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Author Topic: General Motors' 1966 Toronado ~vs~ 1967 Eldorado  (Read 6105 times)
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« on: March 12, 2008, 07:47:02 PM »

Leading the Way

Hemmings Classic Car - DECEMBER 1, 2006 - BY MARK J. MCCOURT AND JEFF KOCH

General Motors' 1966 Toronado and 1967 Eldorado embody all that was bold and innovative in the late 1960s

Pundits complain that General Motors doesn't take risks any more--that the world's largest automobile corporation has lost its spirit of innovation, its ability to compete with the best cars out there today.

While the Corvette Z06 is acknowledged to be a world-class sports car with huge bang for the buck, few of its other vehicles can be deemed truly innovative in engineering and styling. But it wasn't always that way.

GM rocked the automotive world when it introduced the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado, a luxurious hardtop sports coupe that cloaked impressive technology under influential styling. "The only other thing Toronado shares with any other car is the road," claimed a period advertisement, although the new Toronado did share its basic platform with Buick's sleek and successful Riviera coupe. The Toronado was the only full-sized front-wheel drive GM product until 1967, when Cadillac introduced its own personal luxury coupe, the upscale Eldorado.

Although each reached for a slightly different portion of the same slice of the automotive marketplace, the Toronado and Eldorado shared more than the last three letters of their names. After Oldsmobile's engineering brass realized, with the slow-selling Corvair, that compact car buyers weren't seeking innovative drivelines in their automobiles, they turned their focus to the more adventurous personal luxury market. Andrew Watt, head of Oldsmobile's Advanced Engineering department, and chief engineer and assistant Harold Metzel and John Beltz modified Oldsmobile 88s with prototype unibody construction and transversely mounted 394-cu.in. V-8 engines powering the front wheels. These cars were also tested with a number of suspension and transmission options, and the final choices were as forward-thinking as they were functional.

The final chosen driveline--which mated a longitudinal V-8 to a Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic transmission and drove the front wheels with dual-stage Hy-Vo chain drive--was able to fit in the same space allotted a traditional engine/transmission because of the cleverly arranged automatic. This unit was split, with the torque converter in the traditional location on the back of the engine, but the gearbox was turned 180 degrees to rest under the left cylinder bank. The Hy-Vo chain, developed by Hydra-Matic and Borg-Warner's Morse Chain Division, was made from 2,294 individual links and allowed near silent operation. The front wheels rode on half shafts with four constant-velocity joints, and the engine was placed 1.82 inches to the right of the car's center line, as well as mostly behind the front axle, to enhance balance while still allowing a flat interior floor.

Oldsmobile's front-wheel-drive Toronado concept was approved by GM brass with the caveat that it share the Riviera's cowl and basic E-body shell. Unlike the rear-wheel-drive Riviera, with its full perimeter frame, the Toronado would use a boxed 3/4-length frame with five crossmembers that ended at the rear longitudinal leaf spring mounts, a design that would be shared with the upcoming Eldorado. Also to be shared between Oldsmobile and Cadillac were four-wheel, 11-inch drum brakes, whose offset finned drums were the mounting points for 15-inch pressed-steel wheels, although front discs with four-piston calipers were optional on both the 1967 Toronado and the 1967 Eldorado.

When Cadillac debuted the Chuck Jordan-styled Eldorado one year after the Toronado hit the market, they ensured that it had its own elegantly formal exterior and interior design. The 10-inch-longer Eldorado rode on a one-inch stretched wheelbase, and featured variable-ratio power steering, a pneumatic load-leveling rear suspension and wider tires. The Toronado's 385hp, 425-cu.in. V-8 was an Oldsmobile exclusive, with Cadillac using its 340hp, 429-cu.in. V-8 engine. Both coupes were designed to appeal to affluent, progressive buyers and, although both of these cars were more athletic than anything else in GM's contemporary full-sized lineup, the Oldsmobile was tuned for sport over the Cadillac's comfort.

Both of our feature cars are owned by Long Beach, California, resident Michael Klyde. Mike sought out these particular examples for a specific reason--they share the ultra-rare bucket seat option. "Being a mid-1960s kid, my zone of interest is mid-'60s cars," he explains. "Some may argue, but pre-war classics aside, the mid-1960s are a high point in automotive design... because of regulations, designs became constrained in 1968. With these two vehicles in the personal luxury segment, their designers went an extra mile to differentiate them from the competition and to put their best lines forward.

"Being a mechanical junkie--I used to be a mechanic--I hated these cars for their complexity. I mostly worked on the giant Eldorados built from 1970 to 1978, and they were too hard to reach under the hood. They felt like driving the USS Enterprise," Mike laughs. "I joined the Oldsmobile Club of America when I bought a Vista Cruiser, and I read a piece about Toronados in their magazine. This article talked about the rarest first-generation [1966-1970] Toronado option being bucket seats--it was estimated that out of 40,963 Toros built in 1966, roughly 50 had them. I started looking for one, and purchased this 189,000-mile car from a dealer in Phoenix in 2002.

