The front-wheel-drive Oldsmobile Toronado was a landmark in automotive engineering, but you wouldn’t know from looking at it. That’s because when you see an early 1966–70 Toronado, the only thing you can think about is the awesome jet-age sheet metal. It’s an affordable, stylish alternative to the Ford Thunderbird or Pontiac Grand Prix and has a fascinating history.
Eight years in the making
The breakthrough with the Toronado was its front-wheel-drive configuration, a first for General Motors, or any domestic automaker since Cord. Work on the project began in 1958 and ended up using a longitudinal-mounted version of Oldsmobile’s 425-cubic-inch V-8, rated at 385 horsepower. The three-speed automatic transmission was placed alongside, connected to the crank-mounted torque converter via chain drive.
It was a layout that proved durable enough to work in the GMC Motorhome and was later adopted in the Cadillac Eldorado starting in 1967. The front-wheel-drive setup would spread across the corporate lineup, including Chevy Monte Carlo and Buick Regal, the latter’s switch in 1988 officially ending the era of conventional front-engine, rear-drive passenger cars at GM.
When the Toronado was new, however, front-drive wasn’t seen as the enemy of enthusiasm that it later came to be. Instead, it was another innovation in a company that brought plenty of new ideas to the world, like the turbocharged Jetfire. Motor Trend awarded its 1966 Car of the Year award to the Toronado, calling the car “symbolic of a resurgence of imaginative engineering and tasteful styling in the U.S. auto industry.”
Handling in the Toronado was considered to be on par with other large, sporty cars of the day. And to prove the car’s performance prowess, Oldsmobile took on the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb starting in 1965. Toronado designer David North, in an episode ofJay Leno’s Garage, claimed that the racing effort was also to counteract the Toronado’s reputation for weak brakes (vented front discs were added in 1967). That first year, with Bobby Unser at the wheel, the Toronado finished just 17 seconds behind the stock car record, a result used to argue that front-drive was just as sporty as a rear-wheel drive. Oldsmobile’s efforts at Pike’s Peak continued through with class wins in 1968 and ’70.
The Toronado’s fastback profile set it apart from more traditional three-box designs of the time, while the big wheel arches conveyed a sense of power. The front-drive layout isn’t the only thing in common with Cord. The hidden headlamps and horizontal grille are an intentional tribute. In Motor Trend’s modern-day test drive of a 1966 model, North said, “I always had pictures of the Cord [810/812] around me.” Inside, the Toronado’s dash looked like something that wouldn’t seem of place in a Boeing, highlighted by a drum-style speedometer that rolled up the miles per hour horizontally.
Steady prices, little movement
There has been an uptick in recent Toronado activity. January 2019 saw a 49-percent increase in the number of policies added during the previous 12 months, and the number of cars offered at auctions has ticked upward as well. If you want an attractive, well-designed, and well-equipped classic V-8 luxury car, the Toronado has a lot going for it for not much money.
The most valuable model year is 1966, with a median #3 (Good) value of $18,000. Prices drop with each ensuing model year, presumably in line with the reduced desirability of yearly styling updates. The cheapest Toronado is the 1970, the last of the first generation, with a #3-condition value of $10,700.
Buying a Toronado is not an investment play, however. At least if the last few years are any indication. “It’s been flat, it’s still flat, and there are no big reasons to expect major changes in the near future,” says Hagerty valuation editor Andrew Newton. Basically, you buy it because you want one. And for that price, what other cars offer distinctive styling, engineering firsts, and a racing pedigree?