(first posted 11/29/2016) General Motors has produced quite a few deadly sins, as well as numerous greatest hits. Then there are the cars in between. Neither trend-setting nor fatally flawed, these cars occupying the middle ground were nonetheless popular with their intended audience, sold in reasonably robust numbers, and were considered well-built for their times. The 3rd generation Oldsmobile Toronado was just such a car. It was average in many ways, but had enough flair and distinctiveness to succeed for seven years. Had all of GM’s cars met those qualities, the company would have left the 1980s in far better shape than it did.
This particular car is a 1985 top-of-the-line Toronado Caliente, complete with every significant option that Olds offered at the time. However, the 1985 models seem cloaked in a veil of sadness. The very next model year marked one of GM’s greatest missteps in the form of the 1986 Toronado – a car that sent the Toronado nameplate and GM’s personal luxury offerings crashing to the ground. But in 1985, the precipice ahead was not yet visible, and the Toronado was able to enjoy one final year as a popular car. Let’s take a look at how it got there.
Oldsmobile’s Toronado needs little introduction, with the original 1966 model being one of the landmark cars of its decade. With front-wheel drive, and the resulting flat interior floor, the ’66 Toronado was a technological marvel (or at least a curiosity) – and importantly, this technology was wrapped in a beautiful design. But after the initial novelty wore off, sales dropped by about half for 1967.
For the remaining four years of the Toronado’s first generation, GM still emphasized the benefits of front-wheel drive and a flat floor (you can sit in the center like a lady!), but innovation clearly took a backseat to style. Advocates for large front-wheel drive cars must have been dismayed that among GM’s E-platform coupes in the late 1960s, the rear-drive Buick Riviera outsold the front-drive Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado combined.
For its 2nd generation (1971-78), Toronado followed the general trends of the times – that is, it grew larger and more ornate. Although it seemingly disregarded the classic and innovative design of the ’66 model, buyers didn’t care: Sales boomed for the early 2nd generation cars, though this boom was cut short by the energy crisis. Still, over 267,000 were sold during an 8-year run. By the late 1970s, General Motors’ downsizing efforts were in full swing, and the unchanged Toronado and Eldorado were briefly the largest cars in their respective GM divisions.
GM’s successive rounds of downsizing finally reached these personal luxury coupes for 1979. The 3rd generation Toronado lost more than 900 lbs., 8” in wheelbase and a whopping 8.7” in width from its bloated predecessor. But while exterior dimensions shrank, interior dimensions (except width) grew, particularly rear seat room, which benefited from the high, formal roofline.
The E-body coupes were GM’s only set of completely new cars for 1979. In a break with the past, the Riviera joined the Toronado and Eldorado as front-drivers. All three coupes shared the same 114” wheelbase, body-on-frame construction and most mechanicals. While GM stressed the technological advancements of front-wheel drive and fully independent suspensions, there was little else that was unusually advanced about these cars. The extreme diet due to downsizing was enough innovation for the time being.
All three E-body coupes received the same styling theme – a long(ish) hood followed by an unusual combination of a steeply raked windshield and a virtually vertical rear window. The triplets also featured thick C-pillars of various shapes.
The three divisions’ offerings were most readily distinguished by their front and rear clips, and it was here that Toronado showed some design continuity with the 2nd generation cars. Quad headlights situated over horizontal turn signals, a long and low rectangular grille with a painted strip atop it, and thin horizontal tail lights made the new car clearly identifiable as a Toronado – just on a 4/5ths scale compared to the previous year’s car.
From the outset, the Toronado was praised as being smooth and quiet, qualities highly valued in its market segment. Performance improved as well – with more responsiveness and less understeer than its enormous predecessor (whose size was not particularly well suited to front-wheel drive).
Like most cars, the 3rd generation Toronado wound up being a compromise – distinctive but not daring, contemporary but not pioneering, elegant but not flamboyant. In this case, GM hit the balance just right. Sales of the 1979 Toronado doubled over that of the ’78 model.
Equally impressive is that sales of the 3rd generation Toronado remained strong during its entire 7-year lifespan. Four of the Toronado’s top six all-time sales years occurred during the 3rd generation, and altogether 300,000 Toronados rolled off the Linden, New Jersey production line between 1979 and 1985. In its final year of 1985 alone, over 42,000 Toronados found homes.
During those seven model years, the car itself changed very little. Engine availability and options evolved, but the overall design remained so similar that it takes a dedicated Oldsmophile to spot the differences between individual years. The car pictured above is from 1983, but it would look perfectly at home in a 1979 or 1985 showroom. Grille design is the best way to estimate a 3rd generation Toronado’s year, as the car sported 4 different grilles in its 7 years.
Our featured car is a 1985 top-line Caliente model. The Caliente was offered only in 1984 and 1985, and featured brougham-level trim characteristic of its day.
A padded landau roof was accentuated by a stainless steel belt molding separating the padded and metal portions of the roof. Further exterior brightwork on Caliente included rocker panel moldings and an extra chrome strip above the grille.
Foam-cushioned seats, simulated walnut woodgrain trim, and full power accessories greeted passengers in all Toronados. Calientes added standard leather upholstery, an electronic instrument panel and a sporty leather-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel that looked oddly out of place in a broughamy interior.
If potential buyers didn’t think that the Caliente spoke to them, then… well, maybe they weren’t listening closely enough. Calientes came equipped with a “voice information reminder system.” Yes, this is a talking car. Unlike other examples of the talking-car-reminder era, Caliente’s system could be quite longwinded. With some notifications, the system would describe the problem, its importance, and what should be done. Such verbosity probably became quickly bothersome.
Toronado’s rear seat was spacious, though the small side windows provided a somewhat confining feel.
For 1985, two engines were offered – the 5-liter gas V-8 that this Caliente came with, and GM’s ill-fated 5.7-liter diesel. The gas engine developed 140 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque, enough to give the Toronado satisfactory, but not exemplary acceleration.
But even the relatively modest engine was enough to outrun the very softly sprung suspension. Toronados would float and sway in even routine handling maneuvers. While Buick’s Riviera E-body offered the performance-oriented T Type, the only high-performance 3rd generation Toronado was the short-lived (1980-81) XSC. Slow sales probably convinced Oldsmobile that its main market lay elsewhere.
Our featured car is a fully-equipped Toronado that included most major options, including the $2,195 Caliente package and the $1,195 astroroof.
Adding on to a base price of $16,798, this Toronado likely came with a sticker price of around $21,500 (around $48,000 in today’s dollars). Compared to the mechanically-identical Cadillac Eldorado, it must have seemed like a great value. $21,500 is just about where Eldorado pricing started – without leather upholstery, an astroroof, vinyl roof or wire wheel covers. However, despite its higher price, Eldorado outsold Toronado by 50% during the 1979-85 model years. In the personal luxury market, prestige could easily trump value.
Perhaps the scenario of being outsold by the costlier Eldorado prompted Oldsmobile to offer the upscale Caliente package in the first place.
