By on November 30, 2011

Now that we’ve admired the junked ’90 Olds Cutlass Calais International Series, let’s move a couple rows down in the very same California self-service yard and check out another Adventure In Doomed GM Marketing.
I’ve been fascinated by the Troféo for quite a while. The main appeal of the Troféo was, apparently, its futuristic electronics coupled with crypto-European styling.

GM’s marketing wizards decided that Roger Moore’s daughter, Deborah, plus a low-buck exploding-helicopter sequence would really make those Troféos fly out of the showrooms.
This one doesn’t have the optional touch-screen Vehicle Information Center, but it does have a Space Shuttle-grade control system for its cassette-based sound system.
Check out this flat-loading cassette player!
The styling really didn’t have a lot of recognizable European-ness to it, and the archaic Buick 231 V6 and slushbox under the hood probably didn’t cause any nightmares in Stuttgart or Munich.
The weird Trofeo logo did have a certain zombie-cult appeal, however.
The Air Force vet who owned this car finally decided he or she had had enough of the ol Troféo. Next stop… well, you know.

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60 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1989 Oldsmobile Toronado Troféo...”

  • avatar

    The following year, these had the redesign with the booty growing a foot longer and improved roofline. It actually turned into a handsome car. Cozy interior, plush ride, and brick sh_thouse 3800 V6. Everything a grown man needs.

    I try to find a good home (anyplace other than the junkyard) for every one I find.

    • 0 avatar

      I knew several people with these Trofeos, both the short and long tail versions, they were neat cars. As opposed to yesterday’s junkyard find, these cars (the Toro’s, not the other two) seem to wear this styling well. You wouldn’t think a longer trunk would actually help this car, but it did make it seem sleeker. The roof line redesign helped immensely on the later cars.

      Some one further down the thread mentioned the AM stereo radio. I had a mid-80’s Dodge that had an AM stereo radio. When I lived in Atlanta in the 90’s, there was only one radio station that actually broadcast in AM stereo. It was a classical music station, and it sounded really good. Too bad the technology never really was accepted.

    • 0 avatar

      Made me curious, so I did some googling. Have to agree, the redesign worked, with a 3800 V6 that would be a nice ride.

      • 0 avatar

        I always liked the ’90-’92 Toronados, they looked much better proportioned. A local businessman was still driving a ’91 or ’92 non-Trofeo Toronado in white as recently as 2003-04. Haven’t seen it in quite a while.

  • avatar

    Ugh, I cringe when I see Old’s downward progression…looking at that interior, the word ergonomics does not come to mind…that said, for a 22 year old car, especially a GM car, it has worn well. I like when you include a odometer photo; obviously not possible with a digital dash…

    • 0 avatar

      The Oldsmobile Curse of Success

      When GM ruled the personal luxury coupe market, it made a lot of money and everyone in the Business knew what buyers wanted to buy. By this time, GM was not sure anymore. The Trofeo was an attempt to bridge several auto consumer buying trends with the traditional Toronado consumer profile. The car was evolutionary, not revolutionary. Oldsmobile was the Biggest Loser when Americans stopped buying padded landau roofs with opera windows. By this time, Oldsmobile was a has-been and confused regarding their niche in the market.

      “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”
      “A new generation of Olds.”
      These were slogans which suggested that the brand knew you no longer wanted a 1973 Cutlass, but also alluded to the fact that Oldsmobile didn’t know what it was either. “This is Oldsmobile!”, would have been a better suggestion for a slogan for a brand auto buyers could identify with. Oldsmobile acknowledged with it’s slogans at this time that you really didn’t want an Oldsmobile. As we say in today’s lingo, Oldsmobile marketing was an epic-fail for the next decade.

      The design of the car was so non-commital, lengthening the rear end design and car profile didn’t seem to be either a triumph, nor a problem. The front end could have been from any car at that time. The interior assumed that mimicking Nintendo was youthful and exciting. GM designers seemed to believe that making an IP look like a child’s game pod was futuristic. There was nothing new in this car beyond it’s “leading-from-behind” gutlessness.

      Oldsmobile didn’t want to continue to fail and created a car for the Beta Male with Low T. For crying out loud, James Bond’s daughter was presented cruising comfortably around dangers as though the Trofeo was didn’t care “who lived or let die”.

      Oldsmobile would “die another day” after issuing for decades automobiles like this, “quantums of solace”. These cars did not know what to do, what they were, and offered a level of excitement found in cars costing far less than an Oldsmobile window sticker.

