As far back as my earliest memories, I can always remember being crazy about cars. Like most young boys, I was very influenced in my younger years by my father’s interests. Other kids had dads who were sports fans or dads who were hunters, but that wasn’t my dad. He has a wide variety of interests, including music, aircraft, fishing, and bicycles, but the one we really connected on was cars. Some of my earliest memories are of being a very young boy sitting on dad’s lap and looking at a car book or magazines. I’d try to identify different makes and models of classic cars and he’d teach me the ones I didn’t know. While other dad’s talked sports stats and played catch, my dad and I talked cars and worked in the garage. Dad’s passion for cars was most fueled by the purchase of his 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport. This car had a major impact on our family. So, I’ll tell the story of this car, but I will start off with some of our family history.
My Grandparents immigrated to Canada in 1949 when my father and his siblings were all young children. They were the proverbial immigrant story, leaving worn torn Italy, and arriving with literally pennies in their pocket to start a new life. My Grandfather was able to get a job working in a mine smelter. Initially my family had some pretty modest accommodations, but my Grandfather scrimped and saved and was able to buy a house by 1953. Within 10 years of purchasing the house he owned it outright. My Grandfather achieved this through many hours of back breaking labour and sacrifice, including never purchasing a car.
My dad, like most other boys who grew up in the 1950s, had an interest in cars. He could name them by make model and year with the best of them. He knew all about car specs, engines and the other minute details that only a true enthusiast knows. When my dad turned 16 he was chomping at the bit to drive but he had no car to learn on, while most of his friends had family cars. His friends earned their licences and cruised the streets, which made things all the worse for my dad. Nevertheless, my Grandfather was steadfast, he refused to buy a car until the house was paid off. By 1963 my Grandfather had paid off the house, and shortly afterwards he decided it was time to buy a family car. He didn’t know how to drive and wasn’t interested in learning. He decided he’d buy a car for my dad on the condition he also had to drive the rest of the family around. My Grandfather was not a car enthusiast, so he figured he’d buy the newest and therefore best car he could afford. He ended up buying a used 1960 Dodge Dart Pioneer 4-door with a 225 slant six and three-on-the-tree. This was a Canadian market car, so while similar to the American derivative, it had a Plymouth interior. While it wasn’t exactly the car of my dad’s dreams, he was ecstatic to finally have some wheels. After the Dodge came home my Dad had his friends to teach him to drive. Shortly afterwards he took the driver’s test, passed, and was cruising the streets.
The Dodge proved to be a problematic car. Almost immediately there were problems with the transmission and eventually as the miles accumulated it started to have oil consumption problems. My grandfather’s next door neighbour and close friend was a GM mechanic. After looking at the Dodge he convinced my Grandfather it was time to dump the Dodge and suggested buying a GM product. My father was all for this idea. In his eyes, the 4-door Dodge was hardly cool and he felt the fins really dated the car. So in 1966, they went car shopping again.
At this time my dad had completed high school and was taking some time off school to work underground in the mine to earn money. That money, however, was for his upcoming University education. So again, my Grandfather was still bankrolling much of the purchase and he had the final say.
Both my father and Grandfather wanted to get the newest car possible, but that’s about where the similarities ended. My dad was pushing for a brand new Oldsmobile Cutlass 2-door hardtop with a V8, but that was too expensive for my Grandfather’s liking. My Grandfather found a 1965 Chevrolet Impala 2-door with a mere 9000 miles on the odometer and he purchased it. He thought the price seemed to be a great deal compared to that small Cutlass. What he didn’t understand the bargain price came at a cost; it had a 230 six and a Powerglide.
The Impala hardtop was much more stylish than the Dodge, but it certainly wasn’t any better when it came to performance. Nevertheless, it was an improvement overall in my Dad’s eyes. With the Impala being a practically brand new car my father did his best to look after the car through his University years. He was even able to store the Impala for its first couple winters when he bought an $80 ’55 Chevy Bel Air as a winter beater. The Impala served as reliable transportation for many years, hauling my dad and his family and friends. He’d even stuff it with as many as 8 adults and kids on family trips.
Despite my dad’s best efforts, by 1972 the tin worm was starting to win the battle on the Impala. With about 100,000 miles on the clock the straight six was starting to consume oil. By this time, my dad had finished university and started a new career. He decided it was time for a brand new car.
So in early 1972 he went car shopping. He wanted something sporty, with V8 power and good looks. He checked out the Oldsmobile Cutlass again and the Plymouth Satellite Sebring Plus. He sought the advice of the GM mechanic neighbour, and he recommended the Monte Carlo. It was nice but didn’t really have much of a sporty vibe to it.
My dad really loved the looks of the Camaro, specifically with the RS grille, but the back seat was just too small for adults. My dad knew he’d be driving my grandparents on occasion. So he needed a back seat that could handle an adult in relative comfort and that ruled out any pony cars.
Eventually he went over to Ford. There he saw the all-new 1972 Gran Torino Sport fastback (SportsRoof in Ford parlance) and was immediately won over. Like the 1972 Camaro RS, he really liked the big open grille on the Torino. He road tested a light blue fastback car and shortly thereafter struck a deal with the salesman. Since this was his first new car ever, he ordered it the way he wanted. My father was never a hard-core performance enthusiast, but after years of being stuck with six cylinder cars on soft springs he wanted something with some decent highway performance.
After spending hours looking over the options, he selected the torquey 400 V8, the C6 transmission with floor shift, a traction-lok differential and heavy duty suspension. Of course he wanted sporty looks, so he picked bright red paint, the laser stripe and the sporty Magnum 500 wheels with G70-14 Goodyear Polyglas raised white letter tires. To match the racy exterior, he ordered bucket seats, console, and full instrumentation. Air Conditioning was too expensive so he picked white upholstery to help the interior stay cool. One of my dad’s biggest passions is music, consequently the top of the line AM/FM stereo radio with four speakers was a necessity, and it turned out to be the priciest option. He also told the dealer he wanted a retractable rear mounted antenna, which they agreed to do a custom install after delivery.
