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

Most histories of the Oldsmobile Toronado start and end with the original 1966 models, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The Toronado survived another 25 years and its most commercially successful period was still to come. This week, we look at the history of the 1971-1992 Toronado and examine another vehicle that shared its novel powertrain: the 1973-1978 GMC Motorhome.

1992 Oldsmobile Toronado badge


As we saw in our first installment, the first Oldsmobile Toronado bowed in 1966, the first front-wheel-drive American production car in nearly 30 years. It won great critical acclaim for both its clever Unitized Power Package (UPP) drivetrain and its striking exterior styling, but public reaction was guarded. The Toronado soon developed a loyal following, but sales were consistently disappointing. If the success of the Ford Thunderbird was any indication, contemporary luxury car shoppers were more interested in a fashionable image than serious performance. Their idea of high technology was powered vent windows and banks of aircraft-style toggle switches, not front-wheel drive or cold air induction.

1967 Oldsmobile Toronado Deluxe rear 3q
The original Oldsmobile Toronado, based on a 1962 design by stylist David North, featured what GM designers called the monocoque look: the sail panels of its semi-fastback roof blended seamlessly into the rear fenders and flared wheel wells. This is actually a 1967 model, distinguishable by the eggcrate taillight trim and new wheelcovers, but its lines are little changed. The grille beneath the rear window is the exhaust vent for the flow-through ventilation system — the Toronado and its Buick Riviera cousin had no vent windows, a real novelty at the time.

By the time the Toronado received its first full redesign for 1971, Oldsmobile had seen the writing on the wall. If the first Toronado had been a high-tech answer to the dashing Buick Riviera, the second generation would be Lansing’s Eldorado: a posh personal luxury cruiser of which front-wheel drive was only an incidental feature.

The search for a new styling theme was a protracted one involving several different styling studios. Although some accounts attribute the second-generation Toronado design to stylist Don Schumer, then in one of the Advanced studios, the design that eventually became the 1971 Oldsmobile Toronado actually came from David North, who had developed the first-generation Toronado. However, the second generation took a very different path from the first. In fact, North says it began as a Cadillac Eldorado proposal.

As it turned out, that was exactly what Olds general manager John Beltz was looking for, and he arranged to bring North back from his assignment to GM’s Vauxhall division in Luton, England, to develop the design for Oldsmobile, telling him to emphasize the Eldorado flavor. The initial FWD Cadillac Eldorado had been considerably more profitable than its first-generation Toronado cousin, and the arrival of the posh Lincoln Continental Mark III made clear that that was the direction the luxury coupe market was taking. (It’s also worth noting that Oldsmobile’s chief stylist was now Stan Parker, who had overseen the development of the first FWD Eldorado during his previous tenure at Cadillac.)

1971 Oldsmobile Toronado front 3q
The 1971 Oldsmobile Toronado was 219.9 inches (5,586 mm) long on a 122.3-inch (3,106mm) wheelbase, making it 5.6 inches (142 mm) longer overall than the 1970 model. Curb weight was up about 80 lb (36 kg), totaling about 4,800 lb (2,177 kg) with a full load of options. A modest 1972 touch-up trimmed 0.3 inches (8 mm) from the wheelbase, but overall length grew to 220.3 inches (5,596 mm). Note the concealed windshield wipers, tucked behind the trailing edge of the long hood, a common GM styling feature during this period.

The new Toronado dispensed entirely with the first generation’s fastback shape, which had been progressively toned down since 1969; the roof and rear fenders were now clearly separate. The result was a boxier shape that bore a more than passing resemblance to the contemporary Eldorado, particularly in profile, although the twin grilles subtly continued the first-generation Toronado’s nod to the Cord 810/812. If the Toronado looked more like a 1970 Eldorado than the bulkier, all-new 1971 Eldo, that was not necessarily a bad thing; Cadillac resale values were at their peak in the early seventies, so in some markets, a late-model Eldorado actually commanded higher prices than a brand-new Toronado. The Toronado’s greatest stylistic departure from the Cadillac theme was the front end, which was distinctly Oldsmobile.

The Toronado once again shared its E-body shell with the Eldorado and Riviera. Previously, the Toronado and Eldorado had been semi-unitized, while the Riviera had a self-supporting cruciform chassis, but for 1971, all three cars rode a full-length perimeter frame, intended to provide greater isolation from noise, vibration, and harshness. Both the Toronado and Eldorado traded their previous rear suspensions, which had used single leaf springs and quad shocks, for trailing arms and coil springs, further reducing ride harshness. The Toronado’s damping and spring rates were now luxury-car soft, although the F41 heavy-duty suspension was still on the option list.

1971 Oldsmobile Toronado front
The 1971 Oldsmobile Toronado’s twin grille theme gave the front end kinship with the contemporary Olds Eighty-Eight and Ninety-Eight (although there was no danger of mistaking it for either), but the power bulge and fender-mounted turn signals are pure Eldorado. The 1971 model had 350 gross horsepower (261 kW), 275 hp (205 kW) in the new SAE net scale; the 1972 Toronado, now carrying only net ratings, fell to 250 hp (186 kW).

The Toronado’s clever Unitized Power Package was little changed, but buyers who didn’t read the fine print might think the big 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) V-8 had been completely defanged. It was now rated at 275 horsepower (205 kW) and 375 lb-ft (508 N-m) of torque, a nominal drop of 100 hp (75 kW) from 1970. Although the compression ratio had fallen from 10.25 to 8.5:1, part of GM president Ed Cole’s mandate to prepare for unleaded fuels, most of the drop was attributable to new, more realistic SAE net rating system; in the old SAE gross system, the Toronado’s engine was rated at 350 horsepower (261 kW). The powerful W34 GT engine, which had gone into around 20% of 1970 Toronados, was quietly dropped; the Toronado’s sporting days were over.

The new Toronado didn’t make a great impression on the automotive press. While front-wheel drive was still rare in the U.S. market, it was no longer groundbreaking and the new Toro’s performance and handling were otherwise unexceptional. The 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) sprint now took more than 10 seconds and unless you ordered the optional True-Track rear ABS, added late in the 1970 model year, braking distances were still hampered by premature rear lockup, a consequence of weight transfer onto the Toronado’s already heavy nose. The Ford Thunderbird, long the waftiest car in its class, now had a firmer ride than the Toronado and was notably quicker to boot. From an enthusiast standpoint, the Toronado had become decidedly dull.

