March 21, 2009

Oldsmobile Toronado

A little history

Among all General Motors brands, Oldsmobile had long been the one best known for its sense of innovation. Modern automatic transmission through torque converter was an Oldsmobile first, while the short stroke V8 engines introduced right after World War Two ignited a crazed race towards ever more power and performances. In 1965, Oldsmobile was up to its reputation when it launched a front-wheel drive automobile.

Actually, front-wheel drive cars had already been built in the U.S., let alone abroad, but the last vehicle using such a technology in America, the Cord, had been discontinued almost three decades earlier.

Oldsmobile started toying with the idea of building a front-wheel drive car as early as 1958. Launching a mass-produced vehicle equipped with a technology that was new for its maker, and therefore not time-tested, would have been a risky gamble. The opportunity to build a smaller-volume automobile, and with it the possibility to advance from the experimental stage, arose during the early Sixties.

The original Buick Riviera was due to be replaced by a new vehicle for the 1966 model year, and General Motors, which was then expanding its personal luxury range, allowed Oldsmobile to venture simultaneously into this growing market. The Toronado – the name was taken from a show car presented a few years earlier – would be a close relative to the Riviera. This meant that the whole drivetrain of the Toronado would have to fit under the bonnet of a car similar in proportions to a conventional rear-wheel drive, in itself a tour de force. Engine was a 7.0-litre V8 “Rocket” taken from the top-of-the-line 98 range, with an output boosted to 385 bhp.

To match its mechanical originality the Toronado received an uncommon body, based on a design by David North. With its fastback profile, its peculiar wheel arches and long, sloping bonnet, which included retractable headlights sitting on top of a wide grille, Oldsmobile’s luxury coupe looked like nothing else on the American highways of the time.

After its introduction as a 1966 model, the Toronado received good reviews and won the coveted Car of the Year award from Motor Trend magazine. The handling was found to be particularly good, and not at all disturbing for American drivers used to conventional rear-wheel drive. Acceleration and top speed (the car could pass 215 kph) were extremely good. The main critic aimed at the brakes, Oldsmobile having chosen to fit its heavy coupe with drums on all four wheels, which proved highly inadequate.

On the commercial side the Toronado sold correctly, but nothing more. Starting in 1967, Cadillac competed on the same ground as Oldsmobile with its new Eldorado, which too was a front-wheel drive personal luxury coupe. Like all American cars at this time, the Toronado received yearly facelifts. For 1967, much-needed front disk brakes were added to the option list, while a new 7.5-litre engine good for as much as 400 bhp was adopted in 1968. Despite this increase in displacement and power the Toronado was being gradually shifted away from performances in favor of luxury alone. It was built until the end of the 1970 model-year, when a brand new “Toro” hit the market.

About the model

Model: Oldsmobile Toronado
Year: 1966
Maker: unknown
Scale: 1/43
Distributed by: definitely a Del Prado model, but curiously sold in a box by Universal Hobbies, from its "Eagle's Race" series. Could it be a production overrun by Del Prado which was taken over by Universal Hobbies, or more simply a mismatch between the model and its box?
Acquired: seemingly brand new, in December 2006, in Hong Kong, S.A.R.

Correctly made, at least when compared with other Del Prado models. The Italian company did well in chosing this particular car to reproduce, as its body is relatively simple and not as heavily ornate than other American automobiles of the era, thus limiting the risk of having it botched when reproduced in scale. Fitting standard blackwall tyres instead of the too-often-seen whitewalls is also welcomed. On the other hand its main problem concerns the wipers which have been molded with the windshield, instead of being separate parts. However, affordable reproductions of American cars are scarce in 1:43, so let's be content with this one, which is well worth a 12/20 rating.



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