Nevertheless, the Caliente’s presence in Oldsmobile showrooms didn’t dramatically affect sales – in the two years for which it was offered, Caliente accounted for just 14% of Toronado sales. Our featured car is one of about 7,300 made for 1985.
Regardless of the 1985 Toronado’s attributes, it is often remembered in the context of its successor’s failures. The 4th generation Toronado, which debuted just months after our featured car was produced, is often regarded as one of GM’s greatest disappointments. Oldsmobile tried to convince buyers that annihilating tradition was a good thing, but buyers thought otherwise regarding the small and undistinguished newcomer. Sales plunged by 62% in one year.
The 3rd generation Toronado seemed like an instant classic after the unpopular ’86 model was introduced. It’s hard not to be wistful: Unlike its successor, this car had the panache needed to succeed in the personal luxury market. Yes, the engine was somewhat weak, the technology dated, and the styling was seven years old. But the Toronado still expressed itself confidently in 1985, and probably could have sold well for another year or two.
By most quantitative measurements, the 1985 Toronado was an average car. But “average” can be a deceptive term: In the Toronado’s case, the car occupied a solid and desirable middle ground. Sometimes the hard-to-measure aspects of a car matter the most, and the Toronado exemplifies that sentiment. In this case, middle ground was beautiful. Particularly in comparison to what followed.
Photographed in Lansing, Michigan in July 2016.
Curbside Classic: 1979-85 Oldsmobile Toronado – The Forgotten E-Body Robert Kim
What a well written and informative article with a beautiful featured car! Thank you!
I bought a new 1985 Caliente and what a nice car, lots features even had a digital speedometer that started blinking when you reached a speed of 85, I was running the roads back then and had a lot of fond memories with that car.
Hello! I’m actually currently in the process of purchasing a 1985 Caliente! Can I send you pictures and get your opinion of it?
Would love to see it
Quite a nice car ruined by the $2 shop wheel covers and the chopped off roof treatment why put a formal style roof on a car not really designed to take rear seat passengers, it could have been done better.
Those are the original wheel covers, they are shown in some of the advertisements. I agree the design hasn’t aged well perhaps because of all the $2 imitations.
My parents had a 1982 Delta 88 Royale sedan with those wheel covers. They looked nice when clean, but they rattled over bumps. I had to install curb feelers on the car to prevent my parents from hitting the curb with the hubs.
Very nice. Although my perfect version would have the ’83 grill and no vinyl top.
The pictures were taken at Potter Park, right? I’m surprised I don’t recognize the car.
I notice it has a plug for a block heater, I wonder if that implies the diesel?
Yes, it’s Potter Park! Good eye in recognizing the parking lot.
I checked the VIN, and the engine code was for the 5.0 gas engine, so it’s not quite the unicorn that a diesel ’85 would have been. I’ve been unable to find gas/diesel sales breakdowns, but I’m sure by 1985, the diesel option was quite a rare car.
It’s the breathtakingly rare plug-in hybrid Toronado, of course. 😉
Nope…not a diesel nor a plug-in hybrid…just a well worn 307 that likes 20W-50 motor oil with Lucas oil stabilizer. Hence it needs an aftermarket oil pan heater and battery heater in the winter to start with ease. 🙂
Ah yes, the third generation Toronado, the chosen ride of our bloated, perpetually drunk neighbor. Looking at that machine as a child, the sheer number of gadgets bowled me over. A power antenna with chunk chrome trim, a sensor on the left mirror’s stanchion and courtesy lights everywhere. It outdid my uncle’s Town Car for sheer gadgetry; either that, or it advertised it better. Along with the big C 77-84 bodies, perceived material quality was quite good. This well preserved example shows that off pretty well. Compared to that Town Car, it appear superior.
Thanks for this long, well illustrated article; this is the sort of piece which keeps me tuned into CC.
Just one question: was Toronado Caliente as embarrassing an appellation in the early ’80s? It sounds like a pornstar’s stage name.
“Thanks for this long, well illustrated article; this is the sort of piece which keeps me tuned into CC.”
Couldn’t have said it better…thank you.
And bonus points for the appropriateness of this Olds having been (poigniantly) photographed in Lansing.
It was originally sold at the now defunct Matson Oldsmobile in Muskegon, MI and now resides in Lansing.
It is nice to see gee any GM car post 1970 not labeled a deadly sin. I am more partial to the second and fourth generation of Toro. The second for it’s excess. Giving more metal and more engine than needed are a tradition in American luxury. The fourth because the Toro looked the best in the initial 1986 style, the generation early control interaction, and the efficiency of the design. In contrast to the second generation, it says that GM can do absolutely anything. Unfortunately for GM, it spoke that exciting dichotomy only to me.
If this size and layout had continued, would sales have still slowed to a trickle? I think so. GM, not seeing a future, had starved large traditional car powertrain development, Would this have continued or perhaps the 307 replaced by the 3800 V6. Not easy since that was transverse. and still a much heavier car. Maybe eventually a Chevy small block, so the Toro and the pickup you replace it with share an engine.
Not every GM after 1970 was a Deadly Sin…the 1970-81 Camaro/Firebird, for example, was a Greatest Hit IMO.
The 1977-90 B-bodies, even with the flaws they possessed depending on how they were equipped.
How about the 1973-87 Suburban? Even though they owe much to the old IH Travelalls and Jeep Wagoneers, that model Suburban became the Cowboy Cadillac by the end of its run…
This is a well-written defense of a car I easily overlooked in its day.
The 3800 was installed in the Riviera longitudinally in a turbo form, as well as a 4.1 naturally aspirated V6
Yes, the earlier version, but the 3.8 was upgraded for tranverse applications. In 1986, if had 140 hp in the new Toro and still 110hp in the G body RWD Cutlass version. Only much later was it converted back for RWD applications in the F body.
I think GM might have offered the 4.3l V6 to the Toro as they did start adding them to the fullsize car line up and their trucks in 1985. Fuel Injection makes a lot of difference (even the Throttle body version) over a carb. I had a 4.3l TBI in my 1992 Jimmy and also drive a dealership parts dept. 1993 Chevy Cheyenne with the 4.3l TBI and though the engine was no race engine, it was enough to motivate the vehicle on the road and far superior to the 307 in the performance department(you used minutes to clock the 0 to 60 movement on a car with a 307)
Sadly the Toro only offered the swirl port 307 4BBL V8 and the ultra rare by this point 5.7 diesel for 1985. What would have been nice is if they gave the 307 TBI in all of these higher end cars to help differentiate it from the cheaper G-bodys and such.
I don’t know about any of you fellow commenters, but is it me, or is there something about B-O-F construction as shown above that sets this car and others like it apart from the Lumina featured previously?
These mid-size GMs from that era speak volumes to me that their competitors couldn’t match, fixed glass aside, of course!
I don’t know if BOF has much to do with it. I would compare the two cars that you mentioned to big band music. The recordings of the 30s and 40s had certain element about them that just sounded right. It was played by young people and the sound captured their youthful enthusiam. Those recordings to me compare to this Toronado. Then there are the Lumina years. The same people who played in those early recordings grew older and played on into the 50s, 60s, and 70s. We recognised them and remembered the songs, but, the old magic was gone, stolen by time when we weren’t looking.