1971 Oldsmobile Toronado rear 3q
The second-generation Oldsmobile Toronado completely abandoned the original’s flowing sail panels, although it aped neither the 1970 Eldorado’s V-shaped backlight nor the ’71 Eldo’s opera windows; the latter would find their way onto the Toronado in 1975. For $205 extra, Toronado buyers could supplement the standard disc/drum brakes with the “True-Track” anti-lock braking system, introduced the previous year. Like the basically identical “Trackmaster” system offered on the contemporary Eldorado, True-Track worked only on the rear wheels. Four-wheel ABS would not become available on the Toronado until the late eighties.

Nonetheless, the Toro’s newfound conservatism seemed to go over well with buyers. Despite a lengthy United Auto Workers strike that began just as the 1971 models arrived, Toronado sales showed encouraging signs of life, rising 14% from 1970. The Toronado was no longer winning any engineering awards, but if you wanted a reasonable imitation of a year-old Eldorado for about $1,000 less — and the waiting lists at Cadillac dealerships suggested that many did — it was a pretty good deal.

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.)


Despite their tidy, compact powertrains, neither the Toronado nor the Cadillac Eldorado was especially space-efficient — their flat floors made them more habitable for middle-seat passengers than a typical RWD sedan, but passenger and cargo room were compromised by style-conscious proportions. In a June 1970 Popular Mechanics owners survey, some buyers complained that front-wheel drive wasn’t available in a more practical body style. Bill Mitchell had actually proposed a Toronado wagon early on, but GM didn’t offer FWD sedans or wagons until the eighties and didn’t introduce a FWD light van until the U-body minivans in 1990. In the early seventies, however, the Toronado’s Unitized Power Package found its way into an entirely different sort of utility vehicle, built not by Oldsmobile, but by GMC Truck & Coach Division.

As we mentioned in our first installment, GMC had flirted with the idea of a FWD cargo van back in the fifties with the 1955 L’Universelle. It was an intriguing idea, but probably too costly for the contemporary truck market, which had yet to embrace independent front-suspension, let alone front-wheel drive. The growing popularity of the recreational vehicle (RV) in the late sixties, however, suggested a different avenue. Independent RV builders were snapping up thousands of truck chassis for custom motor homes and GM wanted a piece of that lucrative action.

Front-wheel drive offered some of the same advantages for vans and recreational vehicles that it did for passenger cars: better traction and more room for living or cargo space. Several smaller manufacturers had already gone that route. Since 1963, Clark Equipment Corporation had offered a front-drive RV called the Cortez, which adopted the Toronado powertrain in 1971. The late sixties Tiara and Travoy and the 1972 Revcon were also Toronado-powered, although both were produced in relatively small numbers.

Development of GM’s own FWD motor home began around 1969, initially as a corporate Engineering Staff project. Both GMC and Chevrolet Truck were very interested, but GMC ultimately got the nod because of the motor home’s projected size and gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). GMC’s general manager, Martin Caserio, saw the FWD project, known internally as TVS-4 (for “Travel Vehicle, Streamlined”), as a utilitarian vehicle that could be offered in many specialized commercial versions, from mobile command centers to airport shuttles.

1974 GMC Motorhome cutaway press image TB-47872-0047 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14496)
An early press image of the GMC Motorhome. At launch, the Motorhome had 265 horsepower (198 kW) and a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) (not curb weight) of 11,500 lb (5,217 kg); overall length ranged from 285 to 332 inches (7,239 to 8,433 mm), depending on model. The FWD powertrain allowed a low build for an RV, but it was still about 96 inches (2,438 mm) tall even without a roof-mounted air conditioner. Coefficient of drag (without the roof A/C unit and other external addenda) was only 0.31, substantially lower than most contemporary passenger cars. (Image copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

The TVS-4’s powertrain, front suspension, and front disc brakes were very similar to the second-generation Toronado’s, although some components had to be beefed up to cope with the big RV’s weight. Unlike the Toronado, the TVS-4 had fully independent suspension with optional self-leveling hydro-pneumatic springs and tandem rear wheels — unusual for an RV of this era — located by both leading and trailing arms. The body, which used a combination of aluminum and sheet molded compound fiberglass panels, was remarkably aerodynamic, with sleek, space-age looks courtesy of GMC chief stylist Michael Lathers. GMC even commissioned House & Garden magazine to coordinate the interior color schemes, ensuring that it would be the height of mid-seventies chic.

GMC announced the TVS-4, prosaically dubbed GMC Motorhome, at the TransPro trade show in February 1972, although the Motorhome didn’t actually go into production until early the following year. The Motorhome was offered in two sizes: the Model 230, on a 140-inch (3,556mm) wheelbase, and the stretched Model 260, with a wheelbase of 160 inches (4,064 mm). Both were available either in stripped “Transmode” form for customizers or in a number of fully furnished versions with prices ranging from a base of $13,569 to around $18,000 for a well-equipped Model 260 — expensive but not unreasonable for a Class A motor home in those days.

By the time the Motorhome went on sale, Caserio had departed for a stint at Pontiac, ceding the reins of GMC to Alex Mair. Mair saw the Motorhome less as an affordable family or commercial vehicle and more as a high-end divisional flagship. Since the FWD motor home was always going to be too expensive and too outré to seriously compete with much cheaper RWD truck chassis, it made more business sense to push the Motorhome upmarket. The furnished versions were fairly well-equipped even in standard form and there was a lengthy list of options, ranging from air conditioning with automatic climate control to TV antennas and even a vacuum cleaner.

Initial sales were brisk. GMC sold more than 2,000 in the first year, which was modest by truck standards, but encouraging given the Motorhome’s price tag. Unfortunately, the OPEC oil embargo that fall put a crimp into motor home sales just as it did the passenger car market. The Motorhome was actually fairly thrifty for a big RV, returning as much as 10–11 mpg (21.4–23.5 L/100 km) on the road, but fuel shortages made buyers wary. Slow sales led GMC to two brief production freezes during the 1974 model year. All things considered, the sales decline was modest, but business didn’t really rebound until the 1976 model year.

