The tale of the "Country Boy" Thunderbolt, supplied by Terry Woods, is one of the coolest T-Bolt stories I've heard. The only way it could have been better is if he would have kept the car!
The history of "The Country Boy", by Terry Woods.
The Thunderbolt named “The Country Boy” was, according to records, the twenty-eighth car delivered by Dearborn Steel Tubing. It was sold to Jim Cochrane through the Dick Coffey Ford dealership in Decatur, Alabama, which sponsored the car. Jim, like most, if not all other buyers, picked the car up at D.S.T. The car was Wimbledon White and, as sold, had automatic transmission, plexiglass windows, rear window clips, fiberglass front bumper, and the other customary Thunderbolt body parts.
Aside from being raced regionally by its owner, little is known of the early history of the car. At some point after Cochrane quit racing the car, it was bought by a trio of men from Nashville, Tennessee who had also bought the “remains” of another Alabama based Thunderbolt, “The Whuppett”, originally owned by Pat Gray, and sold and sponsored by Woody Anderson Ford of Huntsville, Alabama. The Nashville trio had intended to race “The Whuppett”; however, because it had been altered and raced as a funny car, they parted the car out and used parts from that car on “The Country Boy”, after they obtained it. This would later cause confusion as to the identity of the car once I obtained it.
The incredible story of how I came to find and buy the car and many of its rare parts, is very interesting and reads like a non-fiction novel with sex, deception, and stories of sheer luck. In April of 1977, I made my annual trip to the Spring Carlisle swap meet. Normally, I would have made the trip alone, as I had done so many times, but that year, I went with a friend, who had some swap meet spaces and was taking some parts to sell. On the return trip, we picked up a 1957 Ford sedan that he had inherited from a relative. Since the 57 Ford was roadworthy, he drove the car and I followed driving his pickup, pulling his parts trailer.
Somewhere, about half way between Knoxville and Nashville on Interstate 40, we encountered a carload of college girls headed back to Nashville on a Sunday afternoon. They, for some unknown reason, were attracted to my friend in the 57 Ford, but didn’t seem interested in me in the pickup. (I guess he was a better flirt.) Now, I was a single man who could have legally taken advantage of making some new female friends, but my friend (who I’ll call ‘Bill’), was, and is, married and because I’m making this story public, I’ll protect his real identity as I don’t know how his wife would react if she ever knew ‘the rest of the story’.
We played a game of “cat and mouse” with these college girls on I 40 and just on the Eastern outskirts of Nashville, Bill used hand gestures to me to stop for gas. We stopped and Bill immediately struck up a conversation with the girls. After filling our vehicle’s tanks, Bill came over and said, “Hey, these girls have invited me over to their apartment, only a few blocks from here. Follow me in the truck”. Well, I was hoping that the invitation included me, but when we pulled into the apartment parking lot and stopped, Bill informed me that the invitation was only to him. He winked at me and said that he was going to go get some “Southern hospitality” from one of the girls and for me to wait until he returned. Disappointed, I walked over to investigate what looked like a Thunderbolt, parked in the lot. It wasn’t on a trailer; it was just parked among the other cars.
The car was painted light blue and the interior had been spray painted black. The plexiglass windows were very dirty and very much in need of polishing. The price of $3,250.00, along with the words, “For Sale”, and a phone number, were written with white shoe polish on the windshield. I thought this car might be legitimate, but I wasn’t interested in paying that much for a bogus car, so I wrote down the car’s V.I.N. and the seller’s phone number. After what seemed like an hour, Bill came back to the car, looking very rested and satisfied. He wanted to look at the Thunderbolt, too, so I pretended to be uninterested.
