CELEBRATING 30 YEARS HE’S SPENT A HALF-CENTURY WITH HIS “YELLOW BEAST”
At First He Raced and Drove It, Then He Stored It Outdoors and Now He’s Restored His 1970 Ford Torino 429 CobraJet and Is Enjoying It Again.
Editor’s note: Auto Restorer has always encouraged folks to drive and enjoy their special rides so we thought it would be appropriate to close out our 30th Anniversary year by visiting with a reader who has owned a 1970 Ford Torino 429 CobraJet for a half-century and is driving his muscular vehicle today. So let’s turn it over to Bruce for his story:
My brother and I were wards of the state of Missouri, but were lucky enough to be raised by an aunt and uncle. When I turned 18 I was allowed to buy a car. My uncle and I talked it over, looked at the different auto brochures and it ended up that my car of choice was the new 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1.
I ordered the car and in April 1969 it was delivered to Hunts Farm Implement Dealership in Unionville, Missouri: population, 500 people. I watched Hunts unload the Mach 1 off the transporter, service the car and look it over. I gave them a check for the full amount ($3100) and headed back to junior college after paying $0.13 a gallon for gas (after all, there was a gas war going on at the time). In 16 months, I had that car in four wrecks but NONE of them was my fault! Still, it was a good thing one of my other uncles was my insurance agent.
Encountering the Yellow Beast
In July 1970, while I was finishing my education at a different college in Oklahoma City, my Mach 1 was repaired by Fred Jones Ford as a result of accident #4. When I arrived to pick it up, I saw that it hadn’t been washed and I had to kill some time. What would you do to kill time in an automotive dealership? Look at cars!
A salesman saw this kid looking at the muscle machines and approached me saying he thought he had a car in the back of the dealership I would be interested in checking out. Sure enough, there she sat… A “Custards Last Stand Yellow” 1970 Ford Torino 429 CobraJet. It was love at first sight.
The salesman said the car was being prepped for drag racing! Along with the factory Hurst 4-speed shifter (with an ivory white factory Hurst T-Handle) it had the 9-inch rear end, factory louvers, shaker hood, and an in-dash ribbon tachometer. But Fred Jones Ford had replaced the exhaust with Cyclone Headers, connected to Cherry Bombs that dumped the spent gasses in FRONT of the rear tires. The car had Mickey Thompson mags (which I still own) with Firestone tires up front and Mickey Thompson cheater slicks on the back. A heavy duty sway bar was installed between Lakewood traction bars with staggered rear shocks, a Holly 850 dual pumper carb rode on top of the intake with the addition of a Sun Tach on the steering column. I can see why there was a tachometer on the steering column. Trying to shift gears by looking at your feet was no fun and the ribbon tach eventually gave up the ghost after three or four years. There were also three AutoMeter gauges installed in the dash, and for some reason, Fred Jones added racing stripes across the roof and rear deck. The Torino had around 30-50 miles on it. I traded my Mach 1 plus $500 for this Chevy-eating monster and immediately named her The Yellow Beast.
Making Some Race Car Modifications
Get the women and children off the street ’cause this 429 Torino CobraJet could strike! Go from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds, do 101 in 13 flat on the quarter mile and all that with no power steering, disc brakes or A/C.
As a kid during the ’70s I was a reckless fool with The Yellow Beast. I took parts off the car and added parts to her. I hung out on Friday and Saturday nights with street racers in Oklahoma City, Dallas and even ended up in Carlsbad, California, doing the same thing. Strange... I never got a speeding or racing ticket in this car.
I lived in Dallas for only 18 months. During that time I had to replace engine #1. Smoked it! Engine #2 became the built-up engine. (I think we got it out of a station wagon.) I installed a Crower cam, an Offenhauser 360 intake, Mallory dual point distributor, a Carter Quadrajet carb, a Savage Racing clutch, and depending on the evening; 4:11 or 5:30 gears would be used. The 429 cid engines weigh close to 850 pounds (and the T-10 top loader tranny is no slouch either) so the spare tire, jack, etc. would come out for any type of race. Those were fun times in Big D!
Then, after a nine-month marriage followed by a divorce, The Yellow Beast hauled me out to Carlsbad, California, real fast!
Driving It Less & Less & Less…
From 1974 to 1978, I would race the Torino at the Carlsbad Raceway from time to time, but the car mostly sat on a sloping driveway while I got more and more involved in street rods. During a startup in 1978, the engine screamed like a banshee, then blew up. I saved what parts I could, but that was the end of four-twenty-nine number two! However, I had a good friend, whose family owned a wrecking yard full of muscle cars. They had a 1970 Torino Cobra Jet with a 429 sitting in it. Engine #3 was installed without any modifications. I even used the original factory exhaust manifold and 30 years later, I found out that this engine was close to a numbers matching engine.
I drove The Yellow Beast off and on for the next eight years. I found a flight attendant to marry and the Torino was again being driven less and less.
