There are a few movies, which aren’t so much about a car, that come to be eponymously named. 2009 by Clint Eastwood Gran Torino is one of those films that features a Ford Gran Torino, but is more of a family and interpersonal relationship drama.
More than the movie, let’s talk about the car, the dark green Ford Gran Torino that Clint Eastwood’s character drives and built himself on an assembly line.
The movie is good. The car, however, is great. So let’s talk about this particular Gran Torino and its origin story and how it became the star of a Warner Bros movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Where the car came from and where it is now is almost as good a story as the movie that bears its name.
Here’s What Happened To The 1972 Ford Gran Torino Clint Eastwood Was Driving In 2009 Gran Torino.
The film and the car: Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran who is a bit racist at first but quickly bonds with his neighbors, the Hmong family, and one of the teenagers, Thao. The bond between Kowalski and recently widowed Thao is formed when Thao tries to steal his car, a 1972 Gran Torino Sport, after coming under pressure from the local gang.
The film is an interpersonal drama and unfolds beautifully. While we can’t call it a car movie, there’s enough Gran Torino in it for us to watch long and admiringly. When the Ford Torino came out in 1968, it was the tallest version of the Fairlane before becoming an independent nameplate.
In 1972, Ford focused on the Torino and redesigned it in three versions: Torino, Gran Torino and Gran Torino Sport; make it a hit of 500,000 sales. The car in the film is the 1972 Gran Torino Sport, one of 92,033 built that year. Coke bottle style, and in dark metallic green, it was the top model with Ford’s “hot engine”, aka the 5.7-liter Cobra-Jet V8 with a four-barrel carburetor. With 300 horsepower, the Gran Torino Sport flew from 0 to 60 mph in less than seven seconds. It stood up to many muscle cars of the time, although later the Torino aged quite badly and lost much of its classic car value.
The movie car also came with the Ram Air Induction package with a working air intake and dual split exhaust. Magnum 500 wheels with Goodrich radials and gold laser stripes with a black vinyl top made this one of the most memorable movie cars of all time, although we also remember the red Torino in Starsky and Hutch.
How did Warner Bros get the Ford Classic?
Unlike many movies and series where the car is often a fake interior, this Gran Torino Sport was the real deal and was found by Eastwood staff on eBay listed by a classic car dealership. Owner Jim Craig had no idea the car was about to star in a movie, and he bought it himself as a barn find in 2000, restoring it after five years. In 2007 Craig sold it to a classic car dealership in Utah and that’s where Warner Bros got his car.
The car was in good enough condition that all the studio had to do was rechrome the bumpers, and it was ready for its shots. After the film was completed, Eastwood purchased it for personal use, although it is now at the Warner Bros. Studios Picture Car Museum in California. But there is also a story to this car.
The original owner reunited with the Gran Torino
The film, Gran Torino, was a massive hit, grossing some $269 million worldwide. Enough even for Dave Beckett, from Monett, Missouri, to want to go see it, even if he was not a big movie fan. His first car was a Gran Torino, and he remembered it fondly enough to go see a movie named after the car.
Only, when he watched the movie, he realized it was his car. When he spotted an article in the local newspapers about Jim Craig and how he owned the car before Warner Bros bought it, Beckett called Craig and it was confirmed that this car was really his car, the same as he had been driving in 1972.
At the time, the car had a dark green vinyl top instead of the black in the film, so restored by Craig as the green was no longer available. Beckett had this car for over two years before trading it in for a 1974 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. The Gran Torino was later purchased by Paul Norvell and then Ray Dotson, both of Purdy, Missouri, before ending up in a barn found by Jim Craig in 2000.
When Beckett contacted the car museum at Warner Bros. Studios, he was allowed some alone time in his car. In fact, he still had an old key that worked, which brought back a few memories. Beckett is glad he watched the movie, even happier they kept the car. And now he’s a lifelong Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros fan.
In addition to Death Proof, there are glimpses of the Chevy Nova muscle car in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.
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