Car Show Classic: 1989 Oldsmobile Toronado Troféo – Ooh Boy, Am I Gonna Be In For It…

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I can hear it already: Tom, Tom Tom. How can you love such a half-assed car?! GM totally missed the mark with the downsized E-bodies. It was a bridge too far–or too small as the case may be. Okay, okay–Uncle! I will nod my head and agree with you. Yes, yes, these cars were not well-received, and particularly in Eldorado form with the half-baked 4.1L “Digital Fuel Injection” V8, was a big ol’ lemon. But I still can’t help but like these cars.

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Perhaps it’s because they debuted right around the time I started noticing specific model years of cars. Perhaps it’s because I grew up with Volvo 240s and these cars seemed exotic and so different. Or maybe because I have a soft spot for cars that stumbled in the marketplace–I love Studebakers too!

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Now, although this post is about how I like the shrunken Toronados, I also must point out that I am a big fan of the 1979-85 Toro. As a matter of fact, it is my favorite of the three flavors of E-body in those days, despite the Riviera and Eldorado being more expensive. This medium red ’85 Toro Brougham would look great in my garage, if there wasn’t currently a Town Car occupying it…

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But I digress. One thing we all can agree on–the 1986-89 Toronado was a very different car from Broughamier 1971-85 predecessors.

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And yet, there was a lot of 1966 Toronado in the new 1986s. In 1966, the Eldorado, not yet a front-wheel drive personal luxury coupe, was a flossy über convertible, while the Riviera and Toronado were sporty personal-lux coupes. The whole crushed-velour, opera-windowed, coach-lamped isolation chamber versions of both E-bodies would come along several years later.

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With the 1986 models, that sporty, well-handling idiom came back, instead of the boulevard ride and road isolation of the “wedding cake” Eldos, Rivs and Toros of 1971-78. It was the ’80s after all, and Brougham was really on the way out. Time to face facts, folks–even if the Midwest didn’t really lose their Brougham love until the early ’90s. Indeed some (like me) never did. But once again, I digress…

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The 1986 Toronado was all about efficiency, comfort and good handling characteristics. The new top-of-the-line model, the Troféo, emphasized this point dramatically. This was a luxury Oldsmobile? Well, yes and no. It was sporty and luxurious–if, that is, superficial buyers could get past the “Ooh, it’s a tarted-up Calais” schtick.

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Okay, it looks like a Calais? Well, vaunted Mercedes-Benz did the same thing! Take, for instance the 190E. It was a plebian, if well-engineered car, but in its home country you had them everywhere as buzzy little taxis. Hardly luxurious. Hardly plush. Hardly fast.

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Then, at the top of the M-B food chain was the W126. While a much larger and more luxurious car (and beautiful, I won’t dispute that), and with a price tag to match–it looked JUST like the el-cheapo 190 for gosh sakes! Even the wheels were the same. The grille, taillights, side creases, and even the roofline were all very similar if not identical. Just like the Toronado. One was clearly bigger and more luxurious, but with more than a passing resemblance–just like the Toronado. One had more gadgets and a longer wheelbase–just like the Toronado. Yet the Toronado gets blasted from here to Kansas City and back and the Mercedeses get a pass? And hey, the Toro wasn’t fricking $60,000!

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Let’s say someone blindfolded you, bundled you into the driver’s seat of a brand-new 1989 Troféo, slammed the door and told you to put the foot to the carpet–after removing the blindfold of course. I daresay you would enjoy the experience.

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For instance: the well-regarded 3800 provided forward motivation, and by ’89 had 165 hp and a healthy 210 lb-ft of torque, as well as sequential-port fuel injection. As savvier folks know, torque is much more crucial to driving enjoyment than horsepower–a fact lost on today’s bread-and-butter sedans with 350 hp. And with Teves four-wheel anti-lock brakes, they stopped just as well as they went.

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Inside was a real treat, with leather bucket seats that had power adjustment for the side bolsters, back contour and even lumbar support, a la Volvo.

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Steering wheel-mounted radio controls were newly available. Returning to the standard equipment list were a leather-wrapped steering wheel, FE3 Touring Car Ride and Handling package, Twilight Sentinel and lacy-spoke 15-inch aluminum wheels. One thing NOT available was a manual transmission, but this gunmetal-gray ’89 Troféo has one–clearly a modification by its owner, who no doubt must love this car to do such a major change! And while the hood was not up, a “Supercharged” logo on the left side of the trunk lid suggested this had gotten a boosted Riviera or Park Avenue Ultra 3800 V6 transplant.

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In addition to being the sportiest Toronado in years, the Troféo also had several 1966 cues on it, especially the full-width grille with hidden headlights. That and the full-width taillights are why the Toronado is my favorite of the three 1986 E bodies. The sporty styling wore much better on the downsized E’s flanks than the mini-Biarritzes and landau-roofed Rivieras of the time.

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And like the Riviera, the Toronado received the Visual Information Center, or VIC. It was an impressive technological feat for GM at the time, but woe to the Toro, Eldo or Riv owner who had it conk out. Replacements were super expensive, and later simply unobtainable. Like many early adopters, the touch-screens used on these luxo coupes just weren’t perfected!

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But the interior sure was swank, was it not? I love the interior on these–just a hint of the ’60s greatness here and there, yet modern and of course, comfortable.

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1989 was the last year of the “truncated” Toro; for 1990 they would receive a longer rear deck (which the Riviera received a year earlier in 1989–CC here). I like those too, and actually have a choice example of that final Toronado in my archives, but seeing this mildly modified Troféo at the Classy Chassy cruise night in Coralville on May 30, I couldn’t help but do this one first! The five speed and early ’90s Cutlass Supreme alloys just look like they belong, and make for a pretty mean machine!

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Were they GM’s finest hour? Likely not, but they were still pretty damn nice cars, VIC aside, and I really enjoyed seeing this survivor. I am sure its owner feels the same way! So here’s to you Troféo, at least two people in the United States love you!

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