The buyer has a significant piece of Ford’s Total Performance Era sitting in the garage — and is ready to hunt Super Stock Mopars

Chassis number: 4F4K167198 Ford’s Total Performance program was well under way when Lee Iacocca hired Dearborn Steel Tubing Company to build a batch of special lightweight Ford Fairlanes for its top drag racing clientele. Painted Wimbledon White and stuffed with 427 cubic inches of Galaxie V8, the cars were dubbed “Thunderbolts.” Highlights: •    One of 100 factory built, VIN 4F4K167198 •    Three-ring binder of documentation •    Ownership history, MSO, Ford Company letters, etc. •    Owners include Don McMillan Ford, R.E. Tinkle and Steve Guiliani •    Many photos from the 1960s and a Guiliani  restoration •    Fiberglass front fenders, front bumper and hood •    Nine-inch Ford 4.11 Detroit Locker rear end •    C4 automatic transmission  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1964 Ford Thunderbolt 2-dr sedan

This 1964 Thunderbolt, Lot S141.1, sold for $259,700, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s Dallas auction on October 7, 2011.
Was this car almost $260k worth of, as Plato would suggest, a cosmic merging of power and sound like no other — or did somebody’s wallet just get zapped? Let’s step inside the storm to find out.

Of the 100 Thunderbolts produced, 41 came with 4-speed Borg Warner aluminum transmissions and 59 with automatics. They were built for Ford by Dearborn Steel Tubing to incorporate many changes that would be impractical, if not impossible, for Ford to do in-house on an assembly line.

The Thunderbolt got the special 427-ci center-oiler engine with Ford’s legendary “High Riser” C3AE-K cylinder heads topped with dual Holley four-barrel carbs. Those carbs were force-fed oxygen through a special cold air box and air intake hoses that ran from the inboard headlamp holes. Other changes from the ordinary Fairlane included:

• Installing a 4.41:1 or 4.58:1 geared Detroit Locker filled nine-inch rear axle with special control arms for drag racing.
• Modifying the front suspension shock towers so the 427 engine would fit.
• Moving the battery to the trunk.
• Installing a fiberglass front bumper, fenders and hood.
• Installing Plexiglas side and rear windows and lightweight seats pilfered from Ford’s Econoline Van parts bin. Many other modifications were made to make these special cars as light and fast as possible — at least in a straight line.

Some fast history

The 100 cars were not all built at once, but rather in three batches between October 1963 and May 1964. The first batch of eleven cars that rolled out of Dearborn Steel were unique in that all were painted Vintage Burgundy, and all but one car were 4-speeds.

Ford singled out drag racing royalty they knew could put these little missiles into the winner’s circle, and to do this offered them as “Dollar Cars” with factory support. Yes, these cars were indeed sold to important drag racers for literally one dollar.

Dick Brannon got the first car, and soon other racers such as Mickey Thompson, Phil Bonner and others got theirs. In some cases, they got more than one if they happened to wreck their first one. After this first batch, the remaining Thunderbolts were all painted white.

In battle, the Thunderbolt’s primary adversaries were the Super Stock Plymouth and Dodge cars that were running 426-ci “Wedge” engines in these pre-Hemi days. The little Ford T-Bolts rained on that parade, although the Ford’s automatic didn’t compare with Chrysler’s legendary TorqueFlite unit.
These were exciting days of factory-backed Super Stock drag racing, and right out of the box a good driver in a Thunderbolt could rip off quarter-mile times in the mid-eleven-second range at around 120 mph. In the end, the Thunderbolts did manage to win the 1964 NHRA Super Stock title for Ford, which was a notable achievement.

A documented Dollar Car

Now let’s focus on our feature car. As one of the documented Dollar Cars — and carrying the very early VIN of 167198, it is one of the first second-batch cars produced. Its original owner and sponsor was Don McMillan Ford of Houston, TX, and R.E. Tinkle was the driver.

To get a Dollar Car, Ford had to have faith in this pairing. It appears the car was named Hazel, judging by period photographs. Today, Hazel has almost all of the stuff serious collectors look for: strong paperwork, a known chassis and Ford VIN that is on the master list, a good racing record and verifiable ownership trail, period photos and a sympathetic restoration.

Replacement tranny?

If the auction description is accurate, I do see one negative. Thunderbolts did not come with Ford C4 automatic transmissions. They came with a special automatic made specifically for the Thunderbolt’s 427. It was a modified Lincoln unit in a specially cast case made to fit the FE series engine block. Ford obviously had no need to make a lot of them, and they did not have a good survival rate.

Today an original Thunderbolt transmission, if you can find one, is a $25k–$50k part. A replacement tranny isn’t a deal killer, but it is certainly something to keep in mind when considering a car at this price point. Also, if it does indeed have a 4.11:1 ring and pinion, that is incorrect as well, leading one to question if the car was restored to be correct or to be raced.

Once race cars become “just old race cars,” bad stuff can happen. With Thunderbolts, it isn’t uncommon to hear of one that has been rebodied after a wreck, or to find an automatic car that was converted to a 4-speed after the problematic original transmission exploded.

They were also famous for twitchy handling, which is not unreasonable, considering that the narrow and short Fairlane chassis was carrying more than twice the power of a stock car.

As a result, a lot of cars were later cut up and converted to a straight front axle, and even into altered-wheelbase cars. Thankfully, from all appearances, our subject car seems to have avoided these all-too-common issues.

A ready-to-rumble God of Thunder

Finding a good Thunderbolt has never been easy, and as the years roll on, it won’t get any easier. So is $260k really a bad price to pay to play God of Thunder whenever you want? I think not. This is a seemingly good, well-documented Thunderbolt, and as such, the price paid is spot-on for today’s market. If I were forced to pick a side, as a Ford guy, I’d give the edge to the buyer. After all, he or she now has a significant piece of Ford’s Total Performance Era sitting in the garage, ready to piss off all the neighbors — or go hunting for Super Stock Mopars at a moment’s notice.

(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

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