How many movies do you know that the title of the film is the same as the feature car? Unless the film title is completely about the car, it’s pretty rare. But Gran Torino is entitled well for the premise of the movie. Because, to main character Walt Kowalski, played by Clint Eastwood, this 1972 Gran Torino Sport is his most prized possession.
After returning from the war in Korea, Walt worked for Ford Motor Company in Detroit, where he built his Gran Torino alongside fellow assembly line workers. As you can see the car is in perfect shape, just as the day it was built. Unfortunately, Walt, now widowed and much older, is not in perfect shape. He is frustrated that his neighborhood is now populated almost entirely with people who remind him of the war. His health is failing and his mind is more troubled than ever. Gangs are causing trouble for the rest of the neighborhood and safety is a major concern.
The Gran Torino is nearly stolen by one of the neighborhood kids, Hmong who is trying to become a member of a gang. Hmong’s family insists that he repay for the damage he’s caused Walt. After doing chores and helping Walt out, Hmong and Walt become friends. For those who have not seen the movie, I want to stop there. Let’s talk about the car a little bit.
As I’ve pointed out before, the car is 1972 Gran Torino Sport. There were 496,645 Torinos produced by Ford in 1972. However only 92,033 were Gran Torino Sport models, like the one featured in the movie. What makes the Gran Torino Sport special? At first glance, one would notice integrated hood scoop. All of the Sport models had the scoop, however they’re only functional with the rare Ram Air Induction package. Some of the Sport models also had the “Magnum 500″ wheels as this one does. The laser stripe on the side is an optional piece for the Sport models, and ’72 was the first year the stripe ran down the full length of the car.
The base power plant for the Grand Torino Sport is the 302 C.U. Windsor V8 2 barrel. However 351W, 351 Cleveland, 400 and 429 were all available as well. These motors will built for low compression (8.5:1) for better fuel economy, thus reducing horsepower as well. 1972 was the beginning of the end for muscle car era. That’s part of what makes it a perfect fit for the movie. Both the car and the main character were part of a time that was challenging and difficult for some people to accept. Frozen in time, the car and character struggle to move on in a new changing world.
A desperate answer to a troubling question, Ford’s new Torino for 1972 spread sighs of relief all over Dearborn when sales reached nearly a half million. The formula that appealed to so many then still works now; the sportiest of these latter-generation Torinos offer an appealing combination of comfort, style and solid V-8 performance that will let you stand out at your next Blue Oval gathering without raiding your kid’s college fund.
You really have to tip your cap to Ford. Things were looking grim back in 1971; the public had developed a sudden aversion for the Big Three’s bread-and-butter intermediates while Uncle Sam was waiting in the wings with regulations that would make everything heavier and slower, if cleaner and more crash resistant. The future of the mid-sized car, once as reliable as the rising of the sun, suddenly seemed shaky. The waves of compacts and subcompacts that Detroit had mustered to stem the rising tide of imports threatened to further tilt the market away from the intermediate–and its higher profit margins.
But Ford wasn’t about to throw in the towel. Its response to the crisis in Intermediate Land was to move the Torino upmarket with a clean-sheet redesign for 1972. Bigger, rounder and softer all around, it advanced the trend that the rest of Detroit’s mid-sized offerings would follow as the decade played out. There was a Torino for every taste, nine models that ranged from stripper six-cylinder coupes to LTD-flavored Broughams to full-zoot Gran Torino Squire station wagons with their three-way “Magic Doorgate” tailgates. Ford’s entry in the 1972 muscle car sweepstakes, such as it was, was the Gran Torino Sport, which, like the Torino GT before it, was available in two flavors: formal and fastback. The convertible had gotten the broom.
Ford’s guiding principle for the Torino was simple: Give the people what they want. And as muscle moved off center stage, what began taking its place was luxury. In the pursuit of peace and quiet, Ford scrapped the unit-body construction of the previous Torino and reverted to a perimeter frame, and ditched the rear cart springs in favor of a “Stabul” coil-spring, four-trailing-arm setup. No fewer than 14 hollow rubber body mounts separated frame from body, coddling the occupants as the suspension did its work. Car and Driver was among those impressed with the car’s newfound refinement: “Wind noise is minimal,” CD reported, “but even more impressive is lack of road noise intruding on the driver’s serenity.”
