8 January 2016

First Love, Best Love: The Toronado that won an esteemed collector’s heart

Many automobiles are prized for their stylish shapes. Others are highly valued for the innovations they introduced. Coveted as well are those that carved out a unique place in automotive history. But most treasured perhaps are the cars that take us back to a special time and place.

For Ken Lingenfelter, who owns approximately 250 automobiles, including some of the world’s most sought after exotics, that most treasured car is a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. The special time is the mid 1960s and the place is the Fisher body plant in Euclid Ohio, where his dad once tested prototypes and gauged the quality of new Fisher creations.

The love affair began when Ken’s dad was deeply involved in the development of the stylish Toronado, a car that broke new ground for both General Motors and the industry. “After dinner, dad would take me to the plant,” said Ken in a telephone interview. I was already a car geek but seeing that car put me over the top – burned memories into my brain.”

It was the first front-wheel-drive American car produced since Cord breathed its last in 1937 and was undoubtedly a bold move for the usually conservative Detroit automaker.

“The car was a marvel of its time with fastback styling, flip-up headlights, front wheel drive and big motor,” said Ken. Every time I see one, it still catches my eye.

Ken, whose collection includes approximately 250 vehicles, is fond of many automobiles, but for years his first love, the sleek Toronado, eluded him. Determined to find an excellent example of the car his dad had helped create, he scoured trade publications and classified ads from across the country. Finally, he saw a classified listing for a ’66 Toronado in Old Cars Weekly; the ad described the car he had been searching for. After phone and mail negotiations, he took delivery of it sight unseen. The gamble proved worthwhile: the metallic blue ’66 Toronado is a one-owner car that looks brand new and shows only 40,000 miles on the odometer.

GM’s Toronado began life as a styling exercise by designer David North. His 1962 creation was meant to be a compact car, but expediency and GM’s existing E-body platform dictated otherwise. Meanwhile GM Engineers, under the direction of John Beltz had been developing a front-wheel-drive system called the Unitized Power Package. The North design and the UPP were a good match, and GM slated the Toronado for production.

That 1966 model was powered by a 385-horsepower version of Oldsmobile’s 425 cubic-inch Super Rocket V8, mated to a chain-driven version of GM’s THM 400 three-speed automatic. The automaker claimed a zero to 60 mph time of 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 135 mph for the 5,000-pound car.

“The interior was groundbreaking for GM,” said Ken. “The steering wheel and speedometer were non-conventional. Not having the transmission tunnel hump was a big deal. As a kid I’d sit in the middle of the front bench seat.”

The Toronado’s novelty and good looks caught the attention of both press and public. Motor Trend named it Car of the Year, and in their review, they wrote, “The mere sight of the Toronado had an electric effect upon some motorists we’d overtake or meet. The typical driver would let us pass and pull away a short distance, while he digested what he’d seen. Then suddenly he’d accelerate, overtake, and seesaw back and forth by us several times while he checked the nameplate and thoroughly looked us over.”

Ken’s Toronado now occupies a place of honor in the Lingenfelter Collection, much of which is housed in a spacious Brighton, Mich. building. Because one can never own too many versions of a very special car, Ken has since purchased a 1970 Toronado — the last example of the first generation. The later car is powered by Oldsmobile’s W-34 powertrain, which features a 400-horsepower 455-cubic-inch engine with cold-air induction and modified valve timing, backed by a transmission that shifts as though it means it.

The Lingenfelter Collection isn’t open to the public on a regular basis, but Ken stages frequent events, ranging from car-club pizza parties to black-tie gatherings for automobile-loving philanthropists. The collection’s principal mission is as a venue for charity fundraisers, and it succeeds well in that role.

While some car collections are mere moribund displays, Ken’s is vibrant and alive. A crew of technicians maintains the automobiles, keeping them on battery tenders and ready to go. All are started and exercised regularly, and it’s not uncommon to find Ken behind the wheel of his first love — the car to which his dad devoted so much time and energy.

“The ’66 Toronado still turns heads when I drive it,” said Ken. “That pleases me, and I’m sure it would have pleased my dad."