As to Big Band music, if only the recording technology of the 30s & 40s matched the great music. Unfortunately, it didn’t do it justice, because those old recordings sound so tinny and so much of the detail is lost. Youthful enthusiasm? I couldn’t agree more. However, some of the newer, younger jazz artists sure know how to do it. Same for the rare big band today.
Thirties and forties recordings can clean up really nicely for modern reissues IF whoever’s producing the reissue has access to the original masters. One of the things that ends up creating the impression that they’re all tinny and hissy is that a lot of reissues are made from existing records and tapes that have fallen into the public domain, so you get the copy-of-a-copy effect on subsequent generations. Recorded music from the twenties is tougher because even if the original masters are available, their quality may not be great, and there’s only so much that can be done in remastering short of processing it to unrecognizability.
Spectral extraction and other DSP delights do wonders for cleaning up older recordings from the 30’s thru the 50’s.
And bad source material has been the bane of my oldies loving existence – Time-Life collections are usually pretty good, as are releases from Ace Records in the UK.
There is an 85 Toronado base model that is driven daily near me here in Pittsburgh – I love seeing it around, even if it could use some love (bumper fillers and a repaint). Maybe one day I’ll trade one of the Broughams in for a Toro, Riv, or Eldo…
GM really was a B-O-F company at heart, even their “unibodies” like the F-Bodies and 68+ X-bodies used separate frame members for the front, as did the 66 Toronado and 67 Eldorado for the front 2/3rds of the body. GMs only real domestically designed and produced true unibody cars before 1980 were the the Corvair/Y-bodies and the 62-67 Chevy II(bolt on front section notwithstanding). It certainly does seem like their greater successes are underpinned by a frame.
Interestingly, the 3rd generation outsold the 2nd generation, and fall 1979 thru 1982 was the big recession, which either makes the 3rd gen that much more impressive, or shows how bloated and removed from reality generation 2 was (probably a 70/30 mix).
During it’s debut in 1979, I think the Toronado came with a 350 V8 standard, and perhaps the 403 was optional.
Was a fuel-injected 350 available here, or Eldorado only?
How sad that GM botched this very profitable car…
350 V-8 w/carburetor standard on Toronado and Riviera for 1979. Riviera also had 350 V-8 standard in 1980, not positive on the Toro. Fuel injection was never available on the V-8 for these cars. 403 was never an option.
At the time, I just didn’t understand the appeal of this platform. When I spent a summer in Newport Beach CA in 1989, my father’s cousin had an Eldorado of this vintage and my Godfather had Riviera with the Turbo engine. The long, narrow hood and low seating position didn’t quite appeal to me, compared to the airy greenhouses and commanding view offered by most of the european cars I was raised on and compared to the wide hood and rear wheel drive of the 1976 Chevy Caprice Coupe I drove for that summer.
That said the design has grown on me; however, every time I decide I’m actually interested in this platform (toro and eldo only, I find the riviera’s curves ugly, despite my usual preference for buicks), I’m reminded of the strange, unexplained body shake problem that Eldorado’s experienced and that Cadillac fixed by bolting a steel plate to the undercarriage. Did the Toronado suffer from the same problem?
Sorry Matt, I have to disagree. To me the Toronado was the least appealing of the three models – well, the first year anyway. The ’79 Riviera my parents had was a looker. We had people stop us all the time. And we never had an issue with our car, just an occasional stall here or there at a red light – but nothing serious.
I agree Tom, it lacked some elegance and styling flair that the Eldo and Riviera had!
I’ll agree with that. With these cars, the Riviera was the looker, the Eldorado had a lot of class, and the Toronado only came off like a dumbed-down Eldo.
I strongly suspect that Oldsmobile never really had a good strategy for the Toronado after the initial car. They just had to have one for corporate economies of scale or whatever.
Honestly, I think their strategy became, “Court people who like the Eldorado, but who could only afford a two-year-old one.” Which worked as long as the Eldorado remained successful, not so much after that.
To me, the near-vertical, “formal” rear window does not work well with the curves that are a Riviera trademark. A fastback (like 1966-1969) or a faster rear window (1963-1965, 1977-1978) would have complimented the curves more and differentiated the Riviera further.
For some reason, I love the formal roof on the 1975 Seville, and like it on the 1979 Eldorado, but just cannot enjoy it on a Buick. For another example, I find the 1977-1979 Buick LeSabre Coupe one of the most beautiful cars of it’s time, and the 1980 refresh with formal roof and high trunk completely ruined the shape for me.
Even the minor softening of the roofline on the convertible improved the looks for me…
The Riviera is hands down my favorite of the three. You could get buckets seats in the earlier years along with Buick’s sport leather wheel, two different suspension upgrades, a center storage console, those nifty alloy wheels and of course it was styled a bit better too. And lets not forget the turbo options, especially the 1984/85 SFI version with 200 horses.
The Toronado long suffered an identity crisis. Unlike the Riviera, the design of the 2nd and especially the 3rd generation Toronado never came into its own. It always looked to me like a less cohesive, and stripped down Eldorado.
Such a shame given the ground-breaking and influential design of the ’66.
Beautiful cars…I was always struck by the almost-flush windshield mount, and deeply-indented door glass…seems like an odd combination but I still like these cars. A neighbor got a new ’79 Toro in charcoal gray, smooth wheelcovers, no vinyl top and red leather, and I was smitten.
The Eldorado was let down by the crappy HT4100 engine, the Buick had a mishmash of power plants…the Toro’s engine was nothing stellar, but it was proven and predictable and reliable.
My father owned a 1980 Toro XSC. It remains one of only two cars from my childhood that I’d really love to own today. Beautiful car, black with a black vynil half top and the same color interior as the featured car. The XSC (as mentioned above) had the “Performance Suspension” and a bucket seat interior with center console. It really did turn heads, but wasn’t saddled with the huge swaths of tacked on chrome that the later Caliente came with.
I believe it was Dad’s favorite car, as he kept it for nearly 5 years and 60,000 miles, which was longer than usual.
Yeah, these blended in to the background when I was a kid, but they really started to grow on me over the past 10 years and would have loved to have picked up a well cared for model back in the 90s.
The XSC with the 350 would have been my choice, with no vinyl roof but sunroof and one of the many beautiful firemist colours available. The front wheel drive would have been much better suited to the Canadian winters than my ’83 regal.
I agree with one of the commenters above, in that posts like these are the jackpots I hope for when I check in to this site daily….well done and thanks!
I don’t particularly care for the vinyl roof, or even the overall styling of the Gen 3, but I have to confess that were I at my current age and situation in 1984, I might have owned one. Oldsmobile was still at the peak of its middle class cache and the Toronado was the peak of Oldsmobile. Sophisticated, comfortable, well built.
I sometimes ponder where in the Sloan hierarchy I would have fallen (in an American-car-only world) at various points in my life. In this case, I (at my current age and place) would have been beyond Chevy, too old for Pontiac, and too young for Buick. Cadillac was too flashy, not my style, and truthfully speaking a bit too expensive for me. But a big Olds with leather…..yeah…..
