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.
AIRBAGS AND XS
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.
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.
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.
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.