In 1988, I parked her beside our house where she could rest and take it easy. I would start her up now and then, no problem there, she still had the rumble I loved to hear, but letting her sit like that for the next 18 years was not a kind thing to do to her. Then one day, watching an auto auction on TV saved her!
A Clone Came To Our Rescue
My wife Diane and I were visiting our friend Eric Lang. (Eric’s sister, Elaine, is the lady who owns the Chrysler Crossfire that we wrote about in the October 2016 issue of AR.) So, Eric and I were watching the Scottsdale Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction when a Torino Cobra clone came up for bidding. I was telling Eric the differences between that car and a true Torino CobraJet when my wife Diane walked by as the ’70/71 Torino GT Cobra clone goes for $75,000. Diane turned and asked, “Is that the same car that has been sitting beside the house over 15 years?” “Yes,” I said, “but ours isn’t a clone, ours is the real deal.” “Have you thought about restoring it?” That was all I needed to begin.
A few weeks after watching the auto auction, I got my Torino started, and with that nice rumble, I drove it over to my good friend Pablo Aguilera’s house, where we proceeded to strip her. We left the drive train intact, but pulled the seats, door panels and side glass out of the Torino along with the shiny stuff, all of which I stored at Classic Interiors by Stitch. Interesting thing, I noticed that parts, such as the headlight rims or mirrors, had the typical part number on them, but they also had stamped on the part the proper screw or bolt size to install the item on the car. Cool. Some ’70/71 Torino hoods would have the “call out” words FORD or TORINO installed on the left front corner of the hood. Almost all Torino Cobras did not. Another minor neat feature about the car.
Pablo and I spent almost six months sanding and priming the metal for a repaint. Pablo paints cars in a lean-to next to his house and if he paints at night, there is one 60-watt bulb for light! We matched the yellow paint locally, but we ended up ordering the enamel flat black paint for the hood (and stripes) plus the shiny black for the factory rear louvers from Tower Paints out of Michigan. They will mix and ship you (via ground) the correct enamel or lacquer paints for your car using the original factory paint codes. Pablo’s painting was flawless.
After the paint job, I carefully drove The Yellow Beast over to Classic Interiors by Stitch, where Rick “Stitch” Coleman and I proceeded to finish stripping the rest of the interior out of the car. Stitch has an extensive background in the automotive restoration industry. Individuals from as far away as Florida have had him restore interiors or even have him do complete restorations or customs jobs. His work has won many awards for him and the cars’ owners. He has been a car show judge from time to time, plus many of his restored autos have won concours shows such as Pebble Beach. Some of his custom autos and motorcycles have been shown at the SEMA Convention in Las Vegas. His work was very popular with the Mercedes and Porsche owners in California, but he has since moved to the Grants Pass, Oregon, area.
Well, ol’ Stitch and I finished taking the rest of the interior out of the car. Out came the seats, again, then the door panels, headliner, padded dash, carpeting and kick panels. I would have to order the rear window package tray and re-chrome the Hurst shifter.
Locating the Build Sheets… Among Other Things
It’s funny the things one finds under car seats. Under the rear seat was an amazing assortment of lost memorabilia from the ’70s. There were three complete E Ticket coupon books from Disneyland, ticket stubs to drive-in theaters, timing slips from drag strips throughout Texas and California, and Kerr McGee gas station stamps (Remember S&H Green stamps? Some gas stations gave out stamps as well.) In the ash tray was $2 in change and all of the coins pre-dated 1988.
And…stuffed between the seat springs and padding of the seat cushions were the build sheets for the car.
Now about those build sheets. I happened to walk into Stitch’s shop one day just in time to see him rip one of the build sheets out of one of the seat cushions and throw the sheet into the trash. I told him doing that would immediately drop a big number of points if a car was being judged as an original restoration. We both went dumpster diving after the build sheets and got ’em! My car’s two build sheets were located between the springs and the burlap that held the foam for the seat cushions for the front and rear seats.
I ordered an interior kit for the car from Dearborn Classics, except for the door panels. Dearborn Classics had the complete interior kit for the car, but not the right door panels for the 1970 Torino Cobras. They only had panels for the GT. Stitch repaired the original door panels perfectly.
Stitch now went to work on the headliner. It was a perfect copy of the original, except after we installed it, Stitch had to take it out and re-sew it back together and re-install it. The new headliner had a bad seam in the middle of it, but Stitch took care of it. The two of us easily got it installed.
Next came the seats. The rear seat cushion and back were easily restored, but after he finished up the front bench seat, and installed it in the car, the seat just didn’t look like the original. The sides of the seat backs just didn’t look right. The front seat came back out of the car and Stitch grabbed the old seat cover and took the new one off of the seat frame and compared the two. Dearborn’s still had the yellow chalk marks that told the seamstress where to sew the patterns back together. She/he had used the same pattern for all 4 sides of the front seat backs. When Stitch took the originals apart, the outside sides of the seats were different than the two inner sides. Using the factory original cuts, Stitch re-sewed the seat covers back together with a perfect fit.