From a Sloanian perspective, my wife would be a loaded Ninety Eight sedan driver in a dark metallic color with leather and Astroroof, and I would be driving a base-model 88 sedan, cloth seats, no vinyl top, smooth wheelcovers, likely black or dark gray.
When my father was a young man and driving a second-hand DeSoto (early 1950s), he looked forward to the day when he could afford an Olds Ninety Eight. That was the rung of the Ladder he aspired to.
We were an Oldsmobile family for almost two decades (two Cutlasses in a row), but by the time he reached that point on the Ladder of Success, he was driving a BMW.
I suppose if transplanted back into 1985 and told to buy a new GM, my wife and I would probably be on the Pontiac rung of the ladder–a little nicer than Chevy, not enough money for Buick or Cadillac (and also not old enough for either). So Pontiac or Oldsmobile, and at this point in my life I’d probably still gravitate toward the “younger” of the two brands. (Granted, 36 isn’t young by anyone’s definition, but I don’t *feel* middle-aged. Hell, I barely feel like an adult most days.)
In that scenario, I’d probably be in a Grand Prix. LE with two-tone paint, 5.0 V8, no vinyl roof. Not a fan of the wire caps or the “turbo finned” alloys so I’d probably have to find a set of secondhand snowflake alloys for it. The wife would probably be in a 6000 STE (probably a bit big for her, but I’d like to think we would have steered clear of a first year N-body Grand Am despite her preference for smaller cars.)
My wife? Pontiac 6000 wagon all the way – appropriate for a mother of one who wants more children and still thinks there should be some “sport” in her ride.
Elementary School Principal like myself? Oldsmobile or Buick – I’d probably try to snag a leftover 1984 B-body that the dealers were wanting to rid themselves of.
Upon further analysis nix the two-tone–it looked good through ’83 when it was up near the shoulder line with the darker color on the bottom. Then they dropped it down to the belt line for ’84, which in my personal opinion looks stupid.
Interesting proposition! In 1985, I was 11 y/o. So if my present day self went back to 1985 and was stuck there due to a burned out flux capacitor, Im not exactly sure how a single, kid free 42 y/o with a decent income would fit on that ‘sloanian model’. Certainly, Id have been happier car-wise around 1968. But a Regal in T-type or Grand national trim with T tops and no chrome….or an equivalent Hurst Cutlass wouldn’t be TOO far off the mark since even though both marques were courting the elderly crowd, those cars still had muscle car moxy. I suppose a Monte Carlo SS wouldn’t be a bad ride either. In theory a T-top Trans Am would be ideal….IF the build quality wasn’t total garbage. And could a V8/5spd be put together in 1985? Another direction would be a GMC stepside 4×4.
But realistically, a Jeep Scrambler and a Dodge Daytona/Chrysler Laser Turbo/5spd would be my picks.
The GN would have been my “pick any car in the GM lineup, money no object” choice, but it probably would have been on the ragged edge of my price range, if not completely out. And I always liked the Monte SS but I’m not sure what image it would have projected when new, plus I imagine it commanded a significant premium over a “regular” V8 G-special. Forgot all about the T-Type though; depending on the price premium over a GP V8, I might have had to jump out of place on the ladder and choose one of those.
When my BIL and my sister were still dating, he had a Regal T type with the deep turbine style wheels. Buckets, console shift. All WELL out of place for what Buick has become. That asthmatic 307 was a turd, performance wise but reliable. All that car needed was a warm SBC and a color change from the depressing charcoal grey paintjob. The bones were there for a sweet ride.
I dont think a Monte would’ve projected a bad image at all. The image of an Olds or Buick MIGHT give me pause, if it weren’t for the solid substance of the G body coupes when properly spec’d.
If it was a T-Type it should have had the turbo’d 3.8 though. ’83 through ’86 (’87 if you count the name change to “Turbo T”) they used the same engine as the GN, just without the blackout paint job and without some of the chassis upgrades. The 307 V8 was an option but on the other models (base, Limited…and whatever others there may have been.)
Who knows, you could order them in just about any permutation from what I gather. Evidently in ’87 there were a handful of Turbo T Limiteds made with the intercooled turbo 6, blackout headlight/taillight trim, vinyl roofs, and full brougham loose pillow interiors…someone must have ordered them that way because I doubt a dealer would order that for lot stock!
Buick did a strange thing for the 1987 Regal. It carried over the Grand national of course and also made a limited number of the GNX versions. But you could also order a base or Limited version with the optional 3.8 turbo engine and required sport package. You could get that in with the normal exterior with all the usual chrome or you could specify the T- package which emulated the old T-type. You could also order a base or Limited with the exterior T package and a 307 and make it just like a T-type but without the turbo.
Imagine the disappointment a customer might have had test driving a turbo Regal and then a T- package 307 car which had the look but not the go.
The guy in the leather chair would enjoy that pipe a lot more if he lit it.
Olds 98 Regency sounds about right to me, or a Buick Electra Park Avenue. I’m 33, and always thought Buick or Cadillac is for old people was a stupid sentiment. . I’d love a DeVille or Fleetwood too but I think one of the near-luxury models would be more financially responsible at this point.
This reminds me of my father, the former “GM Man.” He worked his way up the Sloan ladder, from his first car, a used ’53 Chevy, a new ’61 Impala, then a C-10 , a Nova, a Pontiac Le Mans, a Buick Regal, and finally, to his ’84 Cutlass Supreme. I’m sure the Toronado would have been next, but for the downsizing. (Olds was where he wanted to stop; Cadillacs were too gaudy for his taste.) He ended up trading the Cutlass for a F-150 and that one for a Honda. He’s happy with it, but I do remember my son telling me one day, “Grandpa was showing me an old car he really liked-he said it was called a Toronado.”
I never knew there was a “Caliente” from Oldsmobile.
But I do know the Mercury Comet Caliente from about twenty years prior.
The Olds Caliente was a heck of a lot less flashy and cheesy than the Biarritz trim on the Eldo…the stainless steel roof covering on the Biarritz was just over the top.
That was on my Comet too. The obvious next question: Did Chrysler have a go with it?
I’ve always liked these Toronados. They were nicely sized and styled, although they look better without the Caliente option. They were also a considerable improvement over the second-generation Toronado.
Even if GM hadn’t botched the 1986 E-Bodies, their ultimate fate would have been the same. The market was moving away from personal luxury coupes – and coupes in general – during the 1990s and early 2000s.
I’ve always liked the style of these Toronados; the almost exaggerated long hood short deck proportions hide the FWD setup well, and the razor-edge styling works for me. Though I personally don’t care for parts of the Caliente package; the vinyl roof and stainless band are actually OK on this car, but I’m not a fan of the rocker trim or especially the wide trim strip above the grille. The low grille with the painted panel above it is a big part of the Toronado style, and that trim strip blunts the effect quite severely.
The red and white is a good look too. I’d personally replace the wires with some metal disc hubcaps or find the somewhat rare optional alloys if it were mine though.
