(first posted 6/18/2017) As my 16th birthday approached the desire for me to get a car became much stronger. Many kids seemed to inherit their parent’s old car, but that was never a consideration for me with the Torino. My mom used to joke that’d we’d have to bury my dad in the Torino, because nobody thought he’d ever part with the car. It was just a given, my dad would always have the old Torino. And like many teenaged boys, my interests started to diverge from my dad somewhat.
While I always thought the Torino was a good car, I took a liking to early 1970’s Chevelles, the Torino’s direct competitor. I ended up finding an old beat up 1972 Chevelle 2-door coupe. I purchased it as my first vehicle when I was 15 years old, before I had earned my driver’s licence. The car had a 250 straight six and a Powerglide transmission (sound familiar?), but it needed a ton of work. Of course through my teenaged eyes, there was a gem hidden under that rust. I had a big plan, install a hot small block Chevy, tighten up the suspension and fully restore the Chevelle into one mean street machine. It would obviously be superior to dad’s car; I mean what 15 year old doesn’t know more than their dad? My dad saw that rough old Chevelle, and I am sure he knew then that the car was too far gone to be worth saving, but he never discouraged me.
My 16th birthday came and I got my licence without issue. While I had big ideas on trying to fix up my ’72 Chevelle, it remained on blocks while I was learning to drive on my parents other cars, including the Torino. Dad was pretty strict on driving his cars, but especially so with the Torino. I can hear him now “Watch the pot holes! Easy on the gas! Accelerate gently” and “Plan ahead so you can brake gently”. It was a strict regime, but even a certified Chevelle nut like me had to admit it was a cool ride.
I remember after having a few miles under my belt as a novice driver, we were out on the highway with the Torino. I went to pass a slow moving vehicle and to my surprise Dad told me to “Kick-in the passing gear!” I couldn’t believe my ears? What happened to all these rules? Needless to say I jumped all over the opportunity and hit the gas. The old C6 transmission kicked down to second with nice solid shift, and pushed me back in the seat as the 400 roared up the highway. What a rush!
As the years went on, Dad continued to use the Torino regularly as his summer driver, but he started to use it less and less each year. By the early 2000’s gas prices were on the rise and a 2 ton car carbureted 400 cubic inch V8 wasn’t exactly thrifty on fuel. I had since moved on from my rusted out Chevelle to other cars. I had grown an affinity for fullsize American iron, particularly GM B-bodies and Ford Panthers, which were cheap and plentiful.
Out of the blue, one day in late summer 2003 I got a call from my dad. At this time he only had a single garage, so he’d been storing the Torino at a friend’s garage during winter. He had lost his storage and he wasn’t willing to keep his year round driver, a ’76 Malibu, outside over winter. He had also really gotten really into motorcycles and this resulted in him not having the time to properly look after the Torino anymore. Then he uttered the words I never thought he would say; it was time to part with the Torino.
He wanted it to stay in the family and so he offered it to me first, being the resident car nut in the family. Of course, I accepted instantly, despite the fact I was financially strapped, I had two vehicles, no garage and no place for a third car. None of that mattered, Dad and I would make it work. I was ecstatic, the car I grew up with was going to be mine! In the end, I found out a co-worker had an old barn which he used for old car storage. I checked it out and discovered this so called “barn” was clean enough to eat off the floor. As a bonus, the co-worker was a car nut too and had some nice old cars himself. I secured a spot for the Torino and also ended up making a new friend.
Part of the reason my dad wanted to part ways with the Torino, was it needed some work. He had done an amazing job at preserving it in original condition, but there were some repairs needed to get it back in order. One of the 10+ year old radials had thrown a belt and was no longer safe. Dad decided he wasn’t buying a new set of tires. He wasn’t willing to invest the time or money into the Torino anymore as he’d become fully engulfed in motorcycling. I couldn’t afford a new set of tires off the hop, so I ended up using the spare with the old Goodyear Polyglas bias-ply tire. There is a reason they say not to mix radials with bias-plys. It sure made for a squirrelly ride!
The car was 100% original, other than paint and maintenance items. As time and money allowed, I would do little projects on the car. For the first couple of years, I had no garage and minimal financial means and so I’d only take it out of storage long enough to burn a tank of gas, clean it up and change all the fluids. I didn’t want to ever let it sit more than a year. I did some initial work to the car, like replacing the unsafe tires, I had to free up the distributor which seized in the block, the original starter was getting weak, so I replaced it, and gave it a good tune-up. I ended up cleaning some sloppy repairs made by previous mechanics. It didn’t take much and it was running and looking great again.
A few years after I got the Torino, I bought a new house with a large garage. Since then I always ensured I’d drive the Torino every year for about 6 months of the year. In the winter, I’d usually do a little project on the car which I’d finish by spring time. Many of my projects involved refurbishing and doing some small upgrades on the car. I would try to keep as many of the original parts as possible, but dissemble, clean and reinstall. I never used the car as a daily driver, just my weekend cruiser, driven purely for pleasure.
While I know most people here like cars to be 100% stock, I am not that guy. While I was happy with the car overall, there were things that I wanted to improve and change. I like cars from the 50’, 60’s and 70’s, and I think that the factory did it best when it came to appearances. I like factory colors, factory wheels and factory interiors. That said, I don’t have an issue with someone making subtle upgrades to a vintage car to make them more driveable. Sure, you don’t get the 100% nostalgic feeling, but I am a driver and I like to get maximum driving enjoyment. I also thoroughly enjoy the self-engineering and tuning that goes along with these upgrades.
