Rob’s Movie Muscle: Gran Torino’s 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport

Having spent four enjoyable years in the early 1990s at New York University’s Film School comprehensively studying the history of cinema, it should come as no surprise to you that I became intimately acquainted with Clint Eastwood’s body of work.

One of the most iconic actors in movie history, Clint starred in such unforgettable films as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Dirty Harry, Escape from Alcatraz, Unforgiven and countless other classics.

As he aged though, Eastwood increasingly turned his talents towards other facets of the filmmaking process, most notably directing and producing, which yielded us such jewels as The Bridges of Madison County, Mystic River, Letters from Iwo Jima/Flags of our Fathers, and American Sniper.

For me though, as a car fanatic and film connoisseur, my favorite contemporary movie of Eastwood’s has to be his 2009 effort, Gran Torino, whose four-wheel eponymous star is the subject of this month’s iteration of Rob’s Movie Muscle!

The original theatrical movie poster for Clint Eastwood’s 2008 film, Gran Torino. (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.)

Gran Torino was directed, produced, and starred in by Eastwood, and was a co-production by his company, Malpaso, along with Village Roadshow Pictures. Distributed in the United States by Warner Brothers, the film was a hit with critics and the movie-going public alike, grossing $148 million in the U.S., and $269 million worldwide.

Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski in a still from Gran Torino. (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.)

The movie features Eastwood as Walt Kowalski, a recently widowed, grizzled, racist, Korean War veteran who finds friendship in the form of a Hmong family who lives next door – one of the family’s teenage grandsons, in particular, Thao.

An unlikely bond forms between Walt and Thao after the latter is pressured into trying to steal Walt’s prized possession, a 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport, at the insistence of a neighborhood street gang.

A publicity still for the film featuring Clint Eastwood and his four-wheeled co-star in Gran Torino. (Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.)

While the film is essentially a character study, as well as an essay on prejudice and the importance of family, there are enough appearances of Walt’s flawless Gran Torino in the movie to warrant having a good, long look at this lesser-known and lower-prominence muscle car.

The Ford Torino was first released in 1968 as a competitor in the intermediate mid-sized market. Named after the Italian automotive capital, Turin, the Torino began life as a high-end variant of the Fairlane.

While the majority of Torinos produced were rather sedate four-door sedans and two-door coupes, Ford did produce some muscle car versions that featured the manufacturer’s premium large displacement, high-output V8s.

The first generation of Torinos, spanning the 1968-1969 model years featured a rather ho-hum styling, though sales were good. A sportier design was released in 1970, but it didn’t connect with the auto-buying public, and sales were anything but robust.

An original magazine advertisement for the new 1972 Ford Gran Torino. (Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company.)

In 1972, Ford doubled-down on the Torino and redesigned it once again. Now available in three trim lines – Torino, Gran Torino, and Gran Torino Sport – the car was built on a new body-on-frame design. The new Torino also featured a gaping maw of a grille flanked by quad headlamps, a long-hood, short-boot look and coke bottle flanks. The new design was a sales success, selling close to 500,000 units, making it the best selling car in its class.

Our first glimpse in the movie of Walt Kowalski’s prized possession, his 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport. (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.)

The car in the movie is one of 92,033 top-of-the-line ’72 Gran Torino Sport, two-door fastbacks produced and is magnificent in 4Q Dark Green Metallic.

Though the engine bay is only shown for a split second in the film, Walt’s car packs Ford’s “hot motor” for the unleaded-gasoline-mandated ’72 model year, the 4-bbl High Output 351ci Cleveland Cobra Jet V-8.

While no match for the big, leaded gas 428ci and 429ci high-compression Cobra Jets and Super Cobra Jets of previous years, the 1972 Cleveland nonetheless produced a respectable 300 horsepower (248 in today’s net horsepower ratings). This was enough to propel the car from 0-60 mph in slightly less than seven seconds, and the quarter-mile in the low-15 second range, making Walt’s steed no slouch by contemporary muscle car standards.

Walt fastidiously cares for his ride. (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.)

Given Walt Kowalski’s physical and emotional decay in the film though, it’s fairly apropos that his car would not be a rip-roaring example of muscle’s golden age, but rather one from after the zenith of the breed.

Kowalski’s car is fitted with the best performance parts Ford had to offer in ’72. The rare Ram Air Induction Package, which makes the hood scoop fully-functional is there, and the car sports the split twin exhaust, only available on 351 equipped cars in ’72.

The movie car on display at an automotive museum. (Photo courtesy of http://drezy.info.)

In fact, several of FoMoCo’s best option boxes were ticked on the movie car. The classic and gorgeous Magnum 500 wheels wrapped in BF Goodrich white-letter, radial tires are present – as is the full-length gold Laser Stripe down the sides of the car, replete with the “Gran Torino Sport” moniker. The black vinyl top option is also equipped, which lends the car a muscley look.

There are, of course, many iconic movie cars from over the decades. Steve McQueen’s 1968 Mustang 390 from Bullitt, James Bond’s 1964 Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger, and so on spring to mind, but rarely has a movie vehicle simultaneously complimented and acted as a microcosm for the film’s main protagonist as does Gran Torino’s, Gran Torino. In addition to reflecting Walt being from a bygone era of America, the ’72 Gran Torino in the movie is one hell of a cool “alternative” muscle car. I highly recommend you check out the movie and its four-wheel star.

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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