Words/Photos Rod Short
For some people today, family legacies passed on from father-to-son might consist of memories, stories, pictures and maybe a few keepsakes. It’s just harder than it might have been once with blended families, homesteads that are broken up and kids that move away.
In the case of Roanoke, VA’s David and Lynn Craig, however, that legacy continues with a rare first gen 1955 Ford Thunderbird that’s been on the track for going on 60 years.
Lynn’s father David used a loan from his mother to acquire this used T-Bird in 1959 for $1,850. As a daily driver and part-time strip warrior, David enjoyed the opportunity of a lifetime by taking a six-month road trip with a friend and the car to see the country before the responsibilities of life settled in.
Viewed by many as Ford’s answer to the Corvette, the T-Bird was actually positioned more as a personal luxury rather than a sports car. Even so, the 1955-57 Thunderbird’s styling appealed to a younger generation. With power from a 292 cubic inch Y-block V8, this small lightweight two-seater was relatively quick in its day, but didn’t really approach muscle car status until the 1957 model, which sported a centrifugal supercharger and well over 300 horsepower. That blip quickly disappeared off the radar screen, however, when a re-designed larger four door T-Bird debuted in 1958. With sales of 53,166 automobiles, the first gen 1955-57 Thunderbirds outsold the Corvette from the same era 5 to 1.
Once home again, the T-Bird was mounted with slicks and towed to the track before finding a home in NHRA’s D/Modified Production class in 1964, this time with a 289 V8 under the hood. David continued to race the car on a part-time basis until 1996 with a Boss 302 engine.
With his son Lynn having developed an interest in racing, father-and-son both developed an interest in an organization called Classic Gear Jammers (www.classicgearjammers.org), which is a North Carolina-based group that runs full body, manually shifted 4- and 5-speed race cars with no electronics.
Over four years, the car was updated, which included among other items a four-link rear suspension and a G-Force manual transmission. Even so, great care was taken to retain as much of the car’s originality as possible. To go along with the removable factory fiberglass top, a ‘glass trunk lid was hand-crafted to go with the hood and scoop. The rest of the body is still factory steel.
With Lynn behind the wheel, the T-Bird’s best elapsed time in the eighth mile is 5.61 seconds at 125 MPH, which works out to about an 8.90 pass in the quarter.
Sadly, David passed away earlier this year leaving his son Lynn with a lot of tangible memory in the form of this cherry Thunderbird racer that doubtless means a lot to the entire family.
It’s a fast family legacy that ties the generations together.
Engine: 2001 Ford SVO block with 4.125 bore
Est. Power: 800+ hp @ 8,200 RPM
Est. Torque: 570 ft/lbs @ 6,900 RPM
Connecting Rods: Crower titanium
Crank: Crower 3.150 stroke
Pistons: CP forged 14.2:1
Camshaft: Bullet roller
Heads: Australian Muscle Parts 3V 260CNC
Intake: Sherman Sleigh sheet metal
Carburetion: Twin Holleys flowing 750 cfm
Ignition: MSD 7AL-2
Headers: L&H Race Cars
Transmission: G-Force R5 5-speed w/ McLeod clutch & pressure plate
Rolling Stock: Front – Weld wheels w/ Goodyear 25x4.5x15
Rear – Weld w/ Goodyear 30x12.5x15
Front Suspension: Alston Mustang II w/ Chassis Engineering Springs & Afco Shocks
Rear Suspension: Chassis Engineering adjustable 4-link
Rear Axle: Ford 9-inch spool with 5.83 gears
Brakes: Wilwood disc
Bodywork: Sonny & Judy LaPrad, K&K Decals & Signs