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Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Oldsmobile Toronado Was a Car With an Identity Crisis


Copyright © 2015 Bold Ride LLC.
Oldsmobile Toronado

Some say that America began to lose its edge starting in the mid-1960s. This was certainly true of General Motors. After two decades of postwar prosperity, the company began a long period of mediocrity beginning around 1965. As this change progressed, the automaker’s passion for quality took a backseat to making money.
The Toronado is a good example of how this change in priorities affected the company’s products. It was not quite a muscle car, not quite a luxury car, and not quite basic transportation. With it, GM hoped to appeal to everyone, but earned only mixed results for its efforts.

This is not to say that the Toronado’s designers didn’t have some bold ideas. They had been working on a front-wheel drive design since 1958, and decided to try it out with the car’s release in 1966. They joined engine and transmission together in a way that allowed the oversized powertrain to fit inside a relatively sparse engine bay.

Oldsmobile Toronado 3

GM called the unique configuration its Unitized Power Package (UPP). While both cumbersome and complex, the combination was nonetheless rugged. It was used in modified form to power many of GM’s motorhomes in the 1970s.

The company also gave the Toronado a Rochester four barrel carburetor, a Turbo-Hydromatic three speed gearbox, and a hefty 425 inch V8 that turned out 385 horses and generated 475 foot-pounds of torque. It was a significant increase over the preceding engine, the Starfire 425.

Ordinarily, dropping this much power under a car’s hood would turn it into a screaming speed machine. However, the Toronado was handicapped by its sheer weight, especially upfront; it tipped the scales at nearly 5,000 pounds. As a result, it achieved a 0 to 60 time of 9.5 seconds with the automatic transmission, so-so performance when compared to other vehicles of that era. Drivers also complained of significant front bias and understeer.

Oldsmobile Toronado 2

The Toronado’s weight caused other problems, especially with the drum brakes. They were known to overheat, causing pronounced fade and dangerously long stopping distances. A switch to vented front discs in 1967 lessened but did not eliminate this concern.

Despite these drawbacks, the Toronado’s popularity got a shot in the arm when Motor Trend named it their car of the year in 1966. The 1967 model year saw the Toronado revamped slightly, with somewhat softer suspension and an available eight track tape player.

In 1968, builders replaced the 425 in.³ engine with a larger 455 in.³ powerplant. In that same year, GM began offering a version with bucket seats and a floor-mounted shifter. Few buyers opted for this package, however, preferring the standard bench seating.

 The Toronado remained a decent seller until GM pulled the plug on the car in 1992. By that time, rising fuel prices and competition from smaller Japanese vehicles had made giant cars with gas-hungry V-8 engines a thing of the past.

Oldsmobile Toronado 4

As a new century dawned, GM would find itself struggling to match the tastes of an increasingly fickle public. Has the automaker finally regained its past glory? The answer to that question remains open.