Come on ladies, let’s keep it real, shall we? Ask any woman what qualities she values in a man, and aside from the expected mushy-mushy stuff, the word psychic never makes the list. Interestingly, many of them expect their better halves to guess what they’re thinking, because as we all know, that’s a heck of a lot more fun than just telling someone how you feel. It’s certainly a peculiar way of conducting business, but dudes aren’t that much better in their communication skills. For instance, hot rodders have traditionally labeled automatic transmissions as unfit for autocross and road racing duty. They cite mushy torque converters, unsolicited upshifts, and a lack of engine braking as common gripes. Well, genius, did you ever stop to think how on earth an automatic transmission is supposed to guess what you want unless you tell it what to do? Mark Bowler of Bowler Performance Transmissions is on a mission to dispel these ugly myths, and he built an entire car just to prove the point. In doing so, he ended up with a two-ton terror of a ’70 Torino that packs a 572hp small-block, and routinely sticks it to manually shifted g-Machines on the autocross.
Long before the Torino project took off, the Bowler family business was founded in 1963 by Mark’s dad. Along with his mom and sister, the quartet worked hard to establish an excellent reputation within the local Illinois community. Although the shop focused primarily on stock transmission rebuilds and general repair, Mark always had a passion for hot rods. By the time he was 18 years old, he started working with performance shops, and became known as the go-to guy for fixing other people’s botched transmission work. After his dad retired in 2001, Mark decided to dedicate all of the company’s resources to the hot rod and muscle car market. “We moved into a bigger shop and bought a dyno, but most importantly, we listened closely to what our customers were telling us. High-end builders want to focus their energy on all the small details that go into a car, and the last thing they want to worry about is a transmission,” Mark says. “We noticed that some people were grinding off the casting numbers on brand-new transmissions we built for them, so we realized that for some people aesthetics is just as important as performance. In response, we started offering smoothed and powdercoated cases. We also recognize that it might take several years for a DIYer to build a car in their garage, so we began offering a one-year warranty starting from the first day of use, not the date of purchase.”
Anyone who catches a glimpse...
Anyone who catches a glimpse of the RideTech rollbar and the five-point harnesses knows that the Torino means business. Cutters Custom Interior gets credit for the upholstery work and custom seats. Mark puts the Kenwood stereo and Vintage Air A/C system to good use on those long drives to track events.
Bowler’s good work led to a working relationship with Roush Performance, and in an effort to improve his product line, Mark recognized the need to expand the company’s portfolio of Ford transmissions. “So many people are quick to throw a GM transmission behind a Ford motor, so we wanted to show people that you don’t have to do that. People also have the misconception that an automatic can’t survive or perform well in an autocross,” Mark says. “In order to validate the durability of Ford overdrives and automatics in general, we figured that the best way to do so was with an in-house R&D vehicle. Obviously, it had to be a Ford, but we wanted something different than a Mustang. We decided on a ’70 Torino GT because they have a unique look, and you don’t see too many of them out there.”
The Torino is a crowd pleaser...
The Torino is a crowd pleaser wherever it goes, and this is especially true on the autocross.
As unlikely as it is to find a rust-free project car in the Midwest, Mark lucked out when he spotted a two-owner Torino on eBay with just 61,000 original miles. “The car had been listed a few times before, but didn’t sell. The owner was a purist, had used all NOS parts, kept it all original, and never restored it,” Mark recalls. “Before the owner agreed to sell the car to us, he wanted to meet us at the shop to find out what we were going to do to it. He was shocked to hear that we planned on building a big fuel-injected stroker motor, install a full autocross suspension, and take it racing. His eyes got all big and he was reluctant to sell it to us, but fortunately he needed the money and we worked out a deal.”
Once back at the Bowler Performance Transmissions shop, the crew immediately pulled the stock 351W small-block and C4 trans, but debated on what to do with the body. “We thought about doing a full restoration on the body, but decided that the original paint looked pretty good and we actually liked the patina,” Mark says. “Not only did this allow us to stick with a reasonable budget, but now we don’t have to be nervous when beating on the car because it doesn’t have a $40,000 paintjob. I have a high-dollar Camaro, so it’s nice to have a car you can just hop in and enjoy. The plan was to use quality aftermarket parts to fully update the motor, driveline, and chassis while retaining the original look of the car.”
Purposeful patina best describes...
Purposeful patina best describes the Torino’s skin. The paint is faded, and the body panels aren’t completely straight, but those elements merely add to the car’s cone-dodging appeal.