1975 GMC Motorhome front 3q press photo 160505 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14496)
The GMC Motorhome’s exterior styling didn’t change a great deal over its six-year lifespan, although GMC shuffled the interior packages and options. 1975 models got a beefed-up frame and new side windows with better sealing. All the Model 230s except the Transmode were dropped in 1975, so customers who wanted a fully furnished vehicle had to opt for the more expensive Model 260. For 1977, the 455 cu. in. (7,450 cc) Oldsmobile engine, which had been discontinued, was replaced by the new 403 cu. in. V-8 (6,598 cc), again shared with the contemporary Toronado. (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

Although Motorhome production hit a record 3,260 units in 1976, it was still not a big seller by GMC standards and was expensive and labor-intensive to produce. Thanks to its high prices — a top-of-the line Model 260 Kingsley now ran to around $38,000 — we suspect the Motorhome was profitable on a unit basis, but weighed against the number of trucks GMC could produce with the same resources, it probably didn’t make a strong case for itself.

Another factor may have been the imminent demise of the TH425 transmission. Since the biggest engine offered in the 1979 Toronado and Eldorado was slated to be the Oldsmobile 350 (5,737 cc), the E-body cars were about to switch to the lighter TH325 transmission. The Motorhome’s limited production presumably didn’t justify continued production of the older transmission or, for that matter, continuing the Oldsmobile 403 cu. in. (6,598 cc) V-8, which would survive only through the end of the 1979 model year.

GMC general manager Robert Truxell, who had replaced Mair in 1974, announced in November 1977 that the Motorhome would be phased out. Production ended in July 1978; the grand total was fewer than 13,000 units in six model years. GMC eventually sold the rights to the design to California businessman Donald Wheat, who tried unsuccessfully to resurrect the Motorhome in the mid-eighties.

1974 GMC Motorhome side press image C2501-0001 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14496)
The interiors for early furnished GMC Motorhomes were made by the Gemini division of the RV manufacturer PRF Industries under contract to GM. Starting in 1975, interior assembly moved in-house, using furnishings and interior trim supplied by Grand Rapids Furniture. The Motorhome’s rounded windows were adopted to reduce the windows’ tendency to crack as the body twisted. Note this example’s colored body-side stripe; the front stripe was standard, but the full-length version was an $86 option. (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

The GMC Motorhome had a prominent role in the 1981 comedy film Stripes, starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, and John Candy, and has also enjoyed several toy incarnations: In 1976, it became the basis of Mattel’s Barbie Star Traveler Motor Home and a vehicle for the Big Jim toyline. The following year, the GMC Motorhome began the first of several runs as a Mattel Hot Wheels car. Surviving Motorhomes have a considerable fan following and various companies continue to offer aftermarket parts and accessories for them; in 1992, Cinnabar Engineering bought a license to manufacture replacement parts, which GMC had recently discontinued. As a promotional effort, one such manufacturer, Dyno Sources of Sequim, Washington, used a modified GMC Motorhome to set a new world speed record for Class A RVs, reaching 102.76 mph (165.38 km/h) on the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 2006. That vehicle, however, was powered by a 454 cu. in. (7,443 cc) Chevrolet V-8, not a Toronado engine.


In 1974, one of GM’s Advanced studios developed an interesting and radical concept for a possible third-generation Toronado. Nicknamed the “Four-Fendered Farkel,” after a popular comedy sketch on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, it took the original Toronado’s Cord 810/812 cues to extremes, featuring separate fenders and a dramatic coffin-nose hood. This design eventually progressed to the full-size model stage, now sporting external exhaust pipes reminiscent of the supercharged 1937 Cord 812 SC, but the project went no further. A few pictures have survived, but we don’t know what eventually became of the model itself.

By the time that model was built, GM had embarked on a $15 billion corporate program to downsize its entire automotive line. The full-size cars came first, arriving for 1977, followed a year later by downsized A-body intermediates. The E-body Eldorado, Riviera, and Toronado received the same treatment for 1979. Not only would the new E-bodies be significantly smaller than before, they would now be built in the same factory in Linden, New Jersey, and all three would now shared the Unitized Power Package. (The restyled Cadillac Seville would adopt the UPP the following year.)

Stylistically, the 1979 Toronado — developed under Oldsmobile chief stylist Len Casillo, who had succeeded Stan Parker in 1973 — was not a great departure from its predecessor save for its dimensions. Overall length was trimmed to 205.6 inches (5,224 mm) while wheelbase shrank from 122 to 114 inches (3,099 to 2,896 mm); curb weight was now around 3,800 lb (1,725 kg), nearly half a ton lighter than the ’78 model. Although it was certainly smaller, the new Toronado was hardly small; its overall dimensions were now very close to the popular mid-sixties Ford Thunderbird — or, for that matter, the A-body intermediate platform that Bill Mitchell had wanted to use for the original Toronado.

1980 Oldsmobile Toronado front 3q © 2007 IFCAR (PD)

The slatted grille (replacing the initial crosshatch pattern) marks this as a 1980 Oldsmobile Toronado, which now had the 150-horsepower (112 kW) Oldsmobile 307 cu. in. (5,033 cc) V-8 as standard with 350 cu. in. (5,737 cc) gasoline or diesel engines optional. A new XSC option package included bucket seats (the first time they’d been offered in the Toronado since 1970), heavy-duty suspension, additional instrumentation, and a center console. The XSC package also featured body-colored wheelcovers rather than this car’s simulated wires. The XSC package was apparently not very popular and was dropped after 1981. (Photo: “3rd Oldsmobile Toronado”” © 2007 IFCAR; released into the public domain by the photographer, resized 2010 by Aaron Severson)

While the Toronado retained body-on-frame construction, packaging efficiency was much improved. The narrower width forced Oldsmobile to abandon the pretense of six-passenger seating, but the new car was usefully roomier in most other dimensions. Part of the space savings resulted from exchanging the rear beam axle for independent rear suspension (with semi-trailing arms, coil springs, and an anti-roll bar), which also brought improvements in ride and handling. The Toronado’s suspension tuning was less athletic than the new Riviera’s, but a 1979 Popular Mechanics owner survey suggested that many buyers preferred it that way. Another unusual feature was a hydraulic brake booster rather than the usual vacuum servo.

