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    For most of my automotive life I have been a rear-wheel- drive guy. I knew that all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive provided better traction but, having grown up in New England where snow lay on the ground for at least four or five months of the year, I reckoned rear-wheel drive was just more fun. Doing donuts in a deserted supermarket car park on a Sunday morning, after a Saturday night snowfall, was way more fun than snowboarding or skiing. It’s why I chose the McLaren P1 over the Porsche 918. Hanging the tail out is one of driving’s greatest pleasures. I was well into adulthood before I got near a front-wheel-drive vehicle.

    / #1972-Citroen-SM / #1972 / #Citroen-SM / #Citroen / #Citroen-DS21 / #Citroen-DS / #1971 / #Cord / #Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Oldsmobile / #Citroen-Traction-Avant-15-Six / #Citroen-Traction-Avant

    In America back then, front-wheel drive was more for economy and practicality than anything else. The first post-war American car to feature front drive was the #1966-Oldsmobile-Toronado , and what an impressive debut it was. At a time when Italian manufacturers said you could never put more than 225bhp into the front wheels because of torque steer, the Toronado’s 7-litre V8 had 375bhp. And the fact it was the fastest stock car at the 1966 Pikes Peak Hillclimb helped to seal the deal.

    This radical automobile made me want to learn more. I set out to find myself the last great American front-wheel-drive car: the #Cord-810 and #Cord-812 from 1936 or 1937. It, too, had a V8 engine. In stock form it made 125bhp but you could have it with a supercharger. I found myself a #1937-Cord-812 , naturally aspirated. It was transformed with modern radial tyres, feeling and driving more like a car from the 1960s than the 1930s. The electric pre-selector gearbox is mounted in front of the engine so there’s a flat floor, freeing up more passenger room in the cabin.

    What killed it, besides gearbox problems, was that American cars at this price range were huge. This was the first ‘personal-size’ luxury car, and you seemed to get a lot more car for your money if you went the traditional route.
    My next front-driver was a #1972-Citroen-SM , Motor Trend’s Car of the Year. Rumour says the editor got fired because Citroën didn’t take out huge full-page ads logging its accomplishments like American carmakers did. Every enthusiast should drive an SM before they die. It has sleek aerodynamics, oleopneumatic suspension, quick power steering and the finest five-speed gearbox I have ever used. Driving in the rain was especially pleasurable because when you hit the brakes the rear end would go down rather than the front end, like a speedboat slowing down in the water. And the unique aerodynamics made the windscreen wipers almost superfluous.

    The excellence of this car made me check on Citroën’s earlier offerings. I soon acquired a #1971-Citroen-DS21 , the most comfortable car in the world. And a #1949-Citroen-Traction-Avant-15-Six , its six-cylinder engine better for today’s roads. Another great front-drive French car is the #Panhard-PL17 . It’s way more fun to drive than a Beetle, with only two cylinders but almost twice the power (60bhp for the Tigre model against 36 in a VW) from just 850cc. It weighs 1830lb [830kg], has a Cd of just 0.26 and can do nearly 90mph. It’s always more fun to drive slow cars fast. By far the strangest front-wheel-drive vehicle I have is a 1911 Christie fire engine. At the turn of the last century, fire engines were still horse-drawn because fire departments didn’t like combustion engines, considering them less reliable than horses. Walter Christie’s first pumper, built in 1899, was a horse-drawn unit.

    As engines gained favour, Christie came up with a two-wheel tractor with a 20-litre, four-cylinder engine and a two-speed gearbox to take the place of horses while pulling the same pumpers. It was much cheaper to operate than a team of horses because you didn’t have to feed the engine when it wasn’t running.

    Christie built about 800 of these until the early 1920s, when purpose-built fire engines finally took over. My strangest front-wheel-drive encounter happened recently, when I went skid-plate racing. If you’ve never heard of skid-plate racing – invented by a man named Robert Rice, aka Mayhem – don’t feel bad. Neither had I. You start with any legal front-drive vehicle, remove the rear tyres and weld a skid plate to the rear end. You’re dragging and sliding your rear end around corners, and it’s harder than it looks. Above 40mph it gets extremely tricky because you’re constantly steering and countersteering.

