Since the introduction of the retro-style '05 Mustang, Ford's enthusiast community has been awash with memories of past models, all freshly minted from a new car that amazingly resembles its '60s ancestor.
Nostalgic designs and recycled ideas have become valuable marketing tools for automakers in the 21st century. Volkswagen certainly made a splash with its new Beetle, and the BMW-built Mini Cooper found a rich vein of Brit-loving nostalgia among Americans. Ford Motor Company gets the prize, however, for mining the past most successfully with its time-machine '05-'08 Mustang and all the spin-off models that have followed or are still to come: Mach 1, Bullitt, Shelby GT500, GT-500KR, and California Special, to name a few.
In that same spirit, R&A Motor-sports in Lee's Summit, Missouri, recently began converting a series of GT coupes and convertibles into Twister Specials. It has its followers, but the Twister regional edition is perhaps the least-known of the Mustang specials, even though there have been two versions of the tornadic Ponies.
At the request of the Kansas City District Sales Office, Ford geared up for a special batch of 100 '70 Mach 1s and 100 Torinos to be displayed on November 7, 1969, when Ford's Total Performance Day traveling exhibit visited the area. The original request was that each of the Twister Special Mustangs would be outfitted with the Super Cobra Jet 428 engine and the Torinos would carry the SCJ 429. Due to some supply problems, those numbers fell short by a few units and engine choices were compromised, but each Mustang SportsRoof wore Grabber Orange with special tornado-inspired decals. Of the 96 Mustangs produced, exactly half were delivered with Ford's 351 four-barrel engine. C6 automatic transmissions found their way into 24 of the 428-equipped cars and into 39 of the 351 Mustangs. Manual four-speeds accounted for 24 428 cars and 9 351s. Other than transmission choices, the Twister Mustangs were identical, Dearborn-built cars with sequential VINs that began with "118."
Fifteen years later, the Mustang was recovering from the stigma of low-performance years that had begun, coincidentally, shortly after the '70 model. Ford was about to make good on its promise to deliver more than 200 hp from its 5.0L V-8 in 1985, the first time a Mustang would reach that milestone since '73's Q-code 351 with a four-barrel carb. Getting an advertised 210 horses was the result of old-fashioned hot-rod tricks and new technology: low friction roller tappets, a high-performance camshaft, stainless steel headers that replaced high-flow cast-iron manifolds, and twin exhaust pipes purging the hot exhaust gases through individual catalytic converters. Lost horsepower was reclaimed through a new accessory drive system that reduced the air-conditioner compressor, power steering pump, and alternator to half-speed.
When mated to the four-speed automatic overdrive transmission, the 5.0L lost its carburetor-along with 45 hp-and claimed an output of 165 horses. GT upgrades included a T5 transmission with shorter gear throws, a quad-shock system in the rear, a larger rear stabilizer bar, and Goodyear Eagle P225/60VR 15 "Gatorback" unidirectional tires mounted on new alloy wheels.
The 3.8L V-6 with electronic fuel injection soldiered on with 120 hp in 1985; the 2.3L four-cylinder with a single-barrel carburetor was rated at 88. For comparison, realize that today's smallest Mustang powerplant, the 4.0L V-6, produces 210 hp. That's the same output as '85's GT V-8.
Ford dropped the base L series, creating an entry-level package out of the LX with standard power brakes and steering, a remote-control right-side mirror, a dual note horn, interval windshield wipers, and an AM/FM stereo radio. As before, notchback and hatchback bodies were offered. New standard interior features included a console, low-back bucket seats (on LX), Lear-Siegler articulated sport seats (on GT), luxury door trim panels, and covered visor mirrors. The convertible's quarter-trim panels were revised to accommodate a refined seatbelt system. Mechanical radio faces switched to a contemporary flat design. All Mustangs had larger tires that year, with added urethane lower-body side protection. A new electronic AM/FM stereo radio with cassette player was added to the options list. The 3.8L V-6 and 5.0L V-8 had a new oil warning light.
The Mustang received a new front cap design with an air dam below the bumper. The grille was similar to what the turbocharged SVO wore-one wide slot with angled sides in a sloping front panel with a Ford oval emblem affixed just below the hood line. On GTs, the air dam held integral foglamps. Full-width taillamps broke only for the license plate opening, with backup lenses sitting high in each inner section and a Ford oval posted on the right side of the trunk lid. Exterior trim and accents changed from earlier models' charcoal to black, except for the horizontal rub strip. The GT received a unique tape treatment on the hood.
