The history of the Thunderbolt begins with America's love of competition. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday was the idea at the time, and the big "3" knew customers could identify with cars that they saw at the track and in the showroom. Even if you didn't go out and buy a 427 Galaxie, you sure did want to go check one out at the dealership after you saw it rumble by in the staging lanes. Showroom traffic is worth a lot to dealerships, and Ford knew this and made sure they had a major piece of bait with their new strip machine. This car would put them on the map as far as drag racing goes, with an engine already established as reliable and supremely powerful.
In 1963, an alliance between Ford's special vehicle department and the East Providence, RI dealership Tasca Ford created a mule vehicle which would ultimately be known as the Thunderbolt. Tasca had been running a '62 Fairlane stuffed full of a 406 engine, and had gotten Ford's undivided attention. A test car was built in 1963 to determine if an advantage would be gained by using the unitized body Fairlane in drag racing (versus the full framed Galaxie) This blue '63 Fairlane 500 hardtop was equipped with a 427/425 horse engine and an 4 speed transmission to test the feasibilty of a midsize car and big block engine combo. The car went largely unnoticed at the races it attended. Apparently it was crushed instead of being sold. That's the usual story for Ford prototypes, even today.
It was determined that this combination would give Ford the weight break it needed to run with the Max Wedge MoPars and the soon to be released Hemis. The Dearborn Steel Tubing Co. (DST), was picked to do all of the conversion work on the Fairlanes. The cars were built at the Dearborn plant as Fairlane 500 2 door sedans, minus all sound deadener, sealer and insulation. These cars did not have radios, heaters, or rear window cranking mechanisms. The side windows were plexiglas, and they were optioned with the 289/271 horse engine. This engine choice gave the cars a 9 inch rear end and larger brakes, which they would definitely need in a very short time.
The first run of cars were built in late '63. They were Vintage Burgundy with tan interiors. 11 cars were delivered to Dearborn Steel Tubing, and hand built into full fledged drag monsters. Apparently, 9 were done and presented to the drag teams at the same time. All of these cars were identical, except for one automatic. It was driven by Paul Harvey and sponsored by Bob Ford in Dearborn. This car was the only Vintage Burgundy, automatic transmission combination car built. Tragically, it was destroyed in a crash after being sold in 1965, killing the driver. I feel that this would be a very valuable Thunderbolt if it was around today.
The second and third runs were different creations. These cars were NOT assembled at the factory, but rather transported to DST in pieces and assembled there. The first 11 or so cars were in fact complete cars which were built by FORD, taken to DST, and completely dismantled for the transformation. Since the total number of cars was fairly high for such a special type of machine, the second type of assembly was definately preferable.
IF YOU HAVE ANY PHOTOS OF THUNDERBOLTS ON THE ASSEMBLY LINE OR ANY PHOTOS FROM DST, THERE IS A MAJOR CASH REWARD FOR THESE! (It will really help our research)
Some components for building a lightweight Fairlane were available from FoMoCo and possibly other sources like Holman-Moody. I need to research this topic and I will add more on it later.
Assorted TBolt Images
The History of Individual Cars