A Ranchero’s Twisted Tale
Back in the 1980s, when I was a kid reading Muscle Car Review, a lot of the collective knowledge was in its infancy, so there were a lot of mysteries. Over time, through acquired information, research, and the plain ol’ Internet, we’ve collectively learned a lot more, putting to rest urban legends and speculation that lacked proper support at the time. It continues to happen as the hobby evolves.
The story of Ford’s 1970 Twister Special “drive-away” promotion is a fine example of this. I first read about this interesting Ford footnote in the Dec. 1986 issue. According to the article, it was believed that 100 Grabber Orange Mustang Mach 1s (50 351s and 50 428s), plus 100 Vermilion Torino Cobras, were produced for the
Ford Total Performance Day, held at Kansas City International Raceway on November 7, 1969. The late Terry Fritts created a registry in 1983 (twisterspecial. com, now run by Landon
Eskew) to bring together owners and share knowledge of these regional specials. For the Mustang, he discovered the promotion was originally to include 100 Cobra Jet Mach 1s with the Drag Pack (thereby becoming Super Cobra Jets), but thanks to the help of Ford archivist Lois C. Eminger, Fritts learned the factory was only able to supply 48 SCJs, with another 48 being built with the 351 Cleveland for a total of 96, as stated in the May 1985 registry newsletter.
The same newsletter also mentioned there were four or five Twister Special Ranchero GTs produced. By 1991, the newsletter narrowed it down to four Twister Rancheros produced with the 429 Cobra Jet, with the possibility they were built with the Drag Pack. By 2009, Fritts’ original registry website showed there were four Ranchero GT
“The hobby’s evolution results in one significant Ford find”
Twister Specials built with the 300hp 351 Cleveland.
In the late 1990s, Marti Auto Works became a licensee to Ford’s entire production database starting with the
1967 model year, but not until several years later did we learn about the true identity of the Twister Special Rancheros.
Wes Eisenschenk, editor for CarTech Books, commissioned Marti to determine the details on these enigmatic haulers for his book Lost Muscle. They discovered there were two identically equipped Vermilion Ranchero GTs with the 429 Cobra Jet, Drag Pack, automatic, 3.91 gears, black bench interior, power front disc brakes, F70-14 raised-white-letter tires, tinted glass, and color-keyed racing mirrors. Only 201 Ranchero GTs were built with the Cobra Jet, with 60 of those equipped with the Drag Pack. Two of those were Twisters!
Enter Kansas resident Dustin Harriman. This past summer he was planning to attend the Boss Nationals in Marysville, Kansas, so he visited the Topeka Craigsvehicle list page to see if there was a project car to bring back home. An orange 1969 Ranchero GT with a 429 piqued his interest. “I started thinking there is no way this was a ’69. It had to be a ’70 [due to the styling, plus the 429 wasn’t introduced until 1970]. I kept staring at the car for about five minutes. All of a sudden it popped in my head: What are the chances of this being a Twister Ranchero?”
Dustin texted his pal Jonathan Worthington, who called the seller. He confirmed that the was a J-code Ranchero GT (which meant 429 Cobra
Jet with ram air) and texted a photo of the VIN. Jonathan called Dustin back. “All I could hear was screaming. I told him to calm down and repeat everything he had just said. Jonathan proceeded to tell me that it was one of the Twister Rancheros. The VIN matched. I told him it was hard to believe and that if he was serious, he should send me a picture of the VIN and a copy of the Marti Report from Wes’ book. He sent them and, as soon as I saw they matched, I flipped out. I called the seller right away and told him I was 130 minutes away and could make it there by midnight. The seller laughed and said it was ‘just an old car. Don’t worry, it will be here in the morning.’”
The seller was the original owner who parked the pickup in 1977 and sold the engine to a local kid in 1979. He stressed there was something special about it, as there were few Ranchero GTs built with the 429 Cobra Jet. “I had decided before I got there that I was going to buy the car, so I gave him $800 and filled out all the paperwork. After we had the car loaded and ready to go, I asked the seller if ‘Twister Special’ rang a bell, and he said he vaguely recalled someone saying something about a Twister.”