Suppose you were shopping for an automobile in North America in 1972
and you wanted a luxury coupe with front-wheel drive, your choices were
limited. Two were made by GM, the Eldorado and the Toronado, and one was
made by Citroen, the SM. As the owner of a 1972 Citroen-Maserati SM and
a 1972 Oldsmobile Toronado, it seemed obvious to compare the U.S. and European
approach to FWD luxury.
The Oldsmobile Toronado styling picked up in 1971 where the dramatically successful 1967-70 Eldorado left off. In doing so, Oldsmobile made a decision that their FWD coupe was a luxury-muscle car and not a muscle-luxury car as the 1966-70 models had been. Immediately panned by the automobile buff mags, the decision paid instant returns in sales. The 67-70 Eldorados are widely admired for style, power and innovation while the 71-72 Toronados, with essentially the same style and power, are ignored or only mentioned in negative terms. True, the 1973-78 Toronados became gaudy land yachts like their Eldorado cousins. The 71-72 models however, were much more restrained with many overlooked attributes. My Toronado is a 1972 model in white, without the detracting vinyl top but with the special brougham interior package in carmel.
The Citroen 'System Maserati' SM first saw production in 1970 but did not become available in North America until 1971. Unlike the Toronado, the SM was a completely new offering for Citroen. The SM was made possible through Citroen's purchase of Maserati in 1968. The SM's styling was clearly Citroen inspired. Influenced by the DS, the SM took the aerodynamic theme, long a Citroen passion, to new and in many eyes, unsurpassed heights. Citroens of the 70's and 80's have been strongly influenced by the SM's design. Also unlike the Toronado, the SM was loudly applauded by both the North American and European press. Motor Trend went as far as to chose the SM as the 1972 Car of The Year, the first import ever to be so honored. My Citroen SM is a 1972 model in silver with a black leather interior. It was originally a Canadian car so it has the desirable European headlights (more later) and is missing the U.S. required smog equipment, resulting in another 10 bhp.
The first impression on seeing these two cars together is how different they look.
Of course the most dramatic similarity between the SM and Toronado is
that both are front-wheel drive and have considerable horsepower. For years,
engineers stated that the combination of FWD with performance hp. could
not be done safely. Citroen, long the sole champion of FWD felt that this
must be disproved if FWD was to expand among major auto makers.
How much of an impact did these two cars have on the future of FWD? It is hard to say as other factors such as the need for more interior space in smaller cars has been a driving force to use FWD layouts. By leading the way in luxury cars like the Toronado/Eldorado and SM, GM and Citroen brought a new legitimacy to FWD that helped sell it to consumers. Today, FWD is common in the high priced European, Japanese and American cars as well as the least expensive.
From a styling perspective, the SM and Toronado are each uniquely different.
Except for the long hood that both share, these two cars are at opposite
extremes of styling theory. Both in their own way, are pleasing to the eye.
While the SM's shape looks much more current today, the Toronado was much
more stylish in 1972. The SM simply disregarded any and all contemporary
styling cues in favor of lines that reflected its Citroen heritage and an
exotic look that carried the same grace as the great Delage or Talbot-Lago
grand touring cars of the 1930's. At the same time, the Toronado pushed
Bill Mitchell's creased-edge look to new heights while borrowing the trademark
'coffin-nose' of the 1937 Cord, and its FWD heritage. Both cars are most
impressive from the side view and are well balanced overall. While some
may disagree with the styling merits of either the SM or Toronado, it must
be conceded, they are dramatic examples of the automotive art.
While some may disagree with the styling merits of either the SM or Toronado, it must be conceded, they are dramatic examples of the automotive art.
From the side, the SM is rounded and smooth with a soft belt-line. The vee created by the meeting of the rear fender line with the c-pillar gives a feel of forward motion. The SM appears coiled, ready to spring to life. The enclosed rear wheels continue the sleek, unbroken fenderline and counter-balance the full front-wheel cut-outs. The Maserati name appears nowhere on the exterior or interior of the car. Citroen refrained from the temptation to put the Maserati name or trident on what is obviously not a Maserati (this cannot be said for Chrysler's TC "by Maserati" which not only pasted the trident on the grill, steering wheel and even floor mats in an attempt to hide the humble K-Car origins) The Maserati name and symbol only appear on the one Maserati item on the SM - the lovely all-Maserati quad-cam V6.