    In the first ten minutes I spun at least six times. When you come to a corner and feel the tail coming round, there’s almost nothing you can do. Unlike losing an early 911 in a corner, which happens so quickly you don’t realise it, this happens so slowly that you’re laughing the whole time as you try to save yourself. Who knew front-wheel drives could be so much fun?
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    RUN BY Martin Buckley
    OWNED SINCE November 2017

    / #1967-Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Oldsmobile / #Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Oldsmobile-Toronado-MkI / #1967

    I’ve probably been meaning to go to the Pre 50 American Auto Club Rally of the Giants for 30 years, but Only made it in July in the Toronado. I seem to recall it was always held at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, but Blenheim Palace has apparently been the location for some years now. Handily, that’s less than an hour from my house. At 10 mpg these things become important, but having said that I never resent any of the fuel that goes into this car because it’s always an event in itself to take out and use.

    Talking of fuel, and probably as a knee-jerk response to all this talk of electric cars, on an outing the other week I parked the Toronado in front of a charging bay at a local cafe to see what the response would be. Within minutes a burly man in a high-vis jacket was making an approach; it turned out he owned a late-’60s Cadillac and was coming over to have a perv!

    Nick Kisch came down the day before Rally of the Giants and talked me out of fitting a ‘GB’ badge on the back (I did it when he went home). He also helped me with the tail-lights, where I have been struggling to get the indicator and stop bulbs working on the offside. This was only a partial success: the reproduction bulb holders are rubbish, but I have a feeling I have the original type in the spares hoard. This is too technical for me and will require the input of Gus Meyer, who has every intention of finishing the carburettor tune-up and fitting the radio aerial but has not quite got around to it yet – he is a man in demand. To be honest, apart from the tickover being too slow – and a long-winded cold-start procedure/ slow warm up – none of this affects the driving of the car, although, as former Riviera man Graham Millard pointed out when he drove the Toronado a few months ago, I should really get the wheels balanced to get the full effect of the car’s smoothness on the road.

    On the Sunday of the event we went five-up; Nick and me in the front, and Mia and her friends Neil and Georgie in the back. This slightly compromised the rear ground clearance, resulting in the occasional exhaust grounding. I sometimes think it looks as though it has settled a little on its rear springs slightly anyway.

    Exposure to previous American car events had prepared me for a day of Confederate flags and lots of rebel yell-type shenanigans, but ROTG was as civilised as a vicar’s tea party with lots of well-informed people and great cars. My favourite was a beautiful Continental II that looked almost ethereal in silver-grey, but I was disappointed to see that there were no Corvairs or Studebaker Avantis. Mine was the only Toronado, and I got the impression a lot of people had not seen one of them before.

    Wafting through the Cotswolds, the extra weight had very little effect on the performance and it’s a nice car to drive in the summer with all the windows lowered; it’s cool but without too much wind noise, so you can chat normally. It would be nice to reinstate the air-conditioning some time but I don’t especially feel the need for it as much as I do in some other cars, the NSU in particular.

    A phone sat-nav revealed that my speedo is wildly optimistic: 100mph is a true 75mph. This makes me think I’m running the wrong size tyres (smaller diameter?), but I almost don’t want to know because I will then feel compelled to invest money I don’t have. The tyres that are on the car have loads of life left in them. Sometimes even semi-ignorance is bliss – and cheaper.

    1 Nick Kisch
    2 Pre 50 American Auto Club
    3 Gus Meyer

    Toronado was unique at the Pre 50 American Auto Club Rally of the Giants, and the ideal car for Buckley’s maiden and decades-overdue trip. Toronado attracted attention, with working rear light and indicators – but no GB badge, yet.
    Ruby continues to enjoy the Toronado. Modern tech has shown the speedo’s wrong. Rally of the Giants attracted great variety Full load of passengers had its pitfalls.
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    FIAT 130 COUPÉ

    / #Fiat-130-Coupe / #Fiat-130 / #Fiat /
    RUN BY Martin Buckley
    OWNED SINCE 2009

    I want to make #2019 the year in which I get everything – and I mean everything – sorted on the 130. It is 90% there but, as usual, the final 10% is proving the hardest. The problem with getting a car up and together piecemeal and ‘on the hoof’, as it were, is that as soon as you get one item right it tends to highlight all the other issues. What seemed acceptable last year now irritates the hell out of you.

    Top of my list for quite a while has been the suspension; every time I drive the Coupé, my overriding impression is that it wallows like a pig if driven with anything even approaching enthusiasm. Standards have moved a long way in 40 years, but these cars were fairly highly rated for their cornering capability. Yes, they rolled – everything did in the ’70s – but not quite as dramatically as this.

    It can only be dampers, really, but the odd thing is that when you bounce the car on each corner it feels rock-hard. I have mentioned this to Mark Devaney at Dino 24 Hundred several times, but we have now decided to galvanise ourselves. Mark has found a set of donor 130 Coupé struts and sent them off to Gaz Shocks in Essex which, as the name implies, builds custom gas shock absorbers. These take about four weeks to do (they are busy), so hopefully by the time you read this I’ll have a 130 that doesn’t want to scrape its doorhandles on the floor.

