By on July 22, 2019

1988 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo in Colorado wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The General spent the 1980s experiencing a burning desire to sell high-profit-margin personal luxury coupes that combined the irresistible sales appeal of the 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with the technological sophistication of the latest high-end German machinery. This decade gave us such fascinating GM machines as the Cadillac Allanté, the Buick Reatta, the Pontiac 6000 STE, and the Oldsmobile Toronado Troféo. You won’t find many Troféos today, but I’m always on the lookout during my junkyard travels. Here’s a clean ’88 in a Denver-area self-serve yard.

1988 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo in Colorado wrecking yard, decklid badge - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Because I’m somewhat obsessed with these cars, I’ve managed to find a few junked examples over the years, including this ’88, this ’89, this ’89, this ’90, and this ’92. The Troféo hasn’t retained much value at age 30+, so it takes a real devotee to keep one on the road.

1988 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo in Colorado wrecking yard, RH rear view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

This one appears to have been a well-cared-for car, with clean interior and nice paint. A fender-bending incident involving the right rear knocked its value to scrap levels in an instant, though, and we can assume that this bent metal is the reason the car ended up in this sad place.

1988 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo in Colorado wrecking yard, salesman calling card - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The owner’s manual, Oldsmobile Road Atlas, and original salesman’s calling cards were still in the glovebox, suggesting that this may have been a one-owner car. Sold in Pennsylvania, crushed in Colorado.

This car once had GM’s futuristic touchscreen-based Graphics Control Center (optional in Rivieras, Reattas, and Troféos), a feature that no European or Japanese car could match in 1988. Someone grabbed the touchscreen (which was adapted from hardware used in late-1980s ATMs and ran on 120 volts AC provided by a power supply bolted to the firewall), but left behind most of the remaining hardware associated with the GCC.

1988 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo in Colorado wrecking yard, engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Unfortunately, the effect of dropping such science-fictiony stuff into the dashboard got undercut by the primitive pushrod V6 driving the front wheels, at a time when BMW and Mercedes-Benz had been running overhead-cam engines for decades. The young, tech-savvy target audience for flashy European-style sporty coupes didn’t get very enthusiastic about the ancient running gear in the Troféo, and most of the older Oldsmobile shoppers didn’t want to squander their pensions on confusingly newfangled gizmos. The lack of an available manual transmission weakened the car’s high-performance image as well, though the Full Slushboxization of the American driving public was well underway by 1988.

1988 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo in Colorado wrecking yard, gearshift lever - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Still, it’s a good-looking car, with some of the design touches that once made Oldsmobile the Youngmobile.

Deborah Moore, daughter of Roger Moore, did some secret-agent-type stuff with the Troféo for 1989.

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54 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Oldsmobile Toronado Troféo...”


  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Awww… And here I thought it was the nylon timing gear that killed it…! Sure killed mine.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I had the Buick Riviera version with the infamous and way ahead of it’s time touchscreen, which gave everyone headaches, but me. It was the only thing that I didn’t have trouble with

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        I think the headaches were more anecdotal than real, as I worked at a dealership that sold a full GM lineup, and we barely got any touch or digital screen complaints. As a matter of fact, I am surprised at the number of these 80’s-90’s cars that you still see with working digital readouts.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          I was really happy with it, it worked really well and was so high tech at the time. Unfortunately the rest of the car was a constant headache and I dumped it as soon as the warranty ran out

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The nylon timing gears went away with the other ’88 revisions to the Buick V6.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Nylon covered cam gears replaced the earlier fiber cam gears, both have defenate age failure rates, not miles .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Nylon timing gear shattering is what triggered an engine swap I couldn’t afford. I traded it for a Camaro.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            In the late 1970’s my tow truck, a 2 ton 1955 Chevy “Task Force” was running O.K. but was _really_ tired so I had the new kid overhaul the 235 ‘Stovebolt’ i6 in it .

            My cheapskate partner sourced the timing gears from two different vendors (imagine checking parts prices over the telephone, that’s how we did it back then) so of course the pitch on one of the two gears (I insisted on an aluminum cam gear) was off by just a hair so it sang, loudly, everywhere it went .

