Muscle or Super?: 1969 Ford Torino GT R-Code

1969 Ford Torino GT 428 Cobra Jet

Josh MortensenBy Josh Mortensen

As gearheads we sure have a lot of titles and classifications we use to distinguish groups of cars. We have hot rods, rat rods, muscle cars, imports, exotics and supercars. The most incredible part of our labels is how fiercely some will protect their genre of interest. For example, if I were to label this 1969 Ford Torino GT 428 Cobra Jet as a Supercar, I have no doubt there would be those that would call me various names for incorrectly classifying it. If we think about what really makes a supercar so super, it isn’t about origin (although that seems to be a major part of the label today), but about superior performance. Well if you ask me, this Torino performs far better than any standard street cars of the era, so wouldn’t that make it a super car? While looking at the listing here on eBay, I sure felt like I was looking at a supercar.

Ford Torino GT Supercar

Now just to be clear, I was one of those people that use to argue that a muscle car was a muscle car and a supercar was an exotic. That was until I did my homework and discovered that at one time muscle cars were referred to as supercars. There were even a number of American cars that received SC logos in reference to their supercar status (SC/Rambler for example). So what happened? When did the motor world decide all American supercars built between 1960 and 1974 needed to be put into their own category? Most importantly how did people forget that at one time their beloved muscle car was a supercar? This isn’t meant to be a complaint about the division of the category, but a genuine question from someone who didn’t get the chance to see the muscle car era first hand. It is something that is rarely spoken of, as if the split was a nasty breakup that history simply wants to forget about.

Ford 428 Cobra Jet

Let’s get away from that rant for a minute to take a look at this Torino. It is in impressive condition, especially if the seller’s claims of originality turn out to be true. The R-Code means this is the top performing Torino, with the 428 Cobra Jet Ram Air and heavy duty suspension. With fresh cool air being stuffed down the intake, this V8 was good for 360 horsepower. The Cobra Jet made the Torino a completely different animal and allowed the car to pull high 13 second quarter miles. With the right upgrades, these were a drag racer’s dream. Sure they weren’t as fast as Superman, but they were dang close!

Torino GT interior

The interior of this one looks to be in fantastic condition, but isn’t as sporty as one would think. That is probably because of the strike that took place at Ford when the GT was first introduced in ’68. Originally Ford planned to put bucket seats in every Torino GT leaving the factory, but cost cutting as a result of the strike meant making the bench seat standard equipment. Since most owners never took their Torino around any curves, the bench seat proved to be more than adequate for typical use. Thankfully this one was at least optioned with the 4-speed manual toploader transmission.

Survivor Torino GT

This Torino looks to be in amazing condition and the seller claims it is ready to be driven. Production number estimates for the R-Code Torino are all over the place, but some say it is as low as just 500 cars for ’69, which would make this as rare as most “supercars”. This gets me back to my original question, when did muscle cars cease to be supercars? If you have any ideas, thought, or input to my question, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. Jeff V.

    In HS had a 70′ Torino Cobra-jet 429 (370hp?) C6 column auto, bench seats yellow with the blacked out hood w/shaker scoop. I was in auto shop at the time and went crazy with it putting air shocks in the back to fit the big N50’s & crager gt’s, nobody could ride in the back bc the tires would rub lol, put a velocity stack on the carb and a fire extinguisher mounted on the dash, traction bars rounded out my “race car”lol Hey ur only a kid once! 😉

  2. RIC Parrish

    I guess I’m confused about the definition of a ‘Supercar’ . Would a hemi or max wedge be a Supercar or a musclecar? It seems any of the max horsepower machines 425hp 409’s; 427 Fords, Hemi’s, Center dumper Holman Moody 427’s; FI Vettes, High horsepower 454’s, etc. But I guess these still qualify as ‘Muscle’. So we need a definition of Supercar.

