Styling development for the Oldsmobile Toronado, code-named XP-784, had been started about a year before formal program approval, and was completed in remarkably short order under the direction of design vice-president William L. Mitchell. Even early clay models -- some of which wore "Sidewinder" and "Starfire" script -- displayed the major elements that would make the production Toronado so distinctive.
The dominant theme was a long front with an uncommon amount of overhang and thrusting fenderlines, both suggestive of front-wheel drive and undoubtedly chosen for that reason. The basic fastback shape was enhanced by muscularly flared wheel arches and a beltline that terminated ahead of the C-pillar, curving upward and forward to leave an unbroken line from the rear roof area to the lower body. Designers initially favored a sloped tail, but moved quickly to a cropped Kamm-style treatment that further emphasized the front end. Hidden headlamps were coming into vogue, and there was no question the new Olds would have them.
In all, it was a brilliant styling package appropriate for the revolutionary new chassis, which Mitchell said "opened entirely new possibilities for vehicle architecture and provided the opportunity for styling designers and engineers to come up with a completely fresh approach."
Oldsmobile lacked sufficient body assembly space at its home plant in Lansing, Michigan, where the new car would be built, so it was decided to truck in bodies from the Fisher plant in Cleveland, hundreds of miles away. Meanwhile, production engineers began laying out a special single-model assembly line within the vast Lansing complex, intended to move at a slower-than-usual rate. This plus a veteran work force would assure exemplary workmanship from the start. By early 1965, some 38 pilot cars had been built and were ready for final shakedown.
The Toronado was one of the most exhaustively tested new cars in GM history -- no surprise considering its unusual mechanical makeup and the company's well-known aversion to making mistakes. Both the Milford, Michigan and Arizona proving grounds were pressed into round-the-clock service, cobbled-up prototypes disguised as Ninety-Eights were evaluated on public roads, and no less a "test driver" than Bobby Unser took a pre-production aluminum-body car up Pike's Peak, just for good measure. One of the more interesting development "mules" was also surprisingly well-finished. It was, predictably enough, a modified Riviera with enlarged rear-wheel openings and an extended snout to accommodate the front-drive powertrain. Otherwise, it looked much like any normal Riv.
On the next page, learn how Oldsmobile created the all-new Toronado's chassis.