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Toronado revived front-wheel drive in the USA

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The’66 Toronado was an innovative car that reintroduced front-wheel drive to America. Cars like the Ruxton and Cord had offered front-wheel drive in the ‘20s and ‘30s. It had last been seen in this country on the 1937 Cord. Some European cars also used this drive system, but no automaker had combined front-wheel drive with an engine as powerful as the Oldsmobile V-8.

In the fall of 1965, there was no other car like the Toronado on the market. It featured a sleek, ground-hugging body. With a 119-inch wheelbase, the Toronado was 211 inches long from bumper to bumper. It measured 78.5 inches wide and stood just 52.8 inches high. Only the 1966 Corvair and Mustang were lower—and not by very much. Power in the Toronado came from a 425-cid V-8 that put out 385 hp and 475 foot-pounds of torque. The car weighed 4,496 pounds—about as much as a top-of-the-line Oldsmobile 98.

The ’66 Toronado had a long hood, a short rear deck and a modified fastback roof. The grille consisted of horizontal slats running across the front end. A new ventilation system eliminated the need for vent windows. Retractable headlights and a torsion-bar front suspension were incorporated. With no driveshaft hump, the front-wheel-drive Oldsmobile sat six people. According to Don Vorderman, writing in Automobile Quarterly, “A radically different look has been achieved with a minimum of fuss. There are no loose ends, no unresolved lines. The result is logical, imaginative and totally unique.”

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The Toronado was merchandised in standard and deluxe versions and sold reasonably well. Olds dealers made 33,204 calendar-year deliveries. The ’66 model took Motor Trend’s “Car of the Year” award, Car Life's Award for Engineering Excellence and even came in third in Europe’s “Car of the Year” competition. On March 16, 1966, a Toronado became the 100 millionth GM vehicle built in North America.

The Toronado was a driving machine easily capable of comfortable, safe cruising in excess of the century mark. Its top speed was in the 135-mph range. In his book Cars of the ‘60s automotive writer Richard M. Langworth described it as “probably the most outstanding single model of the 1960s.” Ward’s 1966 Automotive Yearbook called the Toronado, “Certainly the highlight of the year in both engineering and styling combined.”

Photos: Christa Haley

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