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Thunderbolts were designed for high-profile Factory Experimental and Super Stock classes; Galaxie Lightweights targeted regional Stock-class competition





In March 1963, General Motors dropped a bombshell by banning factory support of auto racing. Ironically, just one month later, Ford Vice President Lee Iacocca issued a press release that read, in part:

"Our attitude is based on three points:


  • We believe that performance events-whether they be races, road rallies, or acceleration-economy-braking trials-are an important means of 'improving the breed.'

  • Those who enter such events are entitled to and will receive our support. We want our products to do well in such events.

  • We plan to communicate to the public the constructive lessons learned in such events. For example, the durability of the product which enabled Ford to sweep all five places in the NASCAR Daytona 500 race was communicated through ads in 2,800 newspapers plus radio and television.



... Race on Sunday, sell on Monday... Our philosophy is based on Total Performance."

While some within Ford felt venues like Indianapolis and Le Mans were the perfect showcases for the company, the marketing folks knew it was stock-looking race cars that brought the masses into the showrooms. In 1963, that meant NASCAR and USAC oval-track competition, plus NHRA and AHRA drag racing.

For the '63 drag race season, Ford created special lightweight Galaxie coupes for the Factory Experimental and Super Stock classes. Though hardly a failure, the 427-powered Galaxies struggled to keep up with the smaller, lighter Dodges and Plymouths. For 1964, Ford mounted a two-pronged attack on the nation's drag strips.

In another twist of irony, Ford used the formula for the stillborn '63 Pontiac LeMans Super Duty cars (see profile, March, p. 48) by stuffing the Galaxie's 500-plus-horsepower 427 into the midsize Fairlane 500, creating the Thunderbolt. Since there was no way the massive 7-liter V8 would fit the stock Fairlane engine compartment, Ford turned to a long-time contractor, Andy Hooten's Dearborn Steel Tubing company, to make the extensive modifications needed to create the Thunderbolt.

The first eleven Thunderbolts, all painted Vintage Burgundy with tan interiors, went to the top Ford racers, including Phil Bonner, Bill Lawton, Gas Ronda, and Mickey Thompson. First time out, Butch Leal destroyed the competition at the 1964 Winternationals with a best time of 11.47 seconds at 120.16 mph. Subsequent cars were painted Wimbledon White, and most authorities believe a total of 100 Thunderbolt - Galaxie Lightweight cars were built, though some think as many as 127 might have been created.

For Super Stock and Stock drag competition, Ford brought back the Galaxie Lightweight for 1964. Lighter than the '63 cars and packing a bit more power, the new Lightweight was much more competitive. A total of 50 were built at the Atlanta assembly plant, all painted Wimbledon White, while 25 were equipped with Ford's "Top-Loader" manual 4-speed, and 25 with Lincoln's stout 3-speed automatic transmission. While the Thunderbolts were created to grab the spotlight in national events in the high-profile Factory Experimental and Super Stock classes, the Galaxie Lightweights were tailor-made for regional Stock-class competition. Either way, Ford Total Performance grabbed the trophies throughout 1964, and buyers filled the showrooms in record numbers.

In 1965, the NHRA mandated that at least 500 cars be manufactured to qualify for the stock-type classes, which effectively killed the future of the factory lightweight race car. Both the Thunderbolt and the '64 Galaxie Lightweight represent the end of an era.


{analysis}{auto}1275{/auto}

1964 Ford Fairlane 427 Thunderbolt


Chassis number: 4F41K167201

This car sold for $206,700, including buyer's premium, at the Mecum Muscle Cars & More auction in Kissimmee, Florida, on January 24, 2009.

This Thunderbolt was built in early December 1963 and sold to Jerry Alderman Ford in Indianapolis on July 8, 1964, for $1. For the next two years it was campaigned at Midwest tracks under the name "Little Emmett," driven by Bob Martin. It then spent more than two decades in hiding before being restored, and in 1999, it was featured on the Hot Rod Power Tour by then-owner Joe Fazo of Stockton, California.

The Thunderbolt is clearly the Holy Grail for performance Ford fans, and there have been a flurry of significant sales in recent years as Fords finally get some of the recognition their GM counterparts have always enjoyed. Mecum sold the well-known Reynolds Ford Thunderbolt for $330,750 in 2006, while Hubert Platt's famous "Little Georgia Shaker" was sold by Barrett-Jackson that same year for $162,000.

In reality, the $206,700 brought by "Little Emmett" is about the right price for these racers right now, at least for one of the Wimbledon White "customer" cars. But consider that in 1999, Phil Bonner's famous Thunderbolt, which was the 1964 A/FX national champion and one of the original eleven Burgundy cars, sold for just $54,600. It wouldn't surprise at $300,000 today.

Fords may never have quite the value in the marketplace as similar Chevys and Pontiacs, but the gap is clearly narrowing, and "Little Emmett" should be considered well bought.

1964 Ford Galaxie Lightweight


Chassis number: 4A66R145479

This car sold for $217,300, including buyer's premium, at the Mecum Muscle Cars & More auction in Kissimmee, Florida, on January 24, 2009.

It's uncommon when one factory-built racing Ford is offered for sale; having two at the same auction is almost unheard of. And when one is a rare '64 Galaxie Lightweight, it's a special event indeed. This Galaxie was the prototype for the 50 lightweight cars. It is thought to have been raced by Bud Schlenburg, winning its class at the U.S. World Nationals in 1964. After years of obscurity, the Galaxie received a full frame-off restoration by noted Ford restorer Donald Allen.

Provenance is everything to a vintage race car, so why would this Galaxie Lightweight, with a fraction of the accomplishments of the typical Thunderbolt, sell for more? Just 50 of these cars were built, vs. around 100 Thunderbolts and 200 1963 Lightweights, and far fewer '64 Lightweights have survived over the decades. Plus, the '64 Lightweights are rarely seen in the marketplace. Rarity trumped lack of provenance with this car, and it should continue to increase in value in the years ahead. A wise purchase.{/analysis}

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