In early 1960s NHRA competition, Ford fielded a monstrous 600 horsepower Galaxie in the Super Stock class. Though brutally fast, the big Galaxie still carried too much weight to compete with the Chevy Impala Z-11 with its W-head 427 Big Block, and MOPAR’s Stage III Max Wedge engines. The 1964 Ford Thunderbolt would become Ford’s Super Stock savior.
For the 1964 season, the NHRA introduced rules for the Super Stock class that would allow engine displacement of up to 427 cubic inches in cars weighing no less than 3,200 pounds. Dick Brannan, the head of Ford’s Drag Team, ordered ten two-door Fairlanes without radios, heaters, or seam sealer. The Fairlane shipping weight was 2,992 pounds. After adding fuel and a driver, it would be right at the NHRA 3,200 pound minimum. These ten cars became the first Ford Thunderbolts.
Brannan wanted one Ford Thunderbolt as a test bed, and to then apply those changes to the other nine. The bench seat was swapped for bucket seats from a Ford Econoline van, all the glass save for the windshield was replaced with fixed Plexiglas, the window cranks and mechanisms were removed, with stripped door panels replacing the stock units. The passenger side wiper and sun visor were eliminated, and carpet was replaced with a black rubber mat.
The Ford Thunderbolts’ steel front fenders, doors, and hoods were replaced by fiberglass versions, steel bumpers were swapped for fiberglass (the NHRA would eventually say no to the fiberglass bumpers, and they were swapped for aluminum units). The hood had a considerable bulge to accommodate the high-riser 427 FE engine. The battery was moved to the trunk to make room for the new mill. The spring towers had to be cut back, and the headers ran through everything including the suspension.
The 427-cubic inch engine needed more air, so the high beam headlights were eliminated, and the empty sockets were converted to mesh-covered air intakes.
The first test run was eye-opening. Brannan said, “Vern and I went out on our first run, and it sucked out the rear window, which went 50 feet into the air.”
The NHRA demanded that 100 copies of the newly christened Ford Thunderbolt be built. Half were automatics, half manuals, all built before the February 1964 NHRA Winternationals, where the Thunderbolts debuted, setting speed records in the Super Stock. Brannan clocked an 11.80-second pass at 122.28 mph and had another pass at 128 mph. Another Ford Thunderbolt piloted by Butch Leal for the Mickey Thompson team, won the Super Stock class.
The Ford Fairlane had model year changes for the 1965 model year that increased its weight. Brannan and company had already pared all they could to create the Ford Thunderbolt. The inability to safely trim any more weight, combined with the introduction of the lighter Mustang and Falcon, spelled doom for the Thunderbolt. Total production numbered only 100 units in 1964.
Our featured car is a cool Ford Thunderbolt recreation stuffed full of original racing goodness. The engine was built using a 390 cubic-inch FE block that was stroked to 427 cubes. A pair of Edelbrock 600 CFM carbs sit atop an Offenhauser medium-rise intake, and are fed by twin air scoops that have replaced the two inboard headlights. The FE exhales through correct-style three-inch side exit pipes with cut-outs. Backing the 427 is a Borg-Warner T10 four-speed with a Hurst Competition Plus shifter that sends power to the Ford nine-inch Trak-Loc rear diff.
The Ford Thunderbolt recreation hood, fenders, and bumpers are all fiberglass. The body is finished in Wimbledon White with correct Thunderbolt decals. There are period correct tow hooks just under the front bumper. A single windshield wiper is mounted on the driver’s side. Correct fifteen-inch wheels are shod in Continental tires in front and Mickey Thompsons in the rear.
Inside the Ford Thunderbolt recreation, the floors are covered in black rubber mat. Econoline bucket seats have been fitted, a tachometer has been mounted to the dash, and there is a fire extinguished between the front buckets. A a battery with period-style cover has been mounted in the trunk.
According to the Hagerty Price Guide, a #1 condition 1964 Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt is valued at $247,000. This exceptional Ford Thunderbolt recreation is being offered by Classic Car Studio for just $55,900.
Update: we just got word that this Fairlane Thunderbolt sold, though it’s not clear for how much.