The 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado was introduced on this day in 1965. The vehicle is historically significant because it was the first mass-produced front wheel drive American car since the Cord ended production in 1937. The Toronado won the 1966 Motor Trend Car of the Year Award in the U.S., and placed third in the 1966 European Car of the Year contest, a feat no other American automobile had accomplished before or since. The path to earning those accolades all started with a painting.
Oldsmobile designer David North completed a design painting in 1962 titled, “Flame Red Car.” Originally nothing more than an exercise, his design would prove to be just right for the time. Just a short time later Oldsmobile got the green light from GM to develop a car in the same class as the Ford Thunderbird. The caveat was that the new car had to share a platform with the second generation Buick Riveria (RWD) and the Cadillac Eldorado on the GM E-body platform. These two cars were much larger than the vehicle North had painted, but his design suited the product’s needs. The “Flame Red Car” became the Toronado.
Oldsmobile had been working on a front wheel drive platform since the late 1950s. While FWD was originally intended for a smaller vehicle, the cost to develop it pushed the system onto a more expensive car. The new personal luxury vehicle from Oldsmobile became the perfect fit. After more than 1.5 million miles of testing, the system was deemed production ready for 1966.
The Toronado originally came standard with a 425 cubic inch Rocket V8. It was connected to a Turbo-Hydramatic 400 three-speed automatic transmission, known as the THM425 in FWD form. The car also received specially designed Firestone tires. The unusual set up didn’t scare buyers away, with more than 40,000 units selling for the 1966 model year.
In 1967 the front wheel drive Cadillac Eldorado debuted on the shared platform. That year, sales of the Toronado dropped by nearly half. The Oldsmobile received an engine upgrade in 1969. The new 455 cubic inch V8 made 375 horsepower, or 400 if equipped with the W-34 performance package.
In 1971 consumers met the second generation of the Oldsmobile Toronado. The car would survive two more generational changes, in 1979 and 1986. The last Toronado left the assembly line on May 28, 1992. A replacement arrived for the 1995 model year as the Aurora sports sedan.