    Depending on how successful this proves to be, Mark is talking in terms of a thicker front anti-roll bar as well. The dampers will be adjustable, so hopefully we’ll be able to tweak them to best advantage without losing the good ride quality.

    The brakes are pretty decent, other than the fact that the vacuum in the servo disappears overnight so you have a solid pedal for the first minute or so; maybe it’s time to look at the booster. I still like the idea of finding an alternative disc and/or caliper to future-proof the car a little, because certain parts are getting rare and pricey. The way forward here may lie in the realm of the Stratos replica, because the genuine cars used a variety of 130 bits, possibly including the hubs and wheel bearings.

    I spent some time at the end of last year cleaning the engine bay with fairly good results. It was just a matter of some laborious elbow grease in every corner, making good use of the Polti steam-cleaner and the Gunk, then going over it again until you either get bored or realise you can’t get it looking any better unless you want to take the engine out – which, to be honest, is probably the only real way of doing the job properly. But still, it looks better than it did.
    As for the rest of the car, visually the only things I find irksome are the tired and faded window channels. I now have some samples of possible replacements from trim specialist Woollies to look at.

    Ace mechanic Gus Meyer sorted the fan-switch issue that cropped up on the Le Mans Classic trip, but we still need to look at the wipers (there’s only one speed when there should be two), the driver’s-side door lock (it won’t unlock) and fit the correct Marelli air horns: the Fiat’s American Edelweiss ones really should be on my #Oldsmobile-Toronado .

    It seems the 130 is going up in the world at last, because I’ve been contacted by two separate parties looking for parts for ground-up rebuilds; one the subject of a car restoration programme on the TV. This indicates that they are either climbing in value (they are, but only a bit and it’s never been about that with these cars for me) or, with the youngest now more than 40 years old, there just aren’t enough really nice ones to go around.

    This is true in the case of the right-hookers, but I seem to get offered left-hand-drive Coupés all of the time. Most are described as ‘rust-free but in need of recommissioning’ – an estate agent-style euphemism for ‘knackered’.

    Mark Devaney, Dino 24 Hundred:
    Gus Meyer

    Plenty of elbow grease has got the 130’s engine bay looking a whole lot more presentable.
    The Coupé looks good, but now Buckley wants to get it driving just as well; once rebuilt, the replacement dampers (right) should help.
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    RUN BY Martin Buckley
    OWNED SINCE November 2017

    / #1967-Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Oldsmobile / #Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Oldsmobile-Toronado-MkI / #1967

    I’ve had the Toronado 14 months and it still feels different and exciting every time I drive it. The best way to motivate myself to get minor things sorted is the prospect of taking it to an event; it had an invitation to the London Classic Car Show in February, but the plan changed and it wasn’t needed – yet it put some momentum behind getting a few things sorted nevertheless.

    Some of the jobs required are visual irritations, such as the missing passenger-side door button and the cracked cover for the floor-mounted seatbelt reel, which will require me to put an order in to the American parts specialist.
    Meanwhile, I got trimmer Dave Barker to make me a new boot-floor carpet to replace the terrible bit of rubbish that was in there. Ian Sealey at UK Detailing repainted the original pressed-steel air cleaner in matt black (it should be blue, but I went for a bit of artistic licence) to replace the chrome one, which looked a bit too hot-rod.

    The Toronado has never been easy to start from cold, so I got my mechanic Gus Meyer to clear a few days in his schedule to sort the carb, and at the same time fix the leak from the transmission that leaves little pink puddles all over-my shed.

    Gus had to renew the sump gasket, which is usually a straightforward job – drain the fluid, remove the sump, clean the mating surfaces, replace the gasket and refit the sump. On this gearbox, however, Oldsmobile omitted to fit a drain plug, so removing the fluid became an ‘interesting’ operation.

    “I had to remove all the bolts except for the ones along the front of the sump,” said Gus, “then loosen them slowly to allow the sump to tilt towards the rear and let the fluid drain out – or, rather, cascade out, with 50% missing the receptacle underneath.” Messy. Still, the rest went according to plan, the new gasket is now fitted and it looks to be leak-free.

    Another interesting incident was finding the correct transmission fluid. I thought all auto gearbox oil was the same – pink, with a very specific and not unpleasant whiff – but apparently not. “The original spec was a Type A,” explained Gus, “which is now almost obsolete. According to the internet, the successors went along the lines of Type A to Type A suffix A, then onto Dexron and Dexron II.

