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By Brian Earnest
Nick Heiser chuckles at the thought of his mean, green 1970 429 Cobra-Jet Torino GT being considered somewhat of an overlooked “sleeper” in the muscle car universe.
“You either love ’em or you hate ’em,” he says with a hearty laugh.
And there is no doubt which side of the fence Heiser falls on. The Plain, Wis., native lusted after his Torino from the time he was old enough to drive, and he’s as proud and excited about the car today as he was when his parents surprised him by bringing it home and handing him the keys back in 1975. “Oh yeah, I get pumped right up when I get in that thing,” he says. “Today, anymore I don’t get as excited about racing and burning rubber as I do touring and watching people point and basically gawk at the car. I get more of a charge out of that.”
Understandably, Heiser’s parents were more than a little reluctant to turn their teenage son loose in one of the baddest beasts in the jungle. “I actually had my eye on this, or a Cougar Eliminator,” he said. “But the Eliminator was too much money. I was after both my mom and dad for this car. ‘I gotta have it, I gotta have it.’ They said, ‘No, no, no.’
“At the time , the car I was driving was an old ’68 Ford LTD, and it was my school car. Well, my sister was coming up through the ranks and it was time for her to have a car … and I just started looking for something else. Then, I came home from school one day — and you have to come up over this little bit of a hill to see into the garage — and I see the garage and see there are two cars parked in there … And I’m thinking, ‘My God, what did he buy for me?’And I opened the door and there it sits! I had to pay for it, but my parents went and got it and surprised me with it.
“I took out a loan on it, because I didn’t have any money. I was making $300 a month, and my car payment was 50 bucks a month and, I said ‘There is no way anybody is taking this away from me.’ I had it paid for in a year!
And then he did what most red-blooded young American males would do with such an animal if they had one: He tried to melt the tires off the rims and blow all his friends off the road. “Oh, when you are young and dumb,” Heiser said, shaking his head. “You race every weekend with it. I only got beat once, in the quarter-miles. But, never had a ticket with it. I’ve never lost a point. But I’ve done some stupid things.”
Parking the car during the winter months after that first year wasn’t one of them, however. Heiser got his swift Ford with 73,000 miles on the odometer, but he’s only added about 52,000 in the past three and a half decades thanks mainly to some wiser driving habits in recent years.
The Torino GT was the sporty, performance version of the Torino. It came only in the fastback and convertible body styles and is often viewed today as the underappreciated cousin of the omnipresent Mustang. At 3,173 lbs., the hardtop Torino was a big car in 1970, and it came with some big engine choices to match, not the least of which was the 429-cid, 370-hp Cobra Jet option. For buyers even more drag-racing inclined, there was also a 375-hp Super Cobra Jet option. A 302-cid V-8 was the standard power plant for all the base Torinos that year, but buyers could also opt for a 351-cid Windsor V-8, or 429-cid Thunder Jet mill, in addition to the CJ and SCJ choices.
The original owner of Heiser’s car ponied up an additional $356 over the $2,848 base price to get the 370 ponies and 450 lbs.-ft. of torque of the CJ 429, which featured a single Holly four-barrel, dual exhausts, high-lift cam, high-rise intake manifold and other fast stuff. The 429 Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet engines were new offerings for Ford for the 1970 model year. They replaced the 428 CJ mill in the middle of the year, meaning some early Cobra Jet Fords had the 428, while later production run cars got the 429.
The Torinos were all-new and substantially larger for ’70. They gained five inches in length and now rode on a 117-inch wheelbase. The somewhat cluttered Torino tree included the base model (which came as either a hardtop or fastback), the Brougham, the two body styles of the GT, and the Cobra, which was based on the Torino GT.
The Torino GT featured came standard with non-functional hood scoop, GT emblems (including the center of the grille), dual colour-keyed sport mirrors, full width tail lamps with a honeycomb effect and, black decklid appliqués. A distinctive laser stripe ran down the middle of the side, facing to a stop at the back edge of the door. Hideaway headlamps made for a clean, classy grille.
Heiser’s car was ordered in Medium Ivy Metallic Green, with a three-speed manual on the tree, and not many options. “It’s got the 429 Cobra Jet with the C-6 tranny, but otherwise it doesn’t have anything,” he said. “She’s just your basic car.”
Heiser isn’t clear about most of the details of the car’s early life, before he bought it from his friend, Ardell Newton, for $1,750. “I always thought I was the third owner, but I might be the fourth. There was one guy, named Lewis, and he had the car and apparently had a hitch on it and pulled a race car with it. When I first got it, it had a set of snow tires on it, and I drove in that first winter. After that, I just said ‘No way,’ and she’s been parked ever winter since. I can’t even remember that last time it saw rain. Now I only take it out when the day is just right.”
“Back in that day, there wasn’t a weekend I didn’t wash it and wax it. Even if I didn’t have time to drive it and it went right back in the shed.”
For a car with 125,000-plus miles in its rearview mirror, the Torino GT is a true gem. Except for some minor upholstery work on the driver’s seat, the interior is all original, as is the engine. “I had it repainted back in the day , at a place called Ray’s Paintn Place in Lone Rock [Wis.],” Heiser said. “I hit a deer and had to replace a fender, both bumpers, the trunk lid … and one rear quarter panel has been replaced. I didn’t want any putty in it. She’s all metal.”
Heiser can’t help but bring up his many street battles with Corvettes, Chargers and other street racing demons while reminiscing about his younger days in his Torino GT. Somehow you believe him when he insists he never wanted a different car back then, and he wouldn’t trade his Torino for any of them right now.
“Like I said, you either love ’em, or you hate ’em,” he said. “They’re a big car, and if you put them up against a Camaro or a ’Cuda or something like that, those cars got all the hoopla.
“The Torinos never got the respect they deserved, in my opinion.”
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