The thought of sharing 99 percent of our DNA with some dirty apes is a bit unsettling. We'd like to think that humans are the most sophisticated of primates, but let's face it-one percent doesn't leave much wiggle room. Like the chimp that learns to bash walnut shells with rocks by observing his peers, humans guzzle Starbucks and watch "American Idol." While this same conformist behavior can be blamed for past and present hot-rodding practices, Greg Pettit's '71 Torino makes even the most fundamental car-building techniques seem like "monkey see, monkey do" trends.
Granted, running 11.0 at 122 mph in a 3,900-pound tank for less than $20,000 isn't exactly common, but what's truly unorthodox isn't so much what was built, but how. A peculiar exercise in backwards engineering, Greg's approach to car-building is downright wacky. For instance, he bought a set of wheels first, and then narrowed his rearend to fit their backspacing. He didn't buy an intake manifold that fit his carburetor, he machined the intake he already had and made it fit the carb instead. Examples abound, and get even more bizarre. Although it wouldn't be prudent to advocate such oddball tactics, the reason for habitually straying from custom was financial. And with this much speed for this little coin, who are we to argue?
Greg has had his project car longer than most-20 years to be exact. He saw it sitting on a used car lot and was immediately drawn to its unique shape. "I had no idea what a Torino was," he reminisces. "They wanted $2,600 for it, so I traded my clapped-out '77 Thunderbird, paid the $2,000 difference, and drove it home." It came equipped with the factory-original 351 Cleveland mill, two-barrel carb, and C4 trans. Greg started slapping on the mods immediately, and it served as a daily driver from 1987 to 1992. "I drove the car all through high school, and even delivered pizzas with it," he says. "Then I had a little incident with a pole, and the car sat until 2002."
After a 10-year hiatus, Greg caught the bug once again and repaired the twisted sheetmetal. He picked up a set of fenders and a front bumper from salvage yards, and installed a new fiberglass hood. R&R Automotive of Frisco, Texas, repaired some minor rust damage and dents, and painted the car in PPG Zinc Yellow, off of a 2001 Mustang. The color is close to the Torino's factory yellow paint, but with more pop, and its single-stage application process cut down on materials and labor costs.
More than just a simple restoration, Greg planned to race the Torino in the Texas Outsiders' Nostalgia Muscle Car class (www.texasoutsiders.com), whose rules are modeled after the NMCA-Edelbrock class of the same name. "My goal was to run 11.50s while maintaining streetability," explains Greg. "Racing in a class with strict rules kept all my efforts focused in one direction, which prevented me from wasting time and money building the car one way and then another." One of the few advantages of campaigning the portly Torino was that the rules allowed running a big-block.
With the help of forum members at 460ford.com, Greg put together a formidable 545ci lump that didn't crush his piggy bank. "Without 460ford.com, the car as it sits would literally not exist," he says. "Not only did I get great technical information and advice from fellow board members, I used the site to track down many hard-to-find parts and sell my old parts." When he couldn't locate items on 460ford.com, Greg met extreme fortune on eBay . A few glorious finds include a $400 NOS block, $120 roller rockers, and a $400 Dominator carb. Consequently, from top to bottom, the 545 rung up a reasonable bill of less than $6,000.
Merely scoring great deals on parts doesn't constitute a great motor, but the 545 has the goods to warrant a fair amount of praise. The magnitude of engineering involved for a home-built powerplant is quite impressive. Since Greg made many compromises in the name of streetability, he maximized displacement to compensate. Likewise, the solid flat tappets limit the steepness of the cam lobes, but, according to Greg, promote durability. "With lots of valvespring pressure, I've witnessed roller lifters fail too often on the street in my friends' cars," he says. Furthermore, for a pump-gas motor, its 11.8:1 compression ratio seems like a typo, but is made possible by several design parameters. "The aluminum heads help dissipate heat, custom camshaft prevents too much cylinder pressure buildup at low rpm, and loose torque converter reduces engine load when accelerating from a standstill."
Up to this point, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the buildup, but after the completion of the motor, things started getting loopy. Greg's racing class limits tire size to 28x11.5, but tires that big actually fit inside the Torino's wheelwells. He decided to mini-tub the car to accommodate larger meats on the street, and since the rearend had to be narrowed anyway, he found a sweet deal on used wheels and spec'd out the axle width based on their backspacing. While increasing the size of the wheelwells usually requires running a fuel cell, Greg was adamant about retaining a factory-style gas tank. "I wanted to be able to fit my slicks and toolbox in the trunk, and keep the car looking as stock as possible," he explains. As luck would have it, there happened to be a Maverick at the shop where Greg took his car to get tubbed. "I thought to myself, 'man that gas tank looks just like mine, just nine inches narrower,'" says Greg. "So I grabbed the Maverick's tank, and built the tubs around it."