    “Comma claims that its ATF AQM is a suitable replacement for the earlier Type A suffix A, so that is what I used.” It’s worth checking if you are running something old with an automatic in it.

    Replacing points and condenser was simple, using the tune-up kit pal Merrill Benfield brought over in the summer, as was setting the dwell angle and renewing the oil-pressure sensor, which was also leaking. Gus traced the cold-start issue to a non-functioning acceleration pump plunger seal. A new carb kit is on order, but he managed a temporary repair for now. The next job will be to set up the automatic choke and fast idle, once Gus has worked out the grainy pictures in the workshop manual.

    One thing I must remember to do is replace the fuel sender: the current one is vague, and I blessed the spare can of fuel that previous owner Marko left in the boot when I ran out last summer. I suspect the drum-type speedo tells similar fibs; coming back from the Bibury Classic Car Hub on a summer evening, I thought I was doing well in the Toronado until a pal in an Aston V8 went past as if I was at a standstill. We did all the local shows last year and got some nice comments.

    At the Tetbury Classic Car Show I had an interesting chat with a guy from the Ford Corsair Owners’ Club and told him about the one I used to play in as a kid on my auntie’s farm in Worcestershire circa 1971. I had to smile when he asked if I could find out if it’s still there!

    The Oldsmobile is the perfect art installation for The Shed, and never fails to generate interest or start a conversation. Martin’s mum Barbara tries Olds for size Dave Barker measures up for boot carpet. Ruby the dog enjoys the vast, comfy cabin. Buckley’s futuristic Toronado on show at Kemble airfield, with suitable jet-age backdrop.
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    When Bullitt came out with Steve McQueen I wanted to know everything about the Ford Mustang. The same with #Knight-Rider – I remember tuning in just to see the car. These days most people don’t notice the cars the stars are driving, but they seem to know the ones in the video games, like Gran Turismo 6, which just came out.

    / #Steve-McQueen / #Bullitt / #1968-Bullit / #Gran-Turismo-6 / #1966-Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Ford-Mustang / #Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Mark-Donohue

    The idea that concept cars make their first appearance in video games makes a lot of sense. A movie opens and it makes $50 million and is a huge success. A video game launches and makes 700, 800, 900 million dollars on the first day because people want to see those vehicles.

    In the movie you tend to think of your self as James Bond or Steve-McQueen , whereas in the video game there is no human element, it’s just the car. So you are the driver, as opposed to that person, and you can make it do whatever you want it to. And the video games are way more accurate than the movies. There’s a whole cottage industry of picking out all the little mistakes in various car films. The only thing missing from games now is the gasoline and rubber smell. When you watch a game like Gran Turismo 6, they’ve gone to great trouble to recreate the sounds exactly. A friend of mine got one of the driving games and it has Mark Donohue’s Camaro in it. And he couldn’t last past a certain time, he just couldn’t get any better. Then he read Mark Donohue’s book about how he set up his Camaro and his tyre pressures and things, and he put all the stats from the book into the video game. He was lapping faster. So you actually are driving the car.

    When I got to drive a Jaguar at the Nürburgring, I practised on the video game. Braking points, the Karussell, all of it was exactly as it was in real life. Not that I had it memorised, but it meant that the track was not foreign to me when I got there.

    The amazing thing to me is the amount of time people dedicate to it. If you’r e going to sit down and play a game it’s the same as watching a two-hour movie. You sit down and pick your team, your tyres, and your car. It’s hours of information and input. You’re racing against some guy in Thailand and he’s racing against some guy in Finland. It’s a huge commitment.

    My #1966 #Oldsmobile Toronado is in Gran Turismo 6. They did a great job with the Toronado. The attention to detail is amazing because you just take for granted that when a car goes by you see a shadow. You don’t realize how many hours went in to making that shadow. When they did the car, they came to my garage with a secret camera and they put the car in the middle of the floor with a big tent over it. It was some kind of 3D camera but I don’t know what it does because I wasn’t allowed to see it. It is not just the look but the feel they have replicated well. The heaviness of the big sedan is matched in the game just great.

    I had the #Mercedes-Benz Gran Turismo concept car in my garage recently. It’s stunning. The front of that car looks like an SLR from the ’50s. The pure design of it I thought was really really good. I thought it was a clean design, it looked masculine, and it looked Mercedes-Benz. It looked futuristic yet it looked like it could also be a real car.

    People ask why Mercedes would go to all that trouble for a video game. When you say it like that it sounds disdainful, but when you use the words they used, ‘Gaming Console’, it suddenly sounds more important. It is a gaming console that is played by millions of people. It’s why games, not movies, are seen as the future.

