- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

With the exception of Saab and a few anemic Japanese cars, front-wheel-drive cars were relatively unknown in the United States during the 1960s.

Before that, the most notable front-wheel-drive American car was the coffin-nosed Cord of the late 1930s.

Then in 1966 along came Oldsmobile’s big and powerful front-wheel-drive Toronado. It was such a success that Cadillac transformed the Eldorado into a front-wheel-drive car in 1967. Both General Motors cars boasted flat floors. With a nod to the past, Oldsmobile designers gave the Toronado a stylized “coffin nose.”

Since 1953, Joe Coyle has owned Oldsmobiles. Even though he purchased a 1973 Oldsmobile 98 sedan model, he was intrigued by the innovative Toronado. When Mr. Coyle learned that the Toronado was to undergo a radical downsizing makeover in the near future, he decided to get his while the getting was good. He was enamored with the enormous 455-cubic-inch V-8 engine and wanted to get one of the last ones. As it turned out the Toronado wasn’t downsized until the 1979 model year.

In late March 1976, Mr. Coyle, with his wife, Sharon, visited an Oldsmobile dealer where a salesman was glad to show them a Toronado and would permit them to sit in it, but wouldn’t let them take a Toronado out for a test drive.

Exiting quickly from that dealership, the couple went to the Lustine Oldsmobile dealership in Hyattsville where they were treated like royalty. During a test drive in a gray Toronado, they became sold on the front-wheel-drive car.

Returning to the dealership the couple strolled through the lot where various Toronados were on display.

Mrs. Coyle was drawn to an all-white Toronado Brougham model. “I like the red pin stripe,” she exclaimed from the right side of the car. “What red pin stripe?” Mr. Coyle queried from the left side.

Somehow the Oldsmobile had travelled through the manufacturing and inspection process on March 12, 1976, a Friday, the day it was built in Lansing, Mich., with a pin stripe on only the right side. The dealer agreed to paint a matching pin stripe on the unadorned left side.

The Coyles returned at the end of the next week and on Good Friday, April 16, 1976, took delivery of the 19-foot-long car. Mr. Coyle remembers the odometer read 12.8 miles.

“It was my daily driver for three of four years,” Mr. Coyle reports.

His Toronado is one of 21,749 such models manufactured. He paid $7,137 for the Oldsmobile. The luxurious car was delivered equipped with:

• Pulse wipers.

• Power brakes.

• Cruise control.

• Vanity lighting.

• Power steering.

• Power antenna.

• Message center.

• Cornering lamps.

• Tilt steering wheel.

• Cartier digital clock.

• Power trunk release.

• Six-way power seats.

• Special shadow paint.

• Eight-track tape deck.

• Rear-window defogger.

• Crown landau package.

• “Quadraphonic” stereo.

• Power windows and locks.

• Two remote control mirrors.

• Tempmatic air conditioning.

“It has all the goodies except a sun roof,” Mr. Coyle says.

At 4,729 pounds, it is, as Mr. Coyle says, “a weighty car.” It was his first front-wheel-drive car. “It took me through ice and snow with no trouble,” he comments..

“There is no torque steer,” Mr. Coyle says. “There is an absolutely straight, even pull from the front wheels.”

He says his car was delivered shod with steel-belted radial JR78-15-inch General tires. Those original tires were replaced with Michelin tires. The car now rolls on its third set of tires — these are Goodyears. The odometer is about to roll over 55,000 miles.

The singular incident when the car failed to perform came in 1986 when an ignition module failed. Ever since then, Mr. Coyle says, “I carry two spares in the glove compartment.”

Six quarts of oil are required to keep the massive engine lubricated. The four-barrel carburetor feeds fuel from the 26-gallon gasoline tank. Despite the size of the engine, the output, thanks to government-mandated emission regulations, is only 215 horsepower.

Mr. Coyle reports gas mileage figures of 10 miles per gallon in the city and 16 on the highway. “I try not to let the level get too low,” he says. It’s too painful financially to fill a nearly empty tank.

In 1997 Mr. Coyle comfortably drove his Toronado on its 122-inch wheelbase to Lansing, Mich., to participate in the Oldsmobile centennial celebration. There, he was surprised to meet a local man who introduced himself with the unusual greeting of, “I’m the guy who made your hood.”

Reflecting back over the 27 years of ownership, Mr. Coyle says, “It’s been a neat car.”

In January 2001 he used the front disc brakes to their full capacity to avoid a boneheaded motorist. Unfortunately, the driver behind wasn’t as ready and on Connecticut Avenue in Kensington he was rear ended. Driving a behemoth has its rewards. The paint wasn’t even scratched on Mr. Coyle’s Toronado.

The trailing driver had no excuse because of the “hilites” on Mr. Coyles’ car. In addition to the regular brake and taillights, a second set is located atop the trunk up near the rear window,

After 27 years Mr. Coyle still enjoys settling into the crushed velour seat behind the two-spoke steering wheel and taking his one-owner car out for exercise. “Oldsmobile was quite a car once,” he concludes.

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