CC’s First Commenter Appreciation Award: Bill Mitchell

(No, not that Bill Mitchell. But I don’t have a photo of CC commenter Bill Mitchell)

My semi-rant about obnoxious CC commenters the other day was therapeutic, at least for me. It released some long-building pressure about the subject, and it was immensely gratifying to hear such supportive words, including many of you that I thought perhaps had long flown the CC coop. Thank you all for your kind words of encouragement and support for CC.

So today I’d like to swing the pendulum the other direction, and acknowledge one of the all-time great commenters here. So many of you have left so much valuable information, insight, humor and pathos at CC over the years. But when it comes to information, hard facts, objective perspectives, well-argued positions, and endless patience and willingness to always respond with more information, one commenter really stands out: Bill Mitchell.

I’ve learned so incredibly much from so many of you (and that’s what this CC journey is really all about), but Bill’s detailed, factual and clear-headed perspective has been a gift here. There’s no doubt that Bill has influenced me the most, in terms of acknowledging my tendency to subjectivity and judgement, especially certain cars that I had strong biases about, like say certain early-mid 70s Ford products. As best as I can tell, the first of Bill’s 1,111 comments (as of this writing) was the following, at a CC on the 1975 Gran Torino back in September 2012. I didn’t write it (good thing), but from this first of so many of Bill’s comments, I could tell he knew what he was talking about. And it’s been the same ever since:

These Torinos were the right car for the right time, it’s just that times changed quickly after 1972. The 1972 Torino was the FIRST ever Ford to outsell Chevrolet in the intermediate market, and 1972 was a big year for intermediates. Even 1973, it held up against the new GM Colonnade sedans. In 1972, bigger was better, but by 1974 this quickly changed. Plus, I think the styling for the 1972 which was good (especially on the fastback cars), quickly went to not great by 1974. The Torino still sold okay for 1974 (if you include Elite, which technically was a Torino in 1974), but they quickly dropped after that.

Bumper laws and emission controls quickly stretched these cars to be larger than mid 1960’s full size Fords. Performance dropped off, but they still had Ford’s unbelievable smooth ride. And by the mid 1970’s, when the car was only a few inches shorter and pounds heavier than a big and more prestigious LTD. With really no performance or fuel economy advantage, I think most went up to the full-size cars. This was likely the case for the Torino wagons, which were about the size of full-size wagons (they actually had decent room in them, comparable to a 1980’s Crown Vic wagon).

These cars were not overly great handlers stock, but they weren’t any different than Ford’s full-size cars. Ford’s quest for ultimate smooth and quiet rides resulted in overly soft suspension, but this was pretty much common practice in the day. They were smooth and quiet, and that’s all a lot of people wanted then. In fact, the Torino essentially used a smaller full-size chassis that shared almost all the front suspension parts with the LTD. Most parts will interchange and springs, etc were the same rates as those used on some 1960’s LTDs. The rear suspension was a slightly different setup, but Ford basically put a new body on the somewhat updated 1965 Ford frame. I find it funny how critical people are of these cars handling when it was no different than the most full-size Ford of the same era and earlier.

This frame design was fairly successful, being the basis of the Torino/Montego’s 1972-75, Cougars 1974-79, LTD II and T-Birds 1977-79. The Cougars and T-birds seem to be remember much more favorably even though they are basically identical cars, with only different styling. Also remember a stretched version of this frame was used for the 1972-79 Lincoln Mark IV/V, and the 1972-76 T-bird.

If you got the car setup properly in 1972 or 1973 (maybe even 1974), they were decent performers. The HD suspension was an improvement (Car Life complimented this suspension on a 1972 Montego), but the best was the competition suspension. With this the car’s actually had pretty competent handling by early 1970’s standards, certainly on par with any of GM’s intermediate offerings. The 1972-74 Q-code engines (351-4V) were also decent performers. They produced about 250 hp (net) which was comparable to the Chevy LT1 in those years. A 1972 Torino would do the 1/4 mile in the low to mid 15 seconds range, which was not super-fast, but on par with many other so called muscle cars (many 1960’s 325hp 396 Chevelles ran in this range). By 1974 the performance had dropped off but now offered a decent 460 (the 1972-73 429 were not great performers stock). By 1974 with 460 or the Q-code, low 16’s were the norm, which was on par with a 454 or 455 GM Colonnade. Suspension was still okay through the late 1970’s but only if you order uprated springs and front and rear sway bars. The late 70’s T-birds and Cougars were decent handlers for their time.

As for a comparison between the GM Colonnades and the Ford intermediates, I have lots of experience with both. They are very comparable, size wise, the GM has a slight edge on handling stock but not by much, the interior space is about equal (front actually pretty good, rear tight). Both cars have been very reliable (the Torino has been owned in the family for 40 years, the Chevelle over 20), and both have decent build quality for the 1970’s. I’d give a slight edge to the Oakville built Ford, over the Oshawa Chevy, but only really in panel fit (both are good for the era). Both have undergone suspension updates and are very competent handlers, on par with a Crown Vic cop car.

Bill was the first person who could convince me to find some appreciation for a car I’d torn into rather mercilessly, as in this spoof. That doesn’t mean they’re now my favorite cars ever, but my appreciation of their role in their time, as well as their objective qualities has decidedly changed.

Of course, Bill know what he speaks of, when it comes to these cars, as this ’72 Torino Sport is his, and it’s been in his family since new.What a gem.

But Bill’s range of of knowledge and interest isn’t just limited to Fords of this era, as he’s constantly provided in-depth knowledge and insight into other American brands. And he’s very good at debunking commonly-held myths, like just this little bit about Olds’ V8 engine vaunted superiority, at yesterday’s ’77 Olds vintage review:

The weight savings were the windowed main blocks. Basically they removed a bunch of the cast iron that supported the main bearings. Not good at all.

The dual well carbs were also used on Chevrolet V8’s. Not sure what was new about the thermal control valve on the breather. All this is just a bunch of marketing hype anyway.

@Outsider PKG

I did use “period” at the end of the sentence to drive the point home. While Olds blocks were always supposed to be more durable because of the higher nickel content, that doesn’t make it an inherently superior design to the SBC. While it’s easy to hate the SBC because of its excessive use, I think anyone would be hard pressed to argue it was not one of the best American V8 designs of the century. FWIW, I have personally had better longevity out of my SBC than Olds V8s. My personal highest mile engine is was the 250K mile on my old 350 Chev which didn’t burn any oil when I sold it and had never been opened up.

Bill doesn’t just deal in opinions; he always pulls out the facts to put our long-held prejudices to shame, like this one above about the new, lighter Olds V8 block from 1977. OK; this isn’t one of his very in-depth comments and it doesn’t prove that the Chevy V8 engine was “better” (I still tend to think like Bill that it was mostly, but that’s a touchy subject), but he inevitably makes very compelling arguments.

These two examples are just bookends to Bill’s 1,111 number #1 quality comments so far. Every one has been interesting and I always make a point to read them carefully. Now if only I could get Bill to be a Contributor here. If not, maybe I’ll just turn some of his comments into posts!  It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done that.

Either way, thank you Bill for profoundly enriching my knowledge and expanding my horizons. And I’m quite sure I’m not the only one that feels that way.