Glenn Zanotti ©2015, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
  • Estimated 500-hp Chevrolet LS2 V8 engine
  • 6-speed manual transmission
  • Independent coil-spring front suspension
  • Solid rear axle with coil springs
  • Four-wheel power disc brakes
  • A sleek, award-winning custom Thunderbird
  • Built to the highest standards by Wayne Davis’ private shop
  • Classic style with the best of modern engineering
  • Full power equipment and air conditioning
  • Carmel Concours class award and Goodguys Builder’s Choice winner

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1957 Ford Thunderbird Custom
Years Produced:1957
Number Produced:21,380 (total)
Original List Price:$3,350
SCM Valuation:$48k–$64k (original T-bird)
Tune Up Cost:$150
Distributor Caps:N/A
Chassis Number Location:Metal tag on left door body pillar
Engine Number Location:N/A
Club Info:Vintage Thunderbird Club International, NSRA
Alternatives:1957 Chevrolet Corvette custom, 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air custom, 1957 Ford Thunderbird F-code
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 207, sold for $181,500, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction in Monterey, CA, on August 14, 2015.

I’m not ashamed to admit that resto-mods are my favorite cars. In fact, the only thing I don’t like about them is the fact that they’re called resto-mods. That term somehow makes them sound like they belong to sweet old-timers who pull their pants up over their belly-buttons and spend Saturday mornings hand-whittling oak cup holders for their Tin Lizzies.

I’ll be the first to admit that resto-mods are certainly not the greatest investments, but they’re a lot more fun than burying jars of cash in the backyard, and a lot more useful than a no-miles restoration that requires a log entry every time the tire pressure is checked. More importantly, they’re simply hot rods in the truest sense, and, in many ways, offer the clearest indication of the health of the American car scene.

When executed properly, resto-mods can showcase the very best of who and what we are as passionate enthusiasts. They are opportunities to blend the best of yesterday and today, and, in some cases, the only appropriate way to salvage a car that would otherwise be lost or valueless.

Many builders and owners of resto-mods relish the opportunity to be unencumbered by the mountain of limitations imposed upon them by the OEMs and the chalk-mark-and-overspray clubs. As a consequence, they are free to reimagine the details in the way the original designers might if given the opportunity. The rest of us simply can’t leave well enough alone.

This T-bird

Considering how fantastic this car looks, it’s a wonder we don’t see more first-gen T-bird owners dumping the wire wheels and puny-man Y-block. The color is simultaneously striking and sophisticated, the bodylines remain unambiguously Thunderbird, and the stance is just about perfect.

The boxed chassis, with its coil-overs, tubular control arms and disc brakes, certainly isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea (nor within their budget), but there can really be no argument about the improved experience of driving an old car that is so equipped. The most significant drawback I see with plopping down a wad of cash for a custom chassis with all the goodies has more to do with the longevity of the companies piecing them all together. Will I be able to find a replacement rear brake caliper 10 years from now when the young buck behind the counter stares blankly back at me because his computer clearly indicates that ’57 Thunderbirds don’t have disc brakes? It’s a chance I’d be willing to take.

My only gripe with this car is a big one: Why in the world does this Ford have a GM powerplant? If this was a bits-and-pieces build on a limited budget, I would have a bit more leniency, but this was not a backyard project. I’d love to have an LS motor to take on long walks and share my hopes and dreams with, too, but it’s simply the wrong choice for this car.

The price

The knock against resto-mods, or any customized vehicle for that matter, is that the builds are tailored to the specific tastes of the person paying the tab. Whether those customizations are appreciated by others is somewhat irrelevant — at least initially.

With a restoration or original car, the value is in the preservation of the historical value of said vehicle. With resto-mods, the value is really tied to curb appeal, emotional impulse and immediate relevance. How many pastel, tweed-interiored fat-fender rods are tucked away out there, their values plummeting into oblivion? The winds of trend are ever-shifting, and builds that were cutting-edge in 1990 can be had for cheap today.

For those reasons, the only thing more shocking than finding that LS under the hood has to be the dollar amount it took to take the whole shebang home. Although customizer Wayne Davis likely spent a bit more to get this T-bird on the road, $181,000 is probably a lot closer to the initial investment than cars like this typically garner.

I don’t mean to insinuate that this particular car will be out of style tomorrow, but we certainly can’t expect that it will hold up forever. The panel fit, paint quality, and overall detail appear to be top-notch, but LS motors are a dime a dozen (even in Fords) and a custom chassis can be ordered up on the Internet with a few clicks and a credit card. There’s nothing out of this world going on here, either mechanically or aesthetically.

Although Davis is fairly well known and respected in the American car collector world, I certainly don’t think his name demands a premium, so I’m pretty sure we can eliminate any insinuation of celebrity status from the outcome as well.

So what is it then? I really like this car, but $180,000-plus just doesn’t make much sense — especially when you consider that the car is no longer spankin’ new. The few thousand miles this car has on the clock are great from a shakedown/functionality standpoint, but I would expect the purchase price to take a hit accordingly. This car is essentially a really fantastic weekend cruiser/local-car-show stud that was bought at an absolute premium.

The presentation does have somewhat of a timeless, stoic handsomeness to it, and maybe that’s what sent the buyer over the edge. If it ticked exactly all the right boxes for a particular someone who saw an opportunity to save some time and cash over having one built, then we can argue that the price paid made sense under the circumstances. In that case, I hope the new owner drives the wheels off of it and enjoys it every mile along the way. If he doesn’t, I’d call this one extremely well sold.

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.

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