In the interests of fuel economy, the Toronado traded its 403 cu. in. (6,598 cc) engine for the Oldsmobile 350 cu. in. (5,737 cc) V-8, initially with 165 net horsepower (123 kW). With less torque to manage, the Toronado exchanged the TH-425 transmission for the medium-duty TH-325, which weighed about 56 lb (25 kg) less. Although down 25 horsepower (19 kW) from the previous year, the new Toronado’s power-to-weight ratio was actually somewhat improved, although it was still a far cry from the muscular W34 of a decade earlier. Later in the model year, economy-conscious buyers (such as there were, in this price class) could order Oldsmobile’s 350 cu. in. (5,737 cc) diesel V-8, with 125 hp (93 kW) and 225 lb-ft (305 N-m) of torque. It had respectable fuel economy, but sluggish acceleration, and a propensity for smoke and clatter. It had a poor service record as well. Former Oldsmobile general manager Howard Kehrl (who had helped to design the first-generation Toronado’s Unitized Power Package) later admitted that the diesel had been brought to market before it was ready.

The downsized Toronado once again failed to win the hearts of the automotive press, which was more enamored with the new turbocharged Buick Riviera S-Type. Nonetheless, the new Toronado went over well with buyers, selling over 50,000 units in its first year — more than double the 1978 total and the second best year the Toronado had ever had. The new Toro’s basic appeal was much the same as before: Eldorado style for about $4,000 less. The Toronado and Eldorado even had the same engine; both the Eldorado and Seville used Oldsmobile’s 350 cu. in. (5,737 cc) engines.

Still, the Toronado was the least popular of the downsized E-bodies. In 1979, it came within about 2,000 units of the new Riviera, but the gap grew wider with each subsequent year. Buick was making aggressive inroads into Oldsmobile’s market, finally displacing Olds as number three in domestic auto sales in 1982. Surprisingly, both the Toronado and the Riviera once again fell short of the Eldorado, which was one of Cadillac’s best-selling models during this period — a testament, we assume, to the power of branding.

1983 Oldsmobile Toronado Brougham front 3q
This 1983 Oldsmobile Toronado Brougham originally listed for a bit over $15,000. The base engine was now the 252 cu. in. (4,128 cc) Buick V-6, with 125 hp (93 kW). The 350 cu. in. (5,737 cc) gasoline engine was gone, but the 105 hp (78 kW) diesel and 140 hp (104 kW) 307 cu. in. (5,033 cc) gasoline engine remained optional. Four-wheel disc brakes and a four-speed automatic became standard in 1982.

The third-generation Toronado survived seven model years with relatively modest changes. Emissions concerns led to the deletion of the 350 cu. in. (5,737 cc) gasoline engine in 1981, leaving the diesel, Oldsmobile’s 307 cu. in. (5,033 cc) V-8, and a 252 cu. in. (4,128 cc) V-6. Since none of these had more than 140 net horsepower (104 kW), performance was leisurely, although raw acceleration was apparently not a major priority for personal luxury car buyers in this period. Oldsmobile had better luck with opulence, like the leather-trimmed, landau-roofed Toronado Caliente package offered in 1984-1985. Unlike Buick and Cadillac, there was never a production Toronado convertible, although a few were converted privately by ASC or other aftermarket coachbuilders.

Possessing neither the Riviera’s flair nor the Eldorado’s cachet, the Toronado gradually lost ground, with sales slipping below 34,000 units in 1982. Business picked up again in 1984 and 1985, but the Eldorado continued to outpace its Olds cousin by around 30,000 units a year. Nevertheless, the 1979-1985 generation was the Toronado’s most successful, with total sales of 299,918 units in seven model years.


Even after the 1979 downsizing, the Toronado, Eldorado, and Riviera remained among GM’s biggest cars. By the early eighties, it was common knowledge that even smaller E-cars were due by the middle of the decade. They finally arrived for the 1986 model year, riding a new unitized platform known in GM parlance as GM30.

The GM30 platform was a spin-off of the new compact GM20 (N-body) platform that had debuted the previous year to replace the unloved FWD X-body. Although they shared no exterior sheet metal, the N-body and the new E-cars had similar proportions and a very similar roofline, although the E-body was longer overall with a 3-inch (51mm) longer wheelbase. Suspension was once again all-independent, but it now used struts front and rear, carried on detachable crossmembers to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness. The only mechanical curiosity was the use of a single transverse leaf spring for the rear suspension, replacing the previous coil springs. Four-wheel disc brakes were standard and both the Riviera and Toronado featured electronic instruments.

1988 Oldsmobile Trofeo FE6 front 3q © 2007 Karmann (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)
The sporty Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo — initially an option package, later a separate model — was distinguishable from the standard Toronado by its fog lamps and single-color (rather than two-tone) paint. Like the Toronado, it was 187.5 inches (4,763 mm) long on a 107.9-inch (2,741mm) wheelbase, with a curb weight of around 3,300 lb (1,510 kg). This is a 1988 model, which had a redesigned engine block with a balance shaft for greater smoothness along with sequential fuel injection and lighter pistons, increasing output by 15 hp (10 kW). (Photo: “Trofeo-fe6” © 2007 Karmann; resized 2010 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

Perhaps the most dramatic mechanical change was under the hood. While the E-cars retained front-wheel drive, the Unitized Power Package was gone, replaced by a transverse engine and THM 440-T4 four-speed transaxle, mounted in the now-orthodox fashion. The Eldorado still offered a V-8 engine, but the Toronado and Riviera were now available only with Buick’s 231 cu. in. (3,791 cc) V-6, making 140 horsepower (104 kW).

Dynamically, the downsized Toronado was much improved, with a more rigid structure and significantly better body control. Contemporary testers were particularly impressed with the optional LE3 suspension, which sharpened cornering response with fatter tires, firmer struts and shocks, and thicker anti-roll bars. Although the 3,791 cc V-6 had no more power and somewhat less torque than the old 307 cu. in. (5,033 cc) V-8, a 550 lb (250 kg) weight reduction meant the new car was quicker than before: 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) took 10–11 seconds and Car and Driver‘s preproduction preview car managed a top speed of 110 mph (176 km/h). EPA fuel economy also improved by around 10%.

