Mention big-screen Ford Torinos, and the acclaimed Clint Eastwood movie named for the car undoubtedly springs to mind. But less than six months after the release of Gran Torino, a 1972 Gran Torino Sport played a supporting role in 2009’s Fast & Furious, the fourth installment in the blockbuster franchise.
In the flick, the car was driven by bad guy Fenix Calderon, who crashes it into protagonist Brian O’Conner’s Subaru during a chase. It wasn’t one of the more prominent cars of the film, but it left an impression on enthusiast Sean Klein.
“I loved the look of the car,” he says. “The ’72 Grand Torino Sport Sports Roof was already a beautiful, underappreciated car, but it looked even better in the film, with the unique wheels and side exhaust. I wanted to replicate that style.”
The thing was, 1972 Torino Sports Roof models of any trim weren’t exactly easy to find. Ford produced more than 60,000 of them, but you’d never know from the relative few that survived. The fastback body carried on in 1973, but with significantly larger 5-mph bumpers.
The ’72 model’s front-end styling was trimmer and unique, making it somewhat of a unicorn in the Blue Oval world.
Fast forwarding furiously to early 2016, a ’72 Gran Torino Sport just happened to be in the lot of 12 cars Sean purchased from a family liquidating its collection. It was a 6F Gold Glow 351 Cleveland two-barrel car with a C6 three-speed automatic transmission. It wasn’t exactly a show car, but it was a ’72 Gran Torino Sport and that was a find in itself.
“Of the 12 cars I purchased that day, I kept only the Torino and a ’68 International pickup,” he says. “It was really just a fluke that I found out about the cars and purchased them, but it ultimately worked out well.”
Intending to duplicate the movie car, Sean got to work fast and, uh, furiously. Some elements on the big screen Gran Torino, such as the side exhaust, were fake, and the engine was a four-barrel-fed 351 Cleveland.
Even the movie car’s suspension was still stock. That wasn’t going to be a solid baseline for a restomod intended to deliver a big-screen performance punch.
“I wanted to build the car the way they should have done it for the movie and also make it a real, take-it any where driver,” he says. “That was going to mean upgrading the powertrain to something more modern. I didn’t want to hit the highway with a three-speed transmission.”
It was important to keep the car Ford-powered, too, so Sean decided a late-model Mustang’s “Coyote” V-8 engine and six-speed automatic transmission would be a gran(d) idea.
“I wanted it all to start up and perform like a late-model vehicle, but wrapped in the Gran Torino body,” he says. “The suspension would have to be done, too, but the important thing was nailing down the powertrain.”
Sean found it in Georgia, at The Parts Farm — a salvage facility that specializes in delivering turnkey late-model swap powertrains. For the Torino, it was a 2014 Mustang GT engine fitted with an Edelbrock Stage II supercharger (with Eaton R2650 TVS guts) and complementing 6R80 six speed automatic transmission. In fact, the donor car would also give up its instrument cluster, shifter, fuel tank, electrical body harness, pedal set steering column, and brake booster for the project.
Once the palette of parts had been delivered to Sean’s Michigan home, it became apparent that squeezing the big Coyote engine into the car wasn’t going to be easy. It’s a notoriously wide engine, but the blower on this one also made it just that much taller. Too tall, in fact, to work with the original hood.
“That was a nonstarter for me,” says Sean. “I love the look of the hood with the scoop on it, and there was no way I was going to cut it or use something else. There had to be another way.”
There was: engine setback. We’re not just talking about an inch or so, either. Sean cut the rewall an door to shove the engine approximately 10 inches back on the chassis; and it took about 10 tries of lowering the body onto the powertrain until all the necessary clearance was achieved.
It’s a comparatively radical rearward push for the engine, with custom cross members, but one that ultimately paid off not only in retaining the original hood, but also in improving the front-to-rear weight balance of the big Ford. And while he was cutting, Sean also raised the door about 3 inches in order to accommodate a true, functional side-exhaust system.
The door changes required some other alterations in the cabin, including lower-pro¬ le seats from a Subaru WRX, which were restitched, along with the rest of the interior, by Hof Designs.
Channeling the body over the supercharged Coyote was one thing, but making that modern Mustang powertrain run in the vintage wrapper was another big challenge. It required professional help, which came from Tom Frayer at High Voltage Automotive in Taylor, Michigan.
“I couldn’t have done it without him,” says Sean. “Tom completely dismantled the body harness and rewired it for everything required to make the engine not only run in the car, but to make sure the transmission shifted properly and that the transplanted gauges worked.”
More than making the instruments work, Tom made sure most of the late-model convenience features worked, too, from the automatic lighting sensor to the door sensors that trigger the delayed headlamp off when exiting the vehicle. All the steering wheel controls remained operational, from the radio functions and scrolling for the driver information details in the gauge cluster to the back-up camera and cruise control.
“People tell me all the time when I get out of the car that I left my headlights on,” says Sean. “But they turn off automatically, just like a new car. That’s pretty cool.”
