The following article was provided by Rick Ochs; a fellow who loves the Ford Talladega. Unlike many of us who also admire these cars, Rick is the Guru when it comes to the real details. Here is his historical research and perspective on the two very rare Banjo Matthew’s prototype Talladega cars.
In August of 1968 Ford Motor Company Administrative Services placed an order for not one but two 1969 Ford Torinos ….what were they up too ?
In September of 1968 Ford received these two cars and sent them to the “magic men” in their Advanced Concepts Special Group. These men worked with input from Ford’s Racing partners Holman and Moody and Kar Kraft. They took these two Torino’s; one White and one Red were loaded with Rim blow steering wheel, Custom Style 500 wheels, air conditioning and other goodies like Traction-Loc Differential. The crew went to work on these brand new cars and just cut the front fenders off at about the hood edge. What were they doing?
They were getting ready to do some serious NASCAR racing like factories had never done before! With input from Holman / Moody, they added a special hand formed header panel, braces and front fender caps that made the front ends over 5 inches longer than a regular Fairlane / Torino of 1968 and 1969. Then the magic men took what looked like a re-rolled rocker panel and pop riveted it over the factory rocker panels; what was this all about?
Soon the world would hear about a new “NASCAR” track down in the South called Talladega. This track was to be a “Super Speed Way”. Those magic men at Ford , Kar Karft and Holman and Moody were about to open the door to the racing press and the car magazines and reveal what Ford was going to race on that new track. What did these men call this car? “Talladega” after the track where they would soon be racing production Torino Talladega. This new, highly modified Ford would be the production version of these two Prototype cars. Yes, these two cars were the mock up models for what the Racing World would soon see hit the “Super Speed Ways “and other “NASCAR ” tracks…….The 1969 Ford Torino Talladega.
You see, as the magic men were re-working the front ends on the two Torinos and transforming them into the Talladega prototypes, Ford’s higher ups were gearing up the Atlanta plant for a special run of the production Ford Talladegas. NASCAR mandated that Ford (and all car companies) had to build at least 500 of any special production car to be eligible to race in NASCAR. Ford started production of the Talladega and began shipping them to their dealers for sale to NASCAR Ford fans all over this great USA; and Ford said they will be any color as long as it is Red,White or Blue.
Some of the details.
Remember those pop riveted rocker panels? Why did they just pop rivet the re-rolled rocker panels on? You may or not know that the Fairlane and new for 1968 Torino were of the “Uni-Body platform”. That means they were built like most cars are today, they had no frame. The entire body of the car was designed to be a structural element without the need for a frame to sit on. When these cars were bucked up at the plant during production the rocker panels were welded on as part of the entire uni-body structure. If they cut the factory installed rocker panels off during the construction of the prototypes the cars would simply fold up. For these two cars only, the builders prevented that by using the old pop rivet trick. They simply put the new rocker panel over the existing one. Production Talladegas were not built this way.
That explains how they did it, but why did they do it? Ford engineers knew a lower center of gravity meant a better handling car and thus a faster car. They also knew the NASCAR rules about how low a car could be. They also knew how and where NASCAR inspectors measured the car to determine if it was legal. Since NASCAR inspectors measured the distance from the bottom of the rocker panel to the pavement Ford simply reduce the size of the rocker panel by an inch and thus the entire car could be lowered an entire inch and have another advantage over its competition. In the production Talladega cars the rocker panels were modified before they were welded into the uni-body.
Another modification to the stock Torino was the removal of the front bumper; taking the rear bumper and cutting it into three pieces, re-welding it and hanging it in place of the stock front bumper. It was also closely “tucked” into the body and created what we would call a spoiler today.
Ford had to crash test a Talladega with the new re-rolled rocker panels because the rocker panels are a significant structural part of the uni-body. In reality they crash tested two Torinos built as Talladegas one for steering wheel movement and one for gas tank displacement. These tests were conducted around January 20th of 1969. These tests also tested the special front bumper used on only the Ford Talladega.
After the NHSA (National Highway Safety Association) passed the special Talladega re-rolled rocker panel Ford got the green light for production and around January 21st they ran 5 pilot cars down the assembly line. These cars were necessary to ensure that the Talladega with its greatly extended front end could still be built on the regular assembly line without conflict. Soon after the pilot cars a special production run began and continued off and on until the last Talladega was built on February 28, 1969. A total of over 750 Ford Talladegas with the special front end and re-rolled rocker panels, and bumpers like the two prototypes known as the Red and White Banjo Cars were built.
Why are they called Banjo cars?
Banjo Matthews was a former NASCAR racer and highly respected race car builder. He knew of these two special Ford Torinos with their ram air and special sheet metal and wanted them. He knew Ford would not keep these cars after they were done letting the Magazine people pound on the red car at the Ford test track (see magazine story on this site); and the white car was done posing on the Ford turn table for the Ford dealership 4 page sales folder as well as the March 1969 Car and Driver magazine (page 91). Ford also knew having these cars in the hands of someone like Banjo Matthews would add prestige and desirability to the production cars. A special arrangement was worked out between Ford and Banjo to purchase these two Ford Torinos now re-born as Talladegas for his personal collection.
Now granted, along the way to the production line some of the prototypes’ special modifications did not make it into production. The Ram Air got left off, and air conditioning was gone but the sport mirrors got added as to be more cheating of the wind; and the standard steel style wheels with trim rings replaced the much more attractive and expensive 500 ‘s and gone were the bucket seats and floor shift transmissions. With the production Talladegas came an almost Taxi Cab like interior which was far inferior to the prototypes; these were meant to be race cars. Who needs air conditioning and fancy seats at 200mph, right? The intent of the production car was to make the Talladega eligible to race on the Super Speed Ways Ford lost money on every Talladega they sold.
So if you get to the Talladega Family Reunion at the “THE FORGE MUSCLE CAR SHOW” in Kingsport Tenn. on Oct 1st & 2nd of 2010 make sure you take a good look at these two Torino Talladega prototypes. As you look at these two cars and they look at you……..if you tilt your head just a bit you may hear one of them say “yea I may not be as shiny as him but I was the one that started the NASCAR wars’ with them Dodge Boy’s (1969 Charger 500’s) that today you call the Aero Wars.”.
If you see the owners of these two cars, Jason Thompson and his Father Clarence, tell them “Thanks” for their hard work in, love of cars and their time in getting these two cars that are in deed a large part of “NASCAR” history; and even a bigger part of Ford’s Talladega history………….
To be Continued…The Paperwork.