1966 Oldsmobile Toronado Development

Dick Ruzzin’s Personal account of the development of the ’66 Tornado

Artwork by Dick Ruzzin

I was new and experiencing my first design program of note. It was all like magic, as sketches, words and imagination all converged on the project and influenced what was going on in the studio.

I clearly remember my participation and that of others in the room which follows. I was really impressed with the management as they discussed the abstract future of the design, even though it was incomplete. They apparently trusted that it could be developed into a solution for a project that we designers had no knowledge of.

The Name: Toronado
The name came from Chevrolet, used on a show car. It was originated by a designer in Chevrolet. Studio #1, Ira Gilford. He had a conversation with his father and uncle and developed the name which was then used on a Chevrolet show car. The roots of the made up name are, TORO (Bull), and NADO(Tornado). Oldsmobile asked for the name and Chevrolet gave it to them. Everyone thought it was a great name.

The E-car Program
The Toronado was one of a series of three cars that also included the Buick Riviera and the Cadillac Eldorado. The chassis was engineered to be capable of both front drive for the Toronado and Eldorado and rear drive for the Riviera. There was a balance of both interchangeable parts and specific parts for the individual cars.

The windshield, A-pillar and door side glass was shared by all three cars.The roof panel and backlight were shared by Toronado and Riviera. Door inners were shared by all three as well as various underbody panels. Each car’s individual sheet metal pieces allowed the unique appearance achieved byall three. The only piece that you could really see as common was the windshield pillar.

1966 Tornado and Riveria in Body Development Studio.

Ferrari Influence
To clearly define and communicate its vision of the future unnamed E-Car, John Beltz, Chief Engineer of Oldsmobile bought a dark red Ferrari. This tight four passenger close coupled coupe was seen also by the Oldsmobile Studio as a personal car size that was appropriate for the future product that would be called Toronado. This size would have dictated a smaller platform for the car. The spread of size between the needs of the three ultimately dictated a larger size.

Advanced Design #3
We were asked to send all of our primary sketches and board drawings to Advanced #3 to start the program as we could not do it because of other pressing work. Chuck Jordan also wanted to register the design in comparison to the coming Riviera and Eldorado that were not as far along. I assume he wanted to see a firm direction for all three.

We started a clay model to match the Ferrari 330 GT 2+2, maybe on the then current Camaro / Firebird platform.

Later when it came back as an incomplete full-size clay model we made massive changes to the clay buck to match the new E car platform and started in earnest to complete the design for production. There was a lot of work to do.

Ferrari 330 GT 2+2

Evolution of the Design
The greatest design credit should be given to Don Logerquist, the designer who originated the theme that the red rendering and the cars design was developed from. The sketch was made during our efforts to develop an alternate design for the 1965 Oldsmobile B car that was underway as a full sized clay model. Chuck Jordan was excited about the design that was being put on the alternate side of the B clay and he brought Irv Rybicki in for an opinion as he had been Chief of Olds before Stan Wilen. He called it a design that could be used in the near future on a “special car” for Oldsmobile. Shortly after that the red rendering was started, worked on by Dave North, Don Logerquist and Stan as advisor. Dave did most of the layout and rendering and Don helped develope the look of the surfaces.

1966 Toronado

I saw Irv use this technique later when I was Chief of Chevrolet #2, he started watching for design solutions as soon as he knew a new program was coming, even before anyone else knew it.

It is true that Dave North did the rendering with some of Don’s help. Stan was the one who inspired the front end, a thin long slot like the Firebird 3 and I eventually did the rear, a derivative of the Ferrari GT Kamm inspired race car called the Bread Van, tailpipes and all. Stan helped with the tailamps, coordinating them with the front grill, asking me to keep them low, above the bumper and as wide as possible. A simple harmonic solution It was and had to be in sharp contrast to the rear designs on the Riviera and Eldorado.

Toronado Rendering

If you look at the red rendering compared to the final car you will see that it is very different. The major design element, the two large wheel flares, are not seen on the red rendering. They emerged after Bill Mitchell eliminated the top line on the rear quarter and connected the rear corner of the Kamm inspired rear end to the outboard roof crease that had to match the Riviera roof panel. The rear wheel lip flare was naturally very large as it had to reach further to meet the quarter surface, much further than the front wheel lip flare. This problem resulted in the change of the entire body side section, upon close examination you will see that the two flares are at a different angle, this was done to make them look the same.

