Mopar’s Hemi and Max Wedge are synonymous with drag racing, but in the mid-60’s, Ford was on equal footing with Chrysler thanks to a car that turned a small dealership project into a race winner.
Ford’s full-size Galaxie wasn’t competitive in Super Stock drag racing, but Tasca Ford, a dealer in East Providence, R.I., was winning races using mid-sized Fairlanes fitted with 406 big blocks. Together, they built a prototype with a 427 that was run at local tracks. It showed promise, so Ford went ahead with limited production in 1964.
About the 1964 Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt
Called the “Thunderbolt,” the new model started as a stock 289-equipped coupe. This added Ford’s legendary 9-inch rear end and larger rear brakes to the equipment list. Anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary, from sound deadening to heating, was left out. Dearborn Steel Tubing (DST) was contracted to add the Thunderbolt’s special equipment. The small block was replaced with a 427 fitted with a high-rise intake, a pair of four-barrel Holley carburetors and intake tubes that draw air from the grill’s high beam headlight bezels. Unlike the Galaxie, the Fairlane didn’t need loads of custom-built aluminum components to reach the class’s weight limit. Lightweight components were limited to a fiberglass hood and front fenders, aluminum bumpers and grill and Plexiglass windows and seats from the Econoline van. Big springs and traction bars help put power to the ground. The suspension setup causes the car’s rear to lift as much as 6 inches when launched.
A total of 100 Thunderbolts were built. The first 11 cars, built for Ford’s own racing team, started as complete production cars before being shipped to DST. These had fiberglass front bumpers and doors as well as burgundy paint. The remaining 89 cars were only partially assembled to save time on replacing components. These cars were painted white and only sold to experienced drag racers. Buyers could choose between a Lincoln three-speed automatic or an aluminum-cased four-speed manual. Over time, many automatics were replaced with manuals, while the fragile aluminum cases were replaced with stock cast iron cases.
The Thunderbolt was rated at 425 hp in stock form, but race-tuned cars could push past 600 hp. This made it easy to get quarter mile times in the 11s with a few cars breaking into the 10s, making it one of the fastest “stock” cars from the decade.
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