By on April 20, 2012

The pre-1990 Troféo had a shorter trunk than today’s Junkyard Find, but the same Buick V6 engine and not-so-great 1980s GM build quality. The General hoped to steal away some buyers of German luxury cars with the Troféo, but (as with so many of GM’s plans of the era) sales were on the disappointing side.
I found this ’90 Troféo in a Northern California self-service junkyard. My cousin from Minnesota was with me, and he said these things were once status symbols in his state (Minnesotans also loved the Buick Reatta)… but they’ve all rusted away by now.
The 3800 was quite reliable and fairly powerful, but not quite up to the smoothness level that earlier generations expected from their Rocket V8s.
This one doesn’t have the very cool touchscreen instrument display, which is disappointing— I might have pulled it for my collection of weird instrument clusters.

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47 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1990 Oldsmobile Toronado Troféo...”

  • avatar

    I didn’t think there was ever a touch-screen, just a CRT display. Working at Delco Electronics at the time, I recall those CRTs had at least a 100% warranty replacement rate. An idea that was just a few years before its time I guess.

    • 0 avatar

      And to correct Murilee, this car DOES have the CRT display; it is in the top-center of the dash, visible in the picture above just to the right of the steering wheel.

      Now, think about where the display screen is on most of today’s cars. GM had the right concept, but wrong implementation, years ahead of its time!

    • 0 avatar

      My Dad’s 1980 Buick had a touch screen for the air conditioner. It wasn’t like the touch screen on an iPhone, more like an elevator button. And yes, it was repaired multiple times. Touch screens and desert heat were not a good mix.

    • 0 avatar

      I was a Tech at Oldsmobile at the time. As for the electronics on the Olds. The Torfeo had an optional touch screen CRT. Buicks had a simple black/green screen system that had limited controls. The Oldsmobile system was advanced, for the day, with 16 colorsand VGA like graphics. Additional features the Buick didn’t have were gauge display, audio EQ and Balance via the touchscreen, car phone, and much to the tech’s pleasure full computer system diagnostics. We didn’t need a separate scan tool in this car.

      I even worked on an engineering mule with a navigation system. The whole trunk was full of PC based computers. At the time I thought it was a cool idea.

      Problems? Only one came in for warranty repairs that I remember. Most of the problems were from customers complaining how annoying it was to use. They thought all the buttons were much simpler to use. I still agree with them!

  • avatar

    I remember the commercials for these featuring Harry Belafonte’s son and daughter singing Trofeo to the sounds of the banana boat song.

  • avatar

    Trofeo says “tofu” to me, and I don’t like tofu, along with quiche’, so there! Trofeo never made any sense as a car name. Too much of a stretch for something suggesting “exotic”. Right.

    Now the Reatta does say something, and I wish I could have found an affordable example in good condition even as recently as 12 years ago.

    GM’s build quality back then? Even though I was a staid Chrysler guy and hated GM in those years, their build quality appeared to be on a par with most others, but the devil’s in the details, I suppose.

    EDIT: Note to Buick: In the future, the model name on the car side does not go on the quarter panel. It must either go on the rear fender flank if the style allows, or on the front fender if there is sufficient room behind the wheel well, and if not, at the front of the driver’s and passenger doors. Thank you.

    • 0 avatar

      What language is the name meant to be in? Troféo wouldn’t have an accent mark in Spanish.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        Correct, it shouldn’t have an accent. But Ford did the same moronic crap with the early 1970’s Mustang Grandé, which should not have had an accent.

        Incidentally, another stupid name was Oldsmobile Alero. Alero means “overhang” in Spanish. Yeah, just want you want to name a car…

      • 0 avatar

        Roberto: At least it’s over the emphasised syllable (even if second-syllable emphasis is implied in Spanish, rendering the accent superfluous). The Mustang Grandé and Plymouth Volaré, as another example, just had accents for the sake of accents. I amuse myself by placing the emphasis on the accented syllables – gran-DAY, vo-la-RAY.

