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1970 Oldsmobile Toronado in Bamboo
Toronado, the modern classic

1970 Oldsmobile Toronado

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1970 Toronado: Wouldn't it be nice to have an Escape Machine?

The 1970 Oldsmobile Toronado represents what is known as the last of the First Generation (1966-1970) cars. Big changes were in store for 1971, and for the Oldsmobile Division, they couldn't come soon enough. The target sales for the Toronado were set in the 40,000 per year range, which is low volume but acceptable for an expensive specialty car like the Toronado. The problem was, the Toro had failed to meet that sales target every year except for its debut year in 1966. And no one was really sure why.

Since sales were good for 1966, only minor changes were made for 1967, which is what most manufacturers do in the second year of a new body style. But sales for the Toronado dropped by almost half for 1967, so it was obvious changes needed to be made. A somewhat aggressive restyle was rolled out for 1968, along with more performance in the form of the W-34 engine option, for those who wanted it. Sales recovered slightly, but were still well under the target.

For 1969, more styling updates and again a slight improvement in sales, but the fact is the Toronado was selling near the bottom of its class in 1969, with just 28,494 sold, only the Cadillac Eldorado sold fewer (23,333). Sister Buick Riviera was the big winner in '69, with sales of 52,872 it finally beat the Ford Thunderbird (49,272) for the first and only time. Even the Continental Mark III sold in greater numbers, with 30,858 built, but this can be contributed to an extended model year since its introduction was in April 1968.

So the dilemma for Oldsmobile was determining what was impacting the sales on its Toronado. Surely the Toro was a good car, it consistently received positive remarks about its ride comfort and handling. It was one of just two domestic front wheel drive cars, which had obvious benefits over conventional rear wheel drive cars. So what was preventing the Toronado from flying out of dealer showrooms? Oldsmobile determined it had to be the styling. So, a somewhat major restyle was undertaken for the fifth and final year of the body style that was introduced in 1966. The fastback look of 1966-1968 was dealt with for 1969, so it was reasoned perhaps even more sweeping changes needed to occur for 1970. And they did.

Despite the expense of a major restyle in the final year of a body style, Oldsmobile decided the money had to be spent on the Toronado for 1970 to give it a fresh appearance. The most obvious change in front was the hidden headlights were dropped. Now the headlights were exposed and mounted outboard in the grille. A massive new front bumper contained the parking lights, which were three vertical strips between the grille and the outer vertical edges of the bumper. The grille had an egg crate pattern, and an Oldsmobile Rocket emblem was mounted at its center. Toronado block lettering appeared on the driver's side leading edge of the hood.

1970 Oldsmobile Toronado Rectilinear Wheel Cut OutsFrom the side, the 1970 Toronado received new front fenders and new rear quarter panels with "rectilinear wheel cut outs." The rounded, flared openings of previous years were certainly sporty, but the new look of the 1970 Toro was sporty but elegant at the same time. New linear front side marker and optional cornering lamps emphasized the length of the front fender forward of the wheel opening. The front bumper no longer wrapped around the fender as it had in 1968-1969, now just appearing as a blunt vertical edge on the front of the fender. New Toronado block lettering appeared on the front fender between the wheel opening and door, and was offset somewhat closer to the door. Under the lettering, a separate plaque was mounted that proclaimed FRONT WHEEL DRIVE so no one had to ask if this was "one of those cars."

If the optional vinyl roof was ordered, the halo effect from 1968 was revived, as it was on most General Motors cars that year. The rear side marker light was no longer a Rocket emblem, but continued the linear theme established by the front marker, and was incorporated into the wrap around edge of the rear bumper.

Little changed on the 1970 Toronado when viewed from the rear. The taillights were updated slightly, and were now divided into three sections. The Toronado script on the right side of the deck lid was replaced with block lettering.

1970 Oldsmobile Toronado GT emblemThe W-34 engine option returned for 1970, but was now part of the Toronado GT package, perhaps for higher visibility. A new GT emblem appeared on the hood next to the Toronado block lettering to identify the car as one equipped with this higher performance engine option. The rear bumper was again notched out as it was in 1968 to allow for the dual exhaust tips on cars equipped with this engine. At $212, it was quite a bargain, and this option is the one most sought after by collectors today.

Many feel the 1970 Toronado is the best looking of the first generation cars. Others feel it deviated too far from the original intent the stylists had. Despite the very attractive face lift, sales still did not live up to expectations, and fell off slightly from 1969, with just 25,433 cars built. Of these, 2,351 were in standard form, and 23,082 were the Custom version. With a base price of $5,023, it cost just $193 to move up to the Custom ($5,216). As before, all Toronados were built at Oldsmobile's Lansing, Michigan facility.

Despite its luxury/sport niche, only 1,780 Toronados left the factory with bucket seats; 18,566 were equipped with the Tilt and Telescope Steering Wheel; and 7,121 had Cruise Control.

One interesting new option became available late in the model year for the 1970 Toronado, and a mere 5 cars were equipped with it. Called "Tru Trac," this "(Rear) Wheel Lock Control System" was said to improve directional control of the car by automatically "pumping" the rear brakes. The system used sensors on the rear axle to sense "impending lockup" and prevented it from happening as it pumped away. Priced at $205, it was apparently also available on the Vista Cruiser station wagon, although there is no record of one ever being built with Tru Trac. A similar system was also made available at the same time for the Cadillac Eldorado and the Buick Riviera. A dozen or so Eldorados were built with it and 10 Rivieras rolled off the line with it. Ford had introduced a similar feature on its Thunderbird and Continental Mark III mid-year 1969. Ford called its system "Sure Track."

The Oldsmobile Toronado was about to enter an era of improved sales, although the model would not be able to sustain them for long. The Toronado always represented something a bit unconventional: it was a luxury car, yet it also exhibited good ride and handling characteristics and performance that was comparable to the muscle car class. Buyers seeking these characteristics were apparently few and far between, which makes the Toronado a particularly unique American nameplate, an Escape Machine like no other.


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