Oldsmobile Tornado

The Falling Water of car design


In a way, the original Tornado is the Falling Water of car design; it was a true high-water-mark of American design, and it was created by the biggest stars at a time when America was still, just, the centre of the car design universe.

Designed by David North, under Don Logerquist (credited with the core design theme) and Stan Wilen, who were all in turn were under the supervision of Chuck Jordan and VP of design, Bill Mitchell, the Tornado was a big step-ahead. It eclipsed its GM siblings, the Buick Riviera and Cadillac Edlorado, with which it shared platform, cowl, glass and inner sheetmetal.  

The Toronado assumed the scale that American cars had been working up to (imagine today’s Camaro, but four inches wider and two feet longer…) but it is without the pretensions of aviation inspired forms that had dominated, nor the flourishes of extraneous detail, or any classical theme: no separate fender volumes or shoulder, no chrome heavy side vents, no fins, no ‘dagmars’.  

Instead it was a calm amalgam of simple surfaces and proportions, with a theme much defined by a distinct — but also calm and simple — body-side that reached up to frame the wheel-arches (and with it introduced a car design device used a myriad of times since) before folding along a horizontal crease to tuck under the car. A fluted recessed shovel nose with pop-up lights was also fresh, if perhaps reimagining the pre-war Cord 812. And its elements all tied together graphically, aligning and integrating into a harmonious whole.

Just as Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous house was thirty years earlier, the Toronado was an a peak of unadulterated progressive American design.