Such an exciting product inspired memories of the marque's many special editions. Someone in Ford's Kansas City sales district noticed that 1985 marked the 15th anniversary of the Twister Special. Collaborating with Ford again, dealers arranged to purchase 90 GTs in hatchback and convertible form and apply certain commemorative decals as part of a "Twister II" promotion.
Because it was a cosmetic package that required no active factory involvement, dealers were free to order the cars with any combination of colors, powerplants, and options normally available on the GT. The Twister II featured on these pages, for example, is wearing stock GT 10-spoke wheels wrapped with Goodyear Gatorback rubber; the hatch louvers and T-top roof were both extra-cost options.
According to research undertaken by David and Kathy Bowers at MustangGT.org, Twister II GTs were assembled in October 1984 with vehicle identification numbers falling somewhere between 109800-109899, 110300-110399, and 112200-112299. The majority were painted Jalapeo Red (code 2R), but Oxford White (9L), Medium Canyon Red Metallic (2A), and possibly Silver Metallic (1E) were also offered.
Along with the rocker panel "TWISTER II" striping and "tornado with eyes" funnel cloud insignia, the package included a bronze dashplate, an alabaster coaster with a running horse logo, and "1985 Limited Edition TWISTER II, Kansas City District, October 1984" lettering, and a press kit from Ford discussing the promotion. Unfortunately, not all Twister IIs received dashplates, coasters, and press kits, as some were taken by sales staff members with sticky fingers.
All Twister IIs have a DSO of 53 (Kansas City) on their certification label and buildsheet, but the Ford window sticker doesn't mention anything about the package. According to research, 74 Twister IIs were five-speed hatchbacks, 2 were automatic-equipped hatchbacks, 9 were five-speed convertibles, and 5 were automatic convertibles. A dozen or so Twister IIs were ordered with the optional 3.08:1 rear-axle gears, but no convertibles were so equipped.
The revived special edition made its debut alongside several '70 models during a luncheon at the Marriott Hotel in Overland Park, Kansas, in November 1984. Enthusiasm for the Mustang's improved performance image was reflected in year-end sales, which saw 156,514 units go to new homes-31.7 percent of which were equipped with 5.0L V-8 engines.
The third Twister package, to be released as an '08, will combine elements of the first two. Similar to the '70, all new Twisters will come in one color only: Grabber Orange. Following the flexibility of the '85 model, the '08 Twisters can be ordered as coupes or convertibles. Ford VINs will vary throughout production, but R&A Motorsports will assign its own serialized plaques for the run.
Twister: Then And Now
First, there were the '70 Twister Specials. They were all Grabber Orange with unique striping and tornado decals, such as Carl Todd's example in the photo from the Mid-America Performance Ford and Shelby Meet. Now there are the '08 Twister Specials, spearheaded by Jeff Yergovich at R&A Motorsports. R&A's modern Twisters resemble the originals with Grabber Orange paint, a Shaker scoop, Mach 1 hood striping on a '70-style hood, and Twister Special "tornado" decals. Also like the originals, only 96 will be produced-48 hardtops and 48 convertibles-for Ford dealers in the Kansas City sales district. Jeff says there will also be six special Twisters-two prototypes, two drag cars, and two road race cars.
Other Twister Special equipment includes Eibach springs for a lower stance, a Classic Design Concepts Glassback roof for hardtops and lightbar for convertibles, 3.91 Traction-Lok gears, custom wheels, sequential taillights, performance exhaust, and upgraded brakes. Each car gets its own serial number and will be listed in Terry Fritts' Twister Special Registry (www.twisterspecialregistry.com). Jeff is arranging to have the cars delivered to Kansas City International Raceway, just as the original Twister Mustangs and Torinos.
R&A Motorsports is already taking orders. For more information, contact Jeff at 866/409-3542, or check the Web site at www.r-amotorsports.com.
Let's Play Twister
Like the deadly tornado that inspired its graphics package, the Twister and Twister II special editions have been found all throughout the country. Our featured '85 Twister II hatchback was last spotted in Monty Seawright's Ford collection in South Carolina. Its odometer read in the low double digits when we photographed it-as in less than 100 miles.