  3. kman

    I’d have to say that “supercars” , at least these days, have to be able to stick to a track or road as well as accelerate in a straight line. Handling on some “muscle cars” began to improve in the ’70s. I had a ’75 Formula 400 Firebird which had vastly improved handling but had lost all it’s punch to so called ‘pollution control’ devices. I had to remove the “beads”, have the carb rebuilt and add headers and real dual exhausts, (it cam with a single that split at the tail to look like a dual system). Mags and tires plus cutting open the hood scoops made it perform reliably and much faster.

    • Steve Malott

      I have a 2010 Rouse Mustang 427R, supercharged, BBK headers, Rouse racing suspension, upper suspension added to back and front, Wilwood racing brakes, 20 inch Cooper racing tires, twin overhead racing cams. Would my car be considered a Supercar?

  4. Mark

    These were tight and fast and not all that bad on gas. 140 mph with high rear end gears, the 4 speed is a big plus, most had C6s. The quailty on these cars was above normal for muscle cars of the time.

  5. Jeff/Chief

    There is so much to cover in the dispute as to what constitutes a Supercar and all the other special varieties that let me just say that if anyone believes that any standard passenger sedan body whether full size, mid size or compact with whatever engine powering it can be considered a Supercar, you need a lot more years and a lot more reading under your belt. To consider anything of that ilk in the same category as a GT 40, an Enzo, a Gallardo, a Veyron and on and on is just as foolish as putting jelly on a steak, and we all know it. A Supercar is the most specially designed for speed, licensable and expensive car a manufacturer can produce without splitting nits.

    • krash


      “….To consider anything of that ilk in the same category as a GT 40, an Enzo, a Gallardo, a Veyron and on and on is just as foolish as putting jelly on a steak,”

      hmmm….jelly on steak..
      …..sweets… on… meats…
      ….pure culinary genius
      .I just might attempt that combo at the next family cookout…

      thank you Jeff

  6. Mark E

    I’m not getting into the argument, just saying that, as a Torino owner, these WERE super cars and Ford was um, well, DUMB for ‘upgrading’ Torino to LTD II! >_<

  7. David

    Super car? sure, why not?…I see it more as a rolling piece of artwork….

  8. jim s

    in their day they were great and still are today. call them what you like. fast is fast and they were/are.

  9. Tony

    Cool car – but supercar? I don’t know. A musclecar is created when the factory puts their biggest engine (from their full sized car) into their midsize or intermediate size car. Think GTO, Road Runner, etc. A Corvette is not a musclecar nor is a Mustang or Camaro.
    I think supercar would be the top performance car that is not from an exotic manufacturer – ZR1 Corvette, Hemicuda, modern Mustang Shelby GT 500. Godzilla rides the line.
    This is a cool old Ford – but it is just a big and bad a55 car – like a 427 Impala.
    So my opinion – neither muscle nor super – just tons of fun and very special indeed.

  10. paul

    I think in those days the muscle car was a car that could be used as a drag car while the super cars were the cars that could be used on a sports car track but with the addition of being capable of very high speeds so not a Miata for example…… I was never into these however when ever I see older cars like this one that are largely original & in very nice shape all I can be is impressed, it isn’t perfect but very nice…. So glad I don’t have to change the spark plugs on it.

  11. Doug

    As far as I understand it, “muscle car” wasn’t applied until 70’s kids started lifting these cars to fit big tires under them, hence the “muscle” look. The “Supercar” label, in the sixties, applied to the intermediate chassis fitted with race level engines. “Supercar”, in the modern sense, applies to ostentatiously expensive, exotic, fast cars. Please weigh in, though.

    • Chris

      Road & Track used the term ‘Muscle Cars’ back in 1965. In a comparison ‘twixt the various
      GM A bodies & the Mopars.

      Frod didn’t get a mention. And I’vegot to add that the interior really lets this Torino down.
      Maybe a different colour would improve things.

  12. Dolphin Dolphin Staff

    I think the “recovered in Barn for over 10 years” claim in the listing is likely an attempt at barn-find marketing. Professional detailing removed any ‘barn’ effects on the car, but that doesn’t matter because it is what it is, which is a really good looking ’60s Ford fastback with the big V8 and 4-speed.

