Curbside Classic: 1975 Ford Gran Torino – Isolation Chamber

(first posted 9/17/2012)    I am surprised that we’ve not yet had a CC on the mid-size, mid-70s Ford Gran Torino. Of course, most of us remember a certain Gran Torino made famous on Starsky & Hutch, and who knows how many 1974-76 Torinos have been saved and restored thanks to that classic detective show? A lot, I’d guess. That said, I will assure those whose Torino knowledge is limited to late-’60s fastback Cobra Jets and Detective David Starsky’s tomato red hot rod that most Torinos were not at all like those. Back in the ’70s, your typical Torino shopper wanted comfort and luxury–a smaller LTD Brougham, if you will, and certainly not a muscle car. Today, we’re going to learn about non-TV prepped Gran Torinos that likely made up 90% of Torino production.

The Torino got its start as part of the restyled 1968 Fairlane lineup. The Torino was the plushest–or, in the case of the GT model, fastest–mid-size Ford. The fastback GT was especially attractive, and had plenty of power to match its looks, provided the right option boxes were checked. My maternal grandfather, in a surprising move, traded in his pale yellow 1965 Galaxie 500 sedan on a Torino GT hardtop. Such a sporty coupe was quite out of character for him, but Mom was grateful for it, as she got her driver’s license not long after its arrival.

The same basic chassis was restyled for the 1970 model year. By then, the Torino had effectively elbowed out the Fairlane 500 series, which offered only a coupe, a  sedan and a wagon. (The Fairlane moniker would disappear completely  from the U.S. for 1971, when the Torino 500 series replaced the Fairlane 500.) Every other car in the 14-model 1970 lineup was now badged Torino, including the new, top-of-the-line Torino Brougham. In the end, for better or worse, the Brougham would win the war between it and the GT.

The mildly restyled 1971 model was the last go-round for the 1968-based body, as well as last call for the speedy Torino Cobra, the GT, and convertibles. Muscle and sportiness were on the way out.

The Great Brougham Epoch was in full swing in Dearborn, and the arrival of all-new 1972 Torinos further raised the stakes. The new Torinos were sized closer than ever  to the big Fords: Sedans and wagons rode a 118-inch wheelbase, and coupes a 114″ stretch. The focus was on ride comfort–not on speed, sportiness, or indeed, on any serious attempt at handling. By the early ’70s, quietness and smoothness had become the watchwords at Ford, as spurred by the “quieter than a Rolls-Royce” LTD. Handling? Those who cared wouldn’t find much at Ford, and most didn’t. For those who simply wanted something comfy to point toward the horizon while driving the Interstate, these were just the ticket–as long as they didn’t make any sudden moves with that steering wheel!

The new Gran Torino was the highline trim level for 1972 (a Brougham interior option was optional, but did not comprise a stand-alone model); offered for entry-level buyers was the base-model plain Torino. As previously mentioned, the GT was now gone, but two new Gran Torino Sport models, a fastback and a hardtop, were available for those who still valued sportiness over Broughaminess.

Nineteen seventy-two was the only year you could buy the redesigned model with bumpers as originally envisioned by the design staff. The following model year would bring bulky front bumpers that completely altered the front end’s appearance. Offered as a trim option the previous year, the Brougham now returned as a full-fledged model in 1973–how could it not?

Yet another face lift greeted Torino shoppers in 1974, as Gran Torinos and Torinos got new grilles. The fastback was gone from the lineup, but you could still get a Sport notchback coupe. Out back, taillights were moved from the bumper to a much less damage-prone spot in the rear fascia.

As in 1972 and 1973, plain Torinos sported a front end different from their higher-priced siblings…perhaps to upsell Torino customers on a fancier Gran Torino model?

Although very little else was changed for 1975, the base Torino’s unique front fascia was replaced with the fancier Gran Torino nose; probably having realized that tooling different grilles and headlamp surrounds was unnecessary, Ford simply decided to save a few bucks. Standard equipment now included chrome windshield, backlight and drip rail trim, high-back vinyl bench seating and hubcaps. Also standard was a 351 cu in, two-barrel V8 (the previously standard 302 having been relegated to Mavericks and Granadas) producing 148 hp at 3,800 rpm, along with a “three-on-the-tree” manual transmission. Because most retail customers didn’t want something as spartan as the base Torino, only 22,928 sedan, 13,394 coupe and 13,291 wagon versions were built that year. The real money–and volume–could be found in Gran Torino Land.

If you wanted something more than a fleet-duty special, the Gran Torino was your car. It was much better equipped, with standard front disc brakes (power assist was optional), upgraded cloth and vinyl seating, carpeting instead of rubber floor mats, and lots more chrome exterior trim. Odds are that most of them sported the optional vinyl roof and full wheel covers seen on this ’76 sedan.