29 Reader Comments

  • 1
    PeteKaczmarski Waupun WI. January 13, 2016 at 18:54
    I remember seeing these new in Popular Mechanis etc. It took me until 2013 to get the right one. Its a Deluxe model in Dubonet (Plum color) inside and out with 47000 miles from one family owner.
  • 2
    John Ft Wayne January 13, 2016 at 19:58
    Beautiful car. I used to own a '69 Toro, the styling of the first generation ('66-'70) was distinctive, no one would confuse it with any other car. Quite the rare sight these days.
  • 3
    Rick Long Island, NY January 13, 2016 at 21:15
    This was my dad's firdt brand new car and he loved it. I was a teenager and borrowed the car in 1970, it was 4 years old and took the B 4 Barrel class in the Spring Nationals at National Speed Way Long Island. I must say I love the car and would hide this one in my garage!
  • 4
    Val Trudeau Sorel, Quebec, Can January 13, 2016 at 22:06
    I've got one, I've got one, I've got one!!. Love driving this car, 69 with the 375hp, silver w bl vinyl roof can't wait for the snow to melt every spring
  • 5
    Sandra Sluberski Rush NY January 14, 2016 at 08:00
    Ken, my husband and I are totally understanding of your love for this car! We have a '67 Olds Cutlass 442, Holiday edition, in the ice blue color. It was my husband's parents' car for years before it ended up in their garage covered with boxes and having stuff stacked on it for years, which probably is how it was so well preserved! Enjoy!
  • 6
    Richard Janssen Largo FL January 15, 2016 at 15:18
    I bought my uncles after he passed away, it had been sitting in a garage since 1974 with 51,000 miles on the odometer
  • 7
    t.t. driver burque January 16, 2016 at 19:05
    I was 9 in 1966. My dad took me with him to test drive a new, deep burgungy Toronado. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It made as big an impression on me as the 63 Vette a few years before. My favorite Christmas present was a blue Corgi Toy Toronado. Of course I still have it.. It was the first of many times my Dad told me about Cords, and the 812 that he rode in to 120 miles per hour when he was in college. I still have the sales brochure from that test drive, and have always thought of owning one, but as Lingenfelter found out, it's difficult to find a good one.
  • 8
    Gerald Arcuri Thousand Oaks, CA January 20, 2016 at 14:38
    Pete and Ken, My Dad was a district service manager for Oldsmobile when the Toronado was introduced. I remember cruising with him on a desert road to Tehachapi, California in a brand new Toronado. At 100 mph, with few stationary objects in view for speed reference, I thought we were doing 60. The car was that smooth and quiet. My Dad looked in the rear view mirror and realized that a CHP was slowly closing in on us. My Dad pulled over and stopped. The officer was so impressed with our Trumpet Gold Toronado, he let my father off with just a smile and a warning. My father is now 94. He has had exactly one auto accident in his nearly 80 years of driving, and that occurred on a snowy mountain pass in Colorado in 1961, when a truck driver stopped in front of him and began backing up the hill in the snow and ice! I am collecting photos of the first year Toronado, trying to get a picture of each of the original colors. ( I have pristine factory brochures from my Dad already. ) If you would be willing to share photos of your cars with me, please send them to my personal email address gwarcuri@msn.com
  • 9
    Carl L. Olsen West Blioomfield, Mi. January 20, 2016 at 14:41
    I was living in England in 66 and visited the Turin Auto Show which then was considered 'The Design Show' where all of the coach builders displayed concept cars. Bill Mitchell in an act of bravado sent over 1 Toronado which was displayed just outside the coach builders room. It caused a sensation in the European design community for it made most of the Italian concept cars look dated next to it. It was a sight never to be forgotten. Bravo Dave North!
  • 10
    Jim smith Boise January 20, 2016 at 15:36
    I was 15 years old working at an Olds dealership washing cars in Payette, ID when the first one came in. I immediately washed it and took it out to see if I could spin the front tires!
  • 11
    Jim L Parma, OH January 20, 2016 at 15:45
    How cool that his dad tested the Toros at Fisher Body Euclid! I worked many years at Chevrolet-Parma across town. The first car I ever bought with my own money was a 1974 Toronado. That flat front floor and six-way bench seat was great for dating! I'd love to get more info on how to see the collection, as I still go to SE Michigan for things like the Woodward Dream Cruise and other car related events. Thanks for the article!
  • 12
    David R North Montana January 20, 2016 at 16:17
    This is the guy we did that car for! Our reward is Those that love our work after 50 years!
  • 13
    Larry B MI January 20, 2016 at 16:32
    I like the whole look of these cars, especially that the wheels/tires look huge. This was when all division were unique and kept secrets from one another. The Cadillac Eldorado and Buick Riviera were front wheel drives to but I remember everyone was most excited by the Olds.
  • 14
    David Ward New Holland January 20, 2016 at 17:20
