This early Thunderbolt is one of the documented 100 produced and one of the few remaining examples of Ford’s all-out assault on drag racing in the 1960s.
Ford delivered the Thunderbolt Fairlane 500s to Dearborn Steel Tubing as K-code, high-performance 289ci, 4-speed cars. They arrived less the engine and transmission. By ordering the K-code engine, the car was shipped with larger brakes and the legendary Ford 9-inch differential. At Dearborn Steel Tubing the chassis was reinforced and modified to accommodate a 427ci “high-riser” FE engine with two 4-barrel carburetors. The original steel hood and front quarter-panels were replaced with fiberglass, and a special “teardrop” hood was installed to house that massive FE powerplant. The early Thunderbolts were delivered with a fiberglass front bumper, which was later replaced with an aluminum version.
Weight-saving measures on these cars included the elimination of such street items as the passenger-side sun visor, radio, heater, wheel covers, passenger-side windshield wiper, armrests, rear window cranks, mirrors, sound-deadening material, carpeting, trunk mat, lug wrench, jack and spare tire. What remained inside was a single driver’s sun visor, windshield wiper and seatbelt, as well as lightweight Bostrum Thinline racing seats. The Thunderbolts were also delivered with drag racing slicks as standard equipment.
Never intended for street use, each Thunderbolt was fitted with a disclaimed affixed to the glove box that states: “This vehicle has been built specifically as a lightweight competitive car and includes certain fiberglass and aluminum components. Because of the specialized purpose for which this car has been built and to achieve maximum weight reduction, normal quality standards of the Ford Motor Company in terms of exterior panel fit and surface appearance are not met on this vehicle. This information is included on this vehicle to assure that all customers who purchase this car are aware of the deviation from the regular high appearance quality standards of the Ford Motor Company.”
This particular example was delivered to Max Larson Ford in Coldwater, Michigan, on December 26, 1963, and resold on April 21, 1964, to Jack Mefford Ford in Springfield, Ohio, where it was campaigned throughout the Ohio Valley. Originally produced with an automatic transmission, this car was quickly converted to a Ford Toploader 4-speed manual. This common Thunderbolt conversion created a very competitive car in the Super Stock (S/S) classification.
Jack Lindeman of Jack Mefford Ford reported to Lee Iacocca – then vice-president and general manager of the Ford Division – about this T-Bolt’s weekend victories … or lack thereof. The two men reportedly battled constantly over switching from the Lincoln automatic to a manual transmission. The successes that followed confirmed the Toploader was the right choice.
The current owner – whose late uncle was Ford drag racing legend Les Ritchey – purchased the car in 2015 from a collector’s estate; it had been stored in an Arizona warehouse for what is estimated to be 30 years and the odometer indicated less than 400 miles. The vehicle then underwent a meticulous yearlong nut-and-bolt concours restoration to bring it back to “as campaigned” in the 1960s.
After its restoration, the car was displayed at some major Concours d’Elegance events throughout California in 2017, garnering several Best in Class and First in Class awards, as well as the Historical Vehicle Association’s National Automotive Heritage Award at the Carmel-By-The-Sea Concours.
This historically significant Thunderbolt comes with a Letter of Authentication from the Thunderbolt Owners Association, as well as a Ford dealer memorandum dated February 21, 1964, providing details of the special drag-racing vehicles.
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My car was manufactured in the San Jose, California, assembly plant and the original owner purchased it from a dealer in San Jose.
One: I learned to drive on a red-and-white four-door 1957 Ford sedan with a V8 engine and three on the tree. Two: At some point in my childhood, I remember my grandfather owning a black-and-yellow ’57 Ford hardtop.
One of the greatest tricks of marketing automobiles, or anything else for that matter, is creating demand for something that people didn’t know they wanted.
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