Detroit Auto Show. WhooHoo! Some outfits!

The final lower bodyside was an attempt to create a “frame” look which Bill Mitchell was enthralled with at the time (See the 1964 Pontiac Tempest / GTO). It worked very well to give the car the look of a low center of gravity. and a line to connect the two wheel shapes. This was a contribution by Stan who watched and balanced the design as it went.

Bill Mitchill changed the design from the red rendering after the clay model came back to Oldsmobile Studio from Advanced Design #3. He connected the line on the roof to the tail end of the car to create a side plane carrying the large wheel oriented shapes, front and rear. This was a brilliant move that took the design to another level making it more unique than ever. It also helped connect the quarter line on the Toronado to the roof panel that we had to share with the Riviera, although this made the execution of that part of the car more difficult for us.

1966 Olds Toronado Brochure

Advanced Design #3 Studio
We were asked to send all of our primary sketches, scale models and board drawings to Advanced #3 Studio to start the program, as we could not do it because of other pressing facelift work on existing models. Chuck Jordan also wanted to register the design in comparison to the coming Riviera and Eldorado that were not as far along.

When it came back as an incomplete full-size clay model we started in earnest to complete the design for production. There was a lot of work to do, the front and rear were not up to the side view theme as the design was being led by the red rendering with the fender peak going from the baqck of the car into the sail panel. Bill Mitchell changed it and then the rear could be done in its finalized form.

—Dick Ruzzin, Junior Creative Designer in Oldsmobile Studio

Chicago Auto Show

Addendum
Bill Porter sent me message when he found out that I was writing a memoir of the Toronado a couple of years ago.

It was about a project he was working on in the Advanced area in the early 1960s. Specifically, a scale model done by Les Johnson that had a low body line that went rearward fro m the front wheel opening, hopping over the skirted rear wheel and then becoming horizontal again and going on to the rear of the car. There was a large flare into the quarter at the top of the hopping line. Les asked Bill to make a sketch of it for him, which he did. Bill Mitchell came in and responded to it.

I think that there is no doubt that they had created a theme that was the result of similar needs to ours in the Oldsmobile Studio years later as the Toronado was developed. Stan was the author of the low line that went over the wheel openings. He did this to impart a focus on the wheels as a theme to become foundational for Oldsmobile. The Toronado theme was a much larger statement that when conceived as shown on the red rendering did not have large flares, they evolved during the three dimensional surface development. I do recall that Don’s gray and yellow pastel sketch did have them.

At the time the Toronado was designed there was a great deal of enthusiasm, generated by Bill Mitchell for wheel oriented design solutions. A large, volume of work was being done in the Design building around this theme and outside there were a large number of themes that were being used on race cars around the world. The combination of elements that made up the Toronado design were completely originated and assembled in Oldsmobile Studio under Stan Wilen.

The enthusiasm generated for the design was a result of its unique individual elements and its design solution in total that was very fresh. There is no doubt that there may have been some design elements that through previous years were similar to the final solution in some ways. Neither myself, Frank Munoz, Dave North or Stan Wilen ever discussed any work that had been done elsewhere in the building in referance to the developing Toronado design.

I did see in Chuck Jordan’s office once a small idealistic theme model in silver that had a clean monocoque side with wheel portrusions, but not the same theme that we developed in Oldsmobile Studio, it was simpler.

GM Design was a design generating machine. You could say that everything had an effect on everything else.

—Dick Ruzzin

21 Comments on “1966 Oldsmobile Toronado Development

  1.  by  Dick Ruzzin

    Gary,
    Please add the information that I have sent about some scale models done several years earlier in one of the advanced studios, Bill Porter was involved in their development. A horizontal line that jumps over a skirted rear wheel is one one of the models.

    Thanks for posting this.

    DICK RUZZIN

  2.  by  John Houlihan

    Totally awesome design! I recall the introduction when I was a senior at Notre Dame. All the car design guys made the annual dealer check in the fall to scope the new cars. We were blown away by the Toronado. Little did I know then that in less than a year I would be joining the talented group of designers who created that exquisite piece of rolling sculpture. Dave North was my first boss at Design Development Studio. Chuck Jordan was influential in my hiring. I am forever grateful to those guys (including Bob Veryser) and to GM for giving me my start in design.