Playing both ends of the segment, Ford managed to make its new Torino both bigger and smaller. Coupes rode on a 114-inch wheelbase, a cut of three inches from the previous car’s, while four-door models and station wagons got a 118-inch wheelbase. Overall length headed in both directions too: 204 inches for the coupes, and 207 inches for the four-doors. You didn’t need a tape measure to know that the new car was lower and wider. Front and rear track were up significantly, by two inches, with the tires cloaked in swelling fenders that complemented the exaggerated Coke-bottle shape.
So, what did you get when you opted for a Gran Torino Sport? Well, you got–surprise!–all the standard features of a Gran Torino, meaning front disc brakes, carpeting, assorted moldings, a deluxe steering wheel and shiny trim on the foot pedals. On top of that, Ford piled on all-vinyl interior trim, special door trim, a two-spoke steering wheel with simulated woodgrain, wide oval belted whitewall tires on 6-inch-wide rims, hood scoops (in 1972 only), dual color-keyed mirrors and a unique grille. If you think there’s more show than go in that list, you’re right.
Horsepower ratings were down across the board in 1972, with the arrival of unleaded gas and lowered compression ratios. Figuring that no one who might want a sporty Torino would be interested in a six, Ford limited the offerings to a range of V-8s. At the bottom of the heap was the 302-cu.in. small-block that had been around since 1968; with a bore and stroke of 4.00 x 3.00 inches and a compression ratio of 8.5:1, it produced 140hp at 4,000 rpm and 239-lbs.ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm, breathing through its 2-bbl. Motorcraft carburetor.
The majority of Torino buyers skipped the 302, wisely heading straight for one of the two 351-cu.in. Cleveland V-8 options. The Cleveland, designed to be a true performance engine, barely got a chance to make a name for itself before emissions legislation shut down the party, yet remains one of Ford’s most desirable V-8s. There were two Cleveland choices: the 2-bbl. version, which was rated at 161hp at 3,800 rpm and 254-lbs.ft. of torque at 2,400 rpm; and the 4-bbl. version, which made 266hp at 5,400 rpm and 310-lbs.ft. of torque at 3,600 rpm; larger intake and exhaust valves complemented the bigger carb. Both engines featured a 4.00 x 3.50-inch bore x stroke and 8.6:1 compression ratio. Four-barrel Clevelands wore the Cobra Jet name, and the air cleaner decal on the Sports incorporated the letters “CJ.” Ford was all about choices, so buyers could also opt for a torquey 400-cu.in. V-8 with a 4.00 x 4.00-in. bore x stroke and 8.5:1 compression ratio making 172hp at 4,000 rpm and 298-lbs.ft. of torque at just 2,200 rpm, or the 429-cu.in. V-8, with a 4.36 x 3.85-inch bore x stroke and 8.5:1 compression ratio rated at 205hp at 4,400 rpm and 322-lbs.ft. of torque at 2,600 rpm. Just to muddy the waters a bit, a handful of Gran Torino Sports were equipped with the 351-cu.in. Windsor V-8; this engine had a bore and stroke of 4.00 x 3.50 inches, a compression ratio of 8.3:1, and a maximum output of 153hp at 3,800 rpm and 266-lbs.ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm. In 1973, compression ratios dropped further, to 8.0:1, reducing the output of the 2-bbl. Cleveland to 154hp, the 4-bbl. Cleveland to 248hp and the 400-cu.in. V-8 to 163 horses. This year, a 460-cu.in. V-8 joined the Torino lineup, with a bore and stroke of 4.36 x 3.85 inches and rating of 219hp at 4,400 rpm and 360-lbs.ft. of torque at 2,800 rpm.
All of these engines come from huge families, so parts availability and interchangeability could hardly be better. Many careers have been built on extracting power from Ford’s V-8s, particularly the Cleveland engine, so meeting or exceeding the power levels of the pre-1972 models is a snap. The CJ engines are the most sought after, and many have been plucked from Torino engine bays and implanted in Mustangs.