To give the suspension the full Pro Touring treatment, Mark turned to RideTech. Up front, the crusty underpinnings were replaced with a set of RideTech control arms and coilovers, along with a Hellwig sway bar. Out back, the vintage factory leaf springs were replaced with a RideTech four-link conversion, complete with a coilover setup. Sticking it all to the asphalt are 18-inch Forgeline ZX3 wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich g-Force rubber. Scrubbing off the prodigious inertia generated by more than two tons of heft are enormous six-piston Baer clamps and 14-inch rotors up front, matched with four-piston calipers and 13-inch rotors in the rear. While the specs look great, can such a heavy machine actually get the job done on a tight autocross course? You bet. “Everybody asks how a big car like this handles, but it’s very competitive on the autocross. With an experienced driver, it finishes in the Top 10 at Goodguys events,” Mark says. “With the stock suspension, there was lots of body roll and the steering was horrendous. After installing the RideTech hardware, the difference was night and day. We also added an RRS power steering rack, which helped tremendously with steering accuracy and feel.”
Unlike its Shotgun big-block...
Unlike its Shotgun big-block brother, Windsor motors aren’t known for their good looks, but the Roush individual-runner intake manifold changes that big time. Strategically placed braces stiffen up the body, and the shock adjustment knobs are easily accessible from under the hood.
Naturally, much of the focus on an autocross effort such as the Bowler Torino is on the chassis, but the motor is a sweet piece in its own right. Mark liked the idea of sticking with Windsor power; he just wanted more of it. As such, he ordered up a Roush 427ci crate motor that puts out an impressive 572 hp. It boasts a 4.125-inch-bore Dart four-bolt block and rotating assembly, AFR 205cc cylinder heads, and a killer eight-stack EFI intake manifold. A custom Roush hydraulic roller cam actuates the valves, and exhaust exits through 1.75-inch JBA headers and dual 2.5-inch Flowmaster mufflers. With the new motor in place, the project was at the point Mark had envisioned when setting out to build an R&D vehicle. To put the Torino to good use, it was fitted with a Ford 4R70W overdrive transmission and billet 2,200-stall converter beefed up for autocross duty. “In addition to improving the durability and reliability of the 4R70W, we developed several different shift calibration programs,” Mark says. “For street driving, the shift points and converter lockup are set up to maximize fuel mileage, however, at the push of a button you can switch over to an autocross program that keeps the transmission in the gear you choose, and locks up the converter so you can get engine braking just like with a manual transmission. Now we can put our customers in the car, and let them see for themselves how well an automatic can perform on the autocross.”
The shifter is out of a ’08...
The shifter is out of a ’08 Mustang, and has been modified by Bowler to fit in the Torino. A trio of buttons located on the driver side of the center console can summon up a different transmission shift program instantaneously.
Ancient hot rodding folklore is often difficult to debunk, but Bowler’s Torino is doing its part to validate the merits of automatic transmissions in autocross applications. They’ve proven that when you tell a transmission exactly what you want through precisely calibrated shift programs—instead of expecting a transmission to read your mind—great things can happen. It’s all about communication, and interestingly enough, machines seem to have it figured out better than people.
Mark Bowler, 36 • Lawrenceville, IL
Type: Ford 427ci Windsor small-block
Block: Dart four-bolt cast-iron block bored to 4.125 inches
Oiling: Melling pump and eight-quart pan
Rotating assembly: Roush 4.000-inch forged crank and H-beam steel rods; Wiseco 10.25:1 pistons
Cylinder heads: AFR 205cc aluminum castings with 2.080/1.600-inch stainless steel valves and 61cc chambers
Camshaft: Roush custom hydraulic roller (specs classified)
Valvetrain: Roush double-roller timing set and 1.6:1 roller rockers
Induction: Roush eight-stack intake manifold with individual runners and throttle-bodies per cylinder
Ignition: Roush dual-sync distributor and plug wires
Fuel system: Roush EFI system, fuel pump, and injectors
Exhaust: JBA 1.75-inch headers, dual 2.5-inch Flowmaster mufflers
Output: 572 hp and 546 lb-ft
Transmission: Bowler 4R70W overdrive and billet 2,200-stall converter
Rear axle: Moser 9-inch rearend, 31-spline axles, 3.50:1 gears, and limited-slip differential
Front suspension: RideTech tubular control arms and coilovers; Hellwig sway bar
Rear suspension: RideTech four-link and coilovers
Brakes: Baer 14-inch rotors and six-piston calipers, front; 13-inch rotors and four-piston calipers, rear
Wheels: Forgeline ZX3 18x8, front; 18x10, rear
Tires: BFGoodrich 245/40R18, front; 285/40R18, rear