"I put a deposit down right away. The car was not quite as nice as they described; although it had a valve job roughly 20,000 miles ago and runs and idles smoothly, it has a lot of blow-by due to worn pistons and rings," he continues. "They did not know that bucket seat searchers like me were out there. To them, this was just another Toronado. I knew I was overpaying just a bit, but I was underpaying for what may be one of the only surviving bucket-seat 1966 Toronados. It has an original interior in a one-year-only color, and the body tag says 'BS,' so we know it's a factory bucket seat car. I've had people look at my car and say that it's a fake, because virtually every other Toronado has the Strato-Bench seat."

Although the interior of Mike's Toronado is untouched, the exterior was repainted by the previous owner, who added a 1967-style vinyl top with the proper trim pieces--a modification he says he'll undo when he restores the car.

With the front-wheel-drive Oldsmobile in hand, Mike says that the Cadillac was a natural progression. "I bought this one because it also had bucket seats--a good fraternal twin to the Toronado. This Eldo was a special car, with every factory option except shoulder belts. The bucket seats were special-ordered with leather and Dalmatian Cloth inserts, trim code 000."

Mike's 127,000-mile Eldorado wasn't in concours shape when he bought it at an auction in 2003; "It barely ran on seven cylinders, and could barely stop--it had been sitting for 13 years. The fuel system was destroyed, and the brakes were frozen. I had to have the gas tank cut open, sealed and put back together; the brakes cost $1,100 in parts, with one new rotor and hub assembly costing $675! The engine had a bad pushrod, so I rebuilt it; it took a long time to find parts like engine mounts and radiator hoses, and this really slowed down the process. I also went through the electrical system. I've put about 1,500 miles on it since I've had it back together."

We were able to spend some time in the driver's seat of both cars, and partially due to the difficulty in finding correct materials to freshen these seats, the Toronado and Eldorado are Driveable Dream-quality. Stone chips fleck the Cadillac's nose, and the cars' odometers have been around at least once. That these two look as good as they do is a testament to Mike's efforts in cleaning and refurbishing them without resorting to all-out restoration.

It's possible to have size without presence, and vice versa, but the Toronado manages to have both. It's an event. There are simply acres of room inside, accentuated by that flat floor, the shape of the dash, the fact that it's a color other than black, and the sheer bloody width of the thing. Look out the windshield; the visible tips of those peaked fenders (see them? way out yonder?) make it easier to point and shoot.

The console does not extend to meet the bottom of the dash, all the better to keep the floor looking as wide as possible. That highly styled instrument cluster appears to offer more information than it actually does: The controversial barrel speedometer is front and center, with little else to tell you what's going on under that flat, wide hood. Your hands rest on a small-diameter steering wheel with aggressive ribbing at the 9 and 3 o'clock positions. Everything is special for the sake of being special.

Twist the key and rouse the big 425-cu.in. V-8. There's a pleasant lope to its idle, sounding more like a 4-4-2 muscle car than a 98 sedan, with an exhaust note that indicates some eagerness to get on with the program. Accelerate, and the nose doesn't point towards the stratosphere as you'd imagine--it just hunkers down and goes. That barrel speedometer is supposed to roll, but this one seems to ratchet; maybe there's something sticky in the mechanism. We're hesitant to get too crazy with an original 189,000-mile engine, but there's sufficient grunt to fool us into thinking that first digit is a mistake.

The transaxle shifts smoothly enough, but it changes gears far too early for our liking. That said, we were hesitant to go more than half-throttle: Once we were deep into all four barrels, the engine started to ping. Full-throttle downshifts around town, therefore, went unexplored. Mike blames a tank of poor quality gas--it hadn't been driven for six months while it was trapped behind another project in the garage--and, indeed, after we dropped a few gallons of fresh fuel into the tank, the big Q-jet's high-rpm woes seemed to lessen. But the transmission still shifted up a little too soon, seemingly before the meat of the torque band.

It's hard to pick out the understeer from the general softness of the suspension when hustling through turns: suffice it to say that the steering is admirably quick for a car of that size. Around town, the traction wheels draw no special attention to themselves. We're torn on whether this is a good thing. Was the intention to have a car that drove like its contemporaries without drawing attention to itself, or was it designed to feel special because of its drive wheels? The ride had a certain Jekyll-and-Hyde quality: Though it was smooth over most tarmac, a shiver would occasionally be sent through the suspension, despite no visible flaws in the road. A fresh set of shocks is probably in order.

Lastly, we need to talk about the brakes--the four-wheel drums, well vented though they may be, are simply inadequate for the task of slowing down 4,660 pounds of car. There's simply no urgency in stopping. The brakes require lots of pedal, and it's tricky to modulate your braking so that you don't lock up the rears, even around town.

Into the Eldorado now, which despite roughly sharing cabin dimensions, seems a little smaller inside. Is it the more traditional-looking Cadillac dashboard, that the black interior seems to close in on you more than the Toronado's copper coloring, or that the door panels are somehow thicker? Hard to say. But it's easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, particularly in the houndstooth-check cloth buckets, despite the headrest pegging you between the shoulder blades. The conventional cabin gives no hint as to anything extraordinary going on with the drivetrain.