            It made a noticeable whirring sound at idle even .

            This was the reason for fiber and nylon toothed cam gears in the first place ~ to reduce NVH issues in new engines .

            Oddly enough the Delco branded cam followers (12 of them) were cheaper from the Chevy dealer (Jack Wall) than anywhere else in town, cheaper than the no brand plain box ones even .

            I bet that engine is still out there somewhere running fine if noisily .

            -Nate

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Watson Chevrolet is still around, but Frank Trabucco passed away last year at age 86. Sold cars at that dealership for SIXTY years!

  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    I don’t remember anyone complaining that these were not modern enough at the time. The real issue was being seen in an Oldsmobile.

    In retrospect these were much better built than their Swedish and Bavarian competition, as shown by the many I still see creaking around Michigan.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      I think to some extent, that’s going to be selection bias (Michigan certainly wouldn’t have been the strongest import market in the 80’s, so the Swedish/Bavarian competition would’ve been relatively rare to start with). Plus, I wouldn’t be shocked if these Toronados skewed rather heavily towards being someone’s last car compared to the European stuff, with the relatively gentle usage that entailed.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Maymar is right in that the Eldorado/Riviera/Toronado tended to skew toward someone’s “reward” or “last car I’ll ever own” in the heart of the Midwest were there were so many GM factories and suppliers.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          +2 to Maymar and Dan, and I’ll add that one can go down a semantic rabbit hole vis-a-vis “quality” vs “reliability”. My parents’ 1980s Bavarian sedan felt better screwed together than their Michigan assembled-one (as it ought to have, given the difference in price points). The American car had better electrics, though, and a better engine. The LN3 was running like a top when they sold it with 105,000 miles. The M20B27 had an intermittent hesitation problem for much of its life, and by 65,000 miles it was hemorrhaging oil.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Once again proving that (at least in the Great Lakes region) GM cars continue to run poorly long after most others don’t run at all.

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    Car is in pretty good shape save for that odd crunch in the RR. Wonder how that happened?

  • avatar

    Murilee – or anyone for that matter – is the paint oxidation on the hood and trunk (and I assume roof) a common thing in GM product from this era? I see many that the clear coat appears to be gone and the the oxidation is, in some cases, quite extensive.

    Also, are “surfaced” yards very common? This yard seems unusually nice in that regard.

    I would agree, other than the right rear crunch, this car is in remarkably good shape for it’s age.

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    Wait a moment, I thought the whole point of Toronado was the longitudial-mounted engine with the drive shaft going through the oil pan.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      That was the 66-85 era Toronado. The 86-92 E-body went transverse and shared components with other GM vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I still want a 79 Toronado (downsized) with the one year only 350 V8 and three speed automatic.

        @Pete you are speaking of the UPP (Unitized Power Package) that was in the 66 to 85 Toronados.

        GM was really proud of it at the time.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          The Turbo-Hydramatic 425 was in the 66-78 cars as well as the GMC motor home.
          The Turbo-Hydramatic 325 and 325 four speed were in the 79-85 E-body models.
          I once owned a 80 Toronado Diesel with a remanufactured Goodwrench that I bought from a neighbor for $500. I got a couple of fairly reliable years out of it until the motor blew. I considered a 307 or 350 gas conversion but ended up selling it.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Funnily enough, the Buick Riviera only had the longitude-FWD UPP for the 6th-generation model, ’79-’85. Despite being an E-body like the Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado, it used completely different frames and was longitude-RWD for most of its life. It even briefly became a B-body for (IIRC) the 5th-generation model.

          But, yes, in ’86, all three were downsized and went transverse-FWD, with a single 3800 V6 on the Riviera and Toronado. The Eldorado got a series of Cadillac HT V8 engines.