    If a car is in a movie it might only be in the shot for a second. There was some hype about Lexus in that movie with Tom Cruise, but he got in the car and drove away in a second or two, before you even realised what he was driving. In a video game you know your car is going to be seen by exactly the people you’re trying to reach – young men, aged 12 and up. Guys who will soon be getting their licence. And what car are they going to want to drive? The car they lusted after in the video game. It’s very clever marketing. In the future I think you will see people going to dealerships and taking virtual test drives in a simulator. An actual seat from the car and the dashboard in front of you and you’ll ‘drive’ this ‘car’ instead of taking it out on a real test drive. You’ll go on a virtual test drive to see if you like it. I think that will happen. We will see cars reach reality, having started on video games. We already have. Every major car company will do this.

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    Car #1967-Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Oldsmobile / #Oldsmobile-Toronado / #Oldsmobile-Toronado-MkI / #1967

    Run by Martin Buckley
    Owned since November 2017
    Total mileage 90,219
    Miles since
    acquisition 250
    Latest costs £250


    The Toronado arrived safe and fairly sound in mid-November. I say fairly sound because it wouldn’t start, leaving me with a great lump of a car that I had to push into my shed having just parted with £350 to get it delivered. I understood why the invoice was so hefty when the recovery man turned up towing my new purchase with a Hummer.

    The next day, I got it fired up pretty readily thanks to the jumppack then prepared myself to be frustrated by all the little problems that I was too excited to notice when I saw the car in Finland a few weeks before. Perhaps uniquely in my car-buying history, the Oldsmobile is better than I remember it.

    I suppose the only thing I might question is that it looks to be sitting slightly low on its rear wheels. When funds allow, I will have to get the rear panel painted in body colour and the wheels done in the correct silver; and, yes, I suppose I could have the headlining sorted, although the rips don’t offend me. Previous owner Marko even threw in the correct headlining material – he had just picked it up on a trip to the States – along with a treasuretrove of other stuff, including a Holley carburettor to replace the original Carter. He had run the car with the Holley for a while, but felt that it ran better on the original.

    The jury is out on that because it doesn’t run that well on the Carter; the auto choke is not doing very much because it takes a lot of churning and pumping to get it fired up from cold and, once fully warm, it doesn’t want to idle and loses power. Mike Conner at Purley Road Garage is going through the fuel and electrics to find the culprit.

    The only other annoyance has been with the left-hand headlamp eyelid that decided it didn’t want to come up; this was easily sorted once we worked out that the mechanism had come adrift. It was also low on transmission fluid when it arrived (odd because Marko had changed the fluid), which was causing a delay in drive being taken up. Once topped up, all seems to be well.

    My first task was getting an MoT and it flew through. Once I had got all the paperwork together, and filled out the V55 form, the V5 followed about three weeks later.

    The only expenses up to now have been a new battery plus a set of period plates from Framptons. There was a slight concern with the latter because I like the silver-on-black type with the separate raised digits, but the hole for the rear plate (which doubles as the fuel-filler flap) is not large enough to allow for this style, so they had to make me a smaller one with motorcyclesized pressed digits for the rear.

    I suspect this is a historical problem with American motors in the UK. In Steve Miles’ book Over Here, The American Car in England in the 1960s, most of the vehicles have short index numbers.

    I’m looking forward to doing some decently long trips in the Toronado. It is like most other full-sized Yanks of its era, in that the steering is light and the brakes are marginal if you want to use the performance – the big drums get smelly and unhappy quite early on, although it always pulls up straight. It’s also unlike most of its contemporaries in that the ride is firm and there is not a lot of body lean.

    Once you get the hang of the steering, you learn to trust that this huge coupé will just track faithfully through your favourite curves, running slightly wide under power and tucking itself in gently when you lift off. It is deceptively fast, with incredibly good straight-line stability. Combine that with the fact that it is also quiet (apart from some wind whistle from the driver’s window seal) and you start to get the feel for a machine that must make a really relaxed mile-eater. The size doesn’t worry me and you can’t expect it to be anything other than indecently thirsty, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a supremely extravagant piece of mid-century personal transportation that delights children of all ages, dispels every politically correct thought you have ever had and gives ecologists heart failure at 100 yards; that kind of entertainment has to be paid for.


    Δ Framptons:
    Δ Jason Holland:

    Ride is firm, and Buckley fears that the Toronado is sitting slightly low on its rear suspension.

    Once the 7-litre #Oldsmobile-V8 is fettled, it’ll develop 385bhp – more than enough to spin the fronts. Dash is the epitome of 1960s Americana. Olds began its journey to the UK in Finland.
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