The truth about the Toronado

Impressions of the Revolutionary 7-litre Front-Wheel-Drive Oldsmobile

I COULD not resist using the above heading to this article, but in fact quite a number of people who were confronted by the Toronado were quite certain it couldn’t be true and must he the property of Lady Penelope of International Rescue, a substitute, perhaps, for her well-known and formidable six-wheeled RollsRoyce. . . .

In fact, this is unfair to the General Motors product which, apart from its very impressive size and the allure of being the only American front-wheel-drive automobile in normal, current production, is an eminently practical means of transport, and one which provides an extremely high degree of comfort and quietness. Although it is the most powerful front-drive car by a great many horsepower, in normal use it is virtually impossible to tell that this is so, but when accelerating hard or negotiating slippery roads it is definitely reassuring to be pulled along by those claimed 385 horses when treading hard on the accelerator and ambitious handling brings out the expected f.w.d. characteristics of understeer countered by nose-in cornering on a light or trailing throttle. The power-steering, although high geared at under 3½ turns lock-to-lock of a small, low-set steering wheel, in conjunction with poor turning circles, is feather-light and conveys absolutely no feel of any road existing beneath the driven wheels, although there is ample castor-return action. But the very effortlessness of steering control means that this huge motor car can be cornered fast and asked to change direction with impunity and suddenness; it is then that the impeccable directional control endowed by driving the front wheels is a definite asset.

I confess I have only the half-truth about the Toronado because it would be necessary to be able to measure front tyre wear over several thousand miles and thrash it round a race circuit like the Nurburgring to know all, whereas I only drove it for a few hundred miles. But regarded as road transport it has absolutely no vices other than those found in most American automobiles and front-drive certainly enhances its fast cornering. acceleration and “dodgeability” stability.

The Oldsmobile Toronado, then, represents a genuine step forward by the great General Motors’ empire; I am only disappointed to have to report that Motor Sport had to wait until now to report this fact because the first Press car imported to Britain caught fire and was destroyed for no better reason than a fuel pipe chafing on a bulkhead, a defect not entirely isolated, and one which escaped the perception of the mighty G.M. research organisation. A spare length of fuel pipe with fitting instructions accompanied the test car, proof that emergency steps have been taken to rectify an alarming defect.

That apart, the 7-litre V8 Oldsmobile Toronado can hardly be faulted, for those who like this species of motoring. The silent running is superb, the action of the Turbo Hydra-Matic 3-speed automatic torque converter transmission extremely smooth. The performance, if not exactly sporting, is the equal of the better, bigger American automobiles, and there is full automation, for windows, their rear ¼-lights, radio aerial and all positions of the seats—the seat adjustment is like that of the Mercedes-Benz 600 but done electrically instead of hydraulically. The headlamps are normally recessed beneath flaps, and if you can afford the extras there is very thorough ventilation, with refrigerated cooling. All of which adds up to the mostest up-to-dateness!

There has been no attempt to exploit the compact possibilities of front-wheel-drive, possibly because American customers buying a 425 cu. in. car in this price range expect plenty of automobile for their $6,000, and also because a good deal of space is inevitably going to be occupied by a 385-h.p. V8 engine and automatic gearbox, whether it drives the front or the back wheels.

General Motors have, however, eliminated the transmission hump and drive-line tunnel and have adopted the ingenious method of mounting the engine slightly to the o/s, driving the torque converter normally from the rear of it. but turning the rest of the gearbox round, so that it can be accommodated beside the engine on the n/s, facing forward, the drive being taken across from converter to transmission by a rubber-datupened link chain. A differential unit is bolted to the front of the gearbox and drives the front Wheels through Saginaw universal joints, consisting of ball-spline Rzeppa inboard and grease-prepacked Rzeppa outboard joints. The Toronado runs on low profile 8.85 X 15 tyres. It is available at present in one version only, a Fisher 2-door, 6-seater hard-top coupe, in standard and de luxe forms. It is aggressive-looking from the front, quite plain seen from behind and most of the flamboyance of this revolutionary Oldsmobile stems from size alone—although the wheelbase is only 9 ft. 11 in., the track is 5 ft. 3½ in. in front, 5 ft. 3 in. at the back,. and the Toronado has an overall length and width, respectively, of 17ft. 7 in. and 6 ft. 7 in. It is fashionably low, at 4 ft. 6¼ in unladen.

There is no excuse for not sitting comfortably in this gigantic Toronado, because in addition to electric seat selection, a small l.h. lever under the steering wheel enables the steering wheel, with its dual spokes that incorporate the horn-pushes, to be tilted as well as raised or lowered over a wide range. And although the instrumentation gives the impression at a casual inspection of being second-cousin to a small aeroplane, it is, in fact, logically laid-out and well-contrived. A horizontal drum-type speedometer, rotating downwards to 130 m.p.h., is a bit distracting but has large, clear figures and is notably steady-reading. The push-buttons for 2-speed wipers and washers are to hand on the left of the hooded cluster, and the engine starts— always immediately because the automatic choke functions splendidly—on the key if the gear selector is in N or PARK.

