Comparison-1966 and 1996 Toronado

The Last and the First - '66 and '92 Toronado Comparison Road Test
by Doug Kitchener, TC #383
8616 Welbeck Way, Gaithersburg, MD 20879


My neighbor, a fellow OCA member, is General Sales Manager for a Washington, DC area Oldsmobile dealer. Because of this connection, I've had the opportunity of test driving several different examples of current Olds products, as well as several interesting collectible Oldsmobiles which this guy has owned. So, when he came home the other night with a '92 Toronado Trofeo, I figured I'd better take it out because it would probably be my last chance to wring out a new one.
The "test vehicle" was black, and lo and behold, had an ANALOG dash but did NOT have the (stupid, in my opinion) touch screen, and was also without a sunroof (another option which I personally dislike - no head room!). This was unusual because most of the Toros that we've seen in this area seem to have both of the latter items, and I would expect a digital dash in a GM car like this because of corporate philosophy and the way the local dealers seem to order their cars (although perhaps the digital dash is no longer available in the Toro?). {Later - I have found out that the digital dash indeed did go away in 1990. Thank goodness.} Anyway, the mystery became both clearer and more complex when I noted that the car had Michigan plates that were marked "Civic Event", whatever that means. A little more thought postulated this theory: the Kemper Open golf tournament was recently played here at Avenel Farms in Potomac, MD; Oldsmobile has traditionally been a sponsor and the courtesy car for the Kemper, and for some reason (possibly a shortage of local dealer tags?) this year's Kemper cars wore Michigan tags, probably supplied by the local Olds zone office. So this car was probably a Kemper car; my friend told me it was a zone car.

Well, back to the streets. I crawled in, strapped down and fired up the 3.8 V6. I've also recently driven a new Ninety-Eight Regency Elite and a new 88 Royale LS. All these cars have the same drivetrain, and the venerable Buick-derived V6 sounds good and works well. Acceleration feels very good and the engine seems very "torquey", which may be partially due to the excellent gearing and performance of the transaxle. The Toro's seating (leather!) and driving position was extremely comfortable, but visibility at the rear quarters was restricted by the thickness of the "C" pillars.

The best part of this car is the (standard on Trofeo) FE3 suspension package and the way the car handles. Tires are Goodyear Eagle GT+4s on aluminum wheels. I have a short "test loop" in the neighborhood, which includes a hill for acceleration tests and a right turn followed by an S turn for handling. As I went into the right turn, I dropped the hammer. The transmission downshifted into second and the car swept through the ess as though it was on rails, with the pleasing throaty growl from the engine but without even a squeak from the tires! Only trouble was, I was out of it so fast that I don't know how much of this to attribute to FWD and how much to the good suspension and tires. Sure was fun though!

Some of the newest products from Lansing are as good as our cherished older Rockets, but they're so completely different that direct comparison is difficult. Our vintage Oldsmobiles, upgraded a bit with gas shocks, a good set of radial tires, and anti-sway bars where practical and appropriate, can handle pretty well and be a blast to drive, but I think that the current car with FE3 could lose us in the esses. With the recent and personally lamented demise of the (Chevy powered) Custom Cruiser, the V8 Olds is dead (the Olds- manufactured V8 has been gone for a couple of years now), but the 3.8 V6 can still make things interesting. The excellent gearing of the four-speed OD automatic trans appears to have a lot to do with this phenomenon.

My '66 test car was Cory Correll's Standard model in Trumpet Gold. The '66 Toronado seems to be bigger than it really is, due mainly to the long front end and the fact that you can't tell where the back end of the car is from the driver's seat. There's not a lot of road feel through the power steering, and almost no feeling that this is a front drive car - it's there, but very subtle and torque steer is noticeable only under hard acceleration and is minimal even then. According to early road tests of this car, this was apparently intentional on the part of Oldsmobile engineering, because they didn't want to scare anyone off with any radical characteristics. The '66 Toronado was heavily influenced by the Cord (this is quite obvious when seeing pictures of the two), but evidently the Cord was a handful to drive and Olds didn't want that problem with the Toronado.

The first time I drove Cory's car I was disappointed; the car didn't have nearly the power which I expected from my reading of the ancient road tests. In particular, Mechanix Illustrated's Tom McCahill was very descriptive about the car's acceleration and performance. It was the first time I had driven a '66 Toronado and I was anticipating a wild ride from my memories of McCahill's first test of the '66. I (strongly!) suspected that something was not right and suggested a tuneup, so we headed for the auto parts store where we purchased plugs, points, condenser, cap and rotor. A friend helped out by ordering a set of reproduction Delco-Packard correct date-coded wires for Olds big blocks from Dennis Kirban GTOs in PA. Incidentally, the neat thing about these wires, aside from the aspect of restoration, is that their lengths are much more precise than any OER or aftermarket set of wires I've ever seen; hence they aren't dangling all over the engine compartment like replacement sets often do. I highly recommend their use for that if no other reason. Anyway, to return to the story, we looked back through the meticulous maintenance records kept by the previous (original) owner of the Toronado and found out that it hadn't been tuned up in I don't know when. I checked the timing before beginning the tuneup and found that it was set at 2 degrees after top dead center instead of the recommended 7-1/2 degrees before. "Hmm, that might have something to do with it," I thought. (It did.) The points and (Motorcraft) plugs that we took out weren't terrible, but they were ready for replacement. The cap and rotor were another story though; they were shot.

The tuneup was completed without incident, and we took the car for a "spin" (literally!). The exhaust sounded more "free" than it had before and I could tell right away that the car was running better. We took it out on my neighborhood "test loop" which includes a new empty road where they haven't started building new homes yet. From a standing start, ten feet or so of Goodyear Eagle GA was left on the pavement before I backed off. Remember, these cars spin the front wheels under these conditions! Pretty neat! This was more like the car that McCahill raved about!

So anyway, to bring you up to date, Cory's car has been tuned up and plans are afoot for fellow TC member Fred Nissen to rebuild the carb this summer; so everything is in good shape. The moral of the story is when you get a "new" car, tune it up right away, or at least check it over. The change in this car after the tuneup was radical, not surprisingly.

(Written June 1992)