          The Toronado line ended in 1992 (just eight years before GM announced it would kill Oldsmobile altogether). But the Riviera continued with the 3800 when the final 8th-generation bowed, lasting from 1995-1999 and designated as a G-body. I believe the G-body was essentially the same as the H- and K-body platforms at the time, For 1995 only, it had the Series I 3800, in naturally-aspirated and supercharged variants. For 1996 and 1997, it got the Series II 3800, again in naturally-aspirated and supercharged variants. For 1998 and 1999, Buick only offered the supercharged engine.

          The Eldorado’s final generation remained an E-body. For 1992 and 1993 only, there was a 4.9-liter Cadillac HT V8, mounted transversely. Sometime in 1993, Cadillac replaced it with their then-new Northstar V8, in 4.6-liter guise. The Eldorado was eventually sold as the ETC (Eldorado Touring Coupe) and ESC (Eldorado Sports Coupe), depending upon which version you wanted, and finally bit the dust in 2002. You could call the short-lived CTS coupe something of a successor.

          • 0 avatar
            MRF 95 T-Bird

            The all new 94 Oldsmobile Aurora was also based on the G-body platform but used the 4.0 Shortstar. Apparently it was GM’s mid luxury Lexus Infiniti competitor.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @ 95 T-Bird: Unfortunately, Oldsmobile made too many mistakes in the ’90s (as did GM in general) which is why the brand suffered. Such a drastic style change and name change actually turned away many dedicated Oldsmobile owners such as myself. When they lost the Toronado, they lost the last real Oldsmobile, in my opinion. I never owned another one (though would happily buy a ’69-’72 Cutlass coupe today… maybe even a ’68 because it was a surprisingly good car with headlamps throwing back to the ’59 Dynamic 88.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      @ Pete Zaitcev – Per Ate Up With Motor’s description, the Olds design didn’t actually include a driveshaft going through the oil pan; it went under a pan that had been reshaped from the RWD version:

      “Around [1957], [Ford engineer Fred] Hooven developed a novel FWD concept using a longitudinal engine with the transmission reversed and mounted next to it, in much the same way as Toronado’s Unitized Power Package. The major difference between Hooven’s layout and the UPP was the arrangement of the right driveshaft, which in Hooven’s conception passed through the engine sump, between the main bearings. (Oldsmobile engineers experimented with this approach for the Toronado, but eventually concluded that it would be too difficult to seal; it may also have created problems with oil aeration. However, in the late eighties, Honda adopted this approach for the five-cylinder Vigor and Accord Inspire.)”

  • avatar
    ajla

    I think this is an ’89 and not a Trofeo. The steering wheel changed between ’88 & ’89 and the badging isn’t right for the Trofeo version.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      Those silly GM script badges— on all 4 sides.

      GM still do not allow a high-trim car to go unannounced.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Correct. By 1989, GM was no longer badging Trofeos externally as Toronados. It either said Toronado or Trofeo. So if it says “Toronado,” it isn’t a Trofeo.

      Moreover, you can see clearly that this one has a radio surround with two distinct cutouts, which was for the base center-stack setup. The base setup had an HVAC control panel on top, and a radio on the bottom. That’s very different from the one with the Visual Information Center (touchscreen), which had one big cutout. So this one didn’t have the touchscreen, either.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        Yeah, this one wasn’t a Trofeo. As a matter of fact, those ugly Pontiac wheels probably replaced black steel wheels with wire wheel hubcaps, is my guess.

  • avatar

    It was one of my favorite GM’s of the era. For me the best E-bodies were the Reatta and Trofeo. In those days GM still had the swagger of being the world’s largest car maker. These were really the first truly modern GM cars when you consider how bad the previous generation Toronado was.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Murilee, did you snag the Oldsmobile Road Atlas for your collection? I would have.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I was always a fan of these luxury GM coupes and considered buying one but went for another MN-12 Thunderbird.

    Since the Toronado and the upscale Trofeo was a halo car I was surprised they never offered the 3800 SC as an option.
    It was available then later made standard on the final generation Riviera.

  • avatar
    scott25

    This and the Reatta are two of the great GM designs. I’ve always wanted one

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Lots of good info on these cars here, I agree it was made for Geezers because I’m now old and it looks like a nice car to me….