Agree on the overdose of chrome with the Caliente–it looked almost aftermarket the way that it was troweled on. In front, the extra-wide band looks sort of like a milk mustache…
It’s also interesting to see that the Toronado used the older-style “sport” steering wheel. At this point, I think virtually all other Oldsmobile “sport” steering wheels had only 2 spokes, mounted at 4:00 and 8:00.
This generation E-body, for me, sort of epitomized the rot that was settling in at GM. In ’79, these were among GM’s “good cars,” along with the B, C, F and certain A cars.
While the wheels were falling off the X cars at this time, the B and C cars suffered a general drop in quality along with weaker drivetrain options in a 1980 refresh, and the E cars suffered the same change in engine options. By ’81, the only way to have a halfway decent experience was to specify the 5.0 gas V-8 option – not even possible on the Cadillac.
IIRC correctly, these cars may have run a year or so longer than originally intended, partly due to no sense of hurry as they were selling well and GM feared the replacements might be a tough sell – if only they knew!!!
The long running third generation Toronado started suffering the same fate as the too long running second generation; various oddball tweaks and trims were done to freshen up an old design in a fashion conscious segment. So, you got the Caliente package. For $2,300 (around $5,000 adjusted), I hope you got more than just the excessive stainless mouldings! I recall thinking GM was taking these cars the wrong way as they were going out – a switch to road wheels, minimal chrome and avoiding the vinyl tops would have been a more modern and progressive way to end this generation, and this gaudy ’85 would have looked a lot better to modern eyes.
Don’t get me wrong, I really liked this car when it was introduced, it was full of what GM did best. If only it had gone out like it came in…………….
Unlike some cars of the time that base model in that ad looks very clean and attractive, due to the innate nice lines and proportions. I don’t think loading it with vinyl and stainless helped the looks much.
That looks so much better than the 99% of them that weren’t equipped that way. GM came up with the ugliest ad-on trim in the 80s, it was like they were trying to make the 70s brougham appendages even more obnoxious in an attempt to seem relevant. The stainless mouldings in particular I cannot think of a single car those look good on
The early 1980’s was bad for all of the Detroit 4 but GM seemed the worst for it. So many bad decisions, demands for better MPG and emissions with untried and tested methods to try and get there. Replacing the 350 gas V8’s with Buick 4.1 V6’s and Olds 307’s was a logical move but GM should have had the overdrive automatic ready for 1981 along with some sort of fuel injection for both engines. It was inexcusable by 1985 that these 307 equipped top of the line cars still had carburetors. I mean even the 1983 J-body cars and all 1982 onward Iron Dukes had TBI for goodness sakes.
Well… I’ve never seen either in the flesh, but the ’86 looks better to me.
I can cope with the interior but the rest of the ’85 looks a tacky, clunky mess.
A 79-85 Eldorado in a dark color without vinyl roof is a good looking car.
Yes, it was. The ’79 with the the gas version of the Oldsmobile 350 V-8 and the ’80 with the Cadillac 368 V-8 were the only good ones, though.
Lovely car and a nice article. A friend had a 80 Toro years ago and I loved it. It had an Olds 350 which was stronger than the Riv and Eldo offerings. (I’ve driven examples of all of them over the years). He put decent performance tires on it , and it went around corners remarkably well. It was not an XSC but it had a decent package of sway bars and shocks, less floaty than a typical B body Caddy or Olds.
The interior was reasonably roomy, very comfortable and well equipped. Remarkably it had full instrumentation and gauges. Not plastic ones, either. At some point he took the dash apart. I admired how well crafted and detailed the dials, pointers and mechanisms were. A nice change over the usual instrument cheapness we see.
Problems? The frameless door glass was a bit loose and rattled when the doors were closed. The trunk was a bit small. The spare tire location seemed like an afterthought and took up a lot of room. But thats all.
A few years ago I looked for an affordable used one and found used prices to be pretty high. I think the market recognises these cars are somewhat collectable.
I’d love to have a 1979 Toronado with the Olds 350 and three speed auto. Sure it didn’t give the fuel economy of the Olds 307 and four-speed but I’d sure love the torque.
I’m almost positive these were unibody, not body-on-frame.
My pick would have been the Riviera, and indeed my grandmother had an ’85 Riviera, brown with brown leather and the anemic 5.0-liter V8. (That car had excellent traction in the snowy Denver winters, thanks to its longitude-FWD layout.) But the Toronado did have a certain gothic, gentlemanly, Southern style that the Eldorado and Riviera did not…and that makes it the most distinguished of the three, in my mind.
No just like their ancestors and their derivative the S they are full frame. Better to mount a beefy mid vehicle crossmemeber to anchor those torsion bars. Take a look again at that two page ad you can clearly see the frame in the drawings touting the new IRS and the air suspension.
Unibody came with the 1986 bodies.
The original Toronados had 2/3rds of a frame with the rear suspension essentially being anchored by a unibody, this may be what you’re thinking of. The 79 frame was full from bumper to bumper IIRC
Yup — the ’79 Riviera brochure actually has photos of the bare chassis with the body off the frame.
Welcome to CC, Kyree!
Very nice would love a series on the 1979-1985 gm personal luxury series….and the special editions for each one…..the eldorado biaritz just does not compare
The original 1966 Toronado, and by extension this one, was inspired, in part, by the Cord L-29. Its not hard to see how and why.
Great write up and analysis on a particularly fetching example. I’ve always liked this generation Toronado, it’s probably my favorite of the four, but like you I’ve never really been able to find much to say about this car’s virtues. Sure it was a nice car, but it had neither any real standout quality nor memorable strength. But sometimes, “just being nice” is good. In this case, it certainly was.
Nice write up. I have always liked the 79-85 Toro. However I will admit that I also like the 86-92 Toro (especially the refreshed 1990-1992 Trofeo version in all black)
That “Trofeo” always looked awkward to me.
Where to even start with this car? For me personally…this is the kind of thing that Ill never ‘get’, and that’s likely generational. The WWII generation and a few of the older Boomers were likely falling all over themselves to get ahold of these (all 3 of these triplets) at the time, since it wasn’t exactly a flop in the market place. I remember seeing a LOT of them in West TN. If in 1985 I was in my 30’s or 40’s and looking for an older, well off widow who still had some moxy and not bad on the eyes then these cars would be the divining rod right to that. I lost count of how many 50-60-ish widows were tooling around West TN in these things with their ankle biter dogs, platinum blonde hair and fur coats on the way to or from the salon.
I cant knock them TOO hard, since GM had their target market right in the crosshairs and made a killing on every recently single and on the prowl Nanna who wanted to be Blanche from the Golden Girls. But at the same time, is this the kind of thing that alienated the younger crowd? Locally in the Midwest/southeast, not likely since GM had my peers (Gen X metal heads) on lockdown with F bodies and minitrucks ready to be lowered. But as a whole…
Blanche drove a Mercedes – yes I should be ashamed to admit I know that, but I ain’t. 😉
And Rose drove a Gremlin!