The base transmission for Torinos equipped with the 302-cu.in. V-8 was a fully synchronized three-speed with column shift. A wide-ratio four-speed with Hurst floor-mounted shifter was available only with the 4-bbl. Cleveland; otherwise, one of Ford’s trusty automatics handled gear-changing duties. Windsors and 2-bbl. Clevelands were equipped with the Select Shift Cruise-O-Matic three-speed automatic, either a C4 or an FMX. The 4-bbl. Cleveland could be coupled to a C6 with a small-block bolt pattern; the 400-cu.in. and 429-cu.in. V-8s could be had only with the C6. Those few 351 Windsor-equipped cars might get a C4, a C6, or an FMX. To tell the difference: C4s have an aluminum case and removable bellhousing; C6s have a one-piece aluminum case and bellhousing, and FMXs have a cast-iron case. The C6 was built to withstand everything Ford’s biggest, meanest big-blocks could dish out, and decades of racing experience means that parts and expertise for improved performance are plentiful.
Torinos equipped with the 302-cu.in. engine got Ford’s durable 8-inch hypoid differential; all others received the bombproof 9-inch. An easy way to tell the difference is by trying to fit a deep-well socket over the two lower bolts that hold the center section to the housing; if it won’t fit, it’s a 9-inch. Gran Torino Sports with the 302 got a 3.00:1 axle ratio, either open differential or Traction-Lok limited slip, with 2.75:1 and 2.79:1 ratios available; a ratio of 2.75:1 or 3.25:1, with or without Traction-Lok, could be ordered with the 2V Cleveland or the 400-cu.in. engine. For 4V Cleveland buyers, 3.25:1 or 3.50:1 axle ratios could be specified, again with Traction-Lok as an option. Buyers of the 429-cu.in. engine had the widest choice: 2.75:1, 3.00:1 or 3.25:1 gear ratios, all with or without Traction-Lok. In any of its various guises, a worn differential is one of the last things you should have to worry about when evaluating a Torino.
Ford used soft suspension settings to emphasize the big-car feel of the new Torino, but sports-minded customers could opt for a competition suspension package with front and rear anti-sway bars and beefier rear suspension links. Unequal-length control arms and coil springs up front were matched with a rigid axle, coil springs and four trailing links out back.
Gran Torinos were equipped with 11-inch disc brakes on the front wheels and 10-inch drums in the rear. One desirable upgrade is to replace the 11-inch discs with 12-inch units from a 1972 Thunderbird; Jim Batie of the Pacific Northwest Torino Club tells how on the website www.fordmuscle.com.
The drum brakes can be swapped out for discs, too. Currie Enterprises offers two disc brake conversion packages; the kit for 1973-up intermediates with large-bearing axles is $399, while a kit for the 1972 with its smaller-bearing axle is $499. Alternatively, an axle from a 1973 or later car could be fitted to a 1972.
A return to body-on-frame construction was the big headline for 1972, and Ford built its frames to withstand everything short of a thermonuclear explosion. This frame had incredible longevity too, seeing duty right up through 1979 in Montegos, Rancheros, Cougars and Thunderbirds. Cars from the road-salt-drenched East Coast may suffer from rust near the coil spring mounts; use a mirror to check.
WHEELS & TIRES
Sports came with 14 x 6-inch wheels, with tires matched to the powertrain. Hubcaps and trim rings were standard, and Magnum 500 wheels were optional. Reproduction Magnums are available, and feature plastic center caps in place of the original’s die-cast items.
There were few changes between 1972 and 1973; one of the most obvious was the redesigned nose, a response to federal impact regulations. A battering ram of a bumper replaced the more delicate 1972 version, and the grille became more squared-off.