The first area I tackled was the suspension. After 40 years and 140,000 miles the bushings were shot and the suspension needed to be disassembled and gone over. While the heavy-duty suspension was much better than the soggy base suspension on these cars, and it did handle pretty well for its era, I wanted to make it better. The competition suspension was the top level for these cars, and I wanted to try and emulated that setup.
I completely disassembled the front and rear suspensions, I cleaned up and powder coated all the parts and I installed stiffer springs, Bilstien monotube shocks and larger sway bars. I wasn’t able to match the competition spring rates perfectly, as the aftermarket only make a small portion of springs compared to what the factory offered (this is the case for most cars). I found that late model Crown Victoria Police spec springs weren’t far off and installed those in the front. I selected a rear sway bar and rear spring to properly match the front springs.
Ford also used two different steering boxes in these 1970’s Torinos, one a Ford built box and one a Saginaw built box. Ford boxes basically cannot be modified, while Saginaw boxes are done so easily. My car had a Ford steering box but ended up replacing it with a Saginaw box from a 1971 Mustang. I had the box rebuilt with quick ratio high effort internals for quicker steering with road feel comparable to a 1980’s GM performance steering box.
I also detailed some of the chassis, brakes and the rear axle. The “Ming” rust proofing my dad had applied to the car when new certainly worked. There wasn’t a trace of rust anywhere on the undercarriage or body, which still sports the all original sheetmetal. I upgraded to larger 15×8″ Magnum 500 wheels over the factory 14×7″ wheels. Not only do I think they look better, they also improved the grip. In the end the handling was significantly improved, better than any of the 1972 factory setups, and as good as or better than a late model Crown Victoria P71 Police car.
I have also done a few other things over the years including, installing a quartz conversion for the clock and upgraded the original radio with modern internals and a hidden a/v jack for a phone or mp3 player. I completely removed the interior and refurbished the original upholstery carpet and other interior parts, and I also installed modern insulation. I have done lot of other minor detail work like refurbishing emblems, and repainting the grille the correct colour (it was blacked-out by my dad in the 70’s).
I did a few more minor modifications to the engine, installing an Edelbrock intake with a Holley 4-bbl carb, an electronic ignition to replace the points, tuned the distributor and added aftermarket performance mufflers. The 4-bbl carb really allowed the 400 to breathe much better at higher RPM. I am sure there are other things I am forgetting, but you get the idea. My goal with this car is to keep it as stock appearing as possible with some subtle upgrades to improve performance and driveability.
My next big project will be to rebuild the engine. With about 150,000 miles on the engine it still runs well, but I’d like to go through it, freshen it up and do some tweaking. First off I want to install new pistons to bump up the compression to about 9.5:1. I also plan to install stainless steel valves, do some oil system upgrades, a roller cam with a modern profile and roller rockers for increase durability and performance. I am going to keep the stock heads, which actually flow very well, and want the engine compartment to appear 100% stock under the hood. This includes using the stock breather, and keeping the engine painted Ford blue like the factory did it. In the end my goal is an engine that will be durable, efficient, and have increased performance, but no longer saddled with 1970’s de-smogging technology.
Like my father before me, the Torino has become an integral part of my family’s life. My oldest child is also a son and even before he could talk, he’s loved cars. Even as young as two years old he could name classic cars and could spot a Torino on sight. And much like when I was a child, he likes to come out in the garage and help dad fix the cars, especially the Torino. It’s kind of neat to be able to have a car that I rode around in through my childhood and both of my kids are doing the same today. I hope as my son grows older despite our differences that may crop up, we will have the Torino that we can always bond over.
I have had a lot of changes occur to me throughout my life, some good some bad, but it’s been kind of reassuring to have at least one constant throughout my life. This old car sure has helped to keep me grounded on several occasions especially when I hit some major bumps in life. Without question, one of the bigger life events we went through occurred in 2009 when our home and garage burned to the ground. We lost literally everything, our home, all of our possessions and my old Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser. I literally walked away with my truck and the clothes on my back.
But through the grace of good fortune, I had been storing my Torino at my brother’s place for the past few winters before the fire. We had made a deal that I could store my Torino in his garage in return for him using my heated garage and tools for vehicle maintenance. My brother, a friend and I went into the wreckage of our home to try and pull out any surviving items, and only ended up with a box full of things. While I lost all of my spare parts and some original parts for the Torino, by a miracle of all miracles, all of the original paper work for the Torino survived the fire. How paper of all things didn’t burn in that fire, I will never know.
Despite this tragedy, there are countless other good memories wrapped up in the Torino. This was the car I got to cruise with my siblings and friends when I was young, it was there when I dated my wife, it was our wedding car and of course it carried my own children since they were born. My paternal grandfather and grandmother have long since passed away and I have also lost my mom. Somehow though, cruising around in the Torino, in the same car with the same upholstery where they sat, it is kind of reassuring that maybe a part of them is still in that car. To me it’s amazing the memories that can be incited by the feel and smell of an inanimate object.
My old ’72 Torino will never be a blue chip collector car, and will always live in the shadows of many other cars from this era. However, it is the sentimentality that is wrapped in this machine that will makes it priceless to me. No other car that exists has that value for me. It will always have special place in our family and will forever be tribute to my dad. It’s a car that has touched four generations in my family and will be a part of our family for many years to come. Every car has a story and this is my car’s story.