The car was ordered in February of 1972. It was built in the Ford’s Oakville, Ontario plant on March 28, 1972, one day behind schedule and delivered to the dealership in early April 1972. My father met the truck at the dealership and watched it being delivered off the truck. The dealer completed the PDI, installed the rear mount antenna, mudflaps, and performed the “Ming” rustproofing. On April 8th, 1972, he accepted delivery of his brand new Torino and brought it home.
The Torino had a bit of a rough start once it arrived home. Within a day of picking the car up, Dad took his cousin out for a drive trying to show off his new wheels. Well, impress his cousin he did not, as the car wouldn’t restart. The battery was dead, so it was boosted and brought back the Ford dealer. The culprit was the voltage regulator and it was replaced under warranty. To add salt to the wound, within the same week, the dealer told him to bring the Torino back in for a recall. Ford had a massive recall on the rear wheel bearings for its all-new 1972 intermediates. The dealer replaced the rear wheel bearings with a larger bearing and installed thicker, stronger rear axle shafts. My dad was beginning to think maybe he bought a lemon. Despite these early problems, the Torino proved itself very reliable over the long haul, never giving dad anymore significant problems. Even the GM mechanic neighbour admitted it may not have been a GM product, but it was a good car.
Although the Torino was purchased by my father alone, like his previous vehicles, my Grandfather was instrumental in the purchase. For the Torino purchase, he agreed to help my dad with a loan so that my dad wouldn’t have to go to the bank. And just like when my Dad had his Dodge and his Impala, Dad continued to use his Torino to drive my grandparents on trips. Even though my Grandfather was never a car enthusiast by any stretch, after many miles in the Torino over the years, he grew to have great affection for the car. And of course, he always liked the fact it shared its name with the Italian city.
My father did his best to try and look after his old Impala, but the Canadian winters just were too harsh and it eventually succumbed to rust. He had decided the only way to keep his Torino from suffering the same fate would be to never letting it see winter use. After the he bought the Torino, he kept his ’65 Impala as a winter car until it was too far gone. Over the years he had a variety of other daily drivers for winter use. He was so dedicated, that there was a brief period when the Torino was my parent’s only car. Yet, he and my mom continued to store the car and would walk or take the bus in winter.
Every fall my dad followed the same routine. He’d create a detailed check list and thoroughly prepare the car for storage. Of course, he followed a very strict maintenance routine and kept detailed records from day one. Some described him as fanatical when it came to his vehicle maintenance, but he always preferred to say he was “fussy” about his car.
It wasn’t too long after my dad bought the Torino that he met my mom, who quickly became acquainted with his so-called fussy nature. Although she came from a family that treated cars like appliances, she learned to accept my Dad’s love for his car. Eventually my parents married and they decided to drive across Canada and the USA to the west coast. They embarked on the trek with the Torino.
The car performed very well over the trip and I still have the detailed gas mileage logs my dad kept. He got a best of 21 mpg (imperial gallons), but at one point in Saskatchewan the mileage dropped way off. The car started running poorly and backfired. He took it to a Ford dealer in the small Saskatchewan town. The mechanic claimed that the problem was the timing chain had skipped and need to be replaced. My dad refused this repair, citing that the car was still fairly new and didn’t have enough mileage for that to occur. He only authorized a new set of points, a condenser, resetting the ignition timing, and they poked a hole in the damaged muffler. The car ran better, but it wasn’t until the next fill-up it seemed to be back to normal. To this day he believes it was just a bad tank of gas. I replaced the factory timing chain in 2014 and it was still in excellent shape, so clearly that dealership wasn’t being truthful.
Not long after marriage, my parents started their own family. I came along followed by three younger siblings. We may have had a family of six, and the Torino only seated five, but there was never any question about selling the car. My parents had a family station wagon for my mom, while the Torino was my dad’s car. Of course, that didn’t mean the Torino wasn’t used for family duty. It was still the second car and it transported us kids, and had child seats installed at some points over the years.
My dad took a lot of heat from family and friends over the years for his so called “fussy” behaviour when it came to his cars. He was the only dad I knew that made us kids take off our shoes when we were in the back seat of the Torino so we didn’t scuff the white upholstery with our shoes. But don’t get me wrong; although he was very particular about the Torino, it was a well-used car. Summer family vacations to cottages often required us taking the family wagon along with the Torino, especially if our grandparents tagged along. It went on camping trips down rough dirt roads, carried all kinds of loads (including firewood) and was used as much as any other person’s car. My dad was just very good at ensuring that wear and tear was minimized. Despite his behaviour, we kids growing up didn’t mind and didn’t really know any different. Riding in the Torino was lots of fun and the car always drew lots of attention from our friends. Of course he’d have to “blow the cob webs” out of the motor every now and then. That old 400 sure did push us back in our seats pretty well!
Over the years the Torino just became more and more ingrained into our family life. Every year I’d look forward to the first spring day that I’d get to help take the Torino out of storage. I learned how to change wheels and do my first lube oil and filter job on this car. Dad kept on top of all the maintenance over the years including having it repainted when the red paint oxidized. It always looked and ran like new.
When it comes down to it, I know that my father’s passion for his car had a major influence on my life. This old Torino was more than just another car for him and me. The Torino was really the catalyst that fed his passion for cars, which in turn spawned my love for cars. While my Grandfather was never a car enthusiast by any stretch, even he grew a strong affection for the old reliable red Torino. No matter what was going on in our lives, the Torino was something my father and I could always connect on. It truly had become a member of the family.