The dash pad was cracked from sitting in the warm California sun all those years. Stitch suggested I contact Dash Specialties in Portland, Oregon, to restore it. Three weeks later I had a perfectly restored dash pad.
Stitch and I then called around the state looking for the correct package tray and he actually found one here in Fresno! It had the original curve, texture and black finish. With a little cleanup it was easily installed in the Torino. I still have the original hood locks that came with the car. I decided it would be best to have spares on hand, just in case, so I bought an extra pair from a Ford Dealership in Carlsbad, California, in 1976. But the “new” ones still reside in their original Ford factory parts box.
The Torino’s glass is the original factory glass, except the front windshield. I had taken all of the glass out of the car to help in the restoration, but I hired a glass company to reinstall it and they cracked the front glass at the bottom. I called Cheap Auto Glass, fearing the worse. The nice lady told me the windshield would (gulp) cost $800. She even told me that the front was more expensive than the rear! Go figure? But the next day I had a nice “new” Torino windshield installed.
As Stitch and I were putting The Yellow Beast back together, I had read in one of my many Torino books that if any of the 1970 Torino Cobras were involved in a front end accident and the front PLASTIC grille had to be replaced, many times the only option left open to the body shop was to use a 1970 GT grille or a 1971 grille. But to get that grille to fit correctly one would have to use the GT medallion in the center of the grille for the proper alignment and that is wrong for almost all of the 1970 Torino Cobras. Many of the Torino Cobras came from the factory with no medallions in the center of the grille. So please, do not lean on my grille. They crack very easily.
After the Power Wash…
Stitch only had the car in his shop for three months. After he was finished, I drove her over to Hye Class Auto Detailing to, well, to have her detailed! The owner, John Garabedian, had detailed a few of my cars in the past and always did a nice job. He also promised me the use of his outdoor hydraulic lift to power wash the bottom of the car and the engine compartment. John and I scraped and washed the car ’til we dropped. The Yellow Beast came out looking better than the day she came off the assembly line!
But then the old horse would not fire up after the engine compartment had a good soaking. The first thing I did was check the distributor cap. It was cracked. Not only was it cracked, but it was broken clean in two. I duck taped the cap back together, and gave her a try. Amazingly, the car fired right up. Then she stalled. Fired up and stalled again. Shoot, I only had to take her three miles, so, John and I started pushing the 3500 pound car down the street in front of his shop! Two girls came by in their pickup truck, jumped out, helped John push and the three of them got her rolling again. I “popped” the clutch and she fired right up. I drove around the block back to John’s shop; left the car running, paid John, and headed to our storage unit where I keep the Torino.
Like I said, from Hye Class to our storage unit is only three miles. But when I went over the BNSF railroad overpass on Herndon Avenue, the Torino ran out of gas, and coasted down the east side of the overpass. Because I had been moving at a pretty good clip, I was able to coast through the stop light at the intersection (yes, the light changed green as I got there) and my momentum carried me into the 7/11 Mini Mart gas station.
I got three gallons of gas. But the car refused to start as the battery had used up its last spark. I was able to move the poor Yellow Beast out of the gas station into a parking lot. At this time I knew what I needed most: My wife Diane!
Believe it or not, the last person I wanted to see the Torino at this point was my wife. I had planned on surprising her one evening by picking her up at the airport and driving her home in The Yellow Beast. Like I mentioned earlier, Diane is a flight attendant and I wanted to take a classy looking woman home in a classy looking Torino CobraJet. But I had to have my wife NOW! I called her up and she drove our SUV the two miles to the parking lot. I told her to watch the Torino while I drove two miles to our local NAPA store and bought a new battery, new distributor cap, and starter fluid. Some 10 minutes later the Torino was running again. A week later I drove The Yellow Beast to its first car show.
A Home of Its Own
Thus ends my saga of getting our 1970 Ford Torino 429 CobraJet back on the street. Does The Yellow Beast appear exactly as the day she did when she rolled off the assembly line? No. With the added racing stripes, in-dash gauges, owner-installed Kragan 8-track tape deck (located inside the glove box and it still works) and having eaten up two engines in the past, I would be hard-pressed to say she’s a numbers-matching car.
But while The Yellow Beast never spent a single day of her life in a garage, under a carport or car cover until she was restored, she now sleeps comfortably in a garage with a nice soft-weave California Car Cover on her, ready to be awakened and driven to the occasional car show or cruise. Soon my little baby will be 50 years old and unless Diane is around, I like telling everyone, “I was in love once. It was a 1970 Torino CobraJet!”
My First Trophy
PS, the Yellow Beast finally did it. After 49 years and entering one thousand and one car shows, the Beast took Best Muscle Car at the Fire on the Mountain car show at Bass Lake, California. Then the trophy almost was stolen out of my front seat when I was paying for gas! Fortunately, I came back to the car just as a guy was reaching inside. From now on, no matter how hot it gets, the windows stay rolled up and the doors locked whenever I’m away
And always remember, “The fun is in the run!”