While some cars seem to improve over the years, like the Corvette and other modern musclecars, there’s one car that only seemed to improve if you built on the foundation that it started with. One of those cars is the 1955-57 Ford Thunderbird.
Granted, it is subject to opinion whether the later years – and bigger versions – were desirable, but that first generation T-bird has always been a favorite. The fourth and eleventh generations seemed to have their fans, but how can you resist the look of the car that started it all?
Many people will restore their ‘Bird to bring it back to life, but Alan Lantz saw an opportunity to make a modest appearing ‘Bird look even better, and went about it with a goal in mind: make it look better, and make it more fun to drive. Most old convertibles are already fun to drive, but when you put some modern touches on a classic and give it some power, the fun-factor kicks into overdrive.
Lantz bought a fairly mild-mannered 1957 Thunderbird out of the George Stephen Sr. car collection, and drove the classic for about a year. Then the bug bit him, and a Pro-Touring T-Bird was autocrossing his brain cells and he decided that he would transform his car into something better.
He claims that he got a bit carried away with the build, but for most of us who enjoy seeing cars like this, there is no such thing as getting carried away. The car spent a year at another shop, but Lantz felt that the project was becoming too much of a trailer queen and not enough of a driver. Not that the shop couldn’t meet his needs, but Lantz felt that he and the shop were envisioning two different cars, so he decided to take the car to another shop that would build him more of a driver and less of a show car.
Lantz met Klaus Zimmer from Zim’s Kustoms in Lakemoor, Illinois, and the on-again, off-again, seven-year-long project was back under way. He tells us that the only original parts left are the upper part of the hood scoop and the antenna, and from the pictures it’s easy to believe. No part of the car seemed to be untouched, and the custom mods took this ‘Bird through a complete transformation.
When many shops would simply fiberglass in custom body mods, this ’57 Ford has an all-steel body that has been dropped onto an Art Morrison Air Ride custom chassis. Looking at that original hood scoop, there’s a reason it’s seeing a little bit more altitude with this build, and that’s because of the low-profile Weiand 174 blower that’s bolted to the 302 Ford Racing crate motor. Lantz said the engine hasn’t been dynoed, but bench racing guesstimates has it right around 500 ponies.
The Ford small block was mated to a TCI Street Fighter C4 transmission and dropped down into the powdercoated frame. Keeping things a little old school, Lantz has a 600 cfm Holley carburetor feeding his blown ‘Bird, with an MSD ignition keeping the spark alive. Power through the C4 is delivered to the Ford 9-inch rearend with 3.50:1 gears turning a set of 18-inch BF Goodrich tires on Boyd Coddington wheels out back; the front wheel/tire combination comes in at an inch smaller in diameter.
With all the extra go power, the stopping is handled by a set of Wilwood disc brakes all around, with the steering being handled by a Flaming River column and Mustang II steering components. A 20 gallon fuel cell feeds a Holley fuel pump with full braided fuel lines up to the carburetor, and the interior is just as custom as the rest of the car with stitching handled by Art Rodriguez of Rod’s Designs, also in Lakemoor.
We rarely get to see the whole nine yards when it comes to a build like this, but Lantz kept pictures that helped tell the story and put this ‘Bird together. What was once a pretty cool cruiser is now a ‘Bird making its own kind of thunder, and it just proves that, once again, you can’t go wrong with a first generation T-Bird when it comes to cool rides.
Just knowing that Lantz had the vision to make this car a driver instead of a show car makes it that much more appealing. While it is absolutely worthy of collecting awards at just about any show, we love the fact that “must be driveable” was part of the build process from the get-go.
This car exemplifies what we’re all about here at SLTV: build it all you want, but please, for the love of the automobile, DRIVE IT, too! If you’d like to share your ride with us here at SLTV, send us an email at Reader’s Wheels, and tell us a little about your car. Get some pictures ready and we’ll contact you and get more information and you’ll be on your way to sharing your car with the rest of our readers. Let us know what you think in the comments section below, and check out the gallery of this very cool T-Bird.