No, it’s not a Falcon. it’s a Torino GT, and a legend in its own right
Tony Millar must get sick of people asking him what model of car his 1971 Ford Torino GT is. “Only the true muscle car fans know what it is,” he admits. “Most people just think it’s a Falcon or have no idea. Then because of the belt drive and the tunnel ram, most people assume it’s supercharged too, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but unfortunately it’s not the case”.
Before buying the car out of Torrance, California, off the internet around two years ago, Tony had built and owned a 1967 Mustang. “The Mustang was a nice car, I had done the usual paint and wheels etcetera, but at the end of the day it was just another Mustang and blended in with the countless others. I wasn’t going to sell it, but when someone offered me the right money for it, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to get something a little more special.”
Although you don’t often see Torinos on New Zealand roads, the model was started in 1968 as an upmarket version of the Ford Fairlane and was produced until 1976. The name Torino is the Italian name for the city we call Turin, and is considered the Detroit of Italy.
In 1970 the Torino body shape was changed to be lower and wider than its predecessors. This was continued for 1971, and both years now have a large following.
Because it’s a factory GT model with a 351 Cleveland, Tony knew the car had potential to not only look good but to go just as well too. And luckily for him, when it arrived in the country it wasn’t in too much of a sad state. As with the Mustang, however, he would meticulously work over every aspect of the car before he was ready to put it on the road.
As Tony runs a company that specialises in boat body repairs and painting, doing the panel work himself wasn’t an issue. When we caught up with him he was working on a 24-metre launch, so 5.4-metre car was a cinch.
Fussy tradesmen are never happy with their own work, and so while Tony says the paint job is nothing special, I would disagree. The deep black Spies Hecker paint has had copper and bronze pearls added and the result is stunning. With charcoal GT stripes laid over the top the car attracts attention wherever it goes.
The Magpie Effect
Of course, some of that attention may be due to the aforementioned tunnel ram that helps to stick the twin filters in plain view. The polished basses on the filters further draw your attention and soon make you realise just how much chrome there is elsewhere on the vehicle. And then there are the 17×8 and 18×10-inch Torque Thrust rims, the bumpers, window surrounds and more to catch the eye. Although only Torino lovers would realise it, Tony has actually removed a few trim pieces from the body, along with the side repeaters and badges. The engine below the twin towers of chrome is the factory 351 Cleveland, albeit freshened up by Ali Wells, who also helped Tony out on other aspects of the build. During the engine’s reassembly a Crow cam was fitted, and the oiling system was modified to include a high-volume sump and in-line oil restrictors. The stock 2V heads have been modified to allow fitment of the 4V manifold, and were fitted with Lunati lifters, springs and retainers before being bolted to the block. Atop the Weiand tunnel ram sits a pair of 390cfm Holley carbs fuelled by a Holley pump and reg. To add spark to the combination there’s an MSD coil and a Mallory electronic distributor, from which Accel leads weave their way through Headman headers to the plugs. When standing in front of the vehicle all you hear is the impressive whine of a Pete Jackson gear drive, while from the rear there’s another melodic harmony from the three-inch exhaust. Either way, the sound is music to any car lover’s ears.
Americarna Here We Come
The car’s maiden voyage was from Tauranga to Taranaki for Americarna earlier this year. If that’s not a test for a new combination then nothing is. But because only the right parts and people were involved in the build, the car didn’t miss a beat. It hasn’t since, either. The C4 transmission Tony had fitted with a 2500rpm stall converter makes the car a pleasure on the open road. With a nine-inch diff fitted from the factory, the rear end will put up with as much abuse as Tony can throw at it, even if he does end up dropping in a 460ci motor, as he intends to. When this happens the rear end will receive a disc brake conversion, but for now, thanks to Dale Mathers-supplied and fitted PBR front callipers, the car hauls up nicely.