Turn the Cadillac's ignition on, and the idle is De Ville-docile; none of the Toronado's seemingly sporty intent has made its way into the cabin. Though we're able to get deeper into the gas pedal on the Eldorado than we did in the Olds, acceleration seems to be on par; there's plenty of torque from the big 429-cu.in. V-8, but no great urgency. This transaxle allows you to rev higher into the rpm range, however, ensuring that you're getting everything out of it. When all four barrels are open, it feels slightly fluttery or stumbly; Mike suggests that a fatter jet size would smooth things out, and we concur.

What's just as remarkable is that between the (lack of) aerodynamic considerations and the engine braking, the front disc-equipped Eldorado threatens to have better braking performance than the Toronado by simply lifting off the gas pedal. Using the actual brakes, however, overcompensates for the Toronado's shortcomings: The Eldorado's pedal feel is pudding-mushy until the brakes kick in, and once they do, they threaten to throw you headlong through the windshield.

Squirting through turns was never going to be this Cadillac's raison d'Ítre, and as such, there's more play in the power steering, more body roll in the turns, more pillowy softness in the ride. That's okay; it's a Cadillac... it's supposed to be like that.

Although his coupes currently share an appealing level of originality, Mike does plan to restore both of them in a sympathetic fashion, despite the challenges they'll present; "Both of these cars are difficult to find parts for. The Toronado trim parts are more difficult to locate than those for a Ford, Chevy, or even the Eldorado... although since Jay Leno built his Toronado two years ago, more parts have started to become available. I personally think that because of that project car, NOS part costs have skyrocketed. Mechanically, nearly every part is available for the 425 V-8 and TH 425 transmission. Eldorado trim parts are available, but are very pricey, and mechanically, very little is available; 1967 is a one-year-only for many of the Eldorado mechanicals and parts, and NOS stocks are very low, while the likelihood of reproduction parts is even smaller. Front-wheel-drive axles are inexpensive to rebuild."

Today, the Toronado and Eldorado are starting to become something more than unusual footnotes in automotive history. Die-hard fans and a growing number of converts celebrate their iconic styling, lauded build quality, luxurious interiors and ample V-8 power, which should place these coupes on equal footing with the beloved, conventional early Riviera, but short-sighted collectors continue to shun them. Those who are willing to look beyond the Eldorado and Toronado's comparably low values and accept the challenges of scarce parts availability and costs are rewarded with individualistic automobiles that vividly illustrate how, during one golden period of time, General Motors had the engineering might and stylistic acumen to build some of the most memorable cars on the road.


Owner's View

"These cars are special to me for a number of reasons, including that this was the high point of the Bill Mitchell-era of design at GM, and the front-wheel-drive platform allowed the design team to break the rules. I have worked on enough of the Eldorado's systems and cleaned the original paint and interior up enough, amazingly, to place third at the 2006 Cadillac Nationals. I am still working on repairing many of the accessories, and once those are all working, I will have the paint redone. The interior is in great shape, needing only upholstery work; I will keep as much original as possible. I'll be rebuilding the Toronado's engine to stock specs this winter.

Both of these cars will be restored for driving; I don't want to own a trailer-only vehicle. I hope to take one of them to the 2008 General Motors 100th anniversary in Detroit. And I would someday also like to have a 1966 Riviera GS with bucket seats... then I would have an E-body triumvirate." --Michael Klyde



                               1966 Oldsmobile Toronado                                1967 Cadillac Eldorado
Engine type:           OHV V-8, iron block and cylinder heads                      OHV V-8, iron block and cylinder heads
Displacement:         425 cubic inches                                                    429 cubic inches
Bore x stroke:         4.13 x 3.97 inches                                                  4.13 x 4.00 inches
Compression ratio:   10.5:1                                                                  10.5:1
Horsepower @ rpm:  385 @ 4,800                                                         340 @ 4,600
Torque @ rpm:        475 @ 3,200                                                         480 @ 3,000
Fuel delivery:          Rochester four-barrel carburetor                               Rochester four-barrel carburetor
Transmission:          Turbo Hydra-Matic 425 3-speed automatic                 Turbo Hydra-Matic 425 3-speed automatic
Brakes:                  Four-wheel finned iron drums                                    Rear wheel finned iron drums, front discs

Weight:                         4,496 pounds                                                 4,950 pounds
Pounds per horsepower:   11.7                                                             14.6
0-60 mph:                     9.5 seconds                                                    8.9 seconds
1/4-mile:                       17.2 @ 82 mph                                               17.0 @ 84 mph
Base price:                    $4,997                                                           $6,277

More pictures available at: http://www.hemmings.com/hcc/stories/2006/12/01/hmn_feature6.html

* Toro & Eldo 1.jpg (49.66 KB, 500x749 - viewed 327 times.)

* Toro & Eldo 2.jpg (32.56 KB, 500x333 - viewed 395 times.)

* Toro & Eldo 3 Cad 429.jpg (55.15 KB, 500x333 - viewed 343 times.)

* Toro & Eldo 4 Olds 425.jpg (52.38 KB, 500x333 - viewed 334 times.)

PS. You don't have enough cam. Grin

...Summit has a kit for $99.... Shocked
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