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How Oldsmobile Cars Work

1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 Oldsmobile Cars
Oldsmobile's fourth generation Toronado, shown here as a 1986 Brougham coupe, had notable improvements, but buyers weren't impressed.

Oldsmobile observed 20 years of Toronados with a new fourth generation design for 1986, which should have been cause for celebration. In many ways it was: 18 inches trimmer and 550 pounds slimmer on a new 108-inch wheelbase; just as quick despite switching from V-8s to the Buick 231-cid V-6 (making it the first Toro without eight cylinders); clean and contemporary styling, with hidden headlamps for the first time since 1969.

In early '87 came a companion model aimed straight at enthusiasts: the Trofeo (pronounced tro-FAY-oh, "trophy" in Spanish and Italian), with a more subdued exterior, standard leather interior, and FE3 "handling" suspension.

Yet for all that, buyers didn't respond. Toronado had long been eclipsed in sales by cousins Buick Riviera and Cadillac Eldorado. The '86 was no different, except that sales were less than half of what they had been: fewer than 16,000 in the debut season versus 42,000-plus for the last of the third-generation cars.

The Riv and Eldo fared little better. Critics blamed this poor performance on styling uncomfortably close to that of the much cheaper Calais, and a package that was evidently downsized a little too much for most personal-luxury buyers.

Sadly, there was little Olds could do to improve matters right away. The '87s thus received only new engine mounts plus roller valve lifters that helped lift the V-6 from 140 to 150 bhp.

For 1988 came a revised "3800" engine with another 15 bhp, a new antilock brake system (ABS) devised by GM and the German Alfred Teves company became optional, and there were minor mechanical and ergonomic changes. More details were attended to for '89, when Trofeo picked up extra standard equipment, including ABS.

Cadillac and Buick had made their E-bodies more impressive looking for 1988 and '89. Olds was finally able to do the same for the 1990 Toronado, adding 12.4 inches to overall length, mainly at the rear, complemented by minor facial surgery. The result was handsome, and the extra length yielded an extra 2.5 cubic feet of trunk space.

Olds also threw in a standard driver-side airbag and larger wheels and tires for both the Toro and Trofeo (the latter increasingly marketed as a separate model). Nevertheless, sales remained a fraction of what they'd once been, although the 1990 total of just over 15,000 was a heartening gain on the previous year's dismal 9900.

By now, GM had learned the folly of fielding too many cars that looked too much like each other. The all-new front-drive Cutlass Supreme that bowed for 1988 provided striking proof.

Though it shared the W-body/GM10 platform with that year's Buick Regal and Pontiac Grand Prix, this newest Supreme had its own roofline and outer sheet metal so it would not be confused with the others (nor they with Supreme). Hallmarks included a low, tapered nose; slim Olds-trademark split grille; curvy flanks; large wheel openings; crisply clipped tail; and a glassy notchback superstructure with semi-concealed C-posts and thin A- and B-pillars.

The front-drive Supreme's initial power team was a five-speed manual transaxle driven by the workhorse 173-cid Chevy V-6 in 125-bhp port-injected form; for 1989, cars with optional automatic received a 3.1-liter/191-cid enlargement boasting 135 bhp.

At the same time, optional ABS arrived to fortify the standard all-disc brakes. Model choices through '89 comprised Olds­mobile's now-usual range of base, SL, and sporty International Series -- all coupes. The I-Series came with quick-ratio power steering, tuned exhaust, full instrumentation, and, for '89, cassette tape player, power door mirrors, and central locking.

Buyers had been conditioned to expect rebates or low-interest financing offers even on new models. The front-drive Supreme bowed without them, and thus got off to a relatively slow sales start: a little less than 95,000 made despite the extra-long 1988 model year.

Olds took the hint, offered incentives, and watched sales pass 100,000 for '89, then 119,000 for '90. But what really made the difference was the belated 1990 arrival of four-door Supremes, which critics said should have been introduced first. At the same time, the engine lineup was curiously juggled.

Base power with five-speed manual was now the 180-bhp H.O. Quad-4, with the 160-bhp version reserved for cars with optional three-speed automatic. The 3.1 V-6 again teamed solely with extra-cost four-speed automatic, but that combination was no longer available for the I-Series, which could have used it just as much.

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