  3.  by  Roy Lonberger

    Thanks Dick and Gary for the inside story. In my opinion, the Toronado was one of the most original concepts to have ever come out of GM: a real hallmark in automobile design.

    I would be interested in learning from Dick if he was aware during his design involvement that the vehicle was originally going to be powered by the flat-12 modular engine developed by Chevrolet Research (and used as a six cylinder in the Corvair Monza GT)? I know that the engine was tested in a Toronado mule.

  4.  by  Norm James

    Thanks , Dick, for the story. It was a good way of presenting it. It would be a good to have a similar one for all projects (and in all industries). A good summary.

    Norm

  5.  by  SYD MEAD

    Definately a superb design example for production. Given the various match-ups required to make the car commercially feasible, even more remarkable. It is hands down the most innovative, startling, elegant design to come out of GM styling at the time. Further generations considerably screwed up the proporations and the integrated symphony of coordinated surfaces and alignments.

  6.  by  Jay Maggio

    Great story! I’d bet few automobiles in the 60′s had ever graced as many magazine covers as the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. What a great design! These cars still turn heads today.

  7.  by  Christopher Dowdey

    What a fantastic design accomplishment, and team effort. The creative connection between the Engineering, Design and Modeling teams is over the top. I was fortunate enough to work with Dick Ruzzin on a few specialty projects for GM Cadillac at ASC Design and found him to be
    a great Designer with wonderful attention to detail. He had this wonderful capability to see the surface and just really communicate the proper surface flow. Wonderful Design Historian and he also has this fantastic Mangusta with a one of a kind small block Chevy heart, hah hah.
    Dick also created (inspired) the idea for the Eyes on Design Charity show which has become a world class celebration of Vehicle Designs and Designers.
    It was a privilege to work with him on the very first few shows and just an all around great Car guy!

  8.  by  Glen Durmisevich

    Dick, great recount of the development of one of the all time great revolutionary designs. A true testiment to the talents of Stan Wilen, Dave North Don Logerquist and you, and to Bill Michell’s ability to recognize and hone a special car from them. Having worked with all of you, I have great respect for you designers.

  9.  by  Tom Weber

    The 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado is a stunningly beautiful example of automotive architecture at its finest. Forty seven years later, its lines, forms, shapes and volumes still excite the viewer.

    Such timeless beauty most certainly qualifies the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado as a candidate for induction into the Museum of Modern Art.

  10.  by  John M. Mellberg

    Dick and Gary,
    Thanks for bringing this presentation to light. It clearly captures the ‘creative spirit’ which prevailed at GM Styling during that era, with the Toronado leading the pack of great designs produced. Dick, you and your design colleagues who worked on the Toronado and the other 2 ‘E’ body cars, along with Design Staff Leadership, all deserve our sincere admiration and respect for creating these wonderful ‘timeless designs.’ They truly represented GM’s ‘Mark of Excellence!’ Thanks for sharing this with us!
    John M. Mellberg

  11.  by  Scott Johnston

    I own a beautiful 66 Toro in forest mist and I drive it almost every day. It lifts my spirits and lightens my stress. I love my car and agree with all that was said before me!

  12.  by  Jerry Weitz

    Having worked for Oldsmobile from 1963 to 1982 I was fortunate to be able to see some of the chassis components being developed. That was in Lansing where our office access took us through the drafting/design area so we could observe. It was heavily rumored about the “Toronado” and then when we saw daily the Delta 88 with funny wheels and a locked hood on the parking lot, we knew it was going to be for real.
    I then went into the field as a District Service Manager in Feb. ’65 but wasn’t able to get a Toro company car until January ’66 but it was worth the wait. It definitely was an attention getter and a dream to drive.
    Great article on the different stages of development.
    I have a “66 being restored, a picture of the “Flame Red Car” rendering on my wall and visit with David North periodically as he resides here in Billings, MT.
    Thanks to all for the info.

  13.  by  DICK RUZZIN

    After the Toronado we started a new A Car in Oldsmobile Studio for 1968. It naturally had some of the Toronado design flavor. In actuality the proportions were more futuristic and the design solution was an evolution of the Toronado design.

