Out of the 100 cars, 59 were automatics, and 41 were 4 speeds. Many automatics were changed to a 4 speed at some time or another, and each car can be identified with it's serial number. These cars were radio, heater, sound deadener, body insulation, rear window crank, carpeting, spare tire and jack, and one windsield wiper DELETE!! A special traction bar set up eliminated body roll, and fiberglass body parts were installed in various locations, depending on whether or not the car was a Ford Factory Drag Team car. This first handful of cars, 11 Vintage Burgundy sedans, were basically prototype scratchbuilt cars. They employed fiberglass fenders, hood, doors, and front bumper. Most window material was plexiglas. Quarter mile times were in the 11.6-12.0 range, again depending on the car and team. There was no warranty with the Thunderbolt, and each car was to be picked up in Dearborn, with the first cars delivered for $1 !! Ford lost money on each car, ultimately selling them for $3900 (4speed) and $4000 (auto).
The 100 Thunderbolts were built in 3 groups. They are not all identical, and some materials and construction are different on many cars. The front bumper was fiberglas on some early cars, and some received fiberglas doors. The side window material was plexiglass, and some had plexi for the rear window too. All had some type of rocker panel cut for slick clearance, and the rear window retainers were different or missing on some cars.
Consisted of 11 cars, all burgundy
- 10 Four Speeds, 1 Automatic
December 1963 - Feb 1964
Consisted of 39 cars, all white
- 9 Four Speeds, 30 Automatics
March - May 1964
Consisted of 50 cars, all white
- 22 Four Speeds, 28 Automatics
The cars with automatic transmissions were very interesting. Since Ford had an automatic that was very strong in the Lincoln, they decided to use that for strength and durability. These were modified to have no kickdown shifts, higher line pressures, and special converters. These required special bellhousings to mate the transmissions to the FE engine.
Add up the four speed cars and the automatic cars. I think you'll be surprised at the totals.....
Interior changes were not easily noticed.
Thunderbolts are of course Fairlane 500's and not base sedans, but they do have at least one non-500 quality - rubber mats instead of carpeting. If you've ever yanked out the carpeting from an old Ford you know why this was one of the first things to go for weight savings. Other interior deletions were missing armrests, passenger sunvisor, radio, heater, and rear window regulators. As far as I know, all Thunderbolts were built with front passenger and rear seats.
Thunderbolts had (early) fiberglass bumpers which deleted the front bottom section of the fenders as well as the stone guard that connects the 2 fenders. This is not really a bumper at all, just something that looks like one on the front of the car. Later cars were built with what looks like a normal '64 bumper, but is in reality an aluminum copy. These were also available over the counter from Ford. I don't know of anyone reproducing them today although I'd like to find a vendor to do that.
I have never heard of an original T-Bolt being built with either a fiberglass or aluminum rear bumper. The Fairlane benefits from weight in the rear for traction purposes. I will need to check with some friends to confirm this though.
Some cars came with front mounted tow hooks. These are either square or round, and it appears that some are aluminum while others are steel. I am not sure if some cars were built without them or if they were removed for a very minute amount of weight savings.
Front "sheet metal"
All Thunderbolts received fiberglass fenders and hood, not aluminum as some other manufacturers used. (This is good for those of us restoring cars - I doubt anyone would be making aluminum fenders and if they did they'd be horribly expensive). The early cars got a "cloverleaf" front hood which looked like a normal 64 hood with a 4 leaf-ed clover design allowing room for the airbox. This was replaced very early on with the teardrop hood design.
As mentioned here and lots of other places, Thunderbolts were built with 427 center oiler high riser engines and dual 4 barrel carburetors. I need to check with my friend Dennis to get the specs on the carbs (3 different magazine articles quote 3 different CFMs for the carbs). One car was built with a hemi-head version of the 427 high riser but this car didn't race very much and the project was cancelled right away.
4 speed transmissions were special aluminum-cased 4 speeds and had a tendecy to crack under the extreme use. Many were replaced with cast iron units. I am not sure if the aluminum trans was available from Ford or Holman-Moody over the counter.
Automatic transmissions were reworked Lincoln 3 speed units with special bellhousings. The transmissions had the kick-down ability deleted and were beefed up for racing use. I have heard that these did not work well and many cars were changed to 4 speeds. The transmission in the Luther Ford car let go one day while testing and took out the top end of the engine. Too bad there weren't any camcorders back then.
Being race cars, the Thunderbolts endured constant attempts to make them faster. This involved many things during the '64 season, but one common one was altering the traction bar setup. From DST, the T-Bolts came with square box style bars welded to the axle housing. These went forward to a crossmember that doubled as a driveshaft safety loop. This setup eliminated all body roll and was very stout.
Changes by most were modifications to lengthen the bars. Many teams made very long bars all the way up to near the firewall area. The "Shazam" car used bars that look similar to today's ladder bar arrangements, while Gas Ronda used long bars made like DST's.
A few individuals reversed the bars, making theirs go backward towards the rear bumper. I'm not sure how well this worked, but it wasn't common to see this and rear mounted bars haven't been seen much if at all since.
I've heard from several people that the Thunderbolts were supposed to be hard tops like the Mercury dragsters and the '63 Fairlane T-Bolt prototype. The story goes that a clerical error changed the order to the sedan body code. THIS IS INCORRECT. T-Bolt collectors tell me that although the windshield of a hard top allows slightly less drag, the rigidity and weight distribution of the sedan called for this body to be used. There were no plans for hard top Fairlane dragsters in 1964. Possibly one hard top '64 Fairlane was built either at Holman Moody or a similar facility, but this car was a replacement for Phil Bonner's wrecked Burgundy car. This Fairlane was an experimental Nascar racer. If anyone has documentation or information on this vehicle, please let me know.
Assorted TBolt Images
The History of Individual Cars