In some episodes they showed a picture of their house at the beginning of a scene and you would see a GM deadly-sin Oldsmobile Calais parked in the driveway. Maybe the Calais belonged to Dorothy?
You guys know your golden girls WAAAAYYYY to well! I remember seeing it in passing, and how having grown up in the South, prowling cougars in the Blanche vein weren’t uncommon.
There is no shame in liking “The Golden Girls.”
I watched it as it was gong through it’s “run’. Never had desire to watch it in “reruns”.
By the final season, I wasn’t too regular a viewer anymore.
Never knew these were so popular sales wise. The damn thing looked so generic compared to the Eldorado and Riviera, you tended to forget about it. Isn’t that the exact same rear end from the Regal?
I read recently that the year to get for the 3rd gen Eldo is the 1980 model for California because it had the Olds 350. I’m guessing the Rivieras and Toros had that choice as well. Maybe the Eldo had 368 for Fed at the beginning before the 4100. Not sure what the Riv engine choices were but I knew some years had the 307 like today’s feature car.
The Eldo always looked a little too narrow and feminine to me and yeah the windshield does look pretty raked. The Riv was perhaps the best looking of the three.
What a nice example the red car is. Muy caliente.
The 1979 Eldorado had the Seville’s 350 fuel injected engine. The 1980’s had the 368, then the 81’s had the 8-6-4. The 80 Eldorado did get a digital fuel injected 350 for California though (after looking at old car brochures). That would not have been the 79 engine.
The Riviera convertible’s top solved my biggest problem with the styling of these cars. An Eldo convertible with a 500 swap and aluminum wheels from an ETC would have been pretty nice.
We have to remember a few things about these cars – they came out in 1979….yes 1979! Let’s think back to what customers could choose from in personal and/or luxury coupes back then. A Mark V or Lincoln Town Coupe? Gigantic and dated. The Cougar was common, and unless you went for a luxury edition the T-Bird didn’t have quite the prestige it used to have. Monte Carlo, Cutlass, Grand Prix, Regal? Common. Chrysler Cordoba? Nice but common too. Even Cadillac’s Coupe deVille was a beautiful car, but huge, rear wheel drive, no independent suspension and somewhat dated in many respects when compared to the E-bodies. Nothing looked remotely like these cars, and they had a presence on the road that was new to the American eye. As a 12 year old car enthusiast, I couldn’t wait for our Charcoal Gray Firemist ’79 Riviera to arrive from the factory. I can still remember the day we drove it off the lot! We had people literally flag us down, follow us and stop us, asking us what kind of car that was. It was fun, at least for me, to say the least. And these cars were innovative having both front wheel drive and an independent 4-wheel suspension. They rode and handled like a dream – considering their size and their predecessors size! Their build quality was excellent, too. So maybe by 1985 – after a 7 year run – they were middle of the road, but in the first few years these cars were way ahead of their time – even innovative. And truly one of GM’s better offerings.
Even in ’79 the T-Bird, Cougar, Coupe Deville and Cordoba were much larger than these. I wonder if a lot of people back then went Monte Carlo, Regal etc for that reason along with their cheaper prices!
I’d take a 1979 Buick LeSabre coupe, despite the weaknesses you mention on the coupe deville. The LeSabre coupe and especially sport coupe with rally wheels is beautiful where these e-bodies are awkward at the rear, and the LeSabre slightly downward sloping line from front to rear far outclassed the riviera’s baroque curves.
Of course the market didn’t agree with me, as the Riviera sold very well. This is just more to my taste…
I bought a used 3rd gen Toro in the early 90’s For a ridiculously low price of $1,200 from an estate sale. It was low mileage and in very good shape. Dark metallic blue with blue velour interior. The first thing I did was take the wire wheel hub caps off (if I remember it took a special tool) and put Olds stainless discs on. It had the 5 liter 8 and it pulled like a train (but not Uber fast). It guzzeled gas but required little maintenance. I improved the handling by running about 5psi over the recommended tire pressure. It gave me good service for the two or three years I owned it and I enjoyed the luxury features – a very comfortable car.
I wish the Toronado and Riviera of this generation didn’t look so much like a Cutlass/Regal with a formal roofline. These cars deserved to be better differentiated, although I like them pretty well, especially the Riviera convertible. These certainly have a nicer dash than the A/G platform cars.
Have you seen one of these in person? Or better yet driven one? Because of their sheer size alone they looked nothing like a Cutlass/Regal.
I love this generation of Toronado/Riviera/Eldorado!
I saw one of these in the wild a while ago. Beautiful!
With a little bit of GM E-body parts-bin engineering ((Sway bars & springs off of a T-Type or Eldo ETC, some decent ties & shocks) , this could be a great driver. At least Oldsmobile stuck with their V-8 and didn’t have to suffer through The HT4100.
My Dad ordered our ’79 Riviera with the Firm Ride and Handling Package. I can attest to the fact that it actually handled great for a car of that size. Plus ours had the Buick 350 V-8 so it had some guts. Overall a very nice car.
I’ve always thought that these Toronados were pretty good. I remember thinking even as a kid that it was sort of a poor man’s Cadillac, but I think that it gave Oldsmobile loyalists a good product, as well as some others that wanted a Cadillac experience at a cheaper price. However, that was probably always the Toronado’s undoing–maybe an “always a bridesmaid, but never the bride” syndrome, and I don’t think that the Toronado (other than the first gen, which likely faced an “adapt or die” ultimatum by GM execs in regards to the slow sales, no matter the amount of critical acclaim and praise) really ever had got the full reins to do it’s own thing.
The sales dropoff from 1985 to 1986 is shocking. I had no idea that it was that bad. I don’t think that the ’86 Toro is that bad looking or anything, more like that it was slow to adapt to the Aero craze, and the downsized offering went from being a junior Eldo to something that became pretty anonymous with the other designs of the day. On one hand, GM’s extended run of the ’79-85 Toros was likely in part due to the strong/ decent sales, but it had only exacerbated the looming problem: they didn’t know how to go about FWD, nor how to style vehicles that stood out from the pack.
The 1979 E-bodies seem like a ripe subject for a Vintage Review showcase — GN, what do you think?
I think these cars do deserve some credit for having independent rear suspension in 1979. Besides the Corvette, what other domestic cars had fully independent suspension at that point? Honest question — I’m racking my brains and flipping through World Cars 1979 and all I’m coming up with are Volkswagen Beetle-based replicars. Even in 1985, a lot of U.S. cars still had solid axles. So, credit where credit is due.
I agree these E-Bodies deserve some Vintage Review coverage! There were a lot of interesting articles on the different variants. All three cars were well received as being pretty modern (for domestics) at the time, and they offered a lot of promise for how the FWD future at GM might unfold–until the harsh reality of the transverse engine, X-Car based direction became apparent.
SO true GN! Like I said earlier, it was 1979! These cars were light years ahead of anything else out there. The Riviera always had the sportier edge, the Toronado tried to fall somewhere in between and the Eldorado was strictly the luxury variant (until the Touring Coupe came out). The build quality of these cars was top notch, and because the originals used tried and true GM engines (except for maybe the 3.8 Turbo in the Riviera) GM certainly had a winner on their hands.