      • 0 avatar

        The Alero does have a substantial front overhang, just like so many GM front driver, so the name is not a misnomer… At least they were honest (about the overhangs anyway).

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Still like the previous generation with its homage to the coffin nose Cord better. The 1979-1985 E-bodys had presence and as long as you got the Oldsmobile or Buick over the 4100V8 Cadillac you got a decent engine too. (Although from 1979 to 1981 you could get an honest to god nearly 400 cubic inch engine in the Caddy.)

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I really liked my ’70s-era Olds Toronado, 455 FWD and all. It was majestic, especially in Europe where, at the time, tiny, as in 2CV, was in. It was longer and wider than even the M-B S-class and the 2-door styling really stood out.

      But like most American cars of that era, there were issues, and very few places to have warranty services done in Europe. So, inevitably, when a GI offered me more than what I paid for it, I sold it to him and the Toro went back to America where it belonged.

  • avatar

    This sure got to the hooptie stage before being junked it looks like and thus is all ragged out.

    I’ve heard of and seen videos of the venerable 3800 V6’s still chugging along at well over 200K, including one who’s camshaft pully went, shredding the serpentine belt and damaging the camshaft sensor along the way in a 1989 Buick, I believe the Lesabre and that was on Youtube, but by then, it was well over 200K when it happened.

    • 0 avatar

      Sure, I had an ’89 Riviera that I’d run up to 205K by ’98. Still ran like new. Traded it in because the electric options were getting tired & it was time to get a 4-door.

  • avatar

    Here’s one for sale outside Pittsburgh.
    $900 bucks, pimptastic red leather interior, CRT gauges and a bad transmission.

    That’s dangerously close to LeMons worthy!

  • avatar

    I remember thinking these were really stylish, good looking cars when they were new. PBS’ Autoweek had a review of one and after watching it I was convinced that this design would be a timeless classic.

    Since then I have learned I was a total sucker for slick publicity campaigns and exorcised that particular flaw from my personality so save your offers to sell me a bridge.

  • avatar

    I didn’t know this existed. Looks beige to me.

  • avatar

    It is very hard to go from the most popular, to the forgotten. This is what happened to Oldsmobile. Fifteen years earlier, Olds could do no wrong. They sold a million cars one year. It seemed that everyone wanted a Cutlass. It seemed that at one time, their Toronado was considered the coolest vehicle on the road.

    By 1990, Oldsmobile was feeling like a 40 year old actress who hadn’t had a hit movie in a decade. Olds lost it’s “it” factor, and memories of having had “it” a couple model generations earlier were too fresh to be forgotten by the brand.

    Success ruins things sometimes. Having a line of buyers paying full sticker for you can wreck you. It is like a drug. Being popular is addictive. Losing it can really bring you down.

    So, what we have here in 1990 is an Oldsmobile pining for the good old days. A hybrid of the best Oldsmobile characteristics that made it the People’s Choice not so long ago. It is a mash-up of the full sized sportiness of the WWII Vet favorite Toronado, the personal luxury flair of the Boomer favorite Cutlass, and the exotic Euro essense favored by the GM Board.

    This resulted in a car the Market didn’t see a need to own. The status and street cred it offered was as hip as Barry Manilow concert tickets at a TriBeCa LGBT coffee shop. No one was really dissing this vehicle, they just couldn’t believe it was still being made and expected to sell in 1990.

    By 1990, there were new Oldsmobiles out there with real attraction – Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Audi, BMW and their ilk. Why buy faux GM Euro popular with old guys, when you could lease real European imports at similar montly costs? There were new Kids In Town, who wanted the old?

    GM gets credit for throwing good money at the Oldsmobile brand at a time when the writing on the marketing wall was suggesting it was a dead brand walking by 1990. Dealer commitments, the recognition of Oldsmobile’s contributions to GM success decades earlier, and fourty eight platoons of hungry lawyers gave the brand enough finances to keep trying to rediscover it’s old sweet spot. Problem was, the spot moved so slowly, Oldsmobile didn’t see it gone.

