CC Conundrum: 1977 Oldsmobile Toronado Brougham & ’77 Cadillac Coupe DeVille – Quantity Vs. Quality?

(first posted 6/13/2017)     Quantity vs. quality: the eternal dilemma.  I spotted both of these cars in nearly the same spot on the same April weekend, last year.  For 20% over the premium of this ’77 Toronado, one could have purchased an entry-level Cadillac – the newly-downsized Coupe DeVille.  The Eldorado, which shared the Toronado’s E-body platform, cost about 45% more than the Toro and was in a completely different price-class, but it still begs the question: for your hard-earned, middle-class money, and between just these two cars, which would you have chosen?

Our featured cars are just a few more of the classic, American broughams I’ve spotted in my neighborhood.  I’m starting to feel like I have some kind of magnetic pull on interesting, older cars.  Sometimes, it’s almost like my stretch of North Sheridan Road is like some sort of remote extension of Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

Speaking of Detroit (the site of this year’s annual CC meetup, which was awesome, thank you), we excelled at building cars like these in the 70s: (mostly) rear-wheel-driven, V8-powered, luxurious isolation chambers.  Despite the DeVille’s big shrink that year, it still had almost the same power-to-weight ratio as the Toronado – about 23 lb.-per-hp.   The 4,600-pound Toronado was powered by a 200-hp Olds 403, and the 4,200-lb. Cadillac came standard with a 180-horse 425.

The Coupe DeVille did the dash to sixty mph in about eleven seconds, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the Toronado posted a similar number.  The Caddy posted a dismal 12.5 mph mileage rating from the EPA, however, so given the Toronado’s 10% greater weight, the Olds probably regularly saw single-digits in the city on a regular basis.  Good thing it was so comfy (up front, anyway).

Both cars share obvious similarities: expressive styling, padded vinyl roof treatments, stand-up hood ornaments, and pillowy, luxurious interior appointments.  Each, however, has one exclusive, distinctive feature I love.  For the Coupe DeVille, it is the driver-facing, top-mounted turn signals at the leading edge of the front header panel.  Our lowly ’77 Plymouth Volaré had those, too.  I remember sitting in that car and trying to activate the turn signals when the car was parked, but to no avail, with the keys out of the ignition.

The Toronado, alternately, had that cool, second pair of brake lights mounted just under the rear window (also shared with its 1974 – ’76 Buick Riviera platform-mate).  I would love it when Mom or Dad would trail one of these in traffic when I was a kid, while I held out hope its driver would need to turn and activate those signals.  (You know…kids, and blinking lights.)  I wonder now why the ultimate E-Body, the Cadillac Eldorado, did not share this feature with the Toro and Riv.

According to my 2002 edition of Encyclopedia of American Cars from the editors of Consumer Guide, there were 31,371 ’77 Toronado Broughams (the standard trim level) produced for the model year, with a starting price of $8,134 (about $32,800 / adjusted).  This is against 138,750 Coupe DeVilles priced from $9,810 (about $39,600 / adjusted).  Which car would have spoken more to your dollars, sense, and priorities at the time?  As for me, and as of this writing, I honestly can’t say if the pride of owning a new Cadillac would have persuaded me over the more-car-for-the-money appeal of the Oldsmobile, given my thrifty upbringing.  Sometimes, you don’t need no fancy Häagen-Dazs – a big, old tub of Breyer’s will do just fine.

In a weird twist of fate, the license plate of the Toronado matched that of a ’74 Pontiac Grand Ville I had featured in a piece of CC fiction a couple of years ago.  I was sad to think that that old Grand Ville is probably toast (or, quite literally, a toaster).  I do, however, respect the Toronado owner’s taste in fine, American broughams of the Seventies.  Let’s see what other goodies the rest of this summer will bring on North Sheridan Road.

Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
April 16 & 17, 2016.

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