These cars had prestige and presence. In 1986 that was taken away, thus sales plummeted as a result. A GM Deadly Sin for sure!
That roof treatment does nothing for it. Makes it look more like a Cutlass Supreme coupe, which is NOT the idea. However, it`s good to see one in such nice shape, especially after all these years.
These were new cars when my trade was suspension, balance and alignments. These were nice looking quiet cars in my opinion. But they were not good handling and very vibration prone. Vibrations were mostly due to the heavy and out of balance hub caps. Lock up converters were another issue causing awful shudders as they locked and unlocked at will.
But they locked classy, something many cars of the era struggled with so I would not not call them a deadly sin. The 80-82 T bird did handle much better, but few of us got past the look of them so I suspect more Toronados were sold simply because visually they were more appealing.
From what I remember only the TRX suspension and tired T-Birds/Cougar’s of the 1980-82 generation had good handling. The basic models were far softer and nothing to write home about.
It was mentioned the E-Body coupes were temporarily the largest offerings in the GM stables when the B-bodies were downsized. I believe only the FWD versions were the biggies as the Riviera landed on the downsized B-platform for 1977 and 1978. Rare beasts, these are.
As much as I liked the Riviera and Eldorado, this jumbo-Cutlass Supreme-esque Toro didn’t quite do it for me. When the truly modern looking Lincoln Continental Mark VII hit the roads in late 1983 the E-Body coupes seemed ancient.
Quite true — thanks for refreshing my memory about the ’77-’78 Riviera. It was 4 inches shorter than an Electra. I’ve updated the text to reflect that.
The Olds 307 in 1985 got roller lifters and swirl port heads and was rated for 140 HP and 255 torque. 225 is a typo in certain sources such as my Consumer Guide 1985 cars edition. All 1985 on up Vin Y 307’s made 255 torque at 2000 RPM’s.
The ’86 failed because of one thing…styling. The 1980 Mark VI failed also because of styling, the Olds looked too radical and the Mk VI looked too shrunken and derivative, with all of the traditional styling clichés without enough sheet metal to hold them.
On second thought, maybe the thing that sold the upper tier coupes was just “stature”. The ’79-’85 GMs still had it, while the ’86-up didn’t, nor did the MK VI or the ’80 T-Bird.
My Dad had one of these, same color as this one. I loved this car so much, but he sold it a few years ago, before I could drive. We still have a 1989 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo, but its not the same. Once I’m out of college and have some money, I gotta try and find this.
I’d like a train-load of them – fortunately they had been available in miniature, too.
A great example of a front wheel drive – ahead of its time. I guess they are great in the snow. My compliments to the owner and the writer.
I found this article as I was randomly searching for information regarding Toronado Cliente’s like my car, only to discover that this IS MY car! Thank you for the great write up and the comments. As the owner of this unique car, I wanted to provide some background that your readers might find interesting.
I have owned this Toronado since July 2013 when I saved it from the crusher, which is where the previous owner intended to send it simply because it needed a starter! He also unplugged the TPS and MCS plugs from the CCC carb and probably didn’t like the way it was running back when it did start! After having it towed home, I replaced the starter, the upper radiator hose a rear brake caliper, did a tune-up, plugged the carb connectors back in and I’ve been driving it ever since. Literally the work to get it running took less than an afternoon of my time and cost around $100 in parts! I subsequently replaced the tires, recharged the A/C (40 degrees at the vents with 134a!) replaced the headliner, the bumper fillers and had it repainted at Maaco.
I decided to purchase a Toronado Caliente for a number of reasons including reliability, ease of repair, relatively low cost of mechanical parts, traction of FWD and durability of BOF construction. While I will admit that the 79-85 Riviera is a beautiful car, I like the Toronado Caliente’s digital instrument cluster design over the Riviera’s cluster. As the driver I spend more time looking at the instrument cluster than the outside lines of the car; thus, the Toronado won out in my book.
In my hunt for a FWD personal luxury car, I eliminated the Eldorado from consideration because of the 4100 engine’s well-documented problems. While the 307 was certainly not much for horsepower or fuel economy, it is reliable and easy to work on, neither of which can be said for the 4100!
When compared to the 71-78 E-Bodies, I like to think of the 79 redesign as a “rightsizing” as opposed to a “downsizing.” IMHO, the 71-78 Toronado was just too big for practical uses such as parallel parking. Plus, if I recall correctly the 79-85 E-bodies actually have more interior room than their larger and heavier predecessors. No offense to the 71-78 E-bodies, in fact I also own a 1972 Buick Riviera Boat-Tail
Good eyes on those who noticed the 120 volt plug in the front bumper! However, sorry to disappoint, this Caliente is neither a green plug-in nor one of the 1% of Toronado diesels that were produced in 1985. Rather, the plug is for an aftermarket engine block heater and battery heater that I installed to ease with start-up during Michigan’s cold winter mornings.
As the author noted, the car has the factory Astroroof as opposed to the aftermarket dealer installed ASC roof.
And yes, after much searching for the correct module, along with some help from a friend who happens to be an electronics expect, this Toronado even talks!
In short, this car is an extremely comfortable highway cruiser that will go through 4 inches of unplowed snow like a hot knife through butter. Plus, how many other V8 FWD cars can be tuned up in less than a half hour! In the past 4 + years the car has never left me stranded to the point of needing to call a tow truck and I would not hesitate to drive it from coast to coast tomorrow.
Finally, I already have a known-good Oldsmobile 403 engine waiting in my garage. Since all SBO engines from the 260 to the 403 share the exact same external dimensions and bolt locations, it will be a easy bolt-in swap! I’ll even be able to retain the CCC carb and ECM controlled distributor. In the interim, I was able to “wake-up” the 307 a bit by modifying the secondary butterfly stop and changed out the “DD” secondary metering rods with a richer set of “CK” rods and a richer secondary hanger.
Thanks again for the article and the comments! If anyone has any questions, please let me know!
Andrew, thanks for the reply. It’s a great car and I hope you enjoy it for years to come.
Did you ever get the 403 installed. We’re trying to do the same with a 85. What parts did you use for the exhaust hookup?
Hi Marc! I completed the 403 swap in 2018. Once I found a good 403, the swap from the 307 was downright easy! I used the CCC Carb and the 7 pin distributor from the 307. The only mods I did to the carb were swapping out the secondary metering rods to a set of CK rods along bending the secondary stop tab to allow the secondaries to fully open.
The oil pan, flywheel, exhaust manifolds, accessory brackets and crank pulley need to be swapped from the 307. IIRC, I also swapped the oil pump pickup.
My 85 had the earlier version of the 307 with the cast iron exhaust manifolds; thus, I was able to reuse those manifolds with the 403. It is my understanding that the stainless steel exhaust manifolds found on the later 307 (with the swirl port heads and the roller cam) will not work well with the 403, but I don’t know if they will bolt up. In a perfect world I would eliminate the crossover / y-pipe and upgrade to a custom dual exhaust, but that would require some creative bending of the driver’s side pipe to clear the transmission / firewall.
