Back in the day, you had to wait at least a year for the next big action flick to hit cinemas. They weren't churned out as often as now and to fill the void, there were a variety of cop shows on TV that dished out movie-style car chases and shoot-outs.
Out of this trend came Starsky and Hutch, a Seventies series about two cops (Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson and David Starsky) who weren't your average blue-clad flatfoots. These two were cool, wore their stylish (for the times...) street threads on duty clearing the fictional "Bay City" of pushers, mobsters and assorted no-gooders.
They worked undercover -- not that you'd have guessed, for they'd roll around in a bright red car with huge white stripes on the sides. You couldn't be more conspicuous. I don't need to tell you how successful Starsky and Hutch was but the reason wasn't just thanks to actors David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. It was their co-star, the Ford Torino.
Produced between 1968 and 1976, the car was named after the city of Turin (Torino in Italian) -- considered the Italian version of Detroit. Initially an upscale version of the intermediate-sized Fairlane, you could have the Torino as a four-door saloon, estate and two-door hard-top. It could be ordered in sedate grocery-getter form with a tiny inline six, but Ford wanted a competitor to rival GM's hot pair -- the Chevrolet Chevelle SS and Pontiac GTO. So, engine options were shaken up to include the 289 and 302 small-block V8s, the 390 big-block V8, and the legendary 427 V8 and the 428 Cobra Jet. The former was more suited to racing but the 428 combined 360bhp with lashings of torque, which made it a real street brawler.
The muscle-car era, now in full swing, was cut criminally short due to the oil crisis and rising insurance rates, and when the Gran Torino debuted in 1972, it had lost much of its tyre-burning potential. It was bigger, heavier and looked more muscular than the Torinos of old and mechanically, couldn't measure up to its predecessor. Horsepower was suddenly a dirty word. The hottest Gran Torino only had 248bhp.
'The Striped Tomato' as Hutch called it was to suffer even poorer performance. The 1974 Torino was larger and heavier than all those before it and had the weakest motors too. Though we'd see it power-sliding on the box every Saturday evening and burning rubber seemingly for fun, the reality was starkly different.
The 400 cubic inch V8 only had 158bhp while the 460 V8 fared slightly better at 218bhp though it was nothing compared to before. It wasn't a bad car; just not quite the fire-breathing monster anymore, but still smooth, luxurious, and very attractive. Americans loved it and by the time the Torino's run came to an end in 1976, almost two million had been sold.
Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find one that hasn't been painted red and white -- but would you want it any other way?