Photography by Al Rogers
It’s rare when a vehicle’s nameplate becomes the title of a major motion picture. The Gran Torino nameplate is one of those select rarities. Ford’s mid-size offering became the focal point when Clint Eastwood played Walt Kowalski, a retired factory worker and Korean War veteran, in the movie, Gran Torino. Kowalski’s only remaining happiness and link to the past was his beloved 1972 Gran Torino Sport tucked away in his garage.
Ford’s Gran Torino Sport was offered as a two-door hardtop and the slick looking two-door SportsRoof. For the first time Ford’s mid-size muscle car rode on a full perimeter frame that greatly improved ride and handling qualities. Styling was crisp and sculptured. Like other mid-size competitors, the Gran Torino Sport emphasized sleekness with its long hood/short deck body design. Fenders had sharp edges and its quarter-panels included a muscular crease that ran along the upper edge. The SportsRoof version was still a fastback but with a slightly less aggressive angle to it. Surprisingly, the fastback could be ordered with a vinyl roof. Adding the racy fadeaway “laser” side stripe and optional Magnum 500 wheels with raised white letter tires finished off the performance look.
Its front end was totally redesigned for 1972. The previous year’s full width front grille was replaced with a brawny, nearly square, argent colored “fish mouth” grille. Quad headlamps remained rested in bold chrome pods. The total effect was a much more masculine looking Torino. All Sport models included an attractive twin-opening hood scoop that was available with a ram air option on vehicles equipped with either the 351 or 429 cubic-inch V8.
From the rear, it was clear Ford began with a clean sheet of paper. No longer were taillamps positioned in the traditional sheetmetal panel above the bumper. Now taillamps resided within the bumper, which was moved up towards the center of the rear end. The gently sloping decklid met at the top of the bumper.
The new body-on-frame design gave added interior room and comfort. Inside it was all-new. The standard dash included five round gauge pods for all appropriate instruments. The optional “Instrument Group” revised that to just two large pods centered on the steering wheel and a third pod used as the Direct Aire vent. Front seats had integrated headrests on both bench and bucket seat versions.
While increasing emission standards and increasing insurance costs had taken much of the muscle out of muscle cars, the Gran Torino continued to have a few performance offerings. The base engine was Ford’s tried and true 302 cubic-inch V8. And while it performed adequately, with only 140 horsepower on tap, the Sport wasn’t about to win any stoplight races. Buyers needing added power could step up to a two-barrel 351, two-barrel 400 or four-barrel 429 cubic-inch V8.
However it wasn’t the 429 big-block that was the Big Kahuna for the model year. It was the smaller 351 cubic-inch CJ engine. Rated at a conservative 248 horsepower, the burly small-block still had some kick left in it, especially when equipped with a four-speed transmission and Ram Air option. The engine was built for performance regardless of its 8.5:1 compression ratio. It included a special intake manifold topped with a 750 CFM Autolite carburetor, high lift camshaft, four-bolt mains and a 2.5-inch exhaust system. The CJ option had enough power to melt the tires after about six months of ownership should the owner be so inclined.
Gran Torino Sport buyers were a unique group. They stepped outside the traditional performance box when they put their hard cash down to purchase one. Today, we all benefit by being able to enjoy looking at something other than the typical ’70s muscle car.
Fuel For Thought
First year for flush-mounted outside door handles
Four-speed available only on the 351 CJ engine
Convertible model eliminated
Disc brakes became standard equipment
Number built – 496,645 (total Torino production)
Construction – body-on-frame
Engine – (1) 250 cubic-inch six cylinder, (1) 302 cubic-inch V8, (2) 351 cubic-inch V8, (1) 400 cubic-inch V8, (1) 429 cubic-inch V8
Power/Torque – 95 horsepower/181 lb-ft torque (250 cubic-inch six cylinder), 140 horsepower/230 lb-ft torque (302 cubic-inch V8), 161 horsepower/276 lb-ft torque, 248 horsepower/299 lb-ft torque (351 cubic-inch V8), 168 horsepower/297 lb-ft torque (400 cubic-inch V8), 205 horsepower/322 lb-ft torque (429 cubic-inch V8)
Transmission – three-speed manual, four-speed manual, three-speed automatic
Suspension Front – independent S.L.A. with ball joints and coil springs and stabilizer bar
Rear suspension – four link with coil springs
Steering – recirculating ball and nut, 24:1 ratio
Brakes – front disc, rear drum
Length/width/height – 203.7/79.3/51.9 inches
Wheelbase – 114 inches
Weight – 3,623 lbs.
0-60mph/quarter-mile – 8.8 seconds, 16.3 seconds at 86.5 mph (Motor Trend, May 1973)
Top speed – 110 mph estimated
MPG – 11-17 mpg est.
Price – $3,094 (Gran Torino Sport)
Today – $7,776 - $15,554
Insurance cost is $196 per year based on a 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport valued at $15,554 and 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance
All Ford powertrains were reliable workhorses with no particular weak areas. The 351 CJ was indestructible with rugged internals. Lower compression meant lower power, but it allowed any Torino to run on regular fuel.
Handling was superior to the previous uni-body model. The new four sided coil suspension system offered a soft ride. For those wanting sporty handling, a heavy-duty and competition suspension was available.
1972 Chevelle Malibu
Number built – 450,842 total Chevelle production
0-60/quarter-mile – 10.1 seconds, 17.9 seconds at 79 mph
Top speed – 110 mph est.
Price – MSRP – $2,923
Today – $15,040 - $27,840
1972 Dodge Charger
Number built – 67,791
0-60/quarter-mile – 11.5 seconds, 17.6 seconds at 76 mph
Top speed – 105 mph
Price – MSRP – $2,759
Today – $7,125 - $18,250
Not your typical muscle car
Limited aftermarket parts
Lacks “wow” effect of traditional muscle car
Unlikely to become a highly sought after vehicle
Gran Torino owners enjoy driving and showing their vehicles. Almost none are stashed away or put on trailers to attend events.
What To Pay
1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport
MSRP – $3,094
Low – $7,776
Average – $13,386
High – $15,554
*Prices courtesy of NADA
Complete interior kit $2024.50
Weatherstrip kit $536.40
Magnum 500 wheel $219.95
Front disc brake pads $29.95
Ford Torino 1968-1974 Performance Portfolio by R. M. Clarke
The Ranchero and Torino Handling Manual by MRE-Books
High Performance Ford Engine Parts Interchange Manual by George Reid
The 1972 Gran Torino Sport was a unique mixture of luxury, sporty styling and good performance all wrapped up in a car with room for six. The new full frame design offered improved ride comfort and quietness. Ford had a winner on its hands.