      • 0 avatar

        The problem with “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile” is that it’s a great slogan in that it’s instantly memorable. Everyone remembers the slogan even as memories of Oldsmobile as a brand start to fade. To GM execs looking to revive a moribund brand, I can understand the appeal of TISNYFO.

        To be honest, had Oldsmobile been selling genuinely distinctive cars instead of badge engineered generic GM product the slogan could have worked selling cars. To retain traditional Olds customers, they could have done alternate versions with “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile, but your dad will like it as much as you do.”

        Oddly, GM worked the best when it was most inefficient, with each brand a separate division. Yes, it made economic sense in terms of economies of scale for GM to make one small block V8, but the lawsuits and consent agreements GM dealt with in the 1970s after putting Rocket V8 decals on small block Chevys and putting them in Oldsmobiles should have given GM fair warning that going to common major components and platforms for their many brands might hurt them in the long run.

      • 0 avatar

        And of course the car made you want to say “Dr. Oldsmobile No”

  • avatar

    GM could have saved people a lot of heartache and just sent most of their 80’s FWD models straight to the crusher off the assembly line.

    They were all great cars – for Japan. How many people bought one only to say a year or two later…NEVER AGAIN…and then replace them with a Toyota/Honda/Nissan etc?

    A family friend bought a new small Buick in 1986…don’t remember the model…but it didn’t last a year. Next car was a Honda Civic, which was driven into the Millennium. Then traded on a CR-V which they still own and enjoy. Even though the Detroit 3 have gotten their act together – and Honda/Toyota/Nissan have had more and more problems – I’d be shocked if this friend ever again put an American vehicle in their garage.

    I’ve only ever seen a handful of people come back to America after going foreign. Our next door neighbor is one: they owned a BMW X3 that spent a lot of time in the shop for fuel injector issues that couldn’t be resolved. After it wound up on the back of a wrecker for the 4th time in six months, they traded it on a Lincoln MKX…which they love.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      My parents owned an ’87 Olds Cutlass Ciera wagon with the 2.8 liter V6 and 3 speed auto in the late 80s to mid 90s.

      It was dorky (I hated riding in it) but unlike the Saab 900S they also had at the time, extremely reliable.

      They kicked the Swedish car habit and now have a diesel Jeep Liberty and a Grand Cherokee with the 4 liter six. Both Jeeps are pretty reliable.

      • 0 avatar

        I had a friend who grew up in a Saab family that also had a Jeep Wagoneer. First she shared family cars, then she was issued her own Saab. After being stranded by the Jeep(mid ’80s with GM V6) and the Saabs constantly, she bought a used first generation Camry. She still had that car when I visited her in Atlanta 6 years later, and she still wouldn’t hear a bad word about it. She got made when someone confused it with my Audi 4000S quattro, as she knew it was an insult to her paragon of reliability.

      • 0 avatar

        Im sorry but only the dying out boomers want Vanilla the “COOL” people want flare and want to show the world their own taste. Vanilla is long dead.

    • 0 avatar

      Where are the Jap car makers s today? Still making 4-door vanilla machiness. Though thry’ve tried to make other than 4-door sedans, the Japanese have failed miserably in making trucks, SUVs, CUVs. Just look at current sales charts to see Toyota behind Volskswagen and, wait, GM. Honda no where to be seen. Even tthe Koreans are gaining unmatched momentum.

      So what happened to the Japanese car manufacturers today?

      • 0 avatar

        I think your assessment is wrong. But I will say that most Americans want Vanilla and see everything else as an affront.

        But if you think about the evo, sti, nissan z, leaf, juke, honda fit, honda crz, mazda 3, 6 , 5. Recently departed honda 2000, MR2… And don’t forget the HILux is the choice of insurgents everywhere.

        So as VW dumbs down its cars for our market and the voters cry for white Camries, the question might be: Why do they make anything of interest for this market? But they do.

      • 0 avatar

        > So what happened to the Japanese car manufacturers today?

        They’ve yet to disappoint customers as much as GM did in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but your point is well taken. Toyota could well pull an Oldsmobile if they are not careful.

      • 0 avatar

        “Where are the Jap car makers today?” Well, they’re still around. Unlike Oldsmobile, that is. Well, except Daihatsu and Isuzu…

      • 0 avatar

        Very few Americans will tell you that their personal choice of automobile was selected because they wanted to spend tens of thousands on a car that bores them senseless.

        What you call vanilla machines is not a vanilla machine to it’s owners. Even the boring Corolla, Camry and Accord is considered special enough to have been bought.

