1966 marked the launch of the Oldsmobile’s Toronado, and to help get more people into the new personal luxury coupes, GM produced an advertisement mailer to familiarize the buying public with its new car. But this wasn’t a brochure. It was a record.
In the ‘60s, promotional vinyl releases were not an uncommon approach for companies looking to get their name out there. For these records, the formula wasn’t complicated at all. With limited radio options streaming services five decades away, consumers were happy to be presented with a cheep, or even free compilation long-play that just so happened to be distributed by Singer Sewing Machines, the local dry-cleaners, or even Listerine mouthwash. For the most part, these records featured regular music so consumers would have a reason to keep the advertisement material around even longer, extending the life of the campaign far beyond distribution.
This one by Oldsmobile, for example, was not only a glorified mixtape like the ones other brands were putting out. No, these were full-on advertisements. One side did feature music “inspired” by the product, but on the obverse, these records were all-out assaults. For nearly five and a half minutes, you get the best out of Madison Avenue’s big brand-building brains coupled to all the foley-artist back-up they needed to sell you a brand-new Oldsmobile Toronado.
Of course, there was a lot to say about the new Toronado, things that might not be readily apparent to most buyers upon visual appraisal. For example, that low, long hood did not cover a longitudinal motor, and what was there instead didn’t send any power to the rear wheels. No, this was GM’s first mass-market front-wheel-drive car, with its V8 engine fitted transversely. That right there needed some explanation to American car-buyers.
The voice-over and sound artists do their best to immerse listeners in the story of the car’s development, from “computer sounds” during the description of the design process to the “whine” and “groan” of cars moving down the assembly line. Whether those sounds accurately evoke what they’re meant to sound like remains a mystery to me, but the effort was clearly there. GM was determined to invoke something more than what a magazine ad could with this experience, and I think they did.
With a whole side of the record at their disposal and an expensive halo car’s development to justify, Oldsmobile made sure to widen the subject beyond the Toronado itself. You see, the Toronado may have been a singular model, but Oldsmobile was eager to stretch the name and the development that went into it into sales for all of the brand’s models. Back in the ‘60s, brands had to play games like this in order to introduce substantially updated models each year.
1966 was no different. Alongside the brand-new Toronado, Oldsmobile still had F85s, Cutlasses, 4-4-2s, Eighty-Eights, Vistacruisers, and Ninety-Eights to shift as well. Knowing that many if not most buyers listening to this recording would be more likely to buy one of these cars over the new Toronado, each of these models was tied to the “Toronado Program” by small hand-me-down updates that ostensibly resulted from the development of the Toronado itself. We’re talking things like new seats and fenders, not a wholesale adoption of front-wheel-drive. No. That would come later at GM.
In the meantime, Oldsmobile was still building classy if largely non-descript cars for buyers who couldn’t afford Cadillacs and didn’t want Buicks or Pontiacs. If you were one of those buyers, you may have heard this record. And if you heard it, you might have bought an Olds.