    I had one in the 1970's. I took it in to have snow tires put on. When I picked up the car, the shop had mounted the snows in the rear! I asked the attendant why they were on the back, he looked at me like I was crazy and said "where the hhell else would they go???"
  • 15
    Harout Derghazarian Los Angeles CA. January 20, 2016 at 18:23
    I have one 1967 model with only 7500 miles, yes only seven thousand five hundred miles.
  • 16
    Gilbert Bayardo Los Angeles Ca. January 20, 2016 at 20:03
    I own a 1966 toronado that was purchesed by my uncle in 1966 i ws a teen ager and allways took me for a ride, it felt like nothing at that time fast.... car is 85% restored
  • 17
    Vern Doria chino valley, az January 20, 2016 at 21:08
    Nice car. Always liked them. Way ahead of their time in styling BUT.....what about the 1969, 1970 Pontiac Grand Prix. Why do you keep overlooking this car?
  • 18
    Russell Murray Headland, Al. January 21, 2016 at 13:21
    When I was in college in 1966 my girlfriend lived in Chattanooga, Tn. She sent me a picture from the local newspaper of a '66 Tornado with snow chains on the REAR tires! Got a good laugh out of that.
  • 19
    Dr Jean-Claude Marcoux Mt-St-Hilaire, Québec, Canada January 21, 2016 at 17:15
    In 1967, one of my patients was driving one : I had never seen a car so beautiful! I bought one the same color as Ken's. Loved every minute I owned it but, the family expending, we decided to get a 4 door (Buick). Our son loved the Toro so much he searched and found one in Long Island (2006), we trailered it back and spent 4 mos on renovating it. He still drives it with pleasure...After owning many antiques, I now drive only a 1960 Olds Super 88 white convertible. Blue interior. Thanks, Mr Olds !
  • 20
    kevin weeks bristol wi January 21, 2016 at 09:28
    My first sighting was in 1970 when a friend in his Dad's smoked the front tires... I knew I had to have one someday. I now have two, a 66 standard, and a 67 deluxe. they each drive very different, and I enjoy both.
  • 21
    Jerry R Chicago January 21, 2016 at 00:35
    Speaking of old magazines I also remember seeing one of these in an old magazine that they put two engines in and ran it at the drag strip. In 2003 for a high school project I picked up one of these for $200 and while in shop class we found out all it needed was a small brass bushing in the starter. Fun times...and interesting cars...I am shocked no other cars had similar speedometers from then on.
  • 22
    Brent N Clearfield, UT January 22, 2016 at 20:52
    My first olds was a 1969 Toro, man what a car. My second olds was a 1970 442. I loved those big block 455 motors, especially that Toro talk about torque.
  • 23
    James Welsh Dubuque, IA January 29, 2016 at 18:47
    I had a gold 66 and loved it. I always said it was like a family size corvette. I had a 61 corvette and the Tornado had a sleek feel about it. When you would hit a sharp curve, you stepped on the gas instead of hitting the break. It felt like it was on a string and was being pulled through the corner. I loved that car.
  • 24
    Steve Carmichael Los Angeles March 9, 2016 at 18:51
    I had a 1990 "Trofeo" edition interior in Antelope with same body color. This vehicle was "gorgeous" not other word says how this car was, felt and looked on the road. Unfortunately, this vehicle got totaled only too soon.
  • 25
    JohnHoward Georgia May 6, 2016 at 13:50
    In 1971 I took my dark metallic green '69 Toranado back to England. With Koni shocks and Michelin radials it performed really well when dicing on British roads with other European cars. The only problem was keeping a safe distance because the brakes were'nt up to European standards. Even so, the big 'Yank' surprised quite a few challengers. Tiny, winding lanes made life interesting.
  • 26
    Christopher Portland, Or July 1, 2016 at 19:38
    I dated a girl in college in the early 1980's. Her parents had a tan or green 1966 Toronado. I rode in it a few times as a passenger. I was impressed with the looks, smoothness and power. I wouldn't mind having one today.
  • 27
    Jeremy Kansas August 4, 2016 at 23:43
    I picked up my 1970 toronado w-34 in a small town in Nebraska it's got a cool story behind it but I fell in love with the styling. The bold front, long hood and the way it sits low to the ground the ride is amazing the power from that 455 rocket sits you in the seat like nothing I have ever felt before. It will be with me as long as I live. O and it's the only one in North West kansas.
  • 28
    Paul The Villages, FL. August 8, 2016 at 18:56
    I've always wanted one, so I just bought a gold 66 Deluxe with 35k miles on it. I used to have a 78 Vette and it looks to me that the Toro was the predecessor to the C3. Imagine how things would be different today if Olds had the right chassis to offer a front wheel drive "Vette" with 385 HP back in '66!?!? Oldsmobile would still be here and Chevrolet would be a thing of the past. Why the dropped Oldsmobile and kept Buick is beyond me.
  • 29
    Tom Hill Bellevue WA October 12, 2016 at 21:33
    My dad special ordered a '70 GT with every option. I have had 12 Toros. 2 '66, 3 '70, 6 '70 GT and 1 '71. I'm down to just 1 '70 now. I love those cars.

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