Five years after its debut as General Motors' first production front-wheel-drive car, the 1971 Oldsmobile Toronado was ready for a complete remake. It borrowed a few admired styling touches from GM's second front-drive car but still maintained plenty of its own identity.
I was there when the "big" Toronado had its final run. In fact, I sold the last one we had at the large Oldsmobile dealership where I worked as a new-car salesman. The big Toros of the Seventies were certainly handsome machines, but by their final year, many people viewed them as anachronisms in a world of costlier fuel and rapidly downsizing automobiles. Still, it was sad to see them fade away. After all, things had started out so well.
The prominent beak-like hood of the 1971 Oldsmobile
Toronado pushed grille openings to the far ends of the bumper.
See more pictures of classic cars.
The Toronado personal-luxury coupe made its debut for 1966, boasting the first front-wheel-drive configuration in an American car since the 1937 Cord. The "Toro" occupied an enviable position as the costliest and most-admired model in the Oldsmobile lineup. Back then, Olds held a coveted place in the industry. The big Ninety-Eight was known as a "thinking man's Cadillac," while the Delta 88s were upscale family cars renowned for comfort and style. Young people salivated over the awesome 4-4-2 muscle cars, while newlyweds usually hankered for something from the sporty Cutlass series, Olds' line of intermediates.
In the Toronado, America's oldest existing car brand had yet another of the engineering marvels for which the marque had become known through the years. The original Toronado also sported striking styling, which was facelifted and freshened over the next four years. Engine and chassis upgrades were made along the way, too.
For the 1971 model year, however, the time had come for a complete redesign. Engineers settled on a 122.3-inch wheelbase, 3.3 inches longer than before, and both the full-frame chassis and Fisher "E" body would be all-new. Toronado would continue to offer just one body style -- a hardtop coupe -- and marketing chiefs decided to reduce the number of models to just one, rather than offer base and premium models as in prior years. The consolidation made sense; buyers had always chosen the better model over the budget version by a wide margin.
Styling of the second-generation Toronado was squared up and more formal looking than before. Overall length was increased by 5.6 inches to 219.9 inches. While Oldsmobile acknowledged that there were other luxury coupes on the market, it dubbed Toronado "The Unmistakable One."
The imposing profile featured long blade-type fenders that flowed back to the doors, the upper fender line continuing into the doors before terminating in a pronounced dip. The theme then resumed just aft of the door with a well-defined character line that shot straight up for a few inches before turning rearward to the back of the car, where the rear quarters ended in bladelike extensions that complemented the front fenders. New slim handles were recessed into the doors.
A formal, upright roofline left only enough room for narrow vertical rear-quarter windows and gave the cabin a close-coupled look. The Toro's optional padded vinyl top was of the "halo" style, with a strip of sheetmetal showing between the windows and the roof covering. The combination of roof profile, side glass, and sharp kick-up line bore a deliberate resemblance to another front-drive personal coupe, the 1967-70 Cadillac Eldorado.
Up front, Toronado featured what might best be described as grilleless styling. Quad headlamps flanked a raised and projected center section of the broad hood, all set above a massive bumper. Air intake was accomplished via twin grilles set into the outer thirds of the bumper, a very distinctive touch. In back, one found a trunklid with a raised and extended center portion that, in plan view, would have appeared to be a continuation of the jutting hood. Recessed rectangular taillamps sat low in niches created by the trunklid and rear bumper.
Toronado's interior came in for special attention with cut-pile carpeting and elegant fabrics and trim. Even the accelerator and brake pedals were color coordinated! Olds contended that the front seat, made of solid foam, was "simple and sag proof."
The handsome instrument panel was composed of three sections. A central rectangle held speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge, and gearshift indicator. Flanking this were two larger rectangles. The one on the left contained climate-control levers, lighting and wiper/washer controls, and an air vent; the left one held the radio, cigar lighter, and another air vent. Shoulder room in this sumptuous interior measured more than five feet, and the floor was virtually flat, thanks to the front-wheel drive.
Though still quite rare in America in 1971, front-wheel drive wasn't the only trump card the new Toro held. One particularly innovative feature: The taillights were supplemented by a pair of eye-level stop and signal lamps set in slots just below the rear window, a preview of today's high-mounted brake lights. A sophisticated new flow-through ventilation system exhausted interior air through louvers on the decklid. An optional "True-Track" antilock braking system, which operated on the rear brakes only, was available.