Final call for the Torino cruiser

W ith the muscle-car era waning in 1971, the writing was already on the wall for the sporty Ford Torino. Like some of its fellow super-car models, the following year’s redesign would find the Torino’s sporty lines changed to a somewhat more pedestrian appearance. So when Bruce Andrews chose to go over to Kines Ford in Baltimore in 1971 to buy a Torino 500, one of the more upscale versions offered, he ended up with a disappearing piece of history, choosing a car that had been special-ordered for another customer who had not picked it up.

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Restyling in 1970 gave the Torino a racy, laid-back appearance that continued through 1971. The laser-stripe option was a nice touch on the design.

“My dad bought this car when I was in junior high school; it is one of 11,284 built,” says Tim Andrews. “In 1975, when he bought a new LTD for my mom, the car was used occasionally, and it was parked for good in 1980.”

The car seen here has 88,000 miles on it, but is still almost all original. Other than paint and tires, the car’s unrestored status can be traced to the level of care the Andrews family lavished on it over the years. Tim ended up with it in 1993 when Bruce mentioned he was planning on selling it; Tim immediately sold a ’77 Corvette he owned to put the laser-striped machine in his garage.

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The center divider in the grille was a 1971 touch; the 1970 versions had no such trim, and the body was completely restyled in 1972.

The Torino had debuted in the halcyon days of 1968 as the muscle era reached full blossom. Branched off of the Fairlane, it was created to fill the niche between the Mustang and the larger luxury models. The engine of choice for performance fans that year was the new FE-series 428 Cobra Jet (though its April 1968 availability date makes that a rare powerplant), and Torinos were offered as hardtops, fastbacks (“SportsRoofs”) and convertibles. The model was selected to pace the Indy 500 that year. In 1969, the styling remained basically unchanged, though the low-priced “Cobra” made its debut as a competitor to the highly successful Road Runner, as did the NASCAR-based Talladega.

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The air cleaner on the H-code 351 Cleveland engine tells onlookers that it is a two-barrel, but a healthy rumble from the exhaust and stylish options still give it curb-side respect.

The 1970 redesign directed by Bill Dowling was fairly radical, featuring a long hood/short deck and lower roof line; raking the windshield back and using rear-angled corners made it look even sharper. Dowling topped this off with a full-length V-shaped grille. The car was one of a large number of redesigns introduced that year, and probably deserved more media attention that it received. The popularity of the model had caused Ford to make “Torino” the primary name for its intermediate vehicle, with Fairlane now being the lower-priced non-performance model; the Fairlane designation would be dropped altogether for 1971.

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The SportsRoof design resulted in a rear window that was somewhat challenged. Optional sport mirrors on both sides of the car help alleviate visibility problems.

The 500 was in the center of the 14 Torino models available; GTs and Cobras were still available with big-inch engines like the 429SCJ Cobra Jet and Ram Air hoods. The car purchased by the Andrews family was more in keeping with the idea of looking fast. A 351 Cleveland engine was under the hood, with a two-barrel Autolite carb, Cruise-O-Matic transmission and 3.00 highway gear for getting the best mileage possible. However, the Wimbledon White SportsRoof body is dressed up with the optional laser stripes on the sides, 14-inch Magnum 500 wheels and race mirrors, meaning that it would give pause to interested onlookers when it was cruising down the highway.

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The “Torino 500” emblems on the rear fenders are overshadowed by the bright laser graphic, but they’re present on this car.

When Tim and Mary decided to bring the car back to tip-top shape in the mid-1990s, the Torino went to Darwin Booker in Tennessee for exterior refurbishing. The dual exhaust used a pair of Flowmaster mufflers and 2-inch pipes during that replacement, and raised-letter Daytona tires went on the Magnum 500 rims. Tim and Bruce took it to several shows before Bruce passed away in 2002; now Tim and Mary often take their two girls, Kaitlyn and Emily, with them when they have the car out in public. I saw it at the York Reunion and Nostalgia Nationals, an annual event giving tribute to the York US30 Dragway in York, Pa.

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This side view also shows that the rear design was not a flush fastback as seen in earlier examples. The new body lines were classy, but the vehicle suffered on the NASCAR circuit as a result; however, Ford would be formally done with racing by the end of 1971.

Cars like this Torino will continue to grow in interest as the rarer, bigger-inch muscle cars become more pricey. Moreover, they are excellent reminders of the super-car era without the mechanical headaches sometimes associated with the breed, and are fun to have as drivers as opposed to investments. But for the Andrews family, the sentimental reasons are more than enough to keep this car in the family.

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