To make the transmission function and shift properly, the factory ABS module had to be retained in the body harness, but at the moment, the car does not have antilock capability. The brakes themselves are more than stout enough without it. The front brakes are from a 1993 Mustang Cobra R, while the rears are Wilwood discs, with four-piston calipers.
The front brakes are attached to a Street Rod Engineering Mustang II based Hub to Hub independent front suspension system, with tubular control arms and power rack-and pinion steering. It features 2-inch dropped spindles, which contribute to the Torino’s aggressive stance.
And more than fitting the front suspension, the engine’s accessory drive had to be carefully configured, including some unique components from Vintage Air, to work with the supercharger drive. There’s also a custom reverse mount for the alternator and a custom turnbuckle to help with a tighter position on the supercharger drive belt, to prevent slipping.
At the rear, the suspension was redone with coilovers and adjustable lower control arms. They locate a Moser-built 9-inch, featuring 31-spline axles and an Auburn limited-slip differential, while a custom driveshaft links it to the set-back, supercharged Coyote mill, which puts more than 500 horsepower to the rear wheels.
Speaking of the wheels, Sean emulated those from the movie car, using 18-inch Coy C67 Gunmetal wheels with the rears widened to 10 inches to help fill out the rear quarters.
When all the nuts and bolts were finally tightened and all the electrical connections soldered, Sean turned to the body, which he intended to have repainted deep green, like the Fast & Furious movie car.
“I was talked out of it,” says Sean. “The patina trend was catching on and the car just seemed to have the right look, so I left it alone. For now.”
That popular unrestored appearance nevertheless stranded him in car show limbo when he submitted the Torino for entry in the 2019 Detroit Autorama. Because it had the original paint, Sean initially aimed for the show’s “Extreme” display, aka the basement, which is normally the domain of traditional-style hot rods and other creations that didn’t spend any time in a paint booth. He was rejected.
“It was too new for the basement display,” he says. “So, I resubmitted the entry for the main floor, but was rejected again, because they said the original hood was just too rusty. It wasn’t a high-enough-caliber look, they told me.”
In a fast-and-furious search, Sean located another, less-corroded hood and had it repainted by Lenny’s Auto Repair in Ubly, Michigan, to match the patina of the rest of the unrestored body. That was good enough for the Autorama standards, but they made sure he didn’t get a more prominent end location in his display aisle.
“That was fine,” Sean says, with a laugh. “To be honest, the car drew more attention than just about all the other cars around it, so the location didn’t really matter.”
We’ll be honest, too, that we didn’t make the Fast & Furious connection when we first saw the car at the show. It was the well-executed build within the the distinctive and rare ’72 Sports Roof body that drew our attention. And the fact that Sean drives it, like, all the time, is way more impressive than 200 hours of color sanding. To us, that’s its true star quality.
SPECIFICATION 1972 FORD GRAN TORINO SPORT
Block type……….. Ford “Coyote” V-8; aluminum
Cylinder heads …….Ford DOHC aluminum; four valves per cylinder
Displacement …….. 302-cu.in. (5.0-liter)
Bore x stroke ……. 3.63 x 3.65 in
Compression ratio … 11.0:1
Pistons………….. Ford hypereutectic aluminum
Connecting rods…… Ford 5.93-in
Crankshaft……….. Ford forged steel
Horsepower @ rpm …. 620 (est.)
Torque @ rpm …….. 585 lb-ft (est.)
Camshaft type…….. Ford hydraulic, roller follower
Duration…………. 263/263 degrees (advertised)
Valvetrain ………. Dual overhead camshafts with roller rocker arms
Induction system …Edelbrock Stage II positive-displacement, 2.65-liter supercharger; 103-mm throttle body; port fuel injection with 60-lb/hr injectors
Lubrication system… Crankshaft-driven gerotor-type
Ignition system…… Ford coil-on-plug
Exhaust system……. Ford tri-Y-type headers with custom exhaust system by Deptula Performance
Original engine…… Ford 351 Cleveland with two-barrel carburetor
Type……………… Ford 6R80 six-speed automatic
Ratios……………. 1st/4.17:1 … 2nd/2.34:1 … 3rd /1.52:1 … 4th/1.14:1 5th/0.86:1 … 6th/0.69:1 … Reverse/2.24:1
Type……………… Moser-built Ford 9-inch; Auburn limited-slip
Type……………… Mustang II-type power rack-and-pinion
Turns, lock-to-lock .. 2.75 (est.)
Type……………… Power-assisted four-wheel disc Front.Ford Mustang Cobra R 13-in rotors with two-piston calipers
Rear………………. Wilwood 12.25-in rotors with four-piston calipers
Front……………………………Mustang II-type independent; tubular control arms, coilovers
Rear………………. Solid axle; coilover bar, coilovers by Strange, adjustable rear lower control arms
WHEELS & TIRES
Wheels ……………. Coy C67 Gunmetal
Front: 18 x 8 in
Rear: 18 x 10 in
Tires …………….. Nitto NT562 and NT555R
Watch this video for 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport Modification