Thunderbolt: Ford’s Factory Drag Racer Up for Auction

Photos: Mecum Auctions

Lee Iacocca’s influence at Ford came at a time when the product line was well known as “working man’s” cars. While then-president Robert McNamara gave Ford the Falcon and the Galaxie, Iacocca gave it the Falcon Sprint and the Galaxie XL. In addition, Iacocca called for exciting, new engines including the high-revving 427-cid big-block for full size Fords.

Soon after, when the upstart east coast Ford dealer, Bob Tasca, stuck a 427 engine into the mid-sized Ford Fairlane, he captured Iacocca’s attention. The result would become, in late 1963, the Ford Thunderbolt. An initial run of eleven cars were made. The Fairlane 500 2-door cars, all painted in Vintage Burgundy, were specially built in Dearborn and then sent to a company called Dearborn Steel Tube for the remaining conversion work.

There, the car received a new 427-cid, 425 hp engine and 4-speed transmission (one car was built with an automatic) and many modifications designed for weight reduction. In the end, at 3225 pounds, the Thunderbolt weighed slightly more than a stock Fairlane, but just twenty pounds more than the class minimum under NHRA rules. The resulting car became a legend in one season.

With ETs in the 11s, the new Thunderbolt earned the Top Stock title and the 1964 NHRA Manufacturer’s Cup for Ford. In total, one hundred Thunderbolts were built and the one shown here is #60. This car was once part of the McGroder Muscle Car Collection and was restored while there with a watchful eye from Ford’s original Thunderbolt Program Manager, Vern Tinsler.

By the end of the production runs, automatic cars outnumbered the four-speed versions. This example is equipped with the specially modified, Lincoln three-speed automatic transmission. Changes included a new bellhousing to mate up with the big block, kick-down delete and general hardening for competition use.

Thunderbolts were sold outright to racers, without warranty, at a dealer cost of $3,780 for the four-speed, or $3,980 for the automatic. When this example crosses the auction block this weekend at the Mecum Auctions event in Monterrey, CA, this weekend, it can be expected to fetch far more.

About the author

Gordon McDonald

Gordon's background stems from the print media world. He has extensive knowledge of the entire motorsports industry.
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