Out in Front: The Front-Wheel-Drive Oldsmobile Toronado, Part 2

With the UAW strike resolved, 1972 sales soared to 48,900 units, hitting nearly 56,000 in 1973, the best the Toronado would ever do. A 1972 Popular Mechanics owners survey suggested that buyers appreciated the Toronado’s Cadillac-like lines; for the first time, styling edged out front-wheel drive as the Toronado’s key selling point. The Toronado may also have captured a few Buick customers who were displeased with the controversial new Riviera. While the Riviera outsold the Toronado in 1971, the situation was reversed for the little-changed ’72 and ’73 models. The Toronado had finally found its commercial groove.

1971 Oldsmobile Toronado rear
The louvers on the top of the 1971 Oldsmobile Toronado’s decklid exhaust interior air; they disappeared in 1972, when Olds adopted concealed vents in the doors, similar to the contemporary Riviera. The slots on either side of the bulge are brake lamps, analogous to the center high-mounted stop light (CHMSL) later required by federal safety regulations.
1971 Oldsmobile Toronado dashboard
Other than discreet badges on the front fenders, the only really obvious sign of the Toronado’s front-wheel drive was its flat floor, lacking even the vestigial hump common to modern FWD cars. The V-shaped dashboard looks similar to the one in the contemporary Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, with little of the early Toronado’s sporty flair. The instrument panel has few instruments — the only actual gauges are the speedometer and fuel gauge. (This car’s star decals are obviously not stock.)


In the fall of 1973, the Oldsmobile Toronado gained another technological distinction, becoming one of the first American production cars to be offered with driver- and passenger-side airbags. With federal requirements for passive restraint in the offing, GM had told the Department of Transportation back in 1970 that it would introduce airbags as an option and then make them standard for the 1975 model year. Although the auto industry succeeded in delaying implementation of the federal requirement originally slated to take effect for the 1972 model year, GM installed airbags in 1,000 1973 Chevrolet Impalas for fleet customers. The “Air Cushion Restraint System” became a regular production option for the 1974 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight, Ninety-Eight, and Toronado, the Buick Electra 225 and Riviera, and most Cadillac models. The first car off the line with the ACRS was a 1974 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1973 GM air cushion restraint system press illustration X60225-0188 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.

The components of the Air Cushion Restraint System offered in the Oldsmobile Toronado and some other mid-seventies GM cars. The option weighed about 60 lb (27 kg) in all. In 1974, it cost around $225, rising to about $400 in 1976, its final year. (Image copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

Even before the option went on sale, GM had scaled back its plans for airbag installation and the ACRS never became standard equipment. The airbags worked — a 1982 report by the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that the number of deaths and serious injuries in ACRS-equipped cars was even lower than projected — but the option was not heavily promoted and take-up was limited. In all, the airbags only went into about 11,000 cars, which we assume includes the early Impala fleet cars. GM finally canceled the option in 1976, citing low demand and the need to redesign the system for the downsized 1977 big cars. The slow-selling True-Track system was dropped at the same time, although both airbags and ABS would return a decade or so later.

Although Oldsmobile was doing very well in the seventies, sales of the second-generation Toronado suffered a serious blow following the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. With buyers suddenly shying away from big cars, it probably didn’t help that the 1974 Toronado was even more massive than before, thanks to new 5-mph (8-km/h) hydraulic bumpers; sales fell by 50%. The 1975 and 1976 models, with rectangular headlights and fashionable new opera windows, did even worse, slipping below 25,000 units for the first time since 1967. The Toronado still outsold the Riviera, despite or because of the demise of the latter’s boattail, but not the Eldorado, which remained remarkably popular throughout the seventies.