In some ways, the Toronado had come full circle. Its size, weight, and configuration were surprisingly close to engineer Andy Watt’s FWD prototype of 1960, which also had a transverse V-6 engine and four-speed automatic. The new car’s sloping nose, hidden headlights, and slatted grille bars evoked the original Toronado while Oldsmobile’s advertising and marketing painted the new car as a sophisticated American grand tourer, much like its 1966 predecessor.

1990 Oldsmobile Toronado front 3q
The 1990 Oldsmobile Toronado and Trofeo were stretched to 200.3 inches (5,088 mm) overall, gaining a reshaped roof, a sleeker grilleless nose, and minor structural and suspension improvements. The new Trofeo was surprisingly agile for a largish domestic coupe; even Car and Driver, which tended to look at domestic sedans with a jaundiced eye, called it one of the best-handling cars in America. Unfortunately, with a price tag of nearly $25,000, most well-heeled Boomers ignored it in favor of similarly priced import rivals like the Acura Legend and BMW 325i.

All that sounded good on a paper, but the result was a commercial disaster. Sales plunged to less than 16,000 units, the worst the Toronado had ever done. Riding Cadillac’s coattails was no longer much help; Eldorado sales were similarly dismal. Conventional wisdom usually blames the Toronado’s decline on its smaller dimensions, an explanation we consider overly simplistic — the new E-cars were not dramatically smaller than the contemporary Thunderbird, which was quite successful.

We think the bigger problem was that the new Toronado’s ambitions simply exceeded its scope. It seems that Oldsmobile — or the larger Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac organization that had absorbed Olds in early 1984 — expected the GM30 to simultaneously attract affluent Baby Boomers (who had never shown much interest in domestic luxury cars) and preserve the Toronado’s existing conservative, over-50 clientele while also fulfilling the corporate mandate for downsizing and maintaining the hardpoints of the cheaper GM20 platform. Unfortunately, the results were not so felicitous. Combining the E-cars’ familiar short deck and upright roofline with the N-body’s shorter fenders made the tail look stubby and the greenhouse disproportionately large; the Toronado looked smaller than before, which had not been true of its predecessor. At the same time, the new Toronado’s proportions were still a little too starchy and formal to pull off the aero nose. The changes only seemed to alienate existing buyers while doing little to tempt thirtysomething Yuppies from their BMWs and Audis.

1990 Oldsmobile Toronado front
Along with the exterior facelift, the 1990 Oldsmobile Toronado had a revised interior with a driver’s side airbag and analog instruments, although digital instrumentation and a split bench seat remained optional. Anti-lock brakes, already standard on the Trofeo, were optional on Toronados; they became standard across the line in 1991. The 1990 model still had 165 net horsepower (12 kW), but minor engine revisions brought that to 170 hp (127 kW) for 1991 and 1992. Unfortunately, the restyle had also increased curb weight by more than 100 lb (45 kg), so straight-line performance still wasn’t outstanding.

Reinventing the Toronado as a modern sporty coupe in the mold of the aero Thunderbird wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but we suspect that pulling it off would have required a more cohesive look and a platform with fewer obvious ties to the GM20 cars. Introducing styling themes on cheaper models before applying them to high-end products seldom turns out well — the commonality only made the $9,000 difference between the Toronado and a V-6 Cutlass Calais that much harder to accept. The Toronado was better equipped and had a bigger engine, but its outright performance was rather ordinary and the status-conscious were more likely to opt for the similarly priced BMW 325i or other upscale imports.

Oldsmobile tried to bolster the Toronado’s sporty image with an option package called Trofeo (Spanish and Italian for “trophy”), which included the FE3 suspension and various ‘Euro’ styling cues. The Toronado also got a bit more power, climbing to 150 hp (112 kW) in 1987 and 165 hp (123 kW) in 1988. Sales rose only slightly, reaching a peak of 16,496 in 1988. The Trofeo, which became a separate model in 1989, consistently outsold the base Toronado, but neither sold well. A 1990 restyle, with a longer tail and better proportions, helped only a little. With the market for big coupes of all kinds shrinking rapidly, Oldsmobile finally decided to pull the plug at the end of the 1992 model year. Sales of the final Toronado and Trofeo totaled less than 6,400 units.

1992 Oldsmobile Toronado rear 3q
The 1990 Oldsmobile Toronado’s rear deck was 12.8 inches (325 mm) longer than before, reducing the previous bobtail look, while the reshaped backlight and sail panels lessened the resemblance to the workaday Cutlass Calais. If the Toronado had looked like this in 1986, it might have done better, but by 1990, it was too late to do much good. Combined Toronado/Trofeo sales were only 15,022 in 1990, falling to around 8,000 units in 1991.

Toward the end, there were various rumors about the Toronado’s future, ranging from the adoption of a supercharged version of the 138 cu. in. (2,260 cc) Quad 4 engine to a new four-door model. The luxurious G-body Oldsmobile Aurora that arrived for 1995 borrowed a number of design cues from the original 1966 Toro, but the Toronado would have no real successor.


Some historians have called the Oldsmobile Tornado the precursor of modern FWD American cars, but if it was a pioneer, it was a lonely one. By our count, GM built 2,188,757 vehicles with the Unitized Power Package between 1966 and 1985, which is a very respectable figure by most standards, but represents only a tiny fraction of the corporation’s total car and truck production for the same period. Before the debut of the X-cars in 1979, GM’s total annual FWD production only exceeded 100,000 units on one occasion, a drop in the bucket for General Motors.

The UPP would have opened the door for GM to develop FWD versions of its other big V-8-powered cars and trucks — perhaps a FWD Vista Cruiser or Chevrolet Van — but they probably would have been niche items, particularly for what they probably would have cost. When Detroit finally embraced front-wheel drive in the late seventies, it was mostly because economic and political pressures were forcing manufacturers to develop a new generation of smaller cars with smaller engines. In that climate, there was even less need for big V-8-powered FWD cars than there had been before the OPEC embargo.

