1974 Ford Gran Torino
It’s the return of the Striped Tomato
By Imthishan Giado
This is the story of how one man’s obsession with a ’70s cop show lead to him eventually owning the only 1974 Ford Gran Torino in the UAE – and possibly the entire Middle East. The full story, after the jump.
The younger among you may not understand, but the 1970s and 1980s were a vastly different time for television audiences, especially for fans of genre TV. The concept of ongoing storylines hadn’t been thought up yet, so everything was neatly wrapped up in a bow by episode’s end. Everybody – and I mean everybody – drove a cool car, no matter how obscure the show. The famous ones were the star of the entire show – KITT, Street Hawk and so on. Others were the ride of choice for the stars; think the red and grey A-Team van, or the Duke boy’s often-airborne Charger.
For Michael Moles, there was only one car – the 1974 Ford Gran Torino, made famous as the ride of the dynamic duo, Starsky & Hutch.
“For my part I have been a fan of these cars since the mid seventies when the original Starsky and Hutch TV series hit the screens,” he remembers.
“Gran Torino’s were also heavily promoted and featured in the other major hit TV series of the seventies and a firm favourite of mine Hawaii Five-O. More recently the 2004 Starsky and Hutch remake with Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller brought the Gran Torino back to fame and reignited my interest to own one.”
Few remember the show today – and the mediocre performance of the remake didn’t help matters – but everyone remembers two things: the uber-cool pimp Huggy Bear, and that Gran Torino, whose iconic red-and-white colour scheme has achieved a transcendental awareness well beyond the show. Nearly everything you can imagine has been converted into a Torino homage, including a Reliant Robin.
Ironic, when you realise that Paul Michael Glaser, who played the laconic Starsky who ‘owned’ the Gran Torino, absolutely hated the car and did his best to break the show cars. It’s not hard to see why, because the Gran Torino was simply wasn’t very good. By 1974, emissions were starting to strangle the performance of American muscle cars, which were also getting bigger and fatter. As a result, the portly 1928kg Gran Torino wheezed out just 163bhp from its 5.8-litre ‘Windsor’ V8. Fast, it was not, and with jelly-like suspension and the sort of lean that would make the Leaning Tower of Pisa queasy, you tended to drive really slowly in corners to avoid tipping over.
None of this matters to Moles, of course, who spent more than a year searching for the perfect Torino. In New Jersey, he finally struck paydirt.
“This car was being sold by a Gran Torino fanatic who had supplied the cars for the movie in 2004. That was the first wow factor; second was the car itself, it was an originally 2B red colour car which was the same colour as the movie cars. It had the famed 351W 5.8L engine, dual pipes and all the original trim badges and emblems. The car had obviously been looked after and had been well cared for over the years.”
Buying a car essentially sight unseen from the States is always a risk, but Moles lucked out – the Torino was clean, if not perfect.
“When the car arrived in the UAE it was in pretty good condition. The paint was a little dull and there were a few spots of rust in the typical areas, but it was still looking amazing. She even came with a route 66 key fob, 2 original sets of keys and a full set of 5 Magnum 500 original period wheels,” he remembers.
“After a few months I decided that I wanted to restore her back to her original beauty, so I had the bodywork fully refurbished and repainted again in the original 2B red paint, I also had the interior refurbished but kept everything as original. The car looks amazing with the original red and white combination so I definitely was not going to change it,” he confirms.
You’d think a 34-year old muscle car would struggle to pass the RTA’s rigorous inspection regime but amazingly, Mole’s red beauty passed first time. But that doesn’t mean the car was trouble free. Like any old car, it had its foibles, and all of them were as you’d expect, heat related.
“Mechanically the car was great, the original 351W engine is strong and the 3 speed auto gear box shifts smoothly. There really was not much work to do at all. I had a Gulf spec radiator and engine cooling system installed a new battery and replaced the original carburetor with a reconditioned one order from the US and that’s it. Nothing else was needed.”
Starsky and Hutch references aside, Moles’ car is an interesting example of how the changing times and tastes were gradually killing off the snarling muscle car of the 1960s. When the Windsor motor was under the hood of the mighty Mach 1 Mustang, it made close to 290bhp. By 1974, as you read earlier, it was just 163bhp. But that’s not all. The multiple oil crisises had refocused the attention span of the American motorist on fuel economy and none of these American leviathans could even come close to the kinds of numbers that that those strange new Japanese cars were putting out.
What’s more, the Gran Torino is hardly spacious. Even with all that space, there’s almost no legroom in the back, but you can sit three abreast upfront! Utterly ridiculous. The wing mirrors are borderline hazardous; all you’ll see of the Land Cruiser about to sideswipe you is a flash of white, and then an almighty bang. Parking? With that long, long bonnet, nightmarish. Either you’ll become an expert parker, or you’ll leave the Gran Torino at home.
All of the above are valid, and yet hardly of importance. This giant cruiser, the first of the ‘personal luxury coupes’ is the kind of car that hardly exists any more; an effortless, massive sofa which can soak up the miles, riding from coast to coast with one hand dangled out the side, the gentle rumble of the tailpipes echoing in the mountains. To look at the Gran Torino is be reminded of an old ’70s cop show.
To drive it, is to fall in love.