Rare Barn Find: Bonner ’64 Ford Thunderbolt Rescued From Seclusion

1964-Phil-Bonner-Thunderbolt-A078There are barn finds, and then there are barn finds like this. Inside a wooden barn and covered with dust was a 1964 Ford Thunderbolt. However, this wasn’t just any Thunderbolt. This car had been campaigned successfully for years by professional drag racer Phil Bonner. Factory-backed drag racing really began to take off in the early 1960s, and by 1964 Ford Motor Company had lightened some full-size cars, then stuffed big-block engines in them so they could perform on the track.

First, it was the Ford Fairlane that was stripped of weight. After looking into the possibility of cramming a 425-hp/427-cid V8 into a unibody Fairlane in 1963, Ford went to Dearborn Steel Tubing Company (DST) to have it build one-hundred 1964 Ford Fairlane 500 two-door sedans to race spec’s so they could be powered by the 271-hp/289-cid V8. This became the Thunderbolt drag racing car.

1964-Phil-Bonner-Thunderbolt-427-Engine-Block-4-_2_This 1964 Thunderbolt was first owned by the late Phil Bonner. This Thunderbolt barn find had seen many years of glory on the track in the south and the east, but came to rest inside the barn after previous owner Hal Reed learned about the car sometime in the early ’80s. Reed was told that there was a 1964 Ford Fairlane 500 near Stone Mountain, Georgia, and that it had been up for sale for quite some time.

Reed contacted the seller and learned that the car was full of old Ford race engine parts. When Reed saw the car, it was parked under a wooden shelter for years, but had been exposed to the elements. The car was full of engine parts, including a couple of 427ci V8 engine blocks, and some cylinder heads and high-rise manifolds. Stashed in the trunk, Reed found a four-speed transmission.

Immediately recognizing the old car for what it was – not just a Fairlane 500, but a neglected legend – Reed decided he had to have it. This particular 1964 Ford Fairlane 500 was an important part of the Ford Motor Company’s racing past. The 427ci V8 blocks and associated racing parts were proof of that. The current owner mentioned the fatigued and forlorn car had at one time been owned by Phil Bonner. That’s when Reed made a deal for the car and everything inside of it.

1964-Phil-Bonner-Thunderbolt-427-Engine-Block-1-_2_Reed’s ultimate dream was to see the Thunderbolt completely restored and to drive it to shows, and race it just about any time he could. However, Reed soon ended up spending some time in the hospital, and was not able to get the work done as he had hoped. He did know someone that could, though.

Donald Allen was the man to get the job done. He is known for performing top-notch restorations on 427ci V8-powered Ford Galaxies, as well as Fairlanes. Allen has also created several fully restored and award-winning Thunderbolts, among them the cars originally owned by Dick Brannan, Milo Coleman, Pete Mount, and Steve Honnell.

Reed and Allen connected and an agreement was forged. Allen is going to to give the Thunderbolt a frame-up restoration, and has agreed to let Reed make a pass behind the wheel when the car is ready. It looks like Reed will get to live his dream of driving that Thunderbolt after all.

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About the author

Stuart Bourdon

A passion for anything automotive (especially off-road vehicles), camping, and photography led to a life exploring the mountains and deserts of the Southwest and Baja, and a career in automotive, outdoor, and RV journalism.
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