    Like a Furbee, a Polaroid, Kinney Shoes, and AOL, Americans junk brands even after having been madly in love with them earlier. This car wasn’t a bad car. It was a Hydrox in a world of Oreos, that’s all.

    • 0 avatar

      I owned quite a few Oldsmobiles during my early years, many of them bought used, but a Custom Cruiser and a Toronado bought new. I was sad to see Olds go under, but the sales just weren’t there.

      With the foreigners putting out such good stuff it was easy to see that Olds remained my father’s Oldsmobile, and the domestic car makers remained entrenched in the dinosaur age with their line-ups.

      Forgettable answers to automotive questions never asked were the Achieva for the great unwashed masses, and the Aurora for the nouveaux riche. I remember a LOL experience when shopping for a new car for my youngest daughter who had just gotten married, in 1992.

      At that time the Achieva was supposed to be America’s answer to the Toyota Camry. Being a firm believer in buying American at that time we all traipsed out there and took an Achieva for a test drive. (LOL!)

      It was an awful experience which immediately eliminated the Achieva V6 from consideration and narrowed the choices down to an Accord V6 and a Camry V6. The Achieva was a dog! It was cramped, rode harsh, and handled worse.

      The Olds orphans, if there still are any, have been joined by Saturn, Hummer, Pontiac and Saab orphans. I’d like to see GM downsize and streamline further by rolling GMC into Chevy and auctioning off Buick to the highest Chinese bidder.

      GM needs to focus on its core brands, Chevrolet and Cadillac, if it wants to survive beyond 2015. Opel and the French connection will only hasten GM’s demise, at least until the US government and we, the people, jump in there and bail out the whole lot, again.

      • 0 avatar

        GMC is redundant but I think Buick is necessary as the middle brand, if only as the upscale Chevrolet (or bring back Pontiac and dump Buick). The bowtie seems to be the kiss of death for Gen Y car buyers, if they can’t rehab Chevrolet, they’ll have to come up with something that appeals to them. Cadillac is off in another universe with some of its offerings.

      • 0 avatar

        If we could only get GM to see that and make over the GM line of vehicles, there may be a chance for GM to become profitable again and maybe even pay back the tax payers for the $50Billion we got staked in them.

        I have another suggestion when it comes to GM trucks and that is to strike up a deal with Toyota to supply the Tundra 5.7L 32-valve DOHC all-aluminum V8 for the Silverado (1500) line. That is a magnificent engine for a half-ton truck and the lighter weight over the front wheels is sure to make the truck handle better than ever.

        And it’s not like GM hasn’t struck deals like that before in the past. Wasn’t it Saturn that was using the Honda V6 for awhile? And didn’t the Geo line of vehicles use Toyota 4-bangers under license at the NUMMI plant?

    • 0 avatar

      Nice write up Dude!

      You reminded me when you mentioned Kinney Shoes, I tried to remember, and ultimately did, Thom MCAnn Shoes! Don’t know if they still exist or not these days since I don’t normally shop at the mall anymore, if anything, I shop elsewhere BUT the mall when I can.

      And I’d forgotten Hydrox too.

      • 0 avatar

        Thom McAn-branded shoes are sold in Walmart, I believe. All from China, so who cares? “Kinney Shoes on the Highway” – stand-alone stores only until that business model no longer worked and they went belly-up.

        As for VanillaDude’s comment – good as always – “faux GM Euro” – that whole thing never made a lick of sense to me. Red-orange Lumina Euro Sport – while attractive – what was wrong with Lumina SS? I suppose the whole false-exotic European thing began with Ricardo Montalban’s “Rich Corinthian Leather” on the Chrysler Cordoba, or perhaps the first Riviera?

        The original Riviera, Grand Prix and Monte Carlo at least worked, because they were real, functional cars, but that’s where it ended. What happened from the 1973 models on, and especially in the eighties – well, keep what transpired alive, otherwise history will repeat itself.