In that light, the original Toronado was not so much a missing link as an evolutionary sidebar, an interesting dead end. Indeed, GM’s later mass-market FWD cars had more conventional transverse front engine/transaxle drivetrains that bore little resemblance to the Toronado’s novel but expensive UPP, which even the Toro abandoned after 1985.

Former GM chairman Frederic Donner once remarked to designer Stan Wilen (who oversaw the styling development of the original Toronado) that cars like the Toronado were worthwhile even if they didn’t sell well because they demonstrated the corporation’s capacity for innovation. We’re sympathetic to that idea, but it’s hard to reconcile with Oldsmobile’s curious reluctance to promote the Toronado’s innovative features. By the mid-seventies, Toronado marketing barely mentioned that the car had front-wheel drive, much less that it offered both airbags and ABS.

In a way, the Toronado’s low-key image may have been to its advantage. The UPP Toronado survived far longer than many of GM’s early forays into new technology; Oldsmobile’s turbocharged F-85 Jetfire lasted only two years and Pontiac’s rope-drive Tempest survived only three. The Toronado was almost as radical a departure from the American norm as the Corvair, but generated no particular controversy and very little fuss. On the whole, the Toronado was commendably reliable and it addressed FWD foibles like torque steer better than did many later cars. Whatever else we can say about its style or performance, it worked, which is probably why the Toronado — unlike so many innovators — managed to outlive its own novelty. For that alone, it deserves a tip of the hat.



Special thanks to Gary Smith (who has his own excellent website on automotive design, Dean’s Garage), for putting us in touch with other former GM designers, and to Kathy Adelson of the GM Media Archive for her invaluable assistance in tracking down historical images for this article.


