Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage – The 1968-70 Oldsmobile Toronado W-34

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Welcome to the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage, a regular feature which aims to expand the notion of what a muscle car is, and to expand conventional thinking while we’re at it. This was the true peak of the classic muscle car era, rife with fire-breathing HEMIs, Ford Cobra Jets, and at least four different GM big blocks. Let me introduce you to a true full-size coupe–but one with over 400 hp driving the front wheels. I give you the Oldsmobile Toronado W-34.

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The Oldsmobile Toronado was what you would call a breakthrough car when it debuted in the fall of 1965. General Motors was at the top of its game back then, with the recent introduction in 1965 of their entire stable of all-new full size-cars (from Chevrolet right up through Cadillac), a redesigned Corvair, their now 2-year-old mid-sized cars (Chevelle, Special, F-85, and Tempest), along with freshened versions of the Corvette and Chevy II. It was now time to come out with something that was sports-car inspired, but large enough to be a luxury car (remember, we’re talking about the mid 60′s!). After 8 years of research and tests, Oldsmobile was confident enough in the engineering of the components that would be used in their first FWD muscle car, and so the Toronado was put into production.

1970 Oldsmobile Toronado-03

The Toronado was GM’s first subframe automobile, which means it was a partial unibody with a subrame that ended at the forward end of the rear suspension, serving as a mounting point for the leaf springs. It carried the powertrain, front suspension and floorpan, allowing greater isolation of road and engine harshness. The radical new ride was a styling success, but not much of a sales success.

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The Toronado went on for the 1966 and 67 seasons with few changes, however, there were changes coming. A special option code called W-34 was available on the 1968–70 Toronado. This option included a cold-air induction system for the air cleaner, a special performance camshaft and a “GT” transmission calibrated for quick and firm up-shifts and better torque multiplication at 5 mph (8 km/h). Dual exhaust outlets, similar to the 1966–67 model years with cutouts in the bumper, were also included with W-34. The W-34 option provided an additional 25 horsepower from the 455 by using larger intake valves, and was similar to a W-30 442 option in a rear-drive Olds. The compression ratio was 10.25:1, and the final drive ratio, 3.07:1.

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For 1970 only, the W-34 option also included special “GT” badges on the exterior of the car. The W-34 Toronado was capable of 0–60 mph in 7.5 seconds and the standing 1/4 mile in 15.7 seconds @ 89.8 mph. With its low stance and 400 front-drive horsepower, there was nothing else like it in 1970–it was a unique luxury-muscle coupe with more hp per pound than any production FWD car until the Cadillac Allante.

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Of the 25,433 Toronados built in 1970, only 5,341 were Toronado GT models, making the GT the rarest of Doctor Olds’ “W” Machines (W-34). Advertising copy of the day described it as ” A One-of-a-Kind Car, in a Carbon Copy World.”

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There you have it: a large, comfortable, 2-door coupe, its expansive hood hiding a 400 hp V8 mated to a beefed-up transmission. I ask, is this not the definition of an Obscure Muscle Car? Or should it be disqualified by its FWD? State your case and be ready to defend it.

[poll id=”169″]
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39 responses to “Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage – The 1968-70 Oldsmobile Toronado W-34”

  1. dukeisduke Avatar

    The '66 and the '70 models are my favorite Toronados, and the '70 GT is my favorite, period. I've experienced Toronado burnouts. Tire smoke pouring in through the front windows – what's not to love?

  2. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    And it appeared in a James Bond film, where its front wheel drive could shine. Always loved these.

  3. CalculatedRisk Avatar

    Didnt even need to read the article (but I will, promise) to KNOW thats a muscle car. Much cooler than the front drive Caddys

    1. CalculatedRisk Avatar

      Oh, and gotta love those enormous flared fenders

  4. GuyMan Avatar

    FWD will never be a muscle car.

  5. cruisintime Avatar

    To drive one , which I have ,is to know that they are Muscle Cars.

  6. Das Shtig Avatar

    Jay Leno's got a RWD '66… Here's his short video with the man who was on the design team — http://youtu.be/zuB5DULvw7Y

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Redwalls?

  7. muthalovin Avatar

    Sexy as hell, for sure. Muscle? Kinda-sorta, I guess.

  8. Mark T. Jordan Avatar

    My Dad's last car was a '69 Toro, which I had the pleasure of driving on many occasions. While I was not particularly a fan of the '68-'70
    massive front bumper (feeling it was somewhat a ham-handed styling update to the purity of the original '66 design), I was nevertheless taken with its abundant power and very good road manners (for a 4500-lb. car). I also remember that, no matter how hard you pushed it off the line, there was never even the faintest hint of torque steer. Pretty amazing for 400+ horsepower. The Japanese and German fwd engineers could learn a thing or two from this. And it never failed to get us through some pretty awful Northeast winters, full of snow and ice. What a locomotive!

  9. OA5599 Avatar

    "With its low stance and 400 front-drive horsepower, there was nothing else like it in 1970–it was a unique luxury-muscle coupe with more hp per pound than any production FWD car until the Cadillac Allante."
    Actually, there was a car very much like it in 1970: the Cadillac Eldorado. The only Eldo powerplant in 1970 was 500 CID with horsepower output matching the rating of the W-34, but torque exceeding that of the Olds by a full 10%. The Cadillac was slightly heavier, but not by much.
    As far as FWD horsepower per pound, don't forget the Olds was built prior to the switch to net horsepower ratings. If you converted gross hp to net, the output of the W-34 would likely be somewhere below 300 net hp, in a 4400 lb car. A Shelby GLHS was 175 net hp in a 2300 lb car. That was 1986, and the Northstar Allante didn't come out until 1993,

  10. schigleymischke Avatar

    I've never seen one of those first models. I've only seen the later 70's and 80's versions. Those first cars are beautiful.

