Even with their strong 427-cid V-8s and lightened front ends, big body-on-frame Ford Galaxies were no match for the lighter-still unibody Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars. The obvious solution was to stuff the 427 into the midsize Fairlane. Nothing good comes easy. With help from Dearborn Steel Tubing, a contract car builder, Dearborn concocted the race-ready and street-legal, if not exactly streetable,1964 Ford Thunderbolt.

Muscle Car Image Gallery

1964 Ford Thunderbolt had a racing engine, bringing this muscle car the stock-car racing NHRA's Manufacturer's Cup.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
To compete in drag racing with lighter muscle car rivals, Ford stuffed its
biggest V-8 into the midsize Fairlane body to create the 1964 Ford Thunderbolt. See more muscle car pictures.

Extensive front-end modifications were necessary to custom-fit the big-block, and eight equal-length exhaust headers had to be snaked through the suspension components. The competition 427's high-rise manifold elevated the air cleaner above the fender line, requiring a teardrop-shaped hood bubble. It gulped air via screened inner headlight bezels. Transmissions were a Hurst-shifted four-speed with 4.44:1 gears or an automatic with 4.58:1. Massive traction bars, asymmetrical rear springs, and a trunk-mounted 95-pound bus battery helped get down what was realistically 500 bhp.
1964 Ford Thunderbolt had a racing engine, bringing this muscle car the stock-car racing NHRA's Manufacturer's Cup.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Headlamp bezels transformed into air intakes fed the engine via huge hoses.

Weightcutting was merciless: plexiglass windows and fiberglass front body panels, bumpers, and doors. Sunvisors, mirror, sound-deadener, armrests -- even jack and lug wrench -- were shed.
1964 Ford Thunderbolt had a racing engine, bringing this muscle car the stock-car racing NHRA's Manufacturer's Cup.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Fiberglass panels and an ultra-stark cabin kept its weight down.

The back seat stayed, but the fronts were lightweight Econoline truck buckets. At 3225 pounds, the T-bolt weighed more than a stock Fairlane. But it was only 20 pounds over its NHRA-class minimum. At last, Ford had a winner. ETs in the 11s earned Thunderbolt the Top Stock crown and Ford the '64 NHRA Manufacturer's Cup.

Anyone with $3,780 ($200 more for automatic) could walk into a Ford dealer and order a Thunderbolt. Still, just one was assembled in 1963, 100 were built in '64, and two were built in '65. These were real race cars, and few went to battle on the public highways.
1964 Ford Thunderbolt had a racing engine, bringing this muscle car the stock-car racing NHRA's Manufacturer's Cup.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Though technically legal for street use, the Thunderbolt was too
raucous for the public roads. Just over 100 were built,
and every one spent nearly every minute at the drag strip.

As Hot Rod warned, the T-bolt was "not suitable for driving to and from the strip, let alone on the street in everyday use."
The 1964 Ford Thunderbolt
Specifications
Wheelbase, inches: 115.5
Weight, lbs: 3225
Number built: 100
Base price: $3,780

Standard Engine
Type: ohv V-8
Displacement, cid: 427
Fuel system: 2 x 4bbl.
Compression ratio: 12.7:1
Horsepower @ rpm: 425 @ 6000
Torque @ rpm: 480 @ 3700

Representative Performance
0-60 mph, sec: NA
1/4 mile, sec. @ mph: 11.76 @ 122.7

Return to Classic Muscle Cars Library.

For more cool information on muscle cars, see:
  • Some of the best all-around performance machines of the day were Ford muscle cars. See profiles, photos, and specifications of Ford muscle cars.
  • Muscle cars came in many shapes and sizes. Here are features on more than 100 muscle cars, including photos and specifications for each model.
  • Muscle cars created their own culture. To learn about it, read How Muscle Cars Work.

These muscle car profiles include photos and specifications for each model:

For related car information, go to these articles:
  • The engine is what gives a muscle car its flamboyant personality. To learn everything you need to know about car engines, see How Car Engines Work.
  • Muscle cars wouldn't have much muscle without horsepower -- but what exactly is horsepower? How Horsepower Works answers that question.
  • NASCAR race cars embody the muscle car philosophy of power. Read How NASCAR Race Cars Work to find out what makes these charged-up racers go.
  • Are you thinking of buying a 2007 muscle car, or any other car? See Consumer Guide Automotive's New-Car Reviews, Prices, and Information.