    120 volt transformer for the touchscreen ?! wow .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    geo

    A salesman once told me that the Trofeo didn’t sell because “the name was too faggy”.

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    The design was anything but modern even for the time. More baroque, tinselly crap from malaise-era brains.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The Graphic Control Center (GCC) was Buick-exclusive, appearing in 1986 on the Riviera (the first year for the 7th gen) and 1988 on the Reatta (its first year). It was dropped for both in 1990, when they were refreshed. It featured a monochrome (green-on-black) display, and had just six touch-sensitive keys around the screen, to jump to specific sections.

    Meanwhile, the Oldsmobile version was called the Visual Information Center (VIC), and appeared in 1989 on the Toronado Trofeo, then remained until 1992, its last year. The VIC had a color display and retained physical buttons for most climate-control and radio functions, though you would still need to use the display to see what was going on.

    This car’s entire existence predates me, but I’m reminded of the commercial Oldsmobile did for the refreshed 1990 Toronado Trofeo, to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song,” featuring his son and daughter.

    https://bit.ly/2Y9DEya

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    What do you suppose junkyards will look like 20 years from now? Will there be nothing but a sea of gray and silver faceless crossovers?

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Yes, and they’ll all have perfectly usable powertrains, but were junked because the electronics stopped working and the original suppliers stopped making replacement parts, or went out of business.

      BTW- Frack this web site’s moderation filter.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Some of those faceless crossovers will probably be used as jacked up mud boggers before being junked. The electronics will be clapped out but the drivetrains will still be operational.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    “…the primitive pushrod V6 driving the front wheels,”

    You’ll pay for that, heretic!

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      :-)

      I think where Murilee’s really gone astray here is in criticizing an ’88 example. That was the watershed year for the Buick V6, as it brought the LN3.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    The love / hate of this particular engine is fascinating .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    el scotto

    So much sadz wrapped up in one vehicle. Perhaps the last gasp of the “Personal Luxury Coupe” from GM. You had to stop and think; is this performance car that has been tarted out or a boulevard cruiser with a wee tiny bit of “Ooomph’ thrown in? I bought a Scirocco instead.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @el scotto: Personally, I enjoyed my Toronado; it was a fun car to drive plus had almost all the gimmicks I wanted in a car. My parents hated it, however, because it wasn’t “practical” in their eyes. Same was true for several of my other cars but they at least gave up on trying to force me into sedans for their ‘practicality.’ They never understood that I didn’t buy a car to carry other people in; I bought it for myself and nobody else. My first car was a sedan because my father bought it–using my money. The first thing I had to do–within two weeks–was replace the engine because he’d spent good money on a broken car (cracked cylinder wall that was pumping oil into the water jacket.) He didn’t even pay for the repair because it was “MY car” and I needed to learn how to be responsible. I ask you, where’s the responsibility for fixing HIS mistake?

      Every time I bought a car for myself, it was 2 doors. Every time I was ‘given’ a car, it was 4 doors. I didn’t buy a 4-door for myself until 2002 (more than 30 years after my first car) and that was an SUW (Sport Utility Wagon) that lasted me 10 years. The second was an SUV (Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.) I’m back down to 2 doors now, with my wife buying a Jeep Renegade for the things she likes to do. Meanwhile, My Colorado does everything I need, even if it is overkill for what I wanted (would have loved to see it about 25% smaller.)

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    Frank D. Trabucco, 86, of Delmont, died Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. He was born March 20, 1932, in Export, a son of the late Dessee and Elizabeth (Dimuzio) Trabucco. Frank was a car salesman for Watson Chevrolet for 60 years.

    same job for 60 years. you dont see that too often!

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      his house just sold in june for $130k, and he kept the same home phone number since the 80s. nice looking house in a nice looking suburban area. malibu maxx in the driveway, too.

  • avatar
    millmech

    SAAB 99 had engine in backwards. Automatic trans had Morse Hy-Vo chain driving transmission. Backwards from Toronado, with chain in the rear, engine mounted regular way. No driveshafts through any oil pans. Haven’t seen a SAAB 99 for years.


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