The Gran Torino was the most popular Torino model in 1975, with 53,161 sedans, 35,324 coupes and 23,951 station wagons sold. (The personal-luxury Elite was badged as a Gran Torino in 1974. It became simply “Elite” for 1975-76, but technically remained part of the Torino series.) Engine options were limited to a  two-barrel, 158-hp, 400 cu in V8 (priced at $5.00), and a 218-hp, 460 cu in V8 with four-barrel carb that went for a whopping $245.00 extra.

The Gran Torino Sport returned for 1975. With only 5,126 buyers, it might well have been the least-frequently seen Torino. The lone model was a two-door hardtop that featured special badging, turbine-style wheel covers, color-keyed sport mirrors, and full instrumentation–including a tachometer.

Torino and Gran Torino station wagons offered the same engine selections as the rest of the lineup. They were available in three flavors: Torino, Gran Torino, and Gran Torino Squire. If the Di-Noc-sided Squire was not enough, you could equip it with the Squire Brougham option, which got you seats from the Gran Torino Brougham sedan and coupe (more on those in a moment), although in vinyl only. Also included were that all-important stand-up hood ornament, deluxe wheel covers, electric clock and whitewall radial tires. If Ford was known as the Wagonmaster, it was mostly thanks to their full-size LTD and Country Squire wagons. While Torino wagons sold rather well in 1972-73, they were not seen nearly as frequently by the mid-’70s. In 1975, 37,242 Torino wagons were produced, versus over 95K full-size Ford wagons. A bit of a gap there, eh?

At the top of the ’75 Torino heap again was the Brougham. Available only as a coupe or sedan (Brougham option Squire wagon notwithstanding), a Brougham cost about $500 more than a “standard” Gran Torino. The easiest was to spot a Brougham was by its exclusive stand-up hood ornament.

The expected flossier interior was available in your choice of Westminster cloth or all-vinyl. Either way, you got a split-bench front seat with dual folding armrests, unique door panels with pull straps, thicker cut-pile carpeting, and extra woodtone trim.

Standard on Brougham coupes was an opera window, inset into the C-pillar, that was optionally available on lesser Torinos.

Broughams also got standard power front disc brakes, power steering, bodyside moldings, a padded vinyl roof and, of course, the obligatory hood ornament.

You could identify a Brougham from the back by its special reflective molding between the taillights, as seen on this clean sedan spotted by Paul – you may remember it from the Fairlane FEMI fiction post done back in May.

Brougham identification was located within the opera window glass on coupes, and on this chrome C-pillar emblem on sedans. The Brougham series sold decently enough at its 1974 reintroduction, with 11,464 sedans and 26,402 coupes finding buyers, but demand went off a cliff in 1975; only 5,929 sedans and 4,849 coupes found homes.

My guess is that most of the Ford faithful chose the new-for-1975 Granada over the Torino. Although a smaller car, the Granada was much more space efficient, and the uplevel Ghia model did the Brougham treatment just as well as the Gran Torino Brougham–and for less money. In fact, the whole Granada line blew the Torino out of the water, to the tune of 302,658 to 177,953. Even if you include the Torino-based Elite, 1,333 more Granadas were sold, despite the lack of a station wagon model.

But back to the Torino. Whatever model you chose, there were plenty of options available to personalize your Gran Isolation Chamber. In addition to the aforementioned engine choices, other options included an AM radio ($54), AM/FM stereo radio ($217), vinyl roof ($96), A/C ($426) and whitewall tires ($33). You could even take your pick of several wheel covers, including the still available, always-cool Magnum 500 wheels–but please, please don’t order them with the fender skirts!

After 1976, the Torino name was no more. The car, however, got fresh sheetmetal and a new LTD II moniker, and carried on through 1979.

Today’s CC is a 1975 or 1976 Model 65D Gran Torino coupe. I spotted it in a fast food restaurant parking lot in Monmouth, IL, on my way to the 1000+ car Maple City Cruise Night. Initially I passed it by, thinking I’d see it at the show. After a few moments of internal debate, I turned around and went back. Good thing I did, because it wasn’t at the show!

Here’s how you can tell it’s a ’75-’76: The ’74s had a straight-across steering wheel, which was replaced with this car’s U-shaped wheel the very next year. This car would have sold for $4,234 new, but the full wheel covers, whitewalls, landau vinyl roof, pinstriping, side moldings and bumper guards would have added to the tally.

It was in very nice shape, and looked good in bright red with a white vinyl roof and red vinyl interior. These cars have all but disappeared, at least in non-Starsky and Hutch tribute form.

Just as I was backing out of the parking spot, the owner and his wife/significant other came out and got into their time capsule from 1975. I had time to lower my window and say “Nice car!” and they waved, but seemed to be in a hurry. I hope they know they’ve got a great Curbside Classic!