Terrifying Toronado

Updated: Jan 21

John Smyser’s idea on building the Terrifying Toronado was using newly conceived Oldsmobile front wheel drive and hoping it would hook up and perform as well on the drag strip as it did on the street.



If you have ever driven one of these amazing machines (I’m biased being I own a 66 Toronado) you realize even though you have almost 500 Ft lbs of torque from the factory it pulls straight with very little waisted energy. You always hear about FWD cars and torque steer. Well that is non existent in a “stock” Toronado.


He believed this would make for a very fast Drag car. And to make it even faster he added a second engine to power a live axel in the rear. The front engine turned the front 10inch wide Casler slicks on Halibrand wheels through the conventional Toronado TH425 automatic transmission and differential while the rear second engine used a dual-disc clutch and a Schiefer aluminum flywheel to power a direct drive unit to a conventional Olds rear end.



Don Ratican built the two Olds 425cid engines. Running Mickey Thompson pistons with Grant rings, Racer Brown camshaft, heads ported and polished by Valley Head Service, and a 6-71 supercharger crowned both of the Olds beast. Sadly the idea and car was just to far ahead of it’s time and most importantly The rock hard tire these early pioneers had to run on.


Terrifying Toronado weighed in at a hefty 4500 pounds.


The tires back then sure put on a smoke show when your pumping 1000+ hp through them and smoking em all the way down the track. But the problem with a tire that’s spinning is that it’s not great at steering.... When the car would get out of wack there wasn’t much you could do but hold on for dear life!




John would figure this out the hard way.


The Terrifying Toronado was unveiled at the 1966 AHRA Winternationals at Irwindale and made its first run the following week. Smyser lost control soon after leaving the line, the car first darted left then hooked hard and back to the right into and over the Armco. As the famous photos show.



It ran a few other times in 66 but never performed well enough to get much attention. The Toronado final race came about a year after its debut, at the 1967 NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, During Saturday qualifiers Smyser made an exhibition pass and again the car got all terrifying and busted through the guardrail at speed. Fortunately, there were no grandstands that far downtrack. It sadly became clear to John that the Terrifying Toronado was just too terrifying to continue his campaign, and the car was retired.



Like I said before the machine and the man were just ahead of there time. Even though it was not a success John Smyser’s would lay the groundwork for future speed freaks who are now pushing FWD cars into the mid 7s and cracking 200mph and getting faster and faster each year!

~Blanton Payne

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