I was a professional firefighter and was working an extra job as a dispatcher for a suburban police department at the time. When we arrived back in Houston, I couldn’t wait to run the car’s V.I.N. and check for stolen. When the report came back, it reported that the car with the V.I.N. 4F41Kxxxxxx, had its V.I.N. changed by Ford to 4F41Rxxxxxx. It was sold to Woody Anderson Ford in Huntsville, Alabama, and it was NOT stolen. With that information, I immediately called the seller and a deal was made and within days, I drove to Nashville and picked the car up. While in Nashville to get the car, I met one of the men who were selling the car. His name was Ronnie Hoffman and he told me that he had owned one of the original Mercury A/FX Comets. I asked him if he still had any parts to the car and he said, “Yeah, I’ve still got the aluminum fresh air box hanging in my garage. I never ran it on the car. It was too restrictive”. I asked if he would sell it and he said since I was buying the Thunderbolt that he would just give it to me! About a week after returning home with my prize, I called Ronnie by phone. He asked if I had spoken to my friend, Bill. I said,”No. Why”? He said, “Because he called me, wanting to buy the car and I told him that you had already bought it and picked it up”! Needless to say, Bill and I didn’t speak to each other for many years and have spoken to each other very little, in recent years.
After inspecting my T-Bolt, I happened to mention to Larry Davis, another T-Bolt owner, about the car that I had bought. Larry asked me if the car had a straight front axle and an altered wheelbase. I replied negative, to both questions. He said something was wrong, and that I couldn’t have Pat Gray’s car. He told me to check the V.I.N. stamped into the top of the inner fender panels. (The V.I.N. that I had used to check for stolen came from the door plate which was screwed, not riveted to the door jam.) I found that the V.I.N. was different by six unit numbers, and Larry informed me that I had Jim Cochrane’s Country Boy. I called Ronnie Hoffman in Tennessee, again, and he explained the mix up occurred because the rare fiberglass door assemblies off of “The Whuppett” were taken off before the car was junked and installed on the “Country Boy”. When I bought the car, it had been tubbed and the rear axle narrowed. In addition to the car’s original parts and the fiberglass door assemblies, it had a plexiglass windshield, a later side oiler block which was destroyed, and a top loader transmission. While owning the car, I was fortunate to find and buy a 1964 top oiler short block and the correct modified Lincoln automatic transmission. The story of how I acquired it is worth detailing.
I went to the big Ford swap meet in Columbus, Ohio, for many years in a row. At one of these meets, the swap meet promoter was allowing people to ‘advertise’ for parts that they wanted over the public address system for a fee. I thought it was an impossible long shot, but I had the announcement made that I wanted to buy a T-Bolt automatic transmission. To my amazement, a short time later, the announcer said, “Will the buyer for the T-Bolt automatic transmission, report to space, so and so”. Well he might as well have been announcing to a pack of hungry wolves that there was a wounded deer in the area, because to my amazement there was another buyer wanting to buy the transmission, which showed up at the seller’s space at the same time that I did! I argued that I should have the only chance to buy the transmission since I was the one who paid to have the announcement made. The seller said that he didn’t care which one of us bought it since we both were willing to pay his price. To my displeasure, we ended up deciding which one of us would buy the transmission, by the flip of a coin. I was allowed to call the flip by virtue of having initiated the sale. Luckily, I won the coin toss and paid the seller $350.00 for a transmission that was complete from the special bell housing to the front drive shaft yoke. (Believe me, if I had lost that coin toss, I’d have been one upset Texan, to put it very cleanly.)
By 1987, I had collected almost all of the hard or impossible to find parts for the car. Although I wanted to restore the car as close to original as possible, I didn’t want to go to the trouble and expense of replacing the tubbed trunk pan and finding the correct length rear axle assembly. I had the body work done and painted Wimbledon White and professionally lettered. Basically, all I had to do was rebuild the engine and drop it and the transmission into the chassis; have a drive shaft made; and either try to clean the black paint from the original interior, or replace the interior with new replacement material which was being reproduced by that time. Unfortunately, my personal income hadn’t kept up with the inflated prices that T-Bolts were bringing and I felt compelled to sell the car. I knew that unless I ever came into a lot of money that I’d probably never own another one, but reluctantly I sold the car. Ironically, the buyer was from Nashville, Tennessee, so the car went back to where I had bought it. The person, who bought “The Country Boy” from me, has since sold the car. It is now completely restored and is a part of a private collection in Massachusetts.