1977 Oldsmobile XSR front 3q press photo C2620-0034 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14577)
A press image of the never-released 1977 Oldsmobile Toronado XSR. The 1977 model year also introduced a new 403 cu. in. (6,598 cc) V-8 with 200 net horsepower (140 kW), down only 15 hp (10 kW) from the last 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) engine. Since curb weight was now a ponderous 5,100 lb (2,315 kg), straight-line performance was not a Toronado strong suit, nor was fuel economy. Note the rectangular headlamps, added in 1975. (Image copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

There was brief flurry of interest in 1977 thanks to two new models, one of which didn’t quite make production. The first was the XS, which featured an unusual angular wraparound backlight, reminiscent of GM’s 1959-1960 Vista hardtops or the old Studebaker Starlight. The second model, the XSR, had a similar roof treatment, but added motorized T-tops that could partly retract into the central crossbar. Developed for Oldsmobile by the American Sunroof Corporation, the XSR appeared in some early Toronado ads and brochures, but concerns about top sealing and reliability led Oldsmobile to cancel the model after only a single prototype was built. (That car still survives today and occasionally appears at auto shows.) The slightly less ambitious XS model, with a moonroof in place of the T-tops, sold 2,713 copies in 1977 and a further 2,453 in 1978, despite a price premium of more than $2,500.

1977 Oldsmobile Toronado XSR side press photo C2625-0234 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14577)
Another press image of the XSR, showing off its unusual backlight, the manufacture of which involved creasing the glass with a hot wire. With their reshaped roof pillars, the XS and XSR dispensed with the base Toronado Brougham’s opera windows, standard since 1975. Like other Toronados, the XSR was 227.5 inches (5,779 mm) long, fully 16.5 inches (419 mm) longer than the already-massive 1966 Toronado. (Image copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

Even with the downturn that followed the energy crisis, the second-generation Oldsmobile Toronado was more successful than the first, with production totaling 267,888 cars in eight model years. Still, by 1978, it had become a dinosaur. The original Toronado had more or less split the difference between the A-body Cutlass and the full-size, B-body Eighty-Eight. With GM’s downsizing of the B- and C-body cars for 1977, the Toronado was now 7.1 inches (180 mm) longer and over 800 lb (363 kg) heavier than the flagship Ninety-Eight. With steadily increasing requirements for Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), the third-generation Toronado would be significantly smaller and lighter than before.

1977 Oldsmobile Toronado XSR prototype rear 3q press photo C2625-0233 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14577)
Although the XSR was canceled shortly before production, Oldsmobile did announce its initial list price: $11,132, $448 more than the XS and nearly $3,000 more than the standard Toronado Brougham. After it was canceled, American Sunroof Corporation bought back the single prototype, hoping to sell the motorized T-top concept to another manufacturer. They were not successful and the prototype was sold to a private collector in 1982. ASC also pitched this idea to Cadillac, leading to a number of 1978 Eldorado prototypes with the same system. (Image copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)


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  1. All that I can say is thanks for your website. I remember a couple of years ago a co worker told me that a friend of hers had driven her home in her well used Oldsmobile Trofeo. I was impressed that in it’s faded opulence this Olds was still doing sterling service.

  2. I saw a local dealer selling an empty shell version of the motor home in the late 70’s. Then whilr driving down to Florida to watch th 24 hour race at Daytona, saw one set up as a transporter, had a roll-up door in the rear. It had a Porsche in it.

  3. Does anyone know where the yellow 1977 Toronado XSR resides today?

  4. Hopefully, one of your followers will know. I think your site is a great idea!
    Take care and Good Luck!

  5. That was a nice article, reading about “Toro’s” brought back a lot of memories. I worked as a Tech for Oldsmobile shops back in the early days, the 1967 was the first model I worked on as a current year and I worked on them to the end. I especially loved the early years with the HOT optional engines, the later ones ran like a Lead Sled. The Toro and 442 ran about even as my favorite Oldsmobile’s….


  6. I have a 1969 Oldsmobile Toronado front wheel drive motorhome. Never seen anything like it! Can anyone tell me more about it? can send pics if nessessary.

    1. Hi Don, I worked on a number of GMC Motor homes that used the 455 Oldsmobile engine and the Toronado front drive unit but there were also several other manufactures who used the Oldsmobile FWD package to power their units. If you do a Google search for your brand and year you shouldn’t have a problem finding info about your vehicle. Cortez was another manufacture who used the Oldsmobile FWD. NASA actually used a Cortez to shuttle astronauts to the launch pad. Apparently there are still fans of the Cortez Motor home and parts are still sold by the companies owner, although no new units have been built for years. Search and you should find some info quite easily.


