- 2012 Detroit Autorama Don Ridler Award winner
- 2012 Goodguys Custom Rod of the Year
- 2012 SEMA Mothers Polish Excellence in Design winner
- 2012 Legend Cup winner
- Featured in Street Rodder Premium and AutoWeek
- 1150-hp twin-turbo V8 by Gale Banks Engineering
|Vehicle:||1955 Ford Thunderbird Custom convertible|
|Original List Price:||$2,444|
|Tune Up Cost:||$350|
|Chassis Number Location:||Plate on right-hand side of engine compartment on firewall|
|Club Info:||Goodguys, National Street Rod Association (NSRA)|
|Alternatives:||Other mid–’50s-era sports cars|
This car, Lot 1417, sold for $286,000, including buyer’s premium, at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction in Scottsdale, AZ, on January 20, 2018. It was offered with no reserve.
Ford Thunderbirds are rarely customized, as they’re clean cars to begin with. Seldom restyled back in the day, most ’Birds simply received the sports car or custom-rod treatment, with a few memorable exceptions.
The late Doane Spencer bought a ’55 ’Bird brand new from the factory, modified its Y-block V8 and fitted Halibrand kidney-bean knockoffs. Don Tognotti, the Oakland Roadster Show promoter, commissioned Rick’s Body Shop in Sacramento to do a snazzy green ’55 ’Bird with scallops, reversed chrome wheels and sidepipes. George Barris redid a couple of later T-birds for his wife, Shirley. And legendary pinstriper Larry Watson’s “Vino Paisano” ’58 Thunderbird became a panel-paint classic.
The right stuff
Built by an all-star cast, this ’55 ’Bird received the full treatment, and as hot rodders like to say, “there’s not a lot of Henry left.”
Dwayne Peace, who commissioned the car, had his son Jonathan (a design major at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena) pen an elegant, European-themed look. The builders backed it up with solid engineering. The extensively restyled body — every panel was modified — sits on a one-off handmade rectangular and tubular chassis by Torq’d Design Lab (Jonathan and his brother Matt’s shop in Tyler, TX) and Sparc Design.
Devil in the details
The wheelbase was stretched three inches to 105 inches for even better proportions. It’s powered by a Gale Banks-built, 6.15-liter twin-turbo V8 with Banks/Dart aluminum heads and an ACCEL Gen VI EFI system, good for 1,150 hp and 925 ft-lb of torque. Handling that power is a reworked Bowler 4L80E automatic transmission, coupled to a Moser nine-inch rear with triangulated suspension and Ridetech coil-overs.
The brakes are huge SSBC 13.6-inch rotors with four-piston calipers. Ron Davis Racing hand-built the hidden radiator and the dual intercoolers. There’s a three-inch custom Borla stainless exhaust system, and since the classic ’Bird bumpers (originally with the pipes through the bumper guards) gave way to thin, recessed bumpers, the exhaust exits through a one-off tip.
Jesse Greening’s shop, Greening Auto Company in Nashville, did much of the custom fabrication. That work included a hidden internal roll cage, relocated front fender openings, and redesigned rear quarters. Greening fabbed twin fuel tanks and made a custom steel dash with bespoke Classic Instruments gauges and a Movado clock.
The interior, with its bucket seats and modern console, was custom made by Paul Atkins, and there’s lots of billet aluminum trim. Custom taillights (each one whittled from an aluminum billet), three-piece billet spoke wheels and Pirelli P-Zero rubber, a chopped wraparound windshield, Electroluminesence lighting, Glasurit Brilliant Red paint, and a ton of dip work by Advanced Plating ensured that “no detail was left untouched and no expense was spared in the build of this historic, one-of-a-kind vehicle.”
Why does anyone invest this amount of time, talent and money in a custom car? Probably for the same reason many well-heeled enthusiasts and their restorers vie for Best of Show at Pebble Beach and Amelia Island.
The top two most important show awards in hot rod circles are the “America’s Most Beautiful Roadster” nine-foot trophy at the Grand National Roadster Show each January and the Don Ridler Memorial Award at the Detroit Autorama every March. The AMBR winner must be an American roadster or touring car up to and including 1937 (the last year Ford built a true roadster, a car without wind-up windows). The Ridler requirement is less restrictive, and it can be awarded to a car (or a truck) in any body style. Both honors are highly coveted by owners and car builders.
The Peace corps wanted to compete for the “Pirelli Great 8”— the eight finalists for the 2012 Ridler. They did better than that, winning the coveted Ridler Award, surely bringing joy to the talented craftsmen who sweated the details on this stunning car. The ’Bird went on to win awards at Goodguys, the Golden Builder Award (Hot Rod and Restoration Show in Indianapolis), the Legend Cup (Chicago World of Wheels), and the Chairman’s Cup (Classy Chassis Invitational in Houston).
And the winner is?
The latest ACC Pocket Price Guide rates the current median price for ’55 Thunderbirds at $29,000, so $260k would appear to be a lot of money. But I reckon the cost to build this car was considerably more than the winning bid.
There aren’t any major shows left for the new owner, so it’s probably time to put some miles on this baby, knowing that you’re driving one of the fastest, best-looking and most expensive Thunderbirds ever. I’d call this a great deal for the buyer — and if the Peaces were the ones to sell it here, they can take comfort in having won all those awards for their efforts.
(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.)