Rust is the Torino’s major enemy, with doors, floorpans and trunk floors particularly vulnerable. Between the door skin and inner panel, a narrow area about a quarter-inch wide and four inches deep tends to trap muck and moisture, rotting the door out in the front and back corners–it’s a common problem with Fords of this era. Rust can also spread along the bottom of the rear quarters and over the rear wheel wells; replacement quarter panels made for the formal-roof car can be adapted. Cars with vinyl roofs are especially suspect–Batie reports seeing cars with roofs rusted clear through under the vinyl. Front and rear valances are tough to find, so repairing a damaged piece may be the best option.
Andy Calcagno, the owner of our featured car, says that Ford was a little skimpy with the seam sealer back in 1972. He recommends pulling up the carpeting in the driver’s footwell to look for rust; a seam by the kick panel on his car had opened up, letting water in. He also suggests giving the cowl area a good examination–plugged drain flaps can lead to rust-through in this area. The rear window seal can shrink too, letting water run into the trunk; the cure is a new seal.
Trim pieces are specific to the Torino, and will be among the hardest to replace. The bright aluminum surround outlining the grille opening on the 1972 version is particularly susceptible to damage, and you won’t find a new one. The bumper jack was partly to blame; under strain, the front bumper would deflect and come in contact with the trim, denting or severing it. Damaged trim can be welded, straightened and polished, but it’s a $200 job, at least. The plastic grille and its plastic surround are also easily broken, and replacements are scarce. The nose trim and plastic grille on the 1973 are less susceptible to damage.
The combination of highly durable materials and mind-boggling interchangeability means that interiors present few problems. Buyers could opt for buckets over the standard bench seats, and consoles were optional on cars so equipped, with or without column shift. Four-speeds were the only floor shifts that could be had with a bench seat. “Comfort Weave” material is no longer being made; an approximation can be bought from suppliers, while some stashes of OEM material still exist. If the seat upholstery has deteriorated, the foam underneath may have to be repaired–replacement squabs aren’t available. Dashboard tops are less susceptible to splitting than most, and replacements, if needed, are easy to find. Interiors, like the frame, stayed pretty much unchanged through 1979; with so many donor cars to choose from, it’s easy to add a tilt steering column, or to change the face of the instrument panel to imitation wood or the later carbon-fiber look. Power windows were available, but rare, and even rarer were power locks. The seven-gauge Rally Pack instrument cluster is a desirable addition.
There’s a growing interest in these cars, and suppliers are responding with parts like fastback rear window seals, headliners and Sport armrests that had once been unavailable. Reproduction Laser stripes are available only for 1973 cars, although 1972 stripes are reportedly in the works. Suppliers offer a full range of OEM-style upholstery in an array of colors, with the exception of Sport door panels.
What you can do to bring out the latent beast in any Cleveland engine is pretty much limited only by your imagination and your bank balance. Equipping 4-bbl. engines with 2-bbl. heads, which have smaller valves, creates more torque at lower rpms for better street performance; weight-saving aluminum intake manifolds and exhaust headers are popular upgrades.
Functional hood scoops are a rare option, but a company called fordramair.com is now producing fiberglass ram air systems and all the parts needed to add the setup to any Torino.
Cars without the competition suspension can be easily upgraded, while replacing the mushy rubber bushings with polyethylene items is an inexpensive way to sharpen up the handling considerably. Adding a 1-1/8-inch front anti-sway bar and 1-1/2-inch rear sway bar helps keep the car planted, too; these parts can easily be found on later Thunderbirds and Cougars. Those cavernous wheel wells can swallow a lot of rubber; Batie says it’s possible to mount 10-inch-wide 295-series tires with no interference problems.
Andy Calcagno, an automotive technician from Covina, California, was taking a walk when he found his 1972 Gran Torino Sport languishing in a nearby backyard. The car was in poor condition, not running, with surface rust and a torn interior, but Andy wasn’t put off. “I’ve always admired the car–it looks like it’s going fast standing still,” he says. Over the course of two years, he restored the car, doing everything but the bodywork, painting and engine building.
“I had always been a Mustang guy, for years and years,” Andy said. “Everywhere you look, you see Mustangs. I wanted to be different.” He reports that the car is lots of fun to drive, and always gets lots of waves and thumbs-up, even if people have to ask him what kind of car it is. “It’s the forgotten muscle car,” he says.-David LaChance