You could find plenty of Ford Thunderbirds participating in various forms of motorsports during the 1980s. Ford sold a lot of T-birds for this very reason, and Fred House was part of that trend. This 1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe is House’s vision of what one of these cars should look like in full race trim when armed with a small displacement mill.
One of the best parts about drag racing is you can see a car on the track and very easily build your own version of it. There are plenty of tribute car projects that have been built over the years because of what a professional racer ran at the track. House already liked the lines of the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, and after seeing one race in Pro Stock he had to have his own.
“The 1988 Turbo Coupe has always been one of my favorite cars. When I saw Bob Glidden win with one of these at Maple Grove, I decided I had to have one, so we bought one new in 1988. We ended up putting 270,000 miles on that car. When the time came for me to build a racecar, I looked around and found an unused 1988 Thunderbird fiberglass body to build a fast Turbo Coupe,” House says.
After House found the body he was looking for, he took it to James Smith at JSR Racing. Smith went to work and built a chassis specifically for the body. While Smith was building the chassis, House started building the engine for the Turbo Coupe. The 2.3-liter Pinto-based four-cylinder that House put together with a tall deck SVO block, and ARCA cylinder head measures 176 cubic inches. JSR racing fabricated the custom intake manifold, turbo headers, and turbo system for the Thunderbird. A 76mm Precision turbo provides the boost and House tunes the car with a Holley EFI system.
What makes House’s Thunderbird super cool is the fact he still bangs his own gears. A G-Force transmission handles all the power in conjunction with an ACE clutch from Cale Aronson. This combination has run a best of 7.06 at 191 MPH — good enough to hold down the Ford 2.3-liter engine world record.
“This car can be a challenge to drive, but it’s a lot of fun. We have to spend a lot of time tuning on the clutch to get it right at the track. When everything is set up properly this car is a total rocketship, and that really makes all the work worth it for me,” House says.
You probably won’t find another car at the track with the combination that House runs and that’s what sets his Thunderbird apart from everything you see in the lanes. This car is truly a unique build, and in an alternate universe could be a representation of what NHRA Pro Stock could have been.