The gear selector is normally left in D, but can be moved freely into S, which gives hold control for better acceleration, while the normal kick-down is naturally incorporated. There is also the usual L position. The only dials are those for fuel contents, water temperature (calibrated C-H) and ammeter, the considerable charge reading on the latter a reminder of the extent of the electrical services. A red indicator is a warning that the foot-operated parking brake has not been released, and green lights flash when the winkers, controlled by a precise left-hand stalk above the steering-wheel adjuster lever, are in use. Otherwise, the apparently complicated controls resolve themselves into air-conditioner settings, rear window de-froster settings, interior lamp switch, and speaking/bass/music selection, and front ‘rear speaker selection for the Oldsmobile transistor radio. Other anticipated warning lights are there, the speedometer incorporates no trip mileometer but the total odometer reads to tenths, there are air vents each end of the facia and ash-tray and cubby-hole on its wall, cigar lighters are provided, and the switches for the seat and window electrical operations are on the driver’s door sill, duplicated for window control on the passenger’s door-sill. The windows rise and fall rather noisily but efficiently; the doors, which have sill interior locks, are rather heavy and springy to shut. The interior lift-up door handles are duplicated to serve both front- and rear-seat occupants.

The interior decor of the Toronado is typically trans-Atlantic but not really garish. Black plastic upholstery gives a neat, restful appearance to the comfortable seats and there is plating of control stalks, switches, etc., but otherwise not any fancy gimmickry. The external appearance is enhanced by the cutaway of the road wheels to provide cooling for the finned brake drums.

Coat hooks, seat-belts for back as well as front-scat passengers, white and red lights on the trailing edges of the doors, lots of back-seat leg room, less head room, a very big vanity mirror in the n/s visor, easy access to back scat in spite of only two doors, a beige colour finish, central arm-rests on the front seat, are aspects of the Toronado appreciated by passengers as well as drivers.

Bonnet and boot lid are self-supporting and the spare wheel and lifting jack are mounted on the front wall of the big boot. There is illumination of the drop-lid cubby-hole, which is the only oddments stowage provided, and for a huge ash-tray. The external mirrors were well set and much appreciated on this ultra-wide vehicle, and the driver’s door carried an additional external mirror. The screen wiper blades work in opposite directions, the test car had British flasher-units-cum-side lamps, the doors incorporated long narrow sills or arm-rests but lacked pockets and the rear seats were shaped to some extent, as if for two occupants. The ignition had to be on before the electric window lifts would work. An amusing minor detail was the slogan “Your key to greater value—G.M.” On the Briggs & Stratton door keys, made in Milwaukee.

So much for detail impressions. There is not much to add about driving impressions, so easy to control, so effortless in operation is this two-pedal Oldsmobile Toronado. It has all the performance one is likely to crave up to a maximum speed of 128-130 m.p.h., steers accurately (with one finger!), corners far “flatter” than most American cars but has the usual inefficient brakes, prone to severe fade if used hard from high speeds, although just about adequate, but snatchy, otherwise. This 2½-ton monster plows over bad roads rather than rides them, so comfort is good and with the optional automation it represents lazy, efficient travel and impresses as a fine piece of automotive engineering.

The dual Guide sealed beam headlamps take about 4-6 seconds to ” unflap,” so are useless for emergency flashing, nor is any separate flasher switch provided. These, and the side-lamps, are switched on from a knob convenient to the left hand of this l.h.d car, and rotating the knob-controls instrument lighting, as on a Vauxhall. The Mirror is anti-dazzle and corner illumination comes on with the flashers.

The sheer width of the Toronado is rather intimidating on many British roads, especially as the arches over the wheels protrude, adding to overall width. The ventilation system, with venting under the back seat and from louvres under the back window, has obviously been very thoroughly contrived.

The Toronado uses a boxed chassis frame, torsion-bar front suspension and a back axle of U-shaped channel carrying dead spindles, sprung on two single-leaf springs and damped by four shock-absorbers—the Toronado claims to be the only car with four rear shock-absorbers.

The engine is a modified, more powerful version of the 6,965-c.c. Oldsmobile Rocket V8, developed by better breathing, a new 4-barrel Rochester Quadrajet carburreter, with 22% smaller primary but 44% larger secondary fuel stages, larger inlet valves and a high-lift camshaft and larger tappets.

Here I must remark on the very detailed data issued by G.M.’s Press department. Although readers may feel that how we obtain the information we pass on to them is no concern of theirs, an efficient Press service usually reflects engineering and sales efficiency in the company concerned—and General Motors’ Press liaison is certainly thorough. I suppose, however, that those who, rightly or wrongly, have been hysterically condemning General Motors and other American manufacturers for callously building accident-prone cars will not agree that this could extend to safety research!

From driving out of London on a full 20-gallon tank of premium petrol the fuel gauge got close to empty after 185 miles. Overall consumption was 10.8 m.p.g. and sump level after driving 700 miles was restored with a pint of oil. Chassis lubrication is called for only at 12,000-36,000-mile intervals. But as the de luxe car, with extras as tested, costs £4,415 12s. 1d. inclusive of import duty and purchase tax, petrol thirst, which really isn’t excessive, is unlikely to trouble the Toronado owner. I rate this 7-litre front-wheel-drive Oldsmobile as one of America’s best cars. It is covetable in certain quarters as the most up-to-date of its kind but it also merits consideration in the same quarters as a very fast, quiet, safe-handling, fully-automated and air-conditioned modern automobile, exceedingly well engineered. I must be queer, for I preferred driving a vintage Sunbeam and handed the Oldsmobile over to the photographer half way through the test. Fortunately for General Motors, not everyone feels that way!