    I can only imagine what the Toronado proportions would look like with the softer and more subtle surfaces that resulted in the Toronado theme on the A-Car. This would have been a more sophisticated design solution.

    DICK RUZZIN

  14.  by  David McIntosh

    Thanks for the story. I was in Design Development studio in Oct.’64 when we saw pics of the Toro. We were so blown away by the boldness. It was easily the most stimulating car during this time of very intense creative thinking. I didn’t know about the Ferrari connection and
    I always thought the car should have been smaller and tighter (not less bold) and the ’68 Cutlass was also brilliant-my 2 most favorite Oldsmobiles. I also believe the ’66 E body to be the very best shared component project ever. Congratulations even now to all the designers.

  15.  by  John A Frye

    Harry Bradley told our Art Center class that the name came from a model of vacuum cleaner that the custodial crew was using in the office at GM. Was he involved in the design at all?

  16.  by  Greg Beaulieu

    Dick, thank you for the background on the Toronado program. I found your comments about your next assignment interesting. I have had a ’68 Cutlass 2-door for the last 20 years and have always loved the design. I have always wondered about the story of that design program. Even with a large amount of writing having been done about the 4-4-2 over the years, I have yet to read an account anywhere about the design of the Olds ’68-’72 A-body program or any commentary on it from those who were there. I would love to see something along those lines someday, so perhaps you can turn your mind to that one of these days!

    Thank you once again.

    Greg Beaulieu
    Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada

  17.  by  DICK RUZZIN

    JOHN,
    Harry Bradley was not involved in the 66 Toronado design. I do not think that he was even working at Design when it was done, about 1963. The people involved in the creative part of the design program are the ones that I mention in the account. Later some others came in after it was released for production with possibly the exception of some minor details. Dave North left and Dick Finnegan came in as Stan’s assistant, also Chuck Mason came in after we started the A car. There was a facelift program that moved away from the original concept. Toronado sales were not on fire and Oldsmobile really wanted an Eldorado clone by then.

    I first met Harry when working on the 1979 Nova. He later left for Chrysler and worked on the Barracuda.

    DICK RUZZIN

  18.  by  Bill Whiting

    As a young boy of 12 years of age I watched with great intrepidation as they took the paper down covering the windows of Lindale Olds in Bloomington, MN. sp on Lindale is probably incorrect for they went out of business years later. There the Toronado sat and it took awhile for my father and I to get anywhere close to see it. I knew then someday I would own one. Fast forward to the fall of 1985. I was looking for a Winter Runner here in Minnesota (they use SALT) and being a Pontiac Family I was looking for a Catalina 1973 when under the Catalina in the same ad “Old Toro”. I was working the graveyard shift and the newspaper was delivered about 4am. By 5:30am I couldn’t wait any longer I HAD TO KNOW THE YEAR! I called and talked to a sleepy voice, “Sir I appoligize for the time of this call, but what year is the Toronado?” aahh a 66, can I call back at say 9:30 am, yes. I called my wife waking her I found a 66 DEAREST! Oh, that is nice what is a 66? Toronado I exclaimed! The gentleman was very nice and gave me directions to come see it. He stated the car is pickled and on blocks and his mechanic would have to spend sometime preparing it to run. We got there and oh my, this was in prestine condition 25k miles no winters, rain, and no parking lots so no dings. I smiled and stated Sir, I can’t afford this machine of machines. He looked at me is that your car out there, yes and he went through my car and after a while stated, what can you afford? I looked and felt very uncomfortable nothing what this is worth. He smiled I’m dying and I want my toys to go to people who will love them and you calling me at the ungratful hour and your excitement I know you will love this toy of mine. So you write me out a number and if I feel I can sell it to you, mind you my mechanic will take a week to prepare it. He smiled at my paper, I at first thought he was laughing at me for it was all I had and that just being a hundred over the 1973 Catalina. I’ll call you when she is cleaned and ready to come live with you my son. I still have her. My Toronado has been to the Conquere’s de- Elagance on Lake of the Isles by being invited and one other show also being acknowledged as Best in Class at the Oldsmobile Society in Golden Valley MN. She now had 54k miles and has yet to see a parking lot!

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