right. Those cars were brilliant and way ahead of thier time. Time demonstrated good reliability from the Olds and the Cadilliac Eldorado which shared a lot of the platform. The GMC motorhome used the Olds engine, Turbo 400 trans, and front drive system and made the best handling motorhome ever built. The motorhomes are where my expereince with the Olds FWD V-8 lies. The motorhomes were tough on on the stock front wheel bearings, but otherwise very durable. Some one will enjoy this car for many years to come.

  17. Alan (Michigan)

    These were quite expensive as compared to “regular” cars in the Olds line. My conservative dad went for the more standard Delta 88 in 1968. 455 with a 2 barrel. It was all about the torque…

    I recall reading about a custom-built twin-engine Toro, that could be driven on either the front or rear power, or both… Scary thought!!!

    Apparently several of those beasts were built. What a crazy ride that would be!

  18. Harit Trivedi

    In 1968 I lived in Europe and this car came out as a scale model by SIKU Germany. I fell in love with this car. Now I am in India, import of pre 1950 cars has just been allowed, I am waiting for them to allow 1967 cars also and this will be only model I will think of importing. There is known Oldsmobile Toronado existing in India. What an impression this car made on me in childhood, so cool.

  19. Ken Nelson

    One of the car mags of 1966 or ’67 came out with an article comparing the new Toronado with a Citroen DS. The title was: “The car that goes but won’t stop, and the car that stops but won’t go”. I think I still have a copy somewere! It was a hoot of a comparison, with the 300 + hp of the Toro compared to the 105 hp of the DS – of course the Toro ran circles around the Cit, but when it came to stopping, the testers gave up trying to fade those inboard front power discs of the Citroen – it just couldn’t be done! The Toro? What brakes?? Now say you’re in a panic situation – what would you rather have, the power to throw 4500 lbs around even if it took awhile to respond, or brakes that could stand the car on its nose? I’ll take the comfort of the one of a kind Citroen hydropneumatic suspension and unfadable brakes. However, I love the styling – one of the best bodies GM ever did – a real groundbreaker and as good looking today as ’66, and I give them credit for breaking thru re FWD – it took awhile, but look at things now…..Just shows what can be done when you take a good hydramatic, saw it in half and reconnect it with its guts assbackwards and connecting them with a Hyvo chain – not too shabby. Oh, and punch a hole thru the oilpan and stick in a couple of driveshafts – a little bizarre perhaps but it worked.

    • phil

      I own a 1966 Toronado and the axles don’t go through the oil pan. Not sure where that idea came from???

  20. Chas

    Agreed Ken. I had forgotten the Hyvo name of that transmission chain, and the fact that the driveshafts ran through the oil pan! I also prefer the DS, but this is really like comparing apples and oranges as each car was aimed at a significantly different market. The only real commonality is a luxury car that had FWD. The truth is that I prefer both cars for different reasons.

  21. Alan (Michigan)

    Until I read a couple of other posts here, I forgot about the Toro which was prepped for Ice Racing in Michigan, back in the 80’s. Difficult to lighten up that big tank of course, but the car was stripped as much as possible. The paint job was “Dukes of Hazzard/General Lee”. Of course it ran in the FWD class, with Honda Civics and the like. If there was even marginal traction, it was a contender. The big engine just flat out-powered anything else on the ice!

  22. Ken Nelson

    I did a lot of iceracing in the late ’60s and early ’70s, both times when I was living N. of Chicago with its “delightful” winters, 20 F below zero was not uncommon. I ran my DSs on Lake Geneva near the Playboy club, Pink Lake, and others just over the border into Wisconsin. Never did see a Toro during those times – just VW Scirrocos, Saab 99s and one lone NSU Ro80 which I had the misfortune to hit when he stuffed it into a 2 ft high snowbank as I was closing in on him. FWD really proved its use the famous “Winter of ’67” when Chitown got 24 in. of snow in 24 hrs starting one Friday afternoon & ran thru to Sat. noon. My DS made me the only one to escape our unplowed Evanston street that day partly due to its built-in variable groundclearance plus the FWD. GM could’ve gained serious cred if they’d sent out a fleet of Toros to help drag RWD cars out of the snow and made a TV ad out of it, but I guess they didn’t have a clue. I spent the latter half of that Sat dragging Detroit Iron out of ditches and snowpiles with the Cit and its narrow 165 mm tires which cut right thru the snow.

  23. Bill McCoskey

    In the mid 1970s I found a 1955 Crown Imperial limousine outside of Washington DC. It had been in use as an airport limo until retired when the new airport limousines arrived; circa 1968 Toronado 8 door airport limos. [9 doors if you count the rear opening door – looked like a typical ambulance from the rear.] These HUGE cars had high roof lines and a station wagon type roof for all the luggage from the 15 to 18 passengers [they had 5 rows of seats plus a rear facing seat], and they had dual rear axles. I bought the Imperial from the owner of the company, Executive limo service of Arlington, VA. He had several of the Toros sitting in front of his facility, no longer running due to constant troubles with the front drive shafts, and the air suspension system. Seems with the huge additional weight of the steel & fiberglass body and a dozen people with luggage, the suspension and drive shafts would fail on a regular basis. Wish I had been able to buy one of those Toronados too, but didn’t have the room. I’m enclosing a pic of one of the limos so you can see just how long these things are!