Big tires are only half the battle when it comes to hooking up, and exhaustive efforts were made to dial-in the rear suspension setup. Greg feels that "four-links and ladder bars aren't for street cars," and his aversion to buying aftermarket parts designed specifically for his car meant more mixed-up engineering. Fortunately, he got some good ideas from a former NASCAR crew chief building a Dodge Coronet drag car, and had lots of spare suspension pieces lying around. "As he took parts off his car, I held them up to my car to see if they would fit," recalls Greg. Through much trial and error and custom-fabbing of various brackets, he ended up with a setup that includes Mopar Super Stock springs, Dodge Coronet shocks, and a $10 swap meet sway bar off of a Mercury Grand Marquis. Surprisingly, the Frankenstein setup is good for superb 1.51-second 60-foot times. "Everyone says I should buy traction bars, but that costs money, and the time I spend playing around with old race car parts is free," he says.
At the risk of being overly philosophical, it's safe to say that Greg's Torino is one case where backwards isn't exactly backwards. Conventional wisdom says he went about doing many things the wrong way, but blindly following tradition is monkeylike, often resulting in slow and expensive cars. Greg's car, on the other hand, runs 11.0s. How about yours?
Where the Money Went:Internet message boards and eBay are virtual swap meets where hot rodders can save big bucks, and Greg Pettit's Torino proves the point. Only the most critical components (like the rotating assembly, rings, bearings, and gaskets) were purchased new. Additionally, little parts like the cooling fan and gauge cluster were purchased at AutoZone. They're not fancy name brands, but they don't need to be.
|'71 Ford Torino GT: ||$2,600 (in 1987) |
|Paint & body: ||$5,000 |
|Mini-tubs: ||$0 |
|Wheels: ||$400 |
|Tires: ||$500 |
|Engine block: ||$400 |
|Rotating assembly: ||$1,150 |
|Rings & bearing: ||$150 |
|Machining: ||$500 |
|Cam: ||$140 |
|Lifters: ||$120 |
|Pushrods: ||$75 |
|Used rockers: ||$120 |
|Timing set: ||$20 |
|Cylinder heads: ||$1,800 |
|Used intake manifold: ||$200 |
|Used carb: ||$400 |
|Stock distributor: ||$40 |
|MSD ignition box: ||$180 |
|Plug wires: ||$70 |
|Used oil pan: ||$100 |
|Oil pump: ||$120 |
|Gaskets: ||$110 |
|Used headers: ||$200 |
|Mufflers/collectors: ||$120 |
|Used fuel system parts: ||$300 |
|Radiator: ||$125 |
|Water pump: ||$180 |
|Cooling fan: ||$40 |
|Trans: ||$1,300 |
|Torque converter: ||$400 |
|Shifter: ||$100 |
|Rearend build: ||$670 |
|Rear shocks: ||$20 |
|Rear springs: ||$0 |
|Rear sway bar: ||$10 |
|Front suspension rebuild kit: ||$140 |
|Vinyl seat dye: ||$30 |
|Auto Meter tach: ||$110 |
|Oil/volt/temp gauges: ||$30 |
|Rollbar: ||$1,500 |
|Five-point harnesses: ||$400 |
|Total: ||$19,870 |
By The Numbers'71 Ford Torino GTGreg Pettit * Denton, TXBest ET: 11.04 at 122 mphTotal cost to build: $19,870
|Type: ||Ford 460 big-block |
|Block: ||factory Ford, bored to 4.390 inches |
|Oiling: ||High Flow Dynamics oil pump, Milodon pan |
|Rotating assembly: ||Scat 4.500-inch steel crank, 6.700-inch rods, forged 11.8:1 Probe pistons |
|Cylinder heads: ||home-ported Edelbrock CJ aluminum castings with 2.19/1.76-inch stainless steel valves and 74cc chambers |
|Camshaft: ||Lunati 251/260-at-0.050 solid flat tappet, .623/.649-inch lift, 111-degree LSA |
|Valvetrain: ||COMP lifters and valvesprings, Angus Racing 1.7:1 rockers |
|Induction: ||Edelbrock Victor intake, Moroso .5-inch spacer, Holley 1050-cfm Dominator |
|Fuel system: ||Mallory pump, Holley regulator, '71 Maverick tank with custom pickup |
|Exhaust: ||Hooker 2 1/8-inch long-tube headers, dual 3-inch Flowtech mufflers |
|Cooling: ||generic circle track radiator, Edelbrock water pump, Flex-a-lite electric fan |
|Built by: ||owner |
|Transmission: ||Broader Performance C6 auto, Edge 3,800-stall converter, B&M shifter |
|Rear axle: ||factory 9-inch rearend, 31-spline Moser axles, 3.89:1 gears, Detroit Locker differential |
|Front suspension: ||rebuilt stock |
|Rear suspension: ||Mopar Super Stock springs, Dodge Coronet shocks, Mercury 3/4-inch sway bar, custom subframe connectors |
|Brakes: ||stock discs, front; stock Mercury discs, rear |
|WHEELS & TIRES |
|Wheels: ||Weld Pro Star 15x7 (3.5-inch backspace), front; 15x10 (3.5-inch backspace), rear |
|Tires: ||BFGoodrich 225/70R15, front; BFGoodrich 345/55R15, rear |
|Thanks: ||Mark and Pat Artis, Jeff Pettit, Dan Bell, 460ford.com, Torinocobra.com |