Another costly itch has been scratched: I have bought myself an Oldsmobile Toronado. Why? Good question. I’m still asking myself, but nonetheless it’s done and said car arrives in just a few days. I’m not yet sure if it will ‘make the cut’ for Our classics as a keeper, but it does mark a watershed in being my first ‘full-size’ American car.
This has not been a fleeting whim or a halfdrunken fancy perpetrated during a late-night ebay session: I have been fantasising about a 1966 Toronado for some time now – decades, in fact. First, there was the Corgi model with the flip-up lights, ‘Golden Jacks’ and removable wheels. Then there was a Brooklands Muscle Portfolio, one of the few I bought with my own money pre-c&sc (as a journalist, I make it my business never to pay for a book on cars), so you can see this goes back a long, long way.
A turning point came last year when, after hours on Youtube watching original adverts and modern critiques (and wondering why someone would spend a million dollars converting one to rear-drive), I finally splashed out and bought… the brochure. By then I was smitten; I rationalised that a ’66 Toronado represented the best value in the classic world in terms of glamour for your money, but when it comes to old cars I can convince myself of anything if I have to.
The focus has always been specifically on the first-year cars; ’67s are nice, but lose a few pleasing details (such as the steering wheel) and after that it becomes just another personal luxury barge rather than the sleek, sophisticated ‘American Grand Touring Car’ its creator intended.
The urge to own this vehicle comes in cycles, and this time it was kicked off by the notion of comparing a Toronado with a Citroën SM for C&SC. I couldn’t find a car in the UK, so started trawling online on the basis that, if one came up at the right money, I might have a go at it. There are plenty in the States, of course, but nobody seems to answer e-mails in that part of the world and the thought of traipsing all that way seemed more like a pain in the arse than a romantic adventure. I couldn’t give a damn about doing Route 66, stopping at diners and all that clichéd stuff. My interest in the Olds was as a styling and engineering entity with exceptionally high refinement for its time and a front-drive set-up that gives it half a chance in corners. If you’ve seen The Square Triangle, the episode of UFO with a maroon Toronado swishing through the English countryside, you will get why I like it.
I finally dug out a bronze 1966 in Finland via the Toronado Owners’ Association; it had been there a while and the owner, Marko, had forgotten he’d advertised it. Once I’d rattled his cage, however, he warmed to the idea of selling the car – despite having lavished much love and money on it over 12 years of ownership – principally because he wasn’t using it much, now that his second career as a sort of vintage professional tennis player was taking up all his spare time.
With my good intentions and credentials established, Marko flooded me with information; it struck me that if more people were as businesslike and helpful as this chap, a lot more old cars would get sold. It was a 90,000-mile Deluxe (air-con, electric windows and powered ‘Strato Bench’ – all very important) that had been bare-metal painted, retrimmed, rechromed and rebushed. Best of all, its rebuilt V8 had done only 10,000 miles. It came with all its paperwork, a new exhaust, and even the GM ‘Protectoplate’ naming the first owner, a lady from Virginia. The only thing it needed was a new headlining, and Marko had bought the correct material on his previous trip to the US. On the basis that I knew I’d spend a long time looking for a better one (or, worse still, stitch myself up rather rapidly with a cheap car that would hoover up thousands in refurb costs), I decided to do myself a favour for once and strike a deal.
At first, there was lots of deliberation on how to get it back. My gung-ho side said “drive it you wuss!” until I established that Finland is 1500 miles from Cirencester, and there seems to be no straightforward route back that does not involve going via the Hook of Holland. I’d be looking at an £800 fuel bill before factoring in the cost of a ferry and accommodation, and in a strange car that had been off the road for three years. Nah, scrub that. Luckily (thanks to Paul Hill and his pal Anders Bilidt), I was tipped off about Jason Holland, a Brit living in Finland who regularly ships classics to the UK. Meanwhile, I flew out to meet Marko and the Olds, which was everything he said it would be. This was a rare occasion where I could have saved myself the aggro because I’d already bought the car several times over in my head. As I write, my Toronado is on the high seas, arriving Friday or possibly Saturday. And I’m sure that you will be hearing more about it soon.
‘I couldn’t give a damn about doing Route 66, stopping at diners and all that clichéd stuff’
A big tick in the box for Buckley, with the purchase of his first ‘full-size’ Yank