The 1967-70 Cadillac Eldorado contributed much to the 1972 Toronado styling. The long hood, short rear deck, creased fender look started with the 1963 Riveria but was best expressed on the first FWD Eldorado. This 'folded paper' look was inspired by the famous Hooper bodied Rolls Royce models of the 30's and 40's. William Mitchell designed this look into his personal luxury cars and in most cases it works very well. The second-generation Toronado that debuted in 1971 was also influenced by the great 1937 Cord. The point of the hood is almost a direct copy. The front-end of the car is balanced by twin grills, placed in the bumper between the ends and the center, which continues the line of the hood. Dual headlights sit above these grills with brows gently sculpted into the hood. The complete look is somewhat neo-classic. The front of the Toronado is echoed in the rear. The immediate focus is on the twin brake-light/turn signals placed just above the trunk, below the rear window. Sculpted channels in the trunk follow down to the lower tail/brake lights with the channels reflected again in the rear bumper. Dual exhaust concludes this theme. The Cord nose is again echoed in the raised center section of the trunk. From the side, the Toronado affects two distinct fender lines over the front and rear wheels which vee off at the door. As a complete package the Toronado is purposeful and elegant.
In 1966, GM built the first Toronado and put plenty of muscle under the
hood. By 1972, Oldsmobile's big block 455 was carrying 250 bhp SAE. The
SM had 180 bhp SAE but was 1,463 lbs. lighter. Both cars are in the 8-10
sec. 0-60 range while the SM's aerodynamics allow a higher top speed of
137. The main difference is that the Toronado engine is 7.5 litres while
the SM is just 2.7 litres. The primary affect is on fuel economy with the
SM doubling the Toronado's 10-15 mpg. Each power plant is very satisfying
in its own way. The Maserati V6 has plenty of low-end torque, mid-range
acceleration and top-end speed. The Olds 455 V8 is also blessed with low
and mid-range power but suffers from weight and aerodynamic drag at top
end. For normal driving, both cars offer plenty of response for any circumstance.
While the SM is clearly the winner in the exhaust note category, the Toronado
has the unmistakable big-block V8 sound when pushed, or is that pulled.
The muscle-car rumble is however overshadowed by the snarl of a true Italian
thoroughbred. At idle, the DOHC V6 is a bit agrarian due to its uneven 90
degree configuration. At 3000 rpms, the snarling sound of Maserati's race-proven
heritage fills the cabin and at 5000 rpms, the full-scream of this Italian
beauty is as intoxicating as any Ferrari or Maserati V8 or V12. Ferrari's
Dino V6 is the best comparison.
Both motors have aged well. While the Maserati V6 is more delicate with its aluminum block and heads, it was used for over 10 years in the SM, Merak and Quatraportte models. Regular maintenance is essential with a careful eye to fluid levels and periodic chain re-tensioning. The Oldsmobile 455 is still in use in some of GM's big trucks and can easily go 200,000 miles without a re-build. One reason for the long life is that the Olds engine has positive rotation for both intake and exhaust valves, prolonging valve life. The wiping action of the valve face against the seat maintains a clean, precise contact.
Driving the Toronado is not challenging, unless you have to find a parking
place. At no time do you feel any concern for road or weather conditions.
In many ways it is the ideal car for hours of comfortable travel.
One trip in particular showed me how well this car performs under extreme conditions. I had conducted a workshop some 100 miles from my home. As I began my return trip at 10:00 pm, a severe winter storm was at its worst and I was very tired. Driving rain had reduced visibility to a few yards. I was traveling on the freeway and the spray from passing trucks would blind me like driving through a waterfall. The Toronado was magnificent. It was rock steady in the wind and rain. The weight and power over the front wheels pulled me through two of the worst driving hours in my experience. Equally important, the climate control kept all the windows fog free. No climate condition the Pacific NW can offer will defeat the Toronado. Like the mailman, it always delivers.
No climate condition the Pacific NW can offer will defeat
Like the mailman, it always delivers.
