Oldsmobile Thor 1967: wonderful American car from the past
It was a decade that saw General Motors become the most daring of Detroit’s Big Three. If the mechanical arrangements of its products weren’t enough to raise eyebrows, the various design departments run under styling czar Bill Mitchell were full of starry-eyed futurists. And perhaps the boldest and most beautiful mainstream offering to emerge from its portfolio of marques was the first-generation Oldsmobile Toronado.
You could argue that it distilled the spirit of the pre-war Cord 810 in being a boldly styled – and engineered – front-wheel-drive machine. It was so radical that, on its launch in 1966, many European magazines haughtily opined that it couldn’t possibly work; that front-wheel drive wasn’t suitable for any car with a displacement larger than 1.6 litres (yes, really…). However, given the plaudits heaped upon the car’s David North-penned styling, you have to wonder why GM would go to the trouble of commissioning the car pictured – the one and only Thor. It is widely held that it was built by Carrozzeria Ghia at the behest of Mitchell. It was based on a standard-wheelbase Toronado platform and styled by the studio’s recently installed 20-something wunderkind, Giorgetto Giugiaro. While the underpinnings remained unchanged, the front overhang was reduced by 120mm relative to the donor car, the rear overhang by 200mm. The beltline was also 65mm lower, while the bulkhead was moved forward by 75mm and the windscreen rake was set at 65 degrees to the vertical (six more degrees than a regular Toronado). Overall, the car was 100mm lower than the production model, but it remained a proper four-seater, rather than a 2+2.
Unlike other Giugiaro offerings from the period, the Thor was essentially an adaptation rather than a new design. As such, reaction was mixed. When unveiled at the 1967 Turin Motor Show it was greeted with much hoopla by some arbiters of beauty, while others were less impressed. The decision to hide the rear leaf spring shackles behind fake exhaust pipes was beyond the pale, they railed. Style Auto magazine belonged in the former camp, the design title reporting not altogether coherently: “The roof of the Thor is gradually tapered with respect to the car body: its trapezoidal section makes it agile and aerodynamic and gives a sturdy appearance to the car body. The tapering of the Toronado originated from the three-quarter dihedron of the side, now it starts from the beltline as a result of the integration into the wide of wheel-arches which were rather bulbous originally… The Turin coachbuilder has given his attention to the minute details of the Toronado’s gala outfit in the true style of a high class couturier.” Quite.
Sports Car Graphic magazine, meanwhile, wrote an impenetrable feature based in what may have been a fictional courtroom. It’s hard to tell, but it did involve mention of Bill Mitchell, Abe Lincoln and someone called ‘Earth Kathy’. But hey, it was the Sixties. As for its coverline ‘Will Detroit Build This Car?’, this simple answer was ‘no’. There was no desire or need to. As for what happened to the one and only prototype subsequently, therein lies another story. In period, Autocar reckoned it had been acquired off the show stand by industrialist/ playboy, Gianni Agnelli. However, the car was in the storeroom at Alejandro de Tomaso’s factory well into the Eighties, the Argentinian émigré having owned Ghia for a spell prior to selling it to Ford. As to the Thor’s current whereabouts, we would love to know.