    The black paint looks good and is my favorite color for a Ford fastback, whether a Mustang or Torino. I rediscovered these when I saw Clint Eastwood’s movie, but this black ’69 looks even better than the green ’72 in the movie. I’d prefer a black ’66 Hertz GT350, even a clone, but this black Torino would be a close second.

  13. Jeff/Chief

    Just to be sure we’re sipping from the same cup; “Supercar” does not mean the same thing as “Super Car”. We surely all agree on that.

  14. RobK

    I can’t see how this Torino is 99%+ original. Looks like a restoration that was done 10 years ago before the car was put into storage for 10 years. I also doubt that it is a barn-find. More likely a rich collector that needs to cash an asset in which he hasn’t used since he either restored it or bought it restored. The engine bay looks too nice to just have been detailed and the rubber around the ram air unit is too fresh.

  15. Scott Allison

    In the United States, the term “supercar” predates the classification of muscle car to describe the “dragstrip bred” affordable mid-size cars of the 1960s and early 1970s that were equipped with large, powerful V8 engines and rear wheel drive.

    The word supercar later became to mean a “GT” or grand touring type of car. The term supercar was used to describe “a very expensive, fast or powerful car with a centrally located engine”,and stated in more general terms: “it must be very fast, with sporting handling to match”, “it should be sleek and eye-catching” and its price should be “one in a rarefied atmosphere of its own”.

    Muscle Cars:
    “any of a group of American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving.” A large V8 engine is fitted in a 2-door, rear wheel drive, family-style mid-size or full-size car designed for four or more passengers. Sold at an affordable price, muscle cars are intended for mainly street use and occasional drag racing. They are distinct from two-seat sports cars and expensive 2+2 GTs intended for high-speed touring and road racing.

    Pony car is an American class of automobile launched and inspired by the Ford Mustang in 1964. The term describes an affordable, compact, highly styled car with a sporty or performance-oriented image.

    Gotta love the internet!

  16. ron

    Tony got it right…….I had two Ford “muscle cars” and they did not have super car capabilities, If I had tried to make super car maneuvers in either I have been killed 40 years ago!…..Super cars are designed to be low to the ground, short wheel based and extremely agile and have an abundance of horsepower and torque…….Both my Mustangs had the horse power but were mostly “straight line” racers incapable of doing any super maneuvers without rolling over! You don’t want to teach this horse to roll over!
    Easy way to tell the difference…if I can afford it …it’s a muscle car, if I can’t it’s a super car…lol

  17. skibum2

    “The older I get, the faster they were.”………Lived thru this era…I do so enjoy all the HYPE on what they say to sell a car…BUT, when the green flag drops…The B.S. stops..Just sayin’……

  18. Ric Parrish

    I agree with Jeff/Chief. It hit me last night when I was dusting off our four year old Veyron Gransport, that I was trying to stick to the old school mass produced factory cars. I guess I was putting the Ferraris and stuff in a whole different class. For one thing almost all European. Don’t get me wrong, I love them both, but we do turn a lot of heads with our Roman Red, 671 Blown, 62 Vette, wheel-stander. Although the Veyron impresses a lot more gals.

    • Tony

      Yup. The Veyron “whole different class” = Exotic. An exotic supercar technically I guess.

      I have a ’60 Roman Red Sportscar. However mods make it something else entirely – and that gets a little tougher. Mine was modded by my dad in ’63 so I’ve kept it that way – I like to call it a Hot Rod – sounds like yours may be Pro Street.

  19. Tony

    Scott: Just because someone wrote it on the internet doesn’t make it true! 🙂

    Ponycar (Mustang/Camaro/Barracuda) definition is good. These are not Musclecars but could become Supercars.

