Curbside Classic: 1978 Oldsmobile Toronado Brougham – Here Come ol’ Flattop

'78 Toronado front

(first posted 10/16/2015)    Speaking as someone who once traded a ’54 Buick for a ’68 Lincoln, I don’t have that much against big, ostentatious cars, but GM’s ’71-’78 E-bodies (Cadillac Eldorado, Oldsmobile Toronado, Buick Riviera) even give a guy like me pause. This example, from the last year before the inevitable downsizing that had already swept the rest of the lineup, turned up in the parking lot at Old Kingsbury Aerodrome near San Antonio last May, and was the first one of these I’d seen in years.

220 inches long. A lane-filling 79.8 inches wide. 5000 pounds of inertia to be hauled around by the front wheels with an emissions-strangled, 190 HP 403 V-8. Yep, with soaring gas prices, looming CAFE standards and the overturning of the traditional domestic market by upstarts from Japan and Europe, the heyday for gigantic ‘personal luxury’ barges like the Toronado was just about over.

1971 Toronado brochure



After a major redesign for the ’71 model year (see above), the basic structure had been pretty much left alone throughout the car’s run, with the most notable changes being alterations to the grille, a switch from round to square sealed-beam headlights, and the addition of federally -mandated cowcatchers — I mean bumpers. The mighty 455 V8 originally fitted in these cars had been jettisoned at the end of ’76, in favor of the slightly more economical 403.

1978 Oldsmobile Full Size-20


For ’78, the Toronado was offered in two models: The ‘base’ (but very-well equipped for the time) Brougham; and the XS, identified by a rather strange-looking wraparound  rear window. The Toro’s front-wheel drive, still a rarity in domestics, was promoted heavily for its handling and packaging benefits, but one wonders if its target market ever cared all that much.

1978 Oldsmobile Full Size-21

By now the biggest car in the Olds lineup, and with the design getting fairly long in the tooth, the market took up just over 24,000 Toronados in ’78, mostly Broughams. By comparison, the mechanically similar but even more bloated Eldorado more than doubled that figure.

The shape is, admittedly, not inspired. Although at first glance the Toro looks as though the stylists were given a rectangular box and told to fill it to the edges, there are some fairly subtle design touches here and there. Probably most distinctive were the high-mounted brake lights tucked up under the backlight, first introduced for the 1971 redesign and years before the Feds mandated them on all cars. Then there are the odd descending creases on the inside ends of the fenders. Fair enough; they add a bit of character.

'78 Toronado rear

Alas, a view of the rear of this particular example reveals one of the banes of GM cars from this era: the plastic fillets between the body and the stand-off bumpers have dry-rotted and fallen away. Aside from that, however, she seems in nearly showroom shape.

1978 Toro Kingsbury rear detail 150502

Heavily-tinted windows precluded getting any shots of the interior, but the brochure page gives the general idea. Oldsmobile did the loose-pillow thing better than just about anyone, and all leathered up, that must have been quite the cocoon to ride around in.

The rest is typical late ’70s Broughamtastic cliché: half-vinyl roof, opera windows, romanesque grille. Yawn. Despite all that, and its aggressive, er, angularity, I think it looks about as good in that (Ron) burgundy color as it’s likely to get. It certainly comes off to these eyes as slightly less pretentious than the contemporary Eldorado, a car I’ve always loathed.

It can be fairly argued that the ’66-’70 Toronados were more stylish, and that the much smaller and lighter generation that followed (’79-’85) made a bit more sense as practical vehicles. If nothing else, however, the ’78 has a certain degree of brutal presence about it. Is it really all that much less justifiable than, say, the Escalade parked nearby? I giggle a bit whenever I see one of these dinosaurs, and I’m glad I’m not paying the fuel bills, but it’s fun to see one in such nice shape.

Further reading:

JPCavanaugh on the first-gen Toronado

Robert Kim addresses the third-generation Toro

Paul Niedermeyer leaves no doubt where he stands on the same-year Eldorado