Story and photos by Al Rogers
In 1969, David Pearson and Holman & Moody carried on their winning formula from the previous season and became NASCAR Grand National Champions for the second year in a row with Pearson driving the No. 17 Ford Torino race car. Not long after the 1969 NASCAR racing season ended, Holman & Moody asked David Pearson to make a trip to the corporate facility in Charlotte, N.C., to discuss plans for the 1970 NASCAR season.
When Pearson returned home, he walked into the house, gathered his family and announced, “You guys need to come outside.” As they made their way outdoors, he said, “Look what I got.”
His wife Helen, five-year-old son Eddie and teenage sons Rick and Larry walked outside, took one look and stood in total shock. Parked in the driveway was a new ’69 Ford Torino Cobra with the same blue-and-gold paint scheme as the Holman & Moody race car that Pearson drove. Eddie was especially awestruck by the car, but at only five years of age, the thought of driving it never entered his mind. The same can’t be said for his teenage brothers, however. They were already dreaming of the day Dad would let them test it out.
The Torino came to Pearson by way of the Ford Motor Co. and Holman & Moody. The organizations had worked together to prepare the special one-of-a-kind street version 1969 Torino Cobra for Pearson as a reward for winning the NASCAR Grand National Championship for the 1968 and 1969 seasons.
Ford’s Lorain, Ohio, assembly plant built the ’69 Torino Cobra SportsRoof and applied the special blue metallic paint. It was then shipped to Holman & Moody where the gold paint was sprayed to the upper portion of the car, and a spoiler was installed to the deck lid. The shiny aluminum spoiler was not a random part from inventory or pulled from a parts bin — it was the actual spoiler from the No. 17 Holman & Moody Torino race car that David Pearson had piloted to victory.
Under the hood was Ford’s 335-hp 428-cid Cobra Jet V-8 engine with an automatic transmission. It was originally built with a 3.70:1 rear axle that Pearson eventually changed to a 3.10:1 ratio for highway driving. The interior was fitted with bucket seats and a column shift for the automatic transmission. Pearson lovingly cared for the car using the same approach taken to maintaining the race cars he drove. Aside from belts, hoses, tires, battery and fluids, the well-preserved car remains original to this day.
During the 1970 NASCAR race season, it was not unusual to see Pearson pull up to the main entry gate at various race tracks in his ’69 Torino Cobra. It was simply the car he drove to racing events and around town.
According to Eddie, his father would load the family into the Torino Cobra and they’d make their way to the racing events at Darlington, Charlotte and Atlanta. They also took several vacations in the car during the early ’70s. For a time, it was just the family’s daily driver.
For Eddie, the Torino Cobra has always had a special place in his heart. “The very first time I saw the car, [it] blew me away,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is like my dad’s race car,’ and from that day on, no other muscle car meant anything to me. I can’t recall anything from my childhood that made such an everlasting impression on me. There I stood, staring at the ’69 Torino Cobra, with my only thought being, ‘That’s my father’s race car.’
Eddie said that he only rode in the front and rear passenger seats a handful of times during his grade school years. Beginning at day one, he’d crawl to his special place on the rear package tray panel and lay out there during car rides. The fastback ’69 Torino Cobra provided the perfect place for a five year old to lie down, settle in for the ride and check out the big world through its large panoramic glass. Being young had its advantages as Eddie was the only one in the family who could fit on the package shelf.
It was common for Eddie’s mother to drive him to school in the Torino Cobra, and upon his arrival, his friends would announce “Eddie’s here” upon seeing the car. Helen Pearson loved the car and drove it locally to run errands, including trips to the grocery store, but its rarity intimidated her. She always took extra care to make sure nothing happened to the ’69 Torino Cobra when she drove it.
Eventually Rick and Larry, Eddie’s older teenage brothers, did get their hands on the car. They regularly drove it to high school, and rumor has it the car did a little stop-light-to-stop-light racing on the streets of Spartanburg. Then, one day, David Pearson spotted scratches on the passenger-side door glass from an apparently envious student or someone else who wanted to make his mark on the ’69 Torino Cobra. Shortly thereafter, in the mid ’70s, it was taken out of active duty and parked in a secluded spot within the Pearson racing garage. It followed the family to their current location back in 1986.
Along the way, the Torino Cobra sat under a carport during construction of the Pearson garages. Rain water took its toll and left circular stains on the top of the front bumper. Apparently, the rain water ran through the hood-to-fender gaps and then onto the bumper. Since the car is mostly original, the stains remain on the bumper to preserve the car’s originality. Eddie Pearson looks at the water stains as a form of patina, serving as a reminder of the car’s brief life under the carport prior to its current indoor garage-kept environment.
Over the years, Eddie took a special interest in the car and spent many hours looking after it. He learned how to care for it and performed routine maintenance to make sure it was preserved. After acquiring his driver’s license, he asked his father if he could drive it and was given permission to take it out for regular drives.
David Pearson had a pilot’s license and flew his own Piper Aztec airplane until moving to a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter. He and Eddie would drive the ’69 Torino Cobra to the Spartanburg downtown airport and park it at the hanger. Then, the two of them would set off in the Piper Aztec. One day Eddie asked his father if he’d teach him how to fly and it became the start of some special bonding time between father and son.
During a particularly special father-son moment, David Pearson surprised Eddie when he handed over the title to the ’69 Torino Cobra. Eddie had a look of bewilderment and asked his father, “What do you want me to do with this?” The elder Pearson took the title back, laid it on a table and went about the process of filling out the backside to transfer it over to Eddie. After filling it out, he handed the title to Eddie and said, “You’ve always had a twinkle in your eye when it came to the Torino, and I’ve noticed how you [have] taken care of it all these years.”
“When he handed me the title, I was [in] shock, like the day he showed the family the ’69 Torino Cobra sitting in the driveway the day he drove it home from Holman & Moody,” Eddie said. He took the title when it was handed to him and placed it in a safe where it remains, uncompleted. Eddie has no plans to formally transfer the title of his dad’s car.
Periodically, Eddie takes out the car for drives in order to keep the fluids circulating and the engine operating. When people see the Torino Cobra for the first time, their curiosity is raised. Many who pull up next to Eddie at a stop light roll down the window and ask him the usual questions: “What is that car?” and “Who owns it?” He has an unusual reply that probably catches them at least a little off guard.
“I tell them it’s mine, given to me years ago by my father, David Pearson.”
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