        Japan benefitted from having new manufacturing ideas generating new cars that offered new benefits to a market tiring of being told that their next car needed to being either a rolling posh borello, or a lusty sporty street walker. The market saw Detroit apeing Japan and saw that even Detroit considered Japanese cars to be the benchmark. Why buy a Trofeo when you can just buy what the Trofeo was mimicking?

        The first Oldsmobile Toronado was special. By 1985, GM didn’t know how to create a special car. Instead it issued imitation of special like a “new car” scented pine tree. The Big Three were in a holding pattern unsure as to where to land.

        The generation that loaded up on Mustangs in youth, settled for the vinyl status of a Monte Carlo in their 30s, then divorced US products once they saw the Jones’ new Celica. Detroit lost the Me Generation.

        Chasing after the Me Generation, caused Detroit to stray from what made it successful. Forgetting that generations come and go, caused Detroit to stop making Oldsmobiles and start making Trofeos.

    • 0 avatar

      Budda-Boom: “GM could have saved people a lot of heartache and just sent most of their 80′s FWD models straight to the crusher off the assembly line.”

      Yep. It was owning one of these (the Pontiac variation, as I recall) that inspired my then-boss to purchase a Nissan in the mid-90’s. She happily drove that Nissan for at least 12 years (may still have it today) and she could well afford newer cars.

      A current colleague got one of these a while back and it ran more or less OK but on account of fatigue in the hinges or hinge mountings and the weight of the long doors, you had to lift the doors as you opened or closed them, a problem that GM first pioneered with the Chevy Monza (and its Sunbird, etc, brethren) in the mid-late ’70’s.

      Budda-Boom: “After it wound up on the back of a wrecker for the 4th time in six months, they traded it on a Lincoln MKX…which they love.”

      Probably much easier to win over a customer that’s experienced BMW reliability than one that has become accustomed to Toyota-Honda reliability.

  • avatar

    This, along with yesterday’s Calais post, reminded me how much all of GM’s cars from this era looked the same. Especially the N body and E body cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford produced a Lincoln commercial back in the day poking fun at that. Parking attendants in an upscale restaurant are unable retrieve the customer’s GM cars because they all look the same. “That’s not my Cadillac! No, it’s my Oldsmobile! You’re wrong, it’s my Buick!” So on and so forth.

      Forget about the foreign competition of the day, compared to the original ’67 Toronado, this thing was a sad, sad joke.

      • 0 avatar

        And now Ford is into the same pattern with Lincoln that GM followed back in those badge-engineered ’80s. Luckily for Ford, it’ll be a little easier to get rid of Lincoln once they realize there’s no real ROI in revamping Lincoln.

  • avatar

    Dig the “AM ST” (AM stereo) button on the radio. Wave of the future in the mid 80s, almost forgotten now.

  • avatar

    Hey! I need a passenger’s wiper arm for my FIL’s ’90 Seville. Where is this thing located?

  • avatar

    I’m more intrested in the “Do Not Resuscitate” button right there below the AM Stereo button. How old were the people who bought these?

    • 0 avatar

      I think that was actually Dynamic Noise Reduction (not to be confused with Dolby NR) for the cassette deck.

      But Do Not resuscitate is probably more accurate for some of the confused buyers (what’d you whippersnappers do to my land yacht?). If I remember right, there was a teacher in my elementary school that used to drive a big boat 70s Olds Tornado. It finally died and she bought a downsized Tornado. She was unmarried as far as we knew and was probably in her 30s or 40s at the time. That’s the only person I know of that owned one of these things.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    It appears that GM’s marketer’s either believed that their customers either had amnesia or were under the age of, say, 40. Because this car tells the tale of GM when you compare it to the original Toronado, a car which (being 40 in 1989) I remember well. The original Toronado was a neat car; it had presence, it had panache. In short, it had everything that this car lacks.

    I’m not saying that GM should have continued building the original Toronado through the 1980s. By the standards of that era, it was a tremendous gas hog. But the values, the confidence, the swagger that the original car possessed were sorely missing from the 1989 shadow of its former self. There are only two GM products that I can think of today which have that swagger (apart from the Corvette, which is a special case). They would be the Escalade and the CTS-V.

  • avatar

    OMG that interior. So many buttons! On the dash… on the doors… on the steering wheel… what a mess.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s why you had to get the in-dash computer. No buttons on the DIC — all wacky-yet-endearing 8-bit Neo-GEOS menus and graphics. If I remember correctly, it even animated “filling the tank” when it gave you the updated fuel mileage after a fill-up.