    Musclecars ARE NOT full size cars. The genre was created as I wrote above so that precludes full-size cars. They are mid-sized sedans with the factory’s largest engines normally reserved for full size cars. I don’t think we have Musclecars today from US manufacturers. BMW M3 2-door/M4 may be the closest thing. In concept you could have a Fusion with the Taurus SHO mill. THAT would be a Musclecar. A Chrysler 200 with the Hemi from the 300 – yeah. But a Malibu with the engine from the Impala? Is there a diff? Meh.

    Corvettes were sports cars but are now GTs. The Miata is a sports car as was the Solstice/Sky I don’t think modern Camaros and Mustangs are Ponycars anymore. They are now really 2+2s. A high performance 2+2 or GT is a Supercar (ZR1, GT500) unless it is exclusive and high cost in which case it is an exotic – an exotic Supercar I guess.

    As far as Supercar vs. super car yes they are different. I had a ’99 Legacy that was a super car – but it wasn’t a Supercar!

  20. Gary

    Guys I am the one who listed this Torino on ebay. I want to thank for featuring the car and I love the topic of discussion. My take on the Super Car Status is this… A true muscle car that was extremely limited and rare in production numbers. Is this the correct explanation? I am not sure, but it is my point of view on the topic. I have a question for everyone what is the classification of a survivor?

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Now, that is a good question Gary! We will have to present it in an upcoming post and see what everyone thinks. Good luck with the sale!

  21. AMCFAN

    The local shop in town where my father took his vehicles was a very busy place. The guy who owned the shop was a talented and a very well rounded guy. Could fix anything and always loved a challenge. I would ride my bike and hang around taking everything in. There were many guys in town who would take their drag/performance cars to him. He would build engines/transmissions to setting up rear ends. One guy in particular had a 1969 Torino Cobra. Raced it at the local strip. It had a 428CJ. It was in there all the time. The owner always wanted to improve the performance. Seems he would get hammered on quite a bit. I remember the owner of the shop laid into the guy and told him that the Torino was too heavy. If he wanted to be competetive he would have to find a lighter car. The Torino was sold and the two built a 73 Pinto with a 351 BOSS. He would drive the car 30 miles one way to the strip. Then clean house and promptly drive it home.

  22. Shilo

    Love this car!!!

  23. Shilo

    This is one of the prettiest cars of the 60’s. Love it.

  24. GoodoleMike

    As I returned from SEA in 1968 I bought a new 1968 Road Runner off the showroom floor. 383 CI, 335 HP 4 speed, this was outa the box hot rod. Loved it, Top speed, unknown. Beat it to death, two motors, kids came along. Traded it in on a AMC Hornet.

    • Jeff V

      Mike, not as bad as my late great Uncle Frank who traded his factory/dealer orig ’67 Camaro SSRS 427 turbo400auto that he bought new/ordered, he traded it in on a new first year ’74 Mustang II. The same year as I got my dl, enuf said!

  25. j.boyd

    If it has 4 wheels and is fast, I call em all Hot Rods. Even trucks. And after riding a Suzuki 1100 at 130 mph PLUS, All motorcycles are scooter’s. But im just an old school gearhead.

  26. Ty

    As far as the musclecar/supercar genres, my opinion is…

    A musclecar is a performance car configured for drag racing or stoplight to stoplight action.

    A supercar is a performance car tha is configured for road racing or circle track racing – originated from running moonshine.

    A 1969 428CJ Mach 1 is a musclecar.
    A 1969 Shelby GT500 is a supercar.
    A 1969 Torino Talledega is a supercar.
    A 1969 Torino Cobra is a musclecar.


    • Tony S

      A muscle car is an intermediate car (like Pontiac Lemans) with a full-size car’s engine installed (thus making a GTO).
      Mustangs and Camaros are never muscle cars – they are called Pony cars.
      A super car is a high performance special not based on a volume production car. Ford has only made 1 supercar – the GT.
      GM has never made a supercar.
      Vehicle manufacturers do not design cars for “stoplight to stoplight action” nor “running moonshine” – they design cars to sell or promote sales.


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