Curbside Classic: 1972 Oldsmobile Toronado – A Brougham For Winter

Winter has returned to Chicago with full fury, with this past Thursday, January 31st, 2019 bringing some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded in this city on this date, at -21°F .  The first Saturday of the new year was deceptively warm, with afternoon temperatures approaching sixty degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of the city.  Strangely enough, this past Superbowl Sunday weekend brought temperatures all the way back to the Forties, and today may reach Fifty.

Mental and emotional illnesses are to be taken very seriously (psychology major, here), but with these wild swings in temperature, it has crossed my mind more than once that Mother Nature could use some prescription antidepressants and/or some counseling.  There should be no shame in seeking help, and I’ve seen a life coach for some years now.  These ridiculously low temperatures all seem worth it, though, when summer in the Windy City, with its plethora of fun activities, finally arrives.  C’mon, summer.

What’s interesting to observe when it’s this brutally cold outside is just how deserted places become that are normally bustling with activity.  Sidewalks seem mostly empty, even during morning and evening rush hour.  One can almost always find a seat on the CTA “L” trains, which is not always the case.  There’s also a noticeable absence of street traffic.  Nobody wants to drive in weather like this, especially after all the precipitation on the ground has frozen solid and it’s too cold even for the sky to shed flakes.

Both driving and neighborhood street parking can be a dicey proposition during this time of year.  I’ve detailed the oft-dire “duck-duck-goose” parallel parking situation in my neighborhood in a previous post, and when I think about what the snow, ice, and cold would add to such a scenario, it makes me want to just shut down, both physically and emotionally.  I still don’t own (or need) a car, but on many winter mornings while walking somewhere in my neighborhood, I can hear the cringe-inducing sounds of people scraping ice off the windows of their vehicles, and of tires spinning on caked ice and snow in sometimes futile attempts to extract cars and trucks from their tight, curbside parking spaces.  In fact, just this past Tuesday, I had helped four other neighborhood strangers push a previous-generation, rear-wheel-drive Dodge Charger out from its curbside parking space.

Back in the 1970s, when many cars were lower, longer and wider than many popular vehicles of today, I don’t know how people in Chicago did it.  That’s when I think about how, among the solidly upper-middle-class set, a car like an early second-generation Olds Toronado like our featured car would be a decent choice among luxo-cruisers.  “But, Joe, how many of these Toronados do you think were actually parked on the street, as opposed to in garages and carports?”

If myriad, period pictures from the mid-’70s as featured in photographer Bob Rehak’s excellent photo-book, “Uptown: Portrait Of A Chicago Neighborhood In The Mid-1970s” (a book I absolutely treasure) are any indication, the answer is quite a few.  I can imagine that in the mid-’70s, when front-wheel-drive was still considered something of a novelty, the winter traction of these FWD Toronados made believers out of their owners and drivers.

Several weeks ago, Eric703 had posted an excellent article about the car insurance industry, bumpers, and federal regulations.  Aesthetics be darned, the above shot illustrates how, especially in cold, slippery weather conditions, larger bumpers were useful.  I doubt the front of this Toronado had sustained no more than a tiny bump up front before looking like it now has a severe underbite.  Granted, it could look worse, but it most certainly used to look so much better before making contact with something.

I remain a fan of the Toronado in nearly all of its model years (including the final models).  Though my hands-down favorites are the first-year 1966 and ’67 models, I also like the more overtly brougham-look ’71 redesign.  It looks formal, dressy, and buttoned-down in a way that doesn’t look stuffy to me.  The second pair of brake-lights that were mounted just underneath the rear backlight (window) were a fascinating, little detail – introduced on these cars over a decade before the federal government mandated this feature.

Nineteen Seventy-Two saw the third-highest level of annual Toronado sales, at 48,900, trailing the 55,900 sold the following year in ’73, and close to 50,000 even for the newly rightsized ’79 models.  The second-generation cars started out with a very respectable level of popularity.  Among the premium personal luxury coupes sold in ’72, the controversially-styled Buick Riviera (though gorgeous to my eyes) sold 33,700 copies, Cadillac moved 41,000 more-expensive Eldorados, Ford sold 57,800 Thunderbirds, and 48,600 Lincoln Continental Mark IVs found buyers.  The Toronado wasn’t even the least-expensive option, with a base price ($5,341) topping that of both the Riviera ($5,149) and the Thunderbird ($5,293), even if only marginally so, with a price spread of less than 4% among these three cars.

As someone who likes to express his individuality, I like that these Toronados were both “different” (being front-wheel-drive, a trait shared only with the Eldorado among its peers) and popular.  Even if the full benefits of FWD were limited by the overall size and weight of these cars, I like to think they provided an increased level of manageability for those who opted to travel in just a bit more style than the average driver.  I can only imagine what kind of heat blasted (probably instantaneously) out of the dashboard vents of these 455-cubic-inch V8-powered cars, with at least 375 horsepower on tap (the optional engine had 400 hp).  In its day, and for all of these reasons and more, the ’72 Toronado, including this fine specimen, was most certainly a good brougham for winter in the Midwest.

Near South Side, Chicago, Illinois.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010.

Click the following links for related reading from Jason Shafer, GN, and my own, later shot of this car posted to the Cohort four years ago.