      1. I had thought from the research I did that Cortez didn’t adopt the Toronado powertrain until 1970 (although I’m no expert on motor homes, so I may be wrong in that!), but I’m sure there were at least a few earlier examples, including probably some cobbled-together shade-tree jobs. The UPP concept made a lot of sense for motor homes and vans: enough torque to haul a substantial load, compact enough to not eat up interior space, and not so exotic you couldn’t get parts for most of it. I imagine the biggest obstacle to motor home use was likely the price.

  7. I currently have a 1976 gmc motorhome at my property and would like some information on it i drove it 260 miles to my house it was sitting in storage for 3 years all i did was put a battery in it and set up a gas tank with a electric fuel pump and dtove it home

    1. Jerry,

      I’m not able to provide information on specific vehicles (I really have no idea), but there’s general information on the Motorhome in the text of the article.

    2. Has anyone contacted you yet with info ? If ot let me know we have a forum group and several clubs nationwide devoted to the GMC MH over 8000 are still running.

    3. Did virtually the same thing in Sept. Bought a 1976 GMC Eleganza II in Waxahachee, Tx. Been sitting at least 2 years. Washed it, new battery, electric fuel pump and ferry tank, and 1 new tire. Fired right up, lots of smoke, then drove to Lampassas. Brother, who has 4 of them, is still working on it. Looking forward to hitting the road with it.

  8. The Toronado died in 1986,the small 6 cylinder 1986 was grotesquely inferior to the great 1985 Toronado Caliente which was somewhat better than all the previous ones,the small one despite the gorgeous dashboard was not much more than an economy car,something affluent people disregard,it was gorgeous though compared to the contraptions being put out nowadays by all the manufacturers.
    The automobile is dying worldwide.


  10. I still have my 79 that I ordered new 350 runs as smooth as the day it left the dealership!

  11. Marty moore’s REVCON motor home repair parts in Calif.–I think in San De. OLD MAN BUT HAS A TON OF KNOWLEDGE & PARTS for old R.V’S

  12. Anyone have problems with headlights i don’t have power on my 1969 head lights. I tested. Each one. Ands works. Low beams. Have 3 point.
    But one om these have ground one broke
    So that affect. The service
    Anyone. Can help me out. Also power windos and power seat. Problems and solutions

    1. I can’t help with repairs or maintenance issues, sorry!

    2. I know that passing light is a little problem but whit a little fuse/ breaker/disjunctior is the problem solved!
      Good luck

  13. My husband was President of Revcon starting in 1976 and we loved the RV business and were involved with ElDorado/Honorbuilt Company from 1966-1976 when we moved to California. My family remembers being at the Dodger RV show and the Silver Bullet was a huge hit.

    1. I just picked up a 1975 Revcon. If you can share any pics or other info that would be great!

  14. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you
    know a few of the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think
    its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different browsers
    and both show the same results.

    maglia Roma

    1. Hmm, that’s very strange. I’m not experiencing that when I test it. Was the problem specific to this article, or did it occur on multiple pages?

      I have encountered a problem on certain articles where the WordPress media page (not normally accessible or visible to visitors) has disappeared or somehow broken without the associated image being gone, which creates a bizarre condition where the image loads, but also throws a 404 error that appears in the log. That doesn’t appear to be happening here, though.

      It may be a browser caching anomaly, where for some reason the page doesn’t completely load (due to a momentarily hiccup in the connection or browser lag), but then the browser has cached an incomplete version of that page and refuses to let go of it. That happens sometimes, and the only thing to be done about it is to clear the browser cache and try loading the page again. Since it’s a transient problem, it frequently has nothing to do with the actual page. It’s just an obnoxious side effect of the way modern browsers work.

  15. Nice story,but you have the design history wrong. don Schomer was a fine designer,but was not on this project.
    I had worked on the 66Toro with Olds chief Engineer John Belts who was then Olds Gen Manager for the 2 gen 71 Toro.
    He saw a scale model Eldorado proposal I did,and had me brought back from loan to Vaxhall in England.
    His first words to me were “we donot want another “sports” car like you did in66 ,think Eldorado- Lincoln
    The front end I wanted a
    Cord look, the two lower grills made cooling a Chalange!