Our sources on the development and evolution of the Toronado included an AC Spark Plugs ad in Popular Science Vol. 191, No. 3 (September 1967), p. 21; C. Edson Armi, The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988); the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1966-1970 Oldsmobile Toronado,” HowStuffWorks.com, 15 October 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1966-1970-oldsmobile- toronado.htm, accessed 22 October 2010; Frank W. Ball and Lloyd T. Gill, “A Design Summary of the Toronado Engine,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 2 (Second Quarter 1966), pp. 12–15; Harry F. Barr, “Product Engineering in General Motors,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 1 (First Quarter 1966), pp. 9–10; John R. Beltz, “An Overall Look at the Toronado — A New Breed of Automobile,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 1 (First Quarter 1966), pp. 2–8; John B. Beltz; Andrew K. Watt; James H. Diener, et al, “Toronado — A New Breed,” SAE Technical Paper 660154, 1966; Ray T. Bohacz, “Mechanical Marvels: Chain Gang: Exploring Camshaft Drive Mechanism,” Hemmings Classic Car No. 12 (September 2005), pp. 66–69; John R. Bond, “Olds Toronado,” Car Life Vol. 12, No. 8 (November 1965): 32–35; “Car and Driver Road Test: Ford Thunderbird and Cadillac Eldorado,” Car and Driver November 1966, reprinted in Cadillac Eldorado 1967-78 Performance Portfolio, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2000); “Car Life 1966 Annual Award for Engineering Excellence: Oldsmobile Toronado: The Most Carefully Engineered and Thoroughly Tested Car,” Car Life Vol. 12, No. 8 (November 1965): 28–31; Chris Carlson, “Oldsmobile Toronado,” ClassicOldsmobile.com, 2005, encyclopedia.classicoldsmobile. com/toronado/index.html, accessed 13 November 2010; Linda Clark, “1964 Oldsmobile 4-4-2: Muscling in on the Ponycars,” Special Interest Auto #69 (June 1982), reprinted in Cutlass & 4-4-2 Muscle Portfolio 1964-1974, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1998), pp. 124-131; James H. Diener and Ralph W. Perkins, “A Summary of the Final Design and Development of the Toronado Chassis,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 2 (Second Quarter 1966), pp. 5–11; Donald R. Downie, “Development of Assembly Procedures for the Toronado,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 2 (Second Quarter 1966), pp. 34–42; Helen Jones Earley and James R. Walkinshaw, Setting the Pace: Oldsmobile’s First 100 Years (Lansing, MI: Oldsmobile Division of General Motors Corporation, 1996); Craig Fitzgerald, “1966 Revolutionary Ride,” Hemmings Classic Car #4 (January 2005), pp. 14–21; John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Rev. 4th Ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); Maurice D. Hendry, Cadillac: Standard of the World: The Complete History (Fourth Edition update by David R. Holls) (Princeton, N.J. : Automobile Quarterly, 1990); Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997), pp. 172-187; Roger Huntington, “Toronado from Lansing,” Car Craft: 46–49, 76; George T. Jones, Robert J. Schultz, and Robert D. Tower, “Some Aspects of Body and Sheet Metal Design for the 1966 Toronado,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 2 (Second Quarter 1966), pp. 23–28; John F. Katz, “SIA comparisonReport: 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado vs. 1967 Cadillac Eldorado,” Special Interest Autos #168 (November-December 1998), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Cadillacs (Hemmings Motor News Collector-Car Books), ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2000), pp. 110-119; Lawrence J. Kehoe Jr. and Frank A. Sherwood, “Structure and Suspension for the Front Wheel Drive Vehicle Concept,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 1 (First Quarter 1966), pp. 18–21; Thomas J. Krieg and Harry H. Lyon, “Development of the Power Transmission System for the 1966 Toronado,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 2 (Second Quarter 1966), pp. 16–22; Michael Lamm, “Toro & Cord: So different and yet so much alike!” Special Interest Autos #35 (July-August 1976), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Oldsmobiles: driveReports from Special Interest Autos, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), pp. 100-107; Todd Lassa, “Drive: 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado: Rule Breaker: 40 Years On, It’s Still the Most Radical Olds Ever,” Motor Trend October 2005, www.motortrend. com, accessed 22 October 2010; Richard M. Langworth, Illustrated Oldsmobile Buyer’s Guide (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1987); Jay Leno’s conversation with Dave North, Jay Leno’s Garage, 9 December 2007, www.jaylenosgarage. com, accessed 22 October 2010; Theodore L. Louckes and Charles L. Porter, “A Summary of the Toronado Engineering Test Program,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 2 (Second Quarter 1966), pp. 29–33; Karl Ludvigsen, The V-12 Engine: The Untold Inside Story of the Technology, Evolution, Performance and Impact of All V-12-Engined Cars (Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset: Haynes Publishing, 2005); Donald MacDonald, “Developing the Toronado,” Motor Trend Vol. 17, No. 12 (December 1965), pp. 40-45; Steve Magnante, “Hurst Hairy Oldsmobile – Keeping the Legend Alive: The Hurst Hairy Olds Returns,” Hot Rod December 2002, www.hotrod. com, accessed 6 November 2010; John D. Malloy, “The Development of a Unitized Power Package for a Front Wheel Drive Vehicle,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 1 (First Quarter 1966), pp. 11–17; Mark J. McCourt and Jeff Koch, “Leading the Way,” Hemmings Classic Car #27 (December 2006), pp 22–29; Bob Merlis, “Collectible Classic: 1966-1967 Oldsmobile Toronado,” Automobile February 2009, www.automobilemag. com, accessed 26 October 2010; William L. Mitchell, “The Toronado Takes Shape,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 1 (First Quarter 1966), pp. 22–31; “Motor Trend Interview: John Beltz,” Motor Trend Vol. 22, No. 12 (December 1970), pp. 72-76, 92-93; “1966-1985 Oldsmobile Toronado,” Automotive Mileposts, n.d., automotivemileposts. com, accessed 10 November 2010; Jan P. Norbye and Jim Dunne, Oldsmobile 1946–1980: The Classic Postwar Years, 2nd ed. (Osceola, Wis.: Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers, 1993); Oldsmobile Division of General Motors Corporation, Oldsmobile Toronado ad, LIFE Vol. 65, No. 5 (2 August 1968), p. 16, “1966 Oldsmobile: SPECS (Salesman’s Prices, Equipment, Color & Trims, Specifications)” [dealer literature] NCPP-873, October 1965; “1967 Oldsmobile: SPECS (Salesman’s Prices, Equipment, Color & Trims, Specifications)” [dealer literature], revised March 1967; “1969 Oldsmobile: Salesman’s Prices, Equipment, Color & Trims, Specifications” [dealer literature], October 1968; “1970 Oldsmobile: Salesman’s Prices, Equipment, Color & Trims, Specifications” [dealer literature], January 1970; “’68 Oldsmobile: Salesman’s Prices, Equipment, Color & Trims, Specifications” [dealer literature], revised January 1968; “Special Report on America’s Most Advanced Automobile” [brochure, ca. September 1965]; “Step Out Front in ’66 … in a Rocket Action Olds! Toronado: New one-of-a-kind car…engineered by Oldsmobile!” [advertisement], Car and Driver Vol. 11, No. 5 (November 1965), pp. 46–47; and “Toronado: For great car lovers” [brochure], August 1968; Ken Pilidis, Olds Faithful (the Oldsmobile Northern Lights Chapter newsletter) July 2009, p. 2; “Road Research Report: Olds Toronado,” Car and Driver Vol. 11, No. 5 (November 1965), pp. 29-35, 94-99; Herbert Shudliner, “Spotlight on Detroit,” Motor Trend Vol. 17, No. 4 (April 1965), p. 11; Francis E. Smith, “The Design, Development, and Production of the Toronado Body,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 1 (First Quarter 1966), pp. 38–55; Daniel Strohl, “1968 Oldsmobile Toronado,” Hemmings Classic Car No. 12 (September 2005), p. 102, and “Success! Cadillac’s OHC V-12 engine photos found,” Hemmings Blog, 14 April 2010, blog.hemmings. com, accessed 19 October 2010; Terry A. Tettens, “Development of a Body Ventilation System,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 1 (First Quarter 1966), pp. 32–37; Kris Trexler, “Steve & Matt Butcher’s 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado Deluxe,” North Texas Oldsmobile Club, n.d., clubs.hemmings. com/ clubsites/ ntexasoca/ images/ 1967_Oldsmobile_ ToronadoDeluxe.pdf, accessed 26 October 2010; “Unusual Toronados,” Toronado by Oldsmobile, n.d., www3.telus. net/ toronado/ unusual.html, accessed 1 November 2010; vistacruiser67, “1966 Oldsmobile Toronado Pike’s Peak Hill Climb 425 Rocket,” YouTube, https://youtu.be/ziYJVoaOeiI, uploaded 2 February 2008, accessed 10 November 2010; Andrew K. Watt and Jack R. Wallace, “A Summary of Advanced Design Studies for the Front Wheel Drive Toronado,” General Motors Engineering Journal Vol. 13, No. 2 (Second Quarter 1966), pp. 2–4; “Youngmobiles: Can-Am engines and other hot rockets,” Motor Trend Vol. 21, No. 10 (October 1969), reprinted in Oldsmobile Muscle Portfolio 1964-1971, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1999), pp. 96-99; the Oldsmobile Toronado Wikipedia® page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldsmobile_Toronado, accessed 13 November 2010); emails to the author from George Camp, Tom Falconer, Tom Matano, Richard Ruzzin, and Gary Smith, 11–28 November 2010; comments and emails to the author from David North, 18–21 November 2018; and comments made by former Oldsmobile engineer William Thomas on the earlier version of this article, 25 April to 29 April 2010.

