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How Oldsmobile Cars Work

Oldsmobile 4-4-2 and Oldsmobile Toronado

Oldsmobile aimed for traditional American power and handling. They hit the mark with the Toronado, shown here as a 1967 model.

The most-exciting F-85s were called 4-4-2, which meant four speeds (or 400 cubic inches beginning with '65), four-barrel carburetor, and dual exhausts. The debut 1964 edition was a package option for any F-85 except wagons, comprising a 310-bhp 330 V-8, heavy-duty suspension, and four-speed manual gearbox.

The '65 (confined to two-door models) was hotter still with a 345-bhp 400 -- a debored version of the full-size Olds' then-new 425-cid V-8 -- plus heavy-duty wheels, shocks, springs, rear axle, driveshaft, engine mounts, steering and frame; front/rear stabilizer bars; fat tires; special exterior and interior trim; 11-inch clutch; and a 70-amp battery -- all for about $250.



Performance was terrific: 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, the standing quarter-mile in 17 seconds at 85 mph, top speed of 125 mph. The 4-4-2 proved, as Motor Trend magazine said, "that Detroit can build cars that perform, handle, and stop, without sacrificing road comfort."

Each year's 4-4-2 was eagerly awaited. Though the 400 V-8 wasn't pushed much beyond 350 bhp, Oldsmobile's hot middle­weights remained handsome, fast, and fun. They were also ­better-balanced overall than rival muscle machines that had too much power for their chassis.

The '69s wore large "4-4-2" numerals on front fenders, rear deck, and on a body-color vertical divider ahead of a black-finish grille, plus a unique "bi-level" hood with contrasting paint stripes. If a bit outlandish, the '69 was no less a performance car than the first 4-4-2. It was also a fine value at base prices as low as $3141.

Debuting for 1966 was the most innovative Olds in a generation. This, of course, was the intriguing front-wheel-drive Toronado, a hardtop coupe offered in $4617 standard guise or as a nicer Deluxe model priced $200 higher.

Toronado represented a clean break with the past -- and a commitment to front drive that would involve every GM nameplate by 1980. Toronado was also a big surprise for a company that had once panned the front-drive Cord, but GM planned it well.

The goals for Toronado were traditional American power combined with outstanding handling and traction. Its 425 V-8 came from full-size Oldsmobiles, but delivered an extra 10 horsepower -- 385 total -- and teamed with a new "split" automatic transmission. A torque converter mounted behind the engine connected via chain drive and sprocket to a Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission located remotely beneath the left cylinder bank. The chain drive, flexible yet virtually unbreakable, saved weight and cut costs.

It also resulted in a very compact drivetrain that opened up extra cabin room. (A generous 119-inch wheelbase helped, too.) Most previous front-drive systems had put the engine behind a transmission slung out ahead of the axle.

Toronado's split transmission allowed the engine to be placed directly over the front wheels for a front/rear weight distribution of 54/46 percent, good for a big front-driver that some said could never work simply because it was so large and heavy (over 4300 pounds).

Toronado's styling was as sophisticated as its engineering. The C-pillars spilled gently down from the roof, there was no beltline "break" behind the rear side windows, the rakish fastback roofline terminated in a neatly cropped tail, the curved fuselage was set off by boldly flared wheel arches, and there was a ­distinctive front end with hidden headlamps. Automobile Quarterly editor Don Vorderman termed the result "logical, imaginative, and totally unique."

It was just as superb on the road. Understeer wasn't excessive for a front-driver, 100 mph was a quiet business, and top speed was near 135 mph even with the fairly rangy standard final-drive ratio. Unquestionably, Toronado was the most outstanding single Olds of the '60s. It would also prove to be the last truly innovative product that Lansing could call its own.

Toronado improved for '67 by offering optional front-disc power brakes and radial tires. Save detail changes, styling was mercifully left alone. Sales, unfortunately, took a big dive, dropping from 41,000 to about 21,800.

The 1968 Toro looked heavier in front, gaining a simple but massive combination bumper/grille. The following year brought added rear-end sheet metal, an apparent effort to create a more conventional notchback appearance.

The same reasoning prompted an optional vinyl roof cover that didn't work at all with the clean C-pillar line. Horsepower declined by 10 for '68 despite a switch to the giant new 455 V-8 offered in that year's full-size Olds line. However, an optional W-34 version served up an even 400 bhp thanks to dual exhausts, special cam, and other modifications.

Little else but exposed headlamps distinguished the 1970 model, last of the first-generation Toros. Sales were erratic in these years. The total was near 26,500 for '68, an encouraging gain over dismal '67, then rose to almost 28,500 before easing back to 25,400 for 1970.

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