Drag racing in the early sixties became so popular in America it caught the attention of the major automotive manufacturers as a way of “racing on Sunday and selling on Monday.” For this reason, NHRA was forced to restructure the rules by introducing a new class in order to differentiate between the mass produced race cars known as Super Stocks and “special equipped” cars where by basically bigger cubic inch engines were shoehorn into the smaller lighter weight bodies of their respective makes in order to go faster and win.
The introduction of the A, B and C/FX classes allowed the automotive manufacturers to experiment with various engine/ body combinations on the drag strip before committing to mass production of the successful combinations for youth orientated factory built muscle cars. FX refers to “factory experimental” while the initial letter classes the cars according to the vehicle’s weight per cubic inch of the engine inserted into its engine bay.
The birth of Ford’s Thunderbolt came about thanks to the marriage of a 427ci big block FE motor out of a 63 Galaxie crammed into the engine bay of an intermediate sized Fairlane putting it in the A/FX class seeing it compete with the likes of 421ci powered Pontiac tempests, 413ci Dodge powered Lancers and the 427ci powered Mercury Comets just to name a few.
Created in Dearborn Michigan, this Ming Green coloured test mule was the birth child of Frank E Zimmerman (Zimmy to his mates), sales manager for the Ford Motor Company and in charge of Ford’s Special Vehicles Department along with America’s second largest Ford dealer, Bob Tasca who, while heralding from East Providence, Rhode Island, America’s smallest state, knew how to create attention and his way around a race car!
With the cooperation of the various Ford engineering departments and Tasco’s senior driver, Bill Lawton, they successfully set the NHRA A/FX MPH record at 121.29 MP/H before the 7 litre mule was reportedly dissected and crushed.
Lucky for us, guys like Tony Peake have a passion for early drag racing history and has successfully set about creating his own version of a tribute car of the experimental Fairlane. Tony explains “I built the car as if I were building it back in 63 but I had the other equipment to use. They used to run 427 dual quad, side oil FE motors. This is my experiment on this car and a tribute to Ford’s experimental car. Their Fairlane was pillarless but I’m using a two door sedan body as they’re a much stronger body. “
While a tribute it may be, it’s also been a childhood dream for Tony to own something like this. “I always wanted a beast that I could build since I was a kid, something mean and nasty that I could drive on the street as well as the drag strip. I haven’t taken it down the track yet but that’s on the bucket list.”
Purchasing the partially built 460ci powered 1963 Fairlane from Western Australia, Tony set about constructing the street/ strip machine he had envisioned from childhood. “We opened the engine bay and thought this has all got to come out so we’ve basically gone from front bumper to back bumper and did everything including wiring, fuel lines, brake lines, etc.”
The previous big block was yanked out and dropped into his work truck while a fresh built 460 ci big block was stroked to a 570ci roller motor and set for insertion but not before a reworking of the strut towers in order to create better breathing space for the 800 HP power plant. By reducing the towers radial dimensions by 60mls and keeping the natural aesthetics of the sheet metal, it allowed the extractors with 1” 3/16th primaries running into 4 ½ inch collectors to flow out of the engine bay and into the 3 ½ inch pipes without issue
The now 9.4 litre motor itself sports alloy Cobrajet heads, roller cam, roller rockers and a steel crank and is solid mounted to the body via heavy gauge alloy plates with dampeners on all four corners to stop Tony and passengers turning to jelly from the lumpy donk while in transit. On top of the big block sits a Pro System SV1 carburettor which is basically a very large single barrel carby! “It’s just one massive throttle body which makes it thirsty. They call them dunnie bowls because it like just flushing your motor with fuel!” Tony explains. Due to the rise of the inlet manifold and height of the distinctive raised “teardrop” ram air scoop, the alloy cold air box had to be adjusted lower over the carby for clearance.
Feeding the 790 ft-lb to the black top is a two speed Powerglide with 3,800 stall and Trutrack 9 inch diff running a 456:1 ratio Strange centre and Curry axles before torturing the rear Cheater slicks on deep dish steelies. With all this mumbo under your right foot, one would think she’d be a handle but Tony assured me it’s a good driver! “It’s very docile, it’s actually surprisingly easy to drive. Cruises at 60kph without any dramas.”
Keeping this tire frying machine on track is a rack and pinion front end while down back Caltrac traction bars attached to the leaf springs ensure no unwanted axle tramp disrupts the launch. Assisting Tony in future strip work is a line locker system and brake ballast for adjusting the vented Galaxie front brakes and finned Ford drum rears. Period correct 5 ½ X 15 American Racing wheels finish off the rolling stock while an alloy tank in the boot feeds the thirsty beast as well as giving clearance for the oversized exhausts bellowing out the back.
Interior comforts are basic at best and suit the style of the factory experimental tribute ride perfectly. Left in its original guise, the interior shows the same signs of wear and tear as the body with the back seat receiving a recover and the inserts in the front swapped from cloth to vinyl. A re-chrome on the dash contrasts with the patina nicely while the original radio mount has been blocked off for obvious reasons. A heavily customized 1963 Fairlane centre console is home to a set of Stuart Warner gauges and the cool Quarter Stick shifter making short shifting a breeze. Five point harnesses similar to early model aircraft snake around the multi-point roll cage ensuring all on board are held in place for the ride while a Sun tacho on the dash keeps Tony in touch with the red line!
The basically stock body hides the subtleties of the fibreglass bonnet as well as the fibreglass front and rear bumpers while the more obvious patina, marks and dents adds to the ambience of this race ready machine . ”I left all the dents and marks in it because I wanted it to look like it would’ve back in its day.”
The worn signage, while looking as old as the car itself, is the work of sign writer, Dave Stevenson and has been skilfully rubbed back for period correct aesthetics along with the rear side window stickers. “To me, it’s all character. I wanted it to look like it’d been driven around California. You step outside and there’s an old drag car sitting there.”
While this tire smoking street mauler sits outside the realms of his collection of 1950s classic and custom Lincolns and Fairlanes, Tony’s love of in-your-face low brow art sees this loud as hell, sixties Super Stock style race ready machine create a surreal time laps back to the good ol’ days of drag racing we can only otherwise absorb in grainy black and white images.