    • 0 avatar

      That was GM of that era. I remember when my boss got a new Pontiac 6000, same reaction. I could not believe all the little buttons.

      • 0 avatar

        I had a 6000-STE, my friends all claimed it was Darth Vaders bathroom with the green digital dash, the red backlighting and 15 million buttons on the dash.

        It also had the AM Stereo radio that sounded good on the few stations we had in Dallas at the time, till the AM circuit went out in it. I never fixed it being a broke college student. I traded it for my now equally aged 95 Explorer, 10 years ago.

        I don’t think that tin Indian would have lasted 13 years after I bought it nearly as well as the Explorer has in 10 years. Esp. since I had had to put a new engine in it the Pontiac at 90,000 miles.

    • 0 avatar

      The funniest one was the Grand Prix…

    • 0 avatar

      That was a very late 1980’s thing, the more buttons and digital dashboards were where it was at with North American and some Asian auto makers. People thought my Ford Probe was right out of Star Wars with all the buttons on it – although this Olds has it completely beat in the button department and the Ford Probe ergonomics in the 1989 to 1992 model year were pretty good.

      I seem to remember one of my friends counting up all the buttons, switches, knobs and levers in my ’89 Ford Probe within reach of the driver and coming with a number close to or over 100. That would include things like the horn and the fuel release, trunk release, and the lever to adjust the tilt steering wheel – but it is still a dizzying array of buttons.

      But compare it to say the first gen iDrive in a BMW or the first Ford MyTouch iteration and you can see how history can repeat itself.

    • 0 avatar

      Just like today’s Accord!

  • avatar

    These seemed to have appealed to women buyers. They had a touch of pep and looked sportier than they were — it was a more upscale operation than they tried with the fourth gen Grand Am and the Alero. I had a relative who got 8 years out of hers, 160k miles, no major breakdowns (unlike, say, the gremlin-plagued Aurora that replaced the Toronado as Oldsmobile’s marquee car). It got destroyed in an accident.

    1989 was a dramatic improvement for the General on FWD over 1987, the public beta test year.

  • avatar

    “Trofeo” always reminded me of “tofu”, part of the…ummm…quiche crowd. Not for me.

    I’m quite thankful my year of research paid off and we bought our 1990 Plymouth Acclaim, which we kept for 10½ years. Best car we ever had up until we bought our CR-V and Impala.

    Note to junkyards: Please keep Leonid Brezhnev off your premises, wherever you may be located! I don’t care how much he liked cars, he’s dangerous.

    • 0 avatar

      You must have had some pretty miserable cars if a 1990 Plymouth Acclaim was the best car you ever had. We bought a new 1990 Dodge Spirit and it was a head gasket blowing POS, which I dont think ever made 100k miles.

  • avatar

    The ones with the cool CRT display was definitely ahead of its time. I always had a soft spot for the Toronado, especially the later ones.

  • avatar

    Very sad to see this, along with any other Trofeo in a junkyard. My father ordered the very first ’87 Trofeo in Florida – black on black with an Astroroof and NEC carphone. Gorgeous machine. First car I ever remember and what a car for a kid to grow up with – throttle shifter, phone, digital dash, hideaway headlamps. It was a marvel to say the least. Sadly, he had to let it go back after my parents were divorced in ’90. He still talks about how much he liked that car.

    I still look out for Trofeos and its hard to find one that isn’t relegated to rural beater status. But when I find one at a reasonable price, I’ll get it, drive it and show my father, and smile as he does in seeing his favorite car that he never got to fully enjoy.

  • avatar

    It did have anti lock brakes though, says so right on the brake pedal.

  • avatar

    A used car dealer once told me that nobody wanted to buy it because the name was too “faggy”. I think he was at least partially correct.

  • avatar

    when did GM stop using those hilariously awesome overstuffed bucket seats & bordello-red interiors?

    I could see these being cheap ‘collectables’ a few years down the road just for the lulz factor. That cabin makes me smile.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Compare and contrast: the Trofeo ad to the Ridley Scott 300ZX ad.

  • avatar

    I really like these, and I think they really give a good snapshot of a late 1980s American automobile, but they never sold very well and are becoming increasingly difficult to find.

  • avatar

    Has that yard sold any parts off this thing at all? I’d laugh at the thought of this car becoming collectible, but as the old saying goes there’s an ass for every seat.

    • 0 avatar

      More collectible than the boring CamCords of the same era.

