The cars we loved.
I’m always amazed at the constant changes made to older cars from year to year. The maddening pace at which new bumpers, grilles and lights were added was a way to encourage sales via engineered obsolesce. The truly impressive changes resulted in a completely different looking car, made all the more awe-inspiring considering the lack of CAD design tools in the early 1970’s. In the case of Fords popular Torino line of intermediates, 1971 and 1972 marked drastic contrasts in the cars appearance and construction.
Arguably the best looking of the Torinos, the 72-73 had been overshadowed by the less graceful, but no less attractive 74-76 Starsky & Hutch era cars. 1972 marked an important milestone not only in how the Torino looked, but how it
was constructed with its new body on frame assembly technique. The process was said to better isolate passengers from road noise, hinting at a more prominent role as a grand tourer. The 72-73 no longer shared the same wheelbase as the other Torinos (sedan and station wagon), making for more freedom in styling differences between the cars. The most notable design trait of the 72-73 cars might be its egg crate style grille. It looked more like a pet transport cage than a grille, but when combined with the enhanced coke bottle profile of the coupes, it made for an attractive looking car that looked aggressive yet graceful.
The appeal extended to the interior where standard bench seats featured sporty looking head rests. Bucket seats were an option, but all seats were made with a new type of vinyl that allowed the material to breath, as not to hold odors and moisture like standard vinyl upholstery sometimes did. There were a whopping eleven different versions of the Torino, ranging from the stripped down V6 powered 2-door hard top to the Gran Torino Sport Sportsroof with the 201 hp 429 V8. Even with so many options there was never a convertible.
Popular options on Torinos included ‘laser stripes’, Magnum styled sport wheels and vinyl roofs. From an aesthetic point of view, the clean look of the Sportsroof cars (cars sans vinyl tops)were the most attractive. For performance minded buyers who wanted more from the standard Sport model, there was the Rallye Equipment Group. This options group included a beefed up competition suspension with improved handling , larger roll bars and wider 14 inch tires. The new competition suspension package offered similar performance to the fabled Torinos of the past, but without the jarring ride. The Torino was also one of the first sport intermediates to offer front disc brakes. The coupe sold extremely well, out selling the sedan and wagon by a considerable margin. Consumer Guide voted the Torino a ‘Best Buy” for 1972. The traditional automotive press was impressed also with many positives reviews, but noting the weakened V8 engine’s performance vs. just a few years earlier.
Under the hood Gran Torino Sports came with the standard 302 small block V8. There were no less than three optional V8 engines with names like Windsor, Cleveland and Cobra Jet. The largest and most powerful of these engines had fallen victim to emissions controls and were more high torque than high power. Further emasculation came with new horsepower rating standards that saw power listed lower than the 71’ model across the board. Three speed manual transmissions were standard. There was an optional high performance 4 speed manual as well as the Cruis-O-Matic auto shifter. The automatic transmission was mandatory with some optional V8 engines. Performance suffered compared to older cars with Cobra jet engines, but Ford used clever intake and manifold technologies to keep performance respectable. Car and Driver managed to get a 0 to 60 time of less than 7 seconds with a 4 speed GS, a car weighing nearly 4,000lbs .
Thanks to the 2009 Clint Eastwood film “Gran Torino”, the 72-73 Torino has enjoyed a growing resurgence of interest. This renewal of the Torino’s fortunes had probably started some time ago, but seems to be gaining momentum, as Hot Wheels recently released a toy version of a 73’ model in their 2011 line up, introducing a whole new generation to the Torino’s legacy. As for finding the real car, they are most likely to be found at car shows, although road worthy unrestored versions are not impossible to find. Hurry though, the 72-73 Torino might eventually surpass the over hyped Starsky & Hutch era cars in the eyes of serious collectors. If that happens, a toy might be the only way any of us will ever get our hands on one.