I used the stock intake from the 403 (#16 casting), but I needed to grind part of the manifold to clear the cruise control linkage. The 85 style cruise control linkage will bind on the 403 if used without modification (dangerous!!). Keep that in mind if you want to retain cruise control. However, if you want to keep the cruise control without grinding the manifold, I believe that you can use the #17 casting manifold from a 307. In contrast, from what I understand the A4 aluminum intake will NOT work properly on the 403. To retain the ECM setup,I removed a threaded coolant passage plug in the 403 intake and found an adapter at Home Depot for the ECM coolant temp sensor.
In over two years of regular driving with this setup, I have not had issues with it throwing a check engine light. I also was able to run an “RV” cam for a brief period of time without any check engine light issues. However, I ultimately decided against keeping the RV cam due to my dislike of the idle.
I’m running the EGR system from the 307. No problems.
A couple of other pointers on a 403 swap that I’ve learned from experience: The 403 is prone to running hot! The single core plastic tanked radiator that parts stores call a “three row equitant” is not up to the task on even a mildly warm day…if you run the AC with that radiator, you will overheat on an 80 degree day. While the “heavy duty” made in China 3 and 4 row aluminum radiator provided enough cooling capacity, I had two fail at the seams in a matter of months. Thus, I ultimately spent about $300 to get an old school three row cooper / brass radiator from Northern Radiator. If your car still has an original brass tanked radiator, I would go the route of having it re-cored. I also went with a severe duty fan clutch (IIRC the fan clutch crosses to a mid 80’s Chevy CK truck with a 454 engine), a 7 blade fan and a 180 degree t-stat. From what I understand the 160 T-stat is too cool for the ECM and will throw a code, but I have not ever verified this.
After two years of driving with the 403, the transmission had an overdrive related failure. It was a high mileage transmission with an unknown service history; thus, I can’t blame the swap for the transmission failure. The transmission replacement was last summer’s project.
Take a look at the PerformanceOlds307 website. It was my go-to source in the planning process.
Finally, if you are doing this swap on a FWD E-body, make sure to never remove more than 1 of the 4 engine mount bracket bolts at a time as doing so risks the slightest movement of the engine vs the bracket and a resulting nightmare to get the bolt holes and brackets to line up again. It may seem like extra work to install the final drive, right driveshaft support bracket and power steering pump bracket one bolt at a time, but trust me, it’s worth the couple extra minutes of work to avoid hours of aggravation…Ask me how I know 😉
Good luck on your swap!
I think that these cars were the perfect size for a Personal Luxury Car. They were a perfect fit for four passengers. As to the styling, they all had their divisional identity intact, but the E’s were different from each other. The Cadillac came off the best in my eyes, it still looked like a real Cadillac. The Riviera should have been my favorite, as it managed to capture some of the 63-65 model magic. The Toronado had some continuity with the previous models but on a more tasteful scale. It also came with a better V8 engine. It never appealed to me as much, but I wasn’t an Oldsmobile loyalist.
These really displayed the fact that this formal type of styling can’t be reduced further in size without becoming a parody of itself.
In 1984 I bought a new Mercury Cougar, I had seriously considered a used 79-85 E body, but wanted a new car, and couldn’t afford an Eldo! The Cougar was a good substitute. Years later, these PLCs are all gone, but I find that my ’06 Mustang convertible to fill a similar function. The convertible top gives it a bit of a formal look. And it is also the perfect size.
I like it a lot, but a loaded Olds Cutlass coupe would have been the better buy. Better looking, more reliable, and cheaper. A little less luxurious, but not by much.
Those small side windows in the rear seat would have been very claustrophobic for some. Moreso if you had to spend a few hours back there on a trip of any distance. I have been on aircraft where I had a window seat but not directly beside a window. Possibly due to misalignment of the seating by the airline, but nevertheless I want to see out when I am in motion. That back seat offered no such visibility.
I see the ashtray being repurposed for other contents, which is a good thing.
Nice car, still in great shape!
The 1979-85 E-body PLC triplets were okay. Cynics might say it was because it was done before Roger Smith was put in charge (everyone knows what a fiasco the following N-body-based cars were for 1986). In fact, although Oldsmobile gets lambasted for unnecessarily wasting money on the FWD, Unitized Power Package (UPP) of the original 1966 Toronado and 1967 Eldorado (a Deadly Sin), it may have actually helped later when more efficient FWD was suddenly all the rage in the late seventies and GM could have used the original experience for the new, smaller PLCs in engineering the 1979.
In fact, the only beef I have with the 1979-85 Toronado was that there wasn’t a convertible version but it’s understandable. While the Riviera had a more distinctive, rounded shape, the Toronado came across way too closely to the Eldorado, and a cheaper, similar Toronado convertible would have surely eaten into Eldorado convertible sales.
A real shame because, personally, of the three, I like the styling of the Toronado the best and would have loved it if there had been a factory-sanctioned (if not strictly GM-built) Toronado that could have been ordered and sold through Oldsmobile dealerships.
I agree with the Eldorado resemblance, the same accusation could be levied at the larger previous generation Toronado but those at least looked different than the concurrent Eldorado, mimicking the previous generation (67-70) instead. The 79-85 was only really differentiated in its front and rear ends, it’s not a bad looking car but it’s devoid of any identity or purpose.
It’s kind of sad really, the Toronado ushered in the unitized power package, and these 79-85 E bodies, as well as the bustleback Seville were the final users of that configuration before switching to the industry standard transverse layout, but of those four models the Toronado is clearly the biggest afterthought.
With the exception of the 1968-70 cars, Olds stylists really seemed to be trying to emulate a sense of an updated Cord 812 in the Toronado, at least until Roger Smith’s bad 1986 N-body version that looked way too much like a Cutlass Calais coupe, the Oldsmobile version of the Riviera-Somerset debacle.
Although the first ones didn’t have it, the 1971-1985 cars all looked like they were really going for an ersatz Cord coffin-nose appearance and, frankly, they pulled it off pretty well, with the look really befitting the 1979-1985 version. Compared to what Ford had at the same time (either the truly craptacular Fox Thunderbird and Cougar, then the aero cars), it’s not too much of a surprise that GM PLCs held their own in sales during the early eighties since there were still a lot of PLC buyers who continued to gravitate towards a neo-classic look in a (slightly) smaller, more efficient package.
ASC did build a few factory authorized Toronado convertibles between 1982 and 1985. However the Riviera and Eldorado convertibles were more common. I saw an 85 Toronado convertible for sale a couple years back. Plus one was featured in a 4th season episode of Knight Rider (Deadly Knightshade) and a 3rd or 4th season episode of Hunter.
And I’m happy to report that the car featured in this write up is still going strong!
Lots of “80’s/90’s, Riv’s, Toro’s” in this color.
Autumn Maple Firemist 🙂 My other 85 Caliente is the also common Medium Gray Metallic.
The wheelbase chop from ’78 to ’79 meant there was now a slight hump in the front floor, although retaining a frame helped mitigate this. The unibody E-cars from ’86 on had a more typical floor hump.