    1. Mr. North,

      Thanks so much for your input — I have amended (and hopefully corrected) the text.

  16. That GM was going to have a motorhome was scary to the traditional manufacturers. There was an entire file cabinet in the Product Development area of Winnebago filled with everything they could get their hands on while the GMC was being developed. Ultimately, they really had nothing to worry about.

    GM had predicated their planning on an annual volume of 20,000 per year. GMC did not achieve that even as the total number built; they lost lots and lots of money per unit. GM had approached the motorhome in the same way that they did their regular automotive planning – huge tooling costs to get small part costs using big volumes to amortize the expenses.

    As a show of just how far off the mark GM’s volume projections were – Winnebago, across their 2 brands (Itasca was the second one) with a full line-up of both A class (box on wheels) and C class (van front) was on track to hit 20,000 units for the first time in its history up until the 2nd oil crisis.

    Because of the way the GMC was tooled it could not make all the length variations that became industry common during its production run. I also remember it as GMC was unable to do as many interior iterations as the rest of the industry.

    As enamored as everyone was/is about front wheel drive for the GMC, there were reported issues about it not being good in snowy conditions. A lot of the motorhome weight became rearward biased. This is why now one sees a lot of pusher configurations.

    1. (I took the liberty of correcting what I presume was a typo in the last paragraph your comment, in hopes of avoiding confusion.)

      Yes, that would make sense. Even if the UPP had been positioned behind the front seats, much of the laden weight would be well behind the powertrain, and acceleration or climbing a grade would shift it even more to the rear and off the drive wheels.

      The Motorhome seems like a classic example of the pitfalls of entering an established market segment that’s new to you: If you follow the pack, you may end up an also-ran in a field of established competitors who have a head start, and if you try to do something too different, you may find out the hard way there’s a reason why others don’t do that.

      I wonder if GMC might have had more luck creating a UPP-based chassis cab, aimed more at the custom van crowd. GMC had much more experience with the chassis-cab market, and it might have given more flexibility, perhaps offering standard van bodies in passenger and cargo configurations and partnering with another company to offer factory custom variations.

      1. In the 1970s both GM and Dodge were the primary suppliers of the cut away vans used for the C Class motorhomes. Same for the bare chassis used for the A Class.

        If GM’s annual production predictions had been more realistic then they would not have done their extremely sophisticated tooling and production techniques.

        For some reason it took the downsizing of the Eldo/Toro which meant the end of the high weight capable transaxle for finally pull the plug on their money loser. A great technical exercise but not justified by the balance sheet.

        1. What I meant was that I wonder what would have happened if GMC had created a UPP-based FWD chassis cab platform that could be used both (in extended form) for motorhomes and also for smaller vans and people-movers. GM had toyed with the idea of a FWD people-mover of one kind or another since the fifties, and Toronado buyers were always asking why the drivetrain didn’t find its way into some package where its virtues would count for more than a parlor trick. A Vandura with the UPP, for instance, might have been an interesting alternative to a RWD or 4WD van, and sharing portions of its basic chassis with a motorhome might have helped to spread the tooling costs around.

          To be clear, I don’t disagree that the Motorhome project was a bridge too far, and I suspect a FWD Vandura would have been at best a niche product like the contemporary Jeep Grand Wagoneer, rather than a runaway hit like the later Chrysler T-115 minivans, but the UPP was a fine concept for utility or people-mover duty that ended up being squandered in applications where it was either irrelevant or not really the right tool for the job.

  17. To anyone who may know, I’m seeking the schematics for the belt set up in my 1979 revcon. It’s the 454 fwd, and the belt attached to my alternator keeps falling off, since it was worked on recently. It is also inhibiting my power steering from engaging, though everything else seems in working order.

    1. I’m sorry, but this is not a good forum for seeking troubleshooting advice. I’m not a mechanic, and I can’t advise anyone on fixing their vehicles!

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