Both cars excel on extended open road drives. They are
best in long, sweeping turns
where the front wheels pull the car in a smooth arc.
Some comforts offered on the Toronado are missed on the SM. Cruise control is always welcome for drives exceeding several hours and the GM controls are both easy to use and even after 20 years, work with less than 5 mph speed variance up and down hill. Power door locks and trunk release are Toronado options missing on the SM. In the case of the door locks, the SM's manual system only allows locking and unlocking with the key, but unlike the Toronado can be opened from the inside when locked. The Toronado's remote mirror control is also appreciated. One area where the SM provides superior comfort is interior storage. Four individual passenger storage bins are combined with the glove box and a change, drink, holder tray at the back of the center console. The Toronado offers only a glove box.
Costing an additional $4,000+, the SM was not a direct competitor with
the Toronado. In todays collector market, the Toronado is even more of a
bargain. The best example you can find should cost less than $2,500 (the
CBI value is too high). A top SM should be in the $10,000 range and due
to the complexity of the car it is best to buy the very best example available.
Long term the SM will be a much stronger collectible with projected values
of $20,000 in the next five years due to the total package of rarity, style
and exotic engineering. The Toronado may be a sleeper as the survival rate
drops and now that the model has been discontinued by Oldsmobile. Even so,
it is unlikely that the next five years will see much increase in value.
If you are interested in collectible FWD automobiles, the SM and the Toronado offer interesting cars at attractive prices. If you get the opportunity, take either on a nice, long journey. Head south for the sun or north for the snow. The Toronado and SM will make the trip as delightful as the destination.
1972 Oldsmobile Toronado - Citroen Maserati SM - Comparison
(primary source, Road Test, April and June 1972)
Automobile 1972 Oldsmobile Toronado 1972 Citroen Maserati SM Base Price/Options 1972 $5,306 to $7,643 $11,805 to $11,968 Value (#2 cond. CBI) $3,000 $11,000 General Specs FWD coupe, 6-pass. 2 dr. FWD GT coupe, 5-pass. stl/alum. Powertrain OHV-4V V8, 455 cu.in.7459 cc Quad-cam V6 163 cu.in., 2670 cc Power SAE NET 250 bhp @ 4000 RPM 180 bhp @ 5500 RPM Torque SAE NET 375 lb/ft @ 2800 RPM 180 lb/ft @ 4000 RPM Compression Ratio 8.5 to one 9.0 to one Bore and Stroke 4.125 x 4.250 in. 3.23 x 2.95 in. Carburation single 4-barrel down-draft triple dual-throat Webers Transmission 3 speed auto w/torque conv. 5 speed manual, all synchromesh Exhaust dual exhaust quad exhaust Chassis Suspension fr.ind.tors.bar,wshbn.coil sp.ind. dbl. wshbn., self-lvlng. hydropneu. Suspension rear leaf sp.tract.dampers ind. trlg arms, self-lvlng. hydropneu. Steering recirc. ball - power assist rack & pinion pwr. asst., speed variab. Turns LTL/Circle 3.5 turns/44.9 ft. 2.0 turns/41.3 ft. Brakes F-vent disc, R-drum w/True-Track F/R solid disk Tire Size J78 x 15 belted bias-ply Michelin 195/70 VR 15 radials Measurements Wheelbase 122 in. 116.1 in. Length-Width-Height 220.6-79.8-54.7 in. 192.6-72.3-52.1 in. Curb Weight 4660 lbs. 3197 lbs. Fuel Capacity 24 gal. 20 gal. Trunk Capacity 13.5 cu. ft. 20 cu. ft. Ground Clearance 5.0 in. 6.2 in. (adjustable) Performance 0-30 mph 3.9 sec. 3.5 sec. 0-45 mph 6.4 sec. 6.7 sec. 0-60 mph 10 sec. 8.8 sec. 0-75 mph 14.9 sec. 14.6 sec. 50-70 6.5 sec. 5.8 sec. Stand.Qtr.Mile/Speed 17.2 sec.at 84 mph 16.2 sec.at 82 mph Top Speed 115 mph 137 mph Stop from 60 mph 162 ft. 149 ft. Fuel Economy 10-15 mpg 20-30 mpg Pounds per BHP 18.64 17.76