  24. Bill McCoskey

    i did some quick research and discovered there are a few of these monsters that have survived. I’ve provided a copy of the factory promo picture.

  25. Ken Nelson

    Bill, yrs ago when I worked in Detroit with the auto co’s, every time I would drive up I-75 toward Flint, but jump off onto M-24 to Lake Orion, I would see a large parkiing lot holding about 10 of these monster Toro limos that never seemed to move. Don’t know what happened to them, but must’ve belonged to some limo or cab co. and they finally disappeared. Never did see one on the road. I first went to Detroit around ’79, so they were already 10 yrs old at least.

    • Bill McCoskey

      Ken — I would be willing to bet they were sitting there because of the air suspension and drive shaft failures [actually I think it was the CV joints that kept failing]. These used the same airbags as the GMC motor homes. I’ve been told the GMC motor homes usually need their airbags replaced every 25k miles. Imagine if the limo companies had to put 6 new airbags in their vehicles every 25k miles, and the typical limo was racking up 80,000 miles a year doing 24/7 airport runs!

  26. Bill McCoskey

    I also recall a customer of mine who had brought a Ferrari long nose 275 into my shop for repairs to the doors. (Ferrari was using steel panels for the interior ‘box’ of the door shell, and soft aluminum for the outer skin. Being dissimilar metals, Ferrari used cloth [burlap?] to insulate the aluminum from the steel when they bent the skin over the steel. Of course the aluminum corroded whenever water got in between the metals)

    The owner’s first name I believe was David, he said he was the designer of the original Olds Toronado. When I was delivering the Ferrari to his family’s home in a wealthy suburb of Washington DC, he took me into a single stall garage under the house and showed me a 1966 Toronado. It was also maroon, and I remember him saying the car was serial #5, it was the first Toronado off the assembly line that was for sale, and he bought it. This was back in 1979, so the car was only 13 years old, and as I recall it had almost no mileage at all. I often wonder what ever happened to that car.

  27. Ken Nelson

    That’s news about the air suspension Bill – I’ve recently helped a friend with a Merc with the air suspension – he brought one of the air springs to me as I’ve found that I can glue about any rubber part together with PL roof & flashing sealant from Home Despot. Takes 3 days to cure fully, but I’ve even glued rubber Panhard engine mounts back to their steel mounting plates after sandblasting, and these mounts are in tension and shear – not compression. And they’ve held one of my engines for over a yr now in spite of the shake rattle & roll of a flat twin. I figure I can reseal any air suspension rubber part with this stuff as the pressure is only around 200 psi – like the Ford Expedition suspension – which I helped design back in early ’80s – and I’ve glued tire sidewalls together with it. Amazingly tough stuff vs silicone. BTW, the original air suspension GM tried in the late ’50s to emulate Citroen’s hydropneumatic one failed for two reasons: The aluminum “spittoons” – end plugs – of the Goodyear airbags – were cast, then machined, and they often had porosity which let the air leak out when the machining opened voids – and they supposedly didn’t put a moisture dryer in the air lines so they froze trapped condensation in Mich weather and plugged the system.
    We solved the alum problem by replacing the two metal bag plugs with Dupont glass-reinforced nylon, molded to finished size with no machining, and zero thru the wall porosity. Plus, no corrosion, half the weight of alum ones, and twistlock solenoid air valves which cut the cost a bunch. I’ve never heard of a failure of the plastic plug.

  28. Bill McCoskey

    Ken — Thanks for the info on the PL roof adhesive, I’ve used it on many items in the past, but not in ways you describe! As for Panhards, do you have any experience in adjusting a PL 17 Gearshift mechanisms? And any suggestions on finding a replacement carb, as carbs & parts appear to have been made of unobtanium! [I used to have a Dyna for a short time, and a friend has the 17.]

    As for the older GM air suspensions, I used to have a 1959 Eldo convert about 20 years ago, we sent the alloy boot plugs to a local powder coating specialist before putting on the NOS rubber bags. We also saw the spalling from air voids that had exploded from moisture, just like pot metal under chrome. Never did have that car to the point it would not leak down in a matter of hours. Finally switched it out with standard Caddy suspension, & when I sold the car, the parts went with the car. As far as I know, he’s still running the car on standard springs.

    The GMC motor homes tend to rupture the air bags because they were allowed to sit for long periods of time, and the Toronado limo versions were simply overloaded when the cars were filled with people & luggage. I remember the limo company owner telling me how they used to go over a rough road & a bag would rupture, killing the entire system.

  29. Ross Campbell

    I won the ebay auction and was surprised when I recognized my license plate doing a google image search on 1966 Toronado. Love the car!

    • Alan (Michigan )

      Yay!

      Thanks for the update. Does the car drive well?

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