1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport – Walt Kowalski’s Pride and Joy

72grantorino-s.jpgThe Ford Torino has a loyal following among Ford fans, but it never achieved the popularity of other muscle car intermediates like the Pontiac GTO and Chevrolet Chevelle SS. From its beginning in 1968 through 1971, the Torino was available with some hot motors under the hood. The Ford FE big-block 428 CID V8 and 385 series (Cobra Jet/Super Cobra Jet) 429 CID V8 were among the most potent of these Torino motors.  

Ford, like its rivals, was forced to build lower compression motors for 1972 due to the federal mandate that all 1972 gasoline powered cars run on unleaded gas. The loss of compression meant loss of horsepower. The Torino, which was totally redesigned for 1972, emerged with a new top of the line model – the Gran Torino. The 1972 Torino and Gran Torino continued the trend of sleek and mean styling which the 1970 and 1971 Torino had started. The 1972 Torino and Gran Torino were completely new. Even the unibody structure of the 1968-1971 Torino was replaced with a new body-on-frame design. Overall the Torino and Gran Torino were bigger and heavier than the previous year. The Gran Torino came in the following body styles: station wagon, four-door sedan, two-door (formal) coupe, and two-door fastback. The new Gran Torino “Sport” model was available on only the two-door coupe and fastback. The Sport had replaced the previous Torino GT model, which was the decal-laden, performance-oriented model.  

The car in Clint Eastwood’s recently released movie, Gran Torino, is a green two-door fastback 1972 Gran Torino Sport. Upon reflection it becomes quite apparent this was the perfect pick for Walt Kowalski’s pride and joy. The Gran Torino is muscular with 72grantorino4.jpgangled lines; its front end has quad headlamps with two headlights on each side surrounded by 1961-1963 Ford Thunderbird style chrome bezels. The front grille is massive which adds to the overall mean look of the car. A 450 horsepower 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS LS6 looks like a pussycat compared to the Gran Torino which looks like an angry barracuda (the fish, not the Plymouth) about to eat its prey. It’s a perfect match for the angry and mean Walt, who spent the best years of his life putting together Fords on a factory assembly line. He even comments in the movie how he personally installed the steering column in his Gran Torino on the assembly line. 

Walt may be 78 years old but he’s as tough as they come. You wouldn’t want to start any trouble with him; he could still deliver an ass-whipping to even the biggest of lunkheads who underestimate him. His car is the same way – not to be underestimated. The 1972 Gran Torino could no longer rely on the big-block 429 to be its brute motor – when equipped with a 4-barrel carburetor it made a paltry 219 net horsepower. This was a far cry from the previous year 429 CJ (Cobra Jet) which made an impressive 370 gross horsepower. The Gran Torino’s hot motor for 1972 was the 4-barrel high-output 248 net horsepower (which would have been around 300 horsepower in 1971 and before – gross horsepower ratings) 351 Cleveland V8 – the only motor for the 1972 Gran Torino to receive the “Cobra Jet” designation. This motor was enough to propel the Gran Torino from 0-60 mph in slightly less than 7 seconds and the 1/4 mile in low-15 second range, which is no slouch even by traditional muscle car standards. We are given a clue in one of the movie’s scenes that Walt’s car is equipped with the potent Cobra Jet (351 Cleveland), when one of the local Laotian gang members speaks of it being equipped with the Cobra Jet motor. The 351 Cobra Jet was the only ’72 Gran Torino motor to get dual exhausts from the factory. 


Though it’s never mentioned in the movie and the engine bay area of Walt’s car is never seen, it’s a safe bet that Walt probably ordered the Ram Air induction package which made the attractive twin hood scoops 100 percent functional, feeding cool air to the hungry 4-barrel.  

When viewing Walt’s Gran Torino Sport fastback on the big screen, one can see a car loaded with all the available factory options. Everything from the Sport decal package to the stylish Magnum 500 wheels, is visible. It’s obvious that Walt spared no expense and loaded up his Gran Torino with all the goodies the 1972 option list could provide. 

Spoiler Alert: The movie has many great themes that all collide together at the end. There’s even a confession scene with the local 72grantorino3.jpgCatholic priest, which a formerly hardened-hearted Walt humbly seeks repentance, and soon thereafter gives his life for another (the ultimate sacrifice). 

For muscle car fanatics, one theme that stands out is how the love of the old muscle cars can transcend all barriers. Walt’s next door neighbor – a Laotian lad named Thao who starts off on bad terms with Walt due to his failed attempt to steel Walt’s prized Gran Torino – later forges a strong bond with Walt. The two become as close as father and son close to the conclusion of the movie. 

There is something very special about old muscle cars – the feel, the look, the sounds, and the pure essence. Gran Torino shows how someone who was born long after the muscle car era, and never had any exposure to old muscle cars, can easily fall in love with these cars.  In the movie’s conclusion Thao inherits Walt’s prized Gran Torino; he is seen in the final scene driving the car down the road. It’s quite apparent from the look on his face, that Thao will enjoy and treasure the Gran Torino as much as his dear and departed friend who installed the steering column in it.


Written contents in this article – © 2009 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved