1957 Ford D/F Thunderbird Reveals History

1957 Ford D/F Thunderbird

Historic 1957 Ford D/F Thunderbird

For Ford collectors, the 1957 Ford D/F Thunderbird is an anomaly. They were built to promote Ford’s Phase One Supercharger program, and their singular purpose was to continue Ford’s dominance in NASCAR. Yet the average American new car buyer never knew they existed. Like all great classic collector cars, these supercharged T-Birds command attention in today’s collector car market. 

While Chevrolet’s Corvette struggled to survive in its first three years, the 1955 Ford Thunderbird was a huge success right out of the chute with its small block V8 engine. The American new car buying public was in love with the little “T-Bird.” That only made Chevrolet more envious of Ford. 

Although both Ford and Chevrolet were late to the party, the two automotive manufacturing giants found themselves locked in a battle to become NASCAR champions by the mid-1950s. After Ford won 14 Grand Natrional NASCAR events in 1956, Chevrolet was spoiling for a fight in 1957. NASCAR had decided to expand their rules to allow enhanced induction system cars into competition that year. So Chevrolet came to the party with their 283 V8 in both dual quad and fuel-injected versions.

Ford executive Robert McNamara saw the threat from Chevrolet and did not want to give up Ford’s position in NASCAR. He proposed the Phase One Supercharger program to meet NASCAR homologation requirements to produce a 312 engine that would compete with the Chevy 283 ci V8. The Ford Motor Company Supercharger Program was initiated with its sites set on the Daytona Speed Trials beginning in February of 1957. The program had D Code Thunderbirds being built by in January 1957. They were equipped with McCullough VR57 Phase One Superchargers, heavy duty Borg Warner 3-speed racing transmissiona and factory equipped with seat belts.

That February at Daytona the Ford Thunderbird set a new speed record for American sports cars by breaking the mark set by Chevrolet’s Corvette the year before. The Phase One Thunderbird recorded a top speed of 138.775 mph as the McCullough supercharger brought the horsepower rating on the 312 Ford V8 to 300.

Ford collectors know that the early Thunderbirds ordered built for McNamara are commonly referred to as  “D/F Code” Thunderbirds. They were four-barrel carbureted D Code Thunderbirds which were supercharged as part of the 100 cars that McNamara wanted ready for Daytona Speed Week. Historians say only about 15 of the 100 cars were Thunderbirds. Five months later in 1957, a total of 196 F Code Thunderbirds were produced which were also supercharged and sold to the public that year. These cars are truly rare today. But even more rare were the 15 D/F Thunderbirds which McNamara had built for the February Speed Week time trials.

These were D Code Thunderbirds, but they were supercharged the way the F Code Thunderbirds were when they were produced months later. The “D” shows up in the VIN numbers of the Thunderbirds. Those first 15 “D/F” Thunderbirds were all hand built specially for competition on January 25, 1957 at the Dearborn Assembly Plant. They believe only eight of the D/F Thunderbirds still exist today.

1957 Ford D/F Thunderbird From AACA Museum

This week an historic 1957 D/F Thunderbird has surfaced for sale at Carolina Muscle Cars in Apex, North Carolina. It is said to be documented with only 11.483 actual miles. In addition, it has been restored frame-off to “better than new standards.” The original D/F Thunderbird came with every available option. It is an amazing find. (Follow this link to view dozens of detailed photos.) Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) members will remember it as a featured display in the AACA Museum.

Options include the correct McCulloch Paxton VR57 Supercharger, correct dual point distributor, 3-speed automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power memory seat, Kelsey Hayes wire wheels, Town and Country radio and factory Colonial white auxiliary hardtop.

Carolina Muscle Cars tells us the car underwent a no-expense-spared concourse frame-off restoration during which all of the original components were rebuilt and the body was taken off the frame. They say the frame was powdercoated and then re-assembled much like a new car. It was repainted the original color code, Raven Black, with the Thunderbird tutone black and white interior. The car is an absolute show stopper and is laser straight.

The family of the original owner donated the car to the AACA. Although the original dealer invoice was lost when the museum took possession of the car, the museum has notarized of letter of authenticity. Copies of titles documenting the mileage are also included with the sale.

All considered, it may be the best blue chip investment available today.

1957 Ford D/F Thunderbird

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