A Ranchero’s Twisted Tale

Muscle Car Review - - The Bottom End -

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.”

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