DEARBORN - In 1969, David Pearson and Holman Moody carried on their winning formula from the previous season by repeating as NASCAR Grand National Champions for the second year in a row with Pearson driving the No. 17 Ford Torino race car. Not long after the 1969 NASCAR racing season ended, Holman Moody asked David Pearson to make a trip to the cooperate facility in Charlotte, N.C., to discuss plans for the 1970 NASCAR season.
When Pearson returned home, he walked into the house, gathered his family and announced, “You guys need to come outside.” As they made their way outdoors, he said, “Look what I got!”
His wife Helen, 5-year-old son Eddie and teenage sons Rick and Larry walked outside, took one look and stood in total shock. Parked in the driveway was a brand-new 1969 Ford Torino Cobra with the same blue-and-gold paint scheme as the Holman Moody race car. Along with his brothers, Eddie was especially awestruck. At only 5 years old, the thought of driving it never entered Eddie’s mind. The same can’t be said for his teenage brothers, however. They were already dreaming of the day Dad would let them test it out on the street.
The car came to Pearson by way of the Ford Motor Company and Holman Moody, which worked together to prepare this special one-of-a-kind street version 1969 Torino Cobra for Pearson. The unique fastback was Pearson’s reward for winning the NASCAR Grand National Championship for the 1968 and 1969 seasons.
Ford’s Lorain Assembly Plant built the ’69 Torino Cobra and applied the special blue metallic paint. It was then shipped to Holman Moody where gold paint was sprayed to the upper portion of the car and a spoiler was installed to the trunk lid. The shiny aluminum spoiler was not a random part from inventory or pulled from a parts bin – it was an actual spoiler from the No. 17 Holman Moody Torino race car David Pearson piloted.
Under the hood was a 428-cubic-inch Cobra Jet V-8 engine with automatic transmission. It was originally built with a 3.70 rear axle, then changed over to a 3.10 by Pearson for highway driving. The interior was fitted with bucket seats and a column shift for the automatic transmission. It has been cared for using the same approach as maintaining one of the race cars. Aside from belts, hoses, tires, battery and fluids, the car remains original.
During the 1970 NASCAR race season, it was not unusual to see David Pearson pull up to the main entry gate at various race tracks in his special ’69 Torino Cobra. It was the car he drove to racing events.
According to Eddie, his father would load the family into the car and they’d make their way to the racing events at Darlington, Charlotte and Atlanta. They also took several vacations in the car during the early ’70s. For a time, it was just the family’s daily driver.
For Eddie Pearson, the Torino Cobra has always had a special place in his heart.
“The very first time I saw the car [it] blew me away,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is like my dad’s race car’ and from that day on, no other muscle car meant anything to me. I can’t recall anything from my childhood that made such an everlasting impression on me. There I stood staring at the ’69 Torino Cobra with my only thought being, ‘That’s my father’s race car’.”
Eddie said he only rode in the front and rear passenger seats a handful of times during his grade-school years. Beginning at Day One, he’d go to his special place on the rear package tray panel and lay out on it during car rides (Yes, kids did such things back then). The fastback ’69 Torino provided the perfect place for a 5-year-old to lie down, settle in for the ride and check out the big world through its large panoramic rear glass. Being 5 years old had its advantages as Eddie was the only one in the family who could fit in the compact space.
It was common for Eddie’s mother to drive him to school in the Torino Cobra, and upon his arrival, his friends would announce “Eddie’s here!” upon seeing the car. Helen Pearson loved the car and drove it locally to run errands and the grocery store, but its rarity intimidated her. She always took extra care to make sure nothing happened to the ’69 Torino Cobra when she drove it.
Eventually Rick and Larry, Eddie’s older teenage brothers, did get their hands on the car. They drove it to high school regularly and rumor has it the car did a little stop-light-to-stop-light racing on the local streets in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Then, one day, David Pearson spotted scratches on the passenger-side door glass from an apparently envious student or someone who wanted to leave his mark on the ’69 Torino Cobra. In the mid ’70s, it was taken out of active duty and parked in a secluded spot within the Pearson racing garage, then moved to their current location in 1986.
Along the way, the Torino Cobra sat outdoors under a carport during construction of the Pearson garages. Rain water took its toll and left a circle on the left- and right-side upper surface of the front bumper. Apparently, the rain water ran through the hood to the fender gap and then onto the bumper. Since the car is unrestored and mostly original, the stains remain on the bumper to preserve the car’s originality. Eddie Pearson looks at the water stains as a form of patina, serving as a reminder of the car’s early outdoor life prior to its current indoor garage-kept environment.
Over the years, Eddie took a special interest in the car and spent many hours looking after it. He learned how to care for it and perform routine maintenance on it to make sure it was preserved. After acquiring his driver’s license, he asked his father if he could drive it and was given permission to take it out for regular drives.
David Pearson had a pilot’s license and flew his own Piper Aztec airplane until moving to a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter. He and Eddie would drive the ’69 Torino Cobra to Spartanburg’s downtown airport and park it at the hanger. Then, the two of them would set off in the Piper Aztec. One day, Eddie asked his father if he’d teach him how to fly, and that was the start of some very special bonding time between father and son.
During a particularly special father-son moment, Pearson surprised Eddie when he handed over the title to the ’69 Torino Cobra. Eddie had a look of bewilderment on his face and asked his father, “What do you want me to do with this?” The elder Pearson took the title back, laid it on a table and went about the process of filling out the backside to transfer it over to Eddie. After filling it out he handed the title to Eddie and said, “You’ve always had a twinkle in your eye when it came to the Torino and I’ve noticed how you [have] taken care of it all these years.”
Eddie was moved.
“When he handed me the title I was [in] shock like the day he showed the family the ’69 Torino Cobra sitting in the driveway the day he drove it home from Holman Moody,” Eddie said. He took the title when it was handed to him and placed it in a safe where it remains today, uncompleted. Eddie has no plans to formally transfer the title of his dad’s car.
Periodically, Eddie still takes the car out for drives in order to keep the fluids running and the engine operating. When people see the Torino Cobra for the first time, their curiosity is raised. Many who pull up next to Eddie at a stop light roll down the windows and ask him the usual questions: “What is that car?” and “Who owns it?”
He has an unusual reply that probably catches them at least a little off guard. “I tell them it’s mine, given to me years ago, by my father . . . David Pearson.”
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS COURTESY AL ROGERS / FREEZE FRAME IMAGE