      • 0 avatar
        dvp cars

        …..”more collectible than CamCords”…..very true….despite their enormous market penetration over the last 45 years. Japanese cars aren’t proving to be much of a factor in the collector car marketplace. Only a handful sell at a typical “classic” auction. and they go for chump change. Most are purchased to be daily drivers…. few collectible buyers want to waste precious garage space on cars that are remembered more as appliances than lifestyle statements. Even a clapped out ’69 Z28 will fetch double the money a decent 240Z will bring. Eventually Trofeos will be mildly collectible, but Lexus’s, Camrys, Maximas……..not so much.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    I always liked Oldsmobiles and Buicks of this Era, Growing up in a small town in Northern Maine with only the big three dealerships the Buick/Olds dealer had the most interesting cars on the lot, plus it was downtown and on my way home from school, also my father had an Olds Custom Cruiser Diesel wagon so from time to time we would have some of these as loaners when it was head bolt replacement time.

  • avatar

    Looks like the passenger side power seat controls caught fire??? Or is the plastic just all worn out??? Who knows I guess. Overall surprised to see how well the GM cars have held up for 20 plus years old – the interiors are in far better shape that I would expect.

    As others have noted – it wasn’t a bad ride with the 3.8L under the hood, that engine bowed at the altar of torque and could not be killed (ya, ya, ya, Gen II versions had gasket issues – we’re talking 1990 here not the bad decisions made in 1997)

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    I just can’t get over how f’ing cool that digital navigation system is. How did GM do this 10 years ahead of the pack?

    • 0 avatar

      Is that really a navigation system? Or just a trip computer? I’m fascinated by this too and would like to find out more about it. As I understand it, the first US model with a nav system (at least GPS-enabled) was the 1996 Acura RL.

  • avatar

    There was another commercial in this series that featured Shari Belafonte driving with her father in the passenger’s seat. She’s singing “Tro-fay-o” to the tune of Day-O (The Banana Boat Song). I’d love to see that again.

  • avatar

    My mom bought a Cutlass Calais in the early 1990s and I remember looking at a Toronado Trofeo in the middle of the Olds dealer where she was having the car serviced. At the time I worked in a DuPont paint lab and I was shocked how poor the paint quality was. It was almost a checklist of common paint problems: orange peel, cratering, dirt in the paint. There were bad visible paint flaws, and this was a showroom car.

  • avatar

    Gawd, there really was no interior problem in the 80’s that couldn’t be solved by the addition of more little black buttons! They seem to have spread over every surface of the interior like a fungus.

    Arguably, the Toronado suffered particularly acutely from GM’s second round of downsizing in 1985-86, because suddenly most of the cars in the GM lineup were FWD and the Toronado’s distinctiveness had vanished.

  • avatar

    Very interesting cars and I remember seeing them around. I think I still see the occasional one even now but not often.

    This one looks to have been driven many years and many miles, based on the wear points on the seats, the steering wheel, the shifter and the missing paint around the ignition switch (common on GM cars as they used painted metal on most steering columns back then) or the owner simply had many, many keys on the keyring.

    I never found these necessarily bad looking back in the day but the dash design, especially this one with the digital dash and the odd radio designs that GM seemed to like to do back then.

    I noted the missing controls for the passenger seat, wonder if someone removed them to repair theirs?

    Nice find!

  • avatar

    John Phillips III (of Car and Driver) probably was right when he said that Oldsmobile’s major problem was the naming of its cars. He knew that their cars could even be named after what time it was. Before anyone realized what happened, their product manager pointed to their newest proposed offering, looked at his watch and said, “Four Forty-Two.”

  • avatar

    I remember one of these Trofeos at a car club event a while back. The owner challenged us to count the number of “T” badges on the thing. I think the correct answer was 17.
    Can’t think of another car model with an image trajectory that was down every year after it’s impressive debut. Perfect metaphor for all that was wrong with GM back in the day.

  • avatar

    As a European, I find the original 1960s Toronado fascinating. A big FWD V8-powered car? Unheard off. I also appreciate the early 1970s Toronados. I can live with the late 1970s Toronados.

    But the ’80s Toronados like this one are just boring and ugly.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I was fascinated by these as well and had actually considered buying the far nicer 90-92 version but instead went for another T-Bird. The 3800 v6 was fine and relaible but what made me leary was problems with the digital display and the cheapo Rodger Smith era plastics. It’s a shame GM did not offer the 3800 s/c in these to earn their premium car status.

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