Some of the vehicle’s appeal, at least in my mind, is the super-low stance that Tony has achieved. The 275/35R18 Goodyear rear tyres just fit in the guards thanks to re-set rear leaves, into which an extra leaf has been added for firmness. Up front the 245/40R17s are also close when cornering, thanks to King springs and KYB shocks. When working on the suspension, Tony fitted Nolathane bushes all round, a move he would happily make again. After all, at 36 years old the original rubber bushes were well past their ‘best before’ date. A 38mm sway bar also found its way under the car to increase turn-in and open road stability, something the car needs as it sees regular trips from Tauranga to Auckland
The interior hasn’t missed out on Tony’s loving touch. The seats and trim were all re-covered in black with red highlights for a subtle effect.
The Hurst shifter and Auto Meter gauges hint that more than just good looks hide under that large bonnet.
After an 18-month build the car has performed flawlessly for the last six months of street use. That doesn’t mean Tony is completely happy, however, and there is talk of that larger engine, maybe some bigger wheels, some rear disc brakes and so on. But no matter what he does to it in the future, this car will without doubt be unique on New Zealand roads and will turn heads everywhere it goes. Just as it was intended to.
The Torino Talladega was only produced by Ford during 1969. Named after the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, it was developed specifically to make Ford competitive in NASCAR racing. Just 754 cars were built, making them a very expensive collector’s item today. They were based on the Torino fastback and a sleeker front section was added for aerodynamics. The close-fitting front bumpers were actually made from reshaped rear bumpers, and the rocker panels were reshaped and rolled to allow the car to sit closer to the ground within NASCAR rules. Production Talladegas received the Ford 428ci Cobra Jet, which, while powerful, was not intended as a racing engine. The race cars received the highly acclaimed Boss 429s from the Ford Mustang. The Torino Talladega did exactly what Ford hoped, winning 29 Grand National titles and the 1969 NASCAR championship.
Chrysler’s initial competitor was the Dodge Charger 500, which proved inferior to the Talladega; the later Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth Superbird were more effective competition until after the 1970 season, when NASCAR banned the aero cars and the Talladega’s competitive history was over.
Tony Millar – Owner Profile
Occupation: Business owner, marine industry
Previously owned Cars: Falcons, 1967 Mustang
Build time: 18 months
Why the Torino: It’s a bit different from the other Fords out there
Length of ownership: Two years
TONY thanks: Ali Wells for building the engine and lots of other work on the car, Dale Mathers at Coastline Automotive for the brakes, lots of parts and help along the way, Car Electronics Tauranga, Regal Automotive for the engine machining, Mike Neil for the upholstery, Lance at Pit Stop Mount Maunganui for the exhaust, and his wife and kids for putting up with the project
1971 Ford Torino GT – Specifications
Engine: 351ci (5752cc) Cleveland 2V, chromoly rings, Crow cam, oil restrictors, Milodon high-volume sump, Pete Jackson gear drive, steel crank, Milodon alloy water pump, 2V heads ported for 4V manifold, Manley valves, Lunati lifters, Lunati springs and retainers, twin K&N high rise stacks, Weiand tunnel ram, twin Holley 390cfm carbs, Holley 12psi fuel pump, Holley fuel regulator, Mallory electronic distributor, MSD coil, Accel leads, Headman headers, three-inch exhaust, five-core alloy radiator, Road Runner high torque starter motor
Driveline: C4 transmission, 2500 stall converter, Hurst shifter, shift kit, nine-inch diff
Suspension: KYB gas shocks, King front springs, lowered rear leaves, 38mm sway bar, Nolathane bushes
Brakes: PBR 330mm discs and callipers, stock rears
Wheels/Tyres: 17×8 and 18×10-inch American racing torque Thrust II wheels, 245/40R17 and 275/35R18 Goodyear F1 tyres
Exterior: Shaved marker lights, chrome and badges removed, Spies Hecker jet black with copper and bronze pearl paint
Interior: Custom retrim, Lecarra steering wheel, Auto Meter gauges, Panasonic head unit
Performance: 225kW at the wheels
Story: Todd Wylie Photos: Adam Croy