After Chrysler had determined that the Dodge Charger 500 wasn’t going to compete in superspeedway races due to its inherent issues with aerodynamic drag, they headed back to the wind tunnel in search of a more radical design. This would result in the Charger Daytona and its Plymouth counterpart, the Superbird. These “wing cars”, as they came to be known, would immediately begin terrorizing NASCAR racing, with a Daytona winning its first race out at the Talladega 500 and achieving unprecedented top speeds.
During spring of 1969, Larry Shinoda, director of Ford’s Special Design Center, got his staff together to begin working on an aero kit for the Torino and Cyclone that would serve as a counterpunch to these wild new Mopars. Mercury’s version would be known as the 1970 Cyclone Spoiler II. It would ultimately become one of the rarest Mercury muscle cars of all time.
FoMoCo’s Answer To The Wing Cars
Shinoda’s team included stylist Harvey Winn, who had previously helped Dodge design the sheet metal for the second-generation Charger, and Ed Hall of race engineering firm, Kar Kraft. The motorsports specialists at Holman Moody were also tapped for the project to oversee the engine and suspension development on the racing side.
As had been the case with the Daytona and Superbird, in order to make the race car eligible for use in the NASCAR series, Ford and Mercury would need to produce a number of road-going examples of their new racing machines.
For the 1969 race season, manufacturers had been required to build a minimum of 500 road-going examples of their race car. Development of these cars was often relatively expensive and the resulting sales were often lukewarm at best – race cars rarely make for great street cars, after all. But for the OEMs it was a necessary evil – even built at a loss, these models served a larger purpose in their marketing efforts, and 500 cars wasn’t an especially tough pill to swallow for large automakers.
However, once NASCAR president Bill France caught wind of Ford and Mercury’s plan to one-up the winged Mopars, he decided he’d had enough of the automakers’ shenanigans and revised the homologation rules, raising the minimum number of production cars from 500 to 3000 in a deliberate effort to coax automakers into returning to more conventional stock car designs.
By the summer of 1969 internal strife was brewing between the two camps of Ford president Bunkie Knudsen and Henry Ford II. By September Ford had fired Knudsen, and with Shinoda being firmly within the Knudsen tribe, he was dismissed by the VP of design, Gene Borndinat, two weeks later.
The final nail in the coffin for the program came when Knudsen’s replacement, Lee Iacocca, decided to slash Ford’s motorsport budget by 75-percent, effectively bringing an end to the two models before production began. Just a handful of Torino King Cobra prototypes would be built – most estimates put the number at five cars.
The Cyclone Spoiler II project was roughly 60 days behind the Torino team and just two examples had been completed before they pulled the plug. According to NASCAR team owner Bud Moore – who would acquire a pair of the Torino King Cobra prototypes 1971 – one of the Cyclone Spoiler II cars was destroyed while the other came into the possession of Lincoln-Mercury vice president Mose Lane.
Steve Honnell, an engineer who had been a service specialist for Lincoln-Mercury from 1964-1974, ended up purchasing another one of the Torino King Cobra prototypes from Holman Moody shortly after the program got the axe. Years later his friend Larry Shinoda mentioned in passing that the lone surviving Cyclone Spoiler II had ended up with Mose Lane.
He completed the five-year restoration just in time for Ford’s 100th anniversary in 2003. Today, Honnell’s Cyclone Spoiler II serves as the only original example of what Mercury’s 1970 NASCAR season could have looked like had the Aero Wars not come to an untimely end.
Article courtesy of Street Muscle Magazine, written by Bradley Iger.