  11. Modeleccentric Avatar

    Muscle car in a sharkskin suit. Still one o the best looking cars ever to come out of GM, I never had the pleasure of driving one, but I rode in an acquaintances several times. Just a beast.

  12. stigshift Avatar

    I hate the front end on the '68-9s, but give me a '70 GT, please!

  13. 993cc Avatar

    From what I've read, the brakes were AWFUL. So, yeah, it's a muscle car.

  14. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

    For a car with its drivetrain completely afore the firewall, The Toro ironically has quite a bit of junk in the truck. I have the same problem here as I did with the full-size Pontiac and Mercury you profiled recently. As much as I like them, full-size '60s cars are just too portly to be true muscle cars. All that mass, spread out over so much real estate…they're kind of like what a BMW X6M would be without the electronic wizardry to control the chassis.

    1. skitter Avatar

      This is kind of what I was trying to ask last week: There was a brief period in my early life where there was a meaningful size difference between, say, a Civic, a Camry, and a Caprice. Now, park a Fiesta Sedan next to a Fusion next to a Taurus, and my brain says they're basically the same. Go back to the '60s and '70s, and I have basically the same problem. EVERYTHING looks huge. With the utmost respect for my barely older elders, is the ability to tell '60s full-sizes from intermediates a generational marker?

  15. GTXcellent Avatar

    Much like the last few featured cars (even back to the Lightning), I think the definition of what is and isn't a muscle car is really dependent on powertrain. Is a 307 powered Malibu a muscle car? Not in my book, but the exact same car only now equipped as a LS6 Chevelle SS is a dictionary definition. In that vein, is a base Toronado a muscle car? Not a chance. Does a special order, high compression, high horsepower Toronado fit? I have to lean yes.

  16. Sjalabais Avatar

    A face with character and an outstanding car in its time and place. Beautiful, wild and desirable. With the power of 5-8 common European family sedans of its time.
    Muscle it is!

  17. PushrodRWD Avatar

    Luxury Muscle.
    The interior was fantastic, especially the wheel and instrument panel of the earlier versions. I remember folks tearing up the road in the snow with these cars and the ugly 70's versions.
    <img src="http://automotivemileposts.com/toronado/images/toro1966instrumentpanel.jpg"&gt; <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziYJVoaOeiI” target=”_blank”>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziYJVoaOeiI

  18. RegalRegalia Avatar

    You all make me sad.

    1. Jim Brennan Avatar

      Would you care to explain?

      1. RegalRegalia Avatar

        I love the car, but calling FWD muscle is just too much.

  19. mac350 Avatar

    2.5 tons, 400hp – this is one heavy metal brute. I definitely think a fwd car can be a muscle car when it has this kind of clout.

    1. mac350 Avatar

      Nothing wrong here.

    1. stigshift Avatar

      Now THAT's a wagon!

  20. Rover1 Avatar

    Whatever happened to vinyl roofs?

    1. Jim Brennan Avatar

      Today's new cars are not readily designed for a vinyl roof, mostly because the door frames tend to wrap around the roof, so there is no clear cut-off point for the Vinyl Roof Style. Here is an example of a modern car with an aftermarket Vinyl Roof Applied:
      <img src="http://www.billgillam.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/vinyl-roof-toyota-camry.jpg"/&gt;

      1. OA5599 Avatar

        Also, today's car roofs tend to be shaped round and blobby. It's hard to get the vinyl to conform to curves in two dimensions without puckering or bubbling.
        When the first generation LH Chryslers were being designed, the instructions to the designers were to make the roof so curvy, it would be impossible to add an aftermarket vinyl top. 70's cars with vinyl roofs tended to have relatively flat rooflines with sharp creases or other trim, making it relatively easy to fit three pieces of vinyl and call it a day.
        <img src="http://www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/chrysler_lhs_1995.jpg"&gt;

        1. ptschett Avatar

          Tastelessness knows no bounds. (Yah, I know, 2nd-gen car…)
          <img src="http://imganuncios.mitula.net/1999_chrysler_lhs_base_riverdale_nj_97678254404241586.jpg"/&gt;
          And then there's this, which needs vanity plates reading "Medusa"…
          <img src="http://media.zenfs.com/en/blogs/motoramic/cady2.jpg&quot; width="500"/>

  21. windbuechse Avatar

    If you get rear ended you can always make one of these exquisite car-haulers:
    <img src="http://www.442.com/tech/haulerside.gif&quot; width="600"> http://www.442.com/tech/hauler.html

  22. mallthus Avatar

    Did someone say Tornado drivetrain?
    <img src="http://gmc.dwinchester.com/gmc_with_rainer.jpg&quot; width=600>

    1. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar

      Not only that, said drivetrain is effectively unaltered.

  23. Ate Up With Motor Avatar

    My favorite thing about the W-34 and the '68-'69 Toronado in general was the concealed headlights arrangement. The grilles retract to reveal a second set of identical-looking (albeit more inset) grilles with the headlights. The W-34 package included a thermostatic switch that would automatically pop open the outer grilles if the engine temperature crossed a certain threshold, allowing better radiator airflow. It probably would have been useful for all Tornados, not just W-34s, since under-hood temperatures tended to be very high. Either way, the whole thing sort of redefined "overengineering."
    As for whether the W-34 counted as a muscle car, well… by the standards of the time, barely. Yes, it had 400 gross horsepower, but it also weighed nearly 4,700 lb with a full load of options and had a 3.07 axle, which meant quarter mile ETs in the high 15s. That was certainly respectable by any rational standard, and admittedly a purely stock SS936 or Ford Fairlane GT wasn't a whole lot faster, but it was kind of a stone compared to something like a Road Runner.

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