Additional information on and driving impressions for the later Toronados came from Tony Assenza, “Driving Impression: 1990 new Cars: Oldsmobile Troféo: Better, but baffling,” Car and Driver Vol. 35, No. 4 (October 1989), pp. 72-74; Patrick Bedard, “Preview Test: 1986 Oldsmobile Toronado,” Car and Driver Vol. 31, No. 2 (August 1985), pp. 40-45; Jim Brokaw, “Almost a Limousine,” Motor Trend Vol. 22, No. 12 (December 1970), pp. 67-71, and “Toronado, Thunderbird, Grand Prix and Riviera: You can get cozy with that ‘personal luxury car’ if you’ve got $6000 to $8000,” Motor Trend Vol. 25, No. 6 (June 1973), reprinted in Buick Riviera Performance Portfolio 1963-1978, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2000), pp. 118–121, and “The Personal Luxury Cars,” Motor Trend Vol. 26, No. 3 (March 1974), reprinted in Thunderbird Performance Portfolio 1964-1976, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2000), pp. 129–132; Jim Dunne, “Detroit Spy Report,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 161, No. 11 (November 1990), pp. 114–115; “Inside Detroit,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 166, No. 4 (April 1989), p. 52; and “GM’s all-new luxury sedans,” Popular Science Vol. 227, No. 2 (August 1985), pp. 81-83; Jim Dunne and Ed Jacobs, “Plush mid-size coupes: GM’s new front-drive cars lead the way,” Popular Science Vol. 214, No. 3 (March 1979), pp. 32-38, 43; General Motors Corporation, “GM Design Staff Appointments” [press release], November 10, 1992; Wade Hoyt and Michael Lamm, “Detroit ’86: American Technology Takes Charge,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 162, No. 9 (September 1985), pp. 77–80; Michael Lamm, “Driving the ’79 General Motors Cars,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 150, No. 4 (October 1978), pp. 108–111, 236; “Toronado Owners Really Dig FWD but say Gas Mileage a Bummer,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 133, No. 6 (June 1970), pp. 118-121; “Two fwd giants: Both excel in prestige and gas guzzling,” and “What’s ahead for front-wheel drive?” Popular Mechanics Vol. 137, No. 4 (April 1972), pp. 100-107; Jim Richardson, “History of the 1978 Cadillac Eldorado Custom Biarritz Classic,” n.d., members.cox. net/phxjer/ eldo/history.htm, accessed 25 January 2011; Bill Sanders, “Luxury with a Flair,” Motor Trend Vol. 21, No. 2 (February 1969), pp. 74-85; and “Top Luxury for Pennies…” Road Test May 1972, reprinted in Cadillac Eldorado Performance Portfolio 1967-1978, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2000), pp. 90-95; and Gary Smith, “GM Styling Advanced Design and Pre-production Photos,” Dean’s Garage, 4 February 2010, deansgarage. com/2010/ gm-styling-images-from-the-early-%E2%80%9960s/, accessed 20 November 2010, and “1977 Buick Olds Studio Show Photos,” Dean’s Garage, 15 June 2009, deansgarage. com/2009/ 1977-buick-olds-studio-show-photos/, accessed 20 November 2010.

Additional background and technical details came from “Auto Brevity: Anti-Lock Brake Systems,” Automotive Mileposts, n.d., automotivemileposts. com, accessed 31 October 2010; Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); “Photo Feature: 1977 Oldsmobile Toronado XSR Coupe,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 20, No. 1 (June 2003), pp. 44–47; and the Productioncars.com Book of Automobile Production and Sales Figures, 1945-2005 (N.p.: 2006).

Information on the GMC Motorhomes came from “bdub,” “Frequently Asked Questions: Information Resources for GMC Motorhome Owners,” 1999-2000, www.bdub. net, accessed 23 October 2010; Bill Bryant, “Story of a Classic: The GMC Motorhome, Part One,” Family Motor Coaching February 2004, pp. 58-61; “Story of a Classic: The GMC Motorhome, Part Two,” Family Motor Coaching March 2004, pp. 70-78; and “Story of a Classic: The GMC Motorhome, Part Three,” Family Motor Coaching April 2004, pp. 74-80; all are reprinted on the web (with the permission of the author) at www.bdub. net, accessed 15 November 2010; Patrick Flower, The GMC Motorhome Source, 15 October 2007, www.gmcmotorhome. com, accessed 23 October 2010; GMC Dixielanders, “The GMC Motorhome,” n.d., www.gmcdixielanders. org, accessed 22 October 2010; “GMC Motorhome,” Hot Wheels Wiki, n.d., hotwheels.wikia. com, accessed 15 November 2010; the “GMC Motor Home – Multi Purpose Vehicle” brochure, reprinted at www.bdub. net, accessed 23 October 2010; “GMC: the Hot Wheels RV,” Squob.com, 23 September 2008, squob. com, accessed 15 November 2010; Brian Heiler, “Barbie or Big Jim?” Plaid Stallions, 16 June 2016, plaidstallions.blogspot. com/2016/06/barbie-or-big-jim.html, accessed 17 April 2018, and “Vintage Barbie Love,” Plaid Stallions, 17 December 2013, plaidstallions.blogspot. com/2013/12/vintage-barbie-love.html, accessed 17 April 2018; Bob Kovacik, “GMC Motorhome: All this, and economy too,” Motor Trend Vol. 29, No. 10 (October 1977), pp. 77-78; Laura Moncur, “Barbie Star Traveler,” Pick Me! 10 February 2008, laura.moncur. org/archives/2008/02/10/barbie-star-traveler/, accessed 18 April 2018; and “Barbie Star Traveler: The Beginnings www.starling-travel. com/2012/02/01/barbie-star-traveler-the-beginnings-of-my-camper-obsession/, accessed 18 April 2018; Herbert Shuldiner and Jim Dunne, “Drive ‘Em Like a Car — Sleek New RVs Offer New Roadability and Engineering,” Popular Science Vol. 203, No. 2 (August 1973), pp. 78-79, 126; Stripes (director: Ivan Reitman; writers: Len Blum & Dan Goldberg and Harold Ramis; producers: Ivan Reitman and Dan Goldberg; United States: Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 1981; Extended Cut DVD, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2005); “Stripes (1981),” Internet Movie Database, n.d., www.imdb. com/title/tt0083131/, accessed 23 October 2010; “World Land Speed Record for Motorhomes,” Cooperative Motor Works, 17 September 2006, www.gmccoop. com, accessed 15 November 2010); and the GMC Motorhome Wikipedia page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GMC_motorhome, accessed 23 October 2010). Additional information on other Toronado-powered motorhomes came from “Hey, what is a Cortez anyway?” CortezCoach.com, 2010, www.cortezcoach. com, accessed 22 October 2010; and the Revconeers, “The Revcon Motorhome,” The Revconeers Chapter of the Family Motor Coach Association, 2010, revconeers. com, accessed 22 October 2010.



Add a Comment
  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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