    • 0 avatar

      I always laughed at the name “Hydrox”. Aside from the fact that the cookies were just cheap ass Oreos, “Hydrox” sounds like some chemical compound (“I need 5 gallons of Hydrox to mix with sulphuric acid”) or the name of a monster, as in “Godzilla vs. Hydrox”.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the Hydrox cookie actually came before the Oreo. A case of the copy surpassing the original.

      • 0 avatar

        I believe that the name comes from hydrogenated oil so there is indeed a chemical aspect to the name. When you hydrogenate an oil, it becomes fatty. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure that the creme in Oreo/Hydrox cookies is essentially sweetened Crisco.

      • 0 avatar

        From Wikipedia –

        Hydrox is the brand name for a creme-filled chocolate sandwich cookie that debuted in 1908 and was manufactured by Sunshine (later Sunshine Biscuits).[1]

        Its name was formed from the atomic elements which make up pure water: hydrogen and oxygen.[2]

        Gee. If Sunshine Biscuits stuck with that kind of naming, they would have been calling their infant arrowroot crackers, “Sodtits” after Sodium and Titanium.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      I remember test driving a few Oldsmobile models in the 90s and deciding that they were just expensive Chevrolets. The actual cars had hundreds of pounds of iron block engine hanging in front of the front wheels, interior designed by the GM Cheesy Plastic Dash Division, and less than great suspension tuning. I could either buy a Chevrolet or Ford for less money or step up to then new near luxury brands like Acura for a little more money. The market had no room for Oldsmobile. I ended up buying a Ford because Ford offered interior design/plastics and suspension tuning that were at least comparable to the import brands, but with the low used price of a domestic.

    • 0 avatar

      “as hip as Barry Manilow concert tickets at a TriBeCa LGBT coffee shop.”

      Hilarious, and a canny echo of GM’s marketing confusion.

  • avatar

    This is one reason why I love reading TTAC: learning about vehicles I’ve never even heard about.

  • avatar

    V Dude, that was one funny ass post! Thanks
    and the Furbee – my kids had them, damn little creepy things, glad when the batteries died and kids moved on to something else.

    • 0 avatar

      We still have one…put away, somewhere – it still works, too…it’ll STAY put away.

      Wifey tried to train it. I said to her: Honey, we have a dog – she’s real, she’s already trained, train her something new – she responds, she loves, she licks, she’ll take you for a walk, etc, etc…she lives, she breathes, etc…etc..!

  • avatar

    Maybe my eyes are deceiving me, but I’m pretty sure this one DOES have the VIC (vehicle information center, a.k.a., the touchscreen)

  • avatar

    This model was an attempt to repair the damage done by the 1986 redo of the Toronado, which killed the nameplate in the market. When GM launched the greatly downsized 1986 Eldorado, Seville, Riviera and Toronado, the drop in sales for all four was literally catastrophic. GM’s formerly strong position in this segment was wiped out overnight.

    Buick had already added a longer trunk to the Riviera, which greatly improved its appearance, and now it was the Toronado’s turn.

    The revamped hind quarters of the Toronado (and Riviera) did work from an appearance standpoint, but the damage had already been done. GM build quality was terrible during this time, too, as it relied heavily on automation for the factory where the Toronado, Riviera, Eldorado and Seville were built, with disastrous results.

    The personal-luxury coupe market was dying anyway, and the dwindling number of people who really wanted this type of car bought a Thunderbird, Cougar or Continental Mark VII/VIII instead.

  • avatar

    These were reliable cars, as reliable as you could get from the Detroit Three at the time.

    My mother loved Oldsmobile because my grandfather had purchased a new 98, top trim (Holiday?), with the biggest engine available, every year for a good long run through the 50s and 60s. However, with that FWD and massive engine, the original Toronado was a godsend for driving in Midwest winters. After flirting with an ’87 Buick Park Avenue, where the engine tried to escape through the hood, it was back to Oldsmobile after the public beta testing. Combine that with my father having lived in the shadow of the Oldsmobile factory in Lansing and having worked there, and we were an Oldsmobile family.

    I thought the 88 was so much nicer than the Toronado, but the Trofeo had all the sheen and pizzazz of the 1980s. You could get your pump-action high tops and drive around in a genuine-American-yet-European sports coupe.

    The 89 did not have the big butt of the 90.

    I thought the screens were touch sensitive. I remember the horrible UI idea (that certainly sounded cool at the time…) of trying to “seek up” by pressing the 8-bit-digital approximation of an up/down toggle switch. I think it was teal when inactive and yellow when pressed.

    I think they were dogged by some transmission problems because they were trying to break in the FWD 4-speed auto with overdrive at the time, but it had massive shift-gate lever and shifter with the big “OD” overdrive, then drive, then second and first.

    In hindsight — GM should never have made Saturn. They should have given Oldsmobile those resources, and they should have let Oldsmobile be different. Earl knew it back in the 1950s: Let Oldsmobile be different, and the cult of Oldsmobile followed for a time.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. Saturn was a failed experiment that should never have happened. But I do believe the Saturn experience should have been applied to Oldsmobile along with the wasted resources to build a top notch lineup with fair pricing, no sales pressure and an unforgettable buying experience. I think that is what most people are missing rather than the cars themselves. As for Oldsmobile, I have a lot of fond memories for there mid size Cutlass line and the Intrigue/Aurora line.

  • avatar

    The Toronado was never the thing for Oldsmobile; they needed to get the Cutlass and the 88 right. The Aurora was also a bad side-show attraction. The Cutlass was a cheap first car; the 88 was a nice car you could move up to and blue collar retirees could ride around in comfort. The Intrigue tried to combine two divergent Olds buyers into one crappy Pontiac knock-off without any success.

    Having known a couple guys who sold Oldsmobiles in Flint to great success — the dealers were clamoring for a new 88 or a new 98 up until the end, and GM would not give them the big car. If they had given them a LeSabre with a pointy nose and an engine tune for +5HP, they would have sold well into the six figures in volume. I think they ultimately hoped they could shove all those buyers into an Impala — brand distinction was real in the minds of those buyers, and so, when GM thought brand distinction mattered, it didn’t, and when GM thought brand distinction didn’t matter, it did.

    Edit: And why not a Chevy for that first cheap car? First, the Corsica was a POS, the Malibu briefly filled a slot as the Cutlibu, but it was urban myth that became believed fact that the Oldsmobile occupied a sweet spot — it was still cheap like the Pontiac or Chevrolet, but it got the “good” stuff — thicker sheet metal, better rust treatment, better electronics, better safety features — so you could stick your teenage daughter in a plain jane white Cutlass and save money on the deal but not have her in a car that would fall apart.

    • 0 avatar

      There is no reasonable way to describe the Intrigue as a crappy Pontiac knock-off. That’s silly; it was a very good car. I know, I had one as a daily driver for more than 5 years…and I chose it over the same-era Grand Prix.

  • avatar

    I remember once at a Great Autos West Coast Meet there was a really nice Trofeo. The owner had a trivia contest: how many chrome “t”s were on the car? I think it was like over 25.

  • avatar

    Growing up, these are one of the first street cars that I remember really liking.

    This and the Range Rovers.

  • avatar

    I worked with a guy who bought one of these new in 1989. I did not think it was a bad car. It had a lot of front seat leg room (not so much in the back) and was quite comfortable for two 6 foot plus 200 pounders. But I often thought what has happened to GM? I remember the first gen Toronado. How could it have morphed into the Trefeo?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A few years back I considered one of these to replace my 87 T-Bird. I have always been a personal luxury coupe fan having once owned a 80 Toronado so I figured I’d consider the newer model. Liked the styling and comfort, they handled great but the build quality, mainly electronic issues and cheap Roger Smith era plastics made me leary. So I just bought another T-Bird a 95 LX 4.6 and have been content with it.

    It’s too bad GM never offered these with the 3800 SC which was 200-240 HP vs the 165 HP 3800 to differnate these from the pack since they were Olds halo car and the Toronado was always perceived as cutting edge.

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