The Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt was a limited production, factory experimental, drag race only automobile built by the Ford Motor Company in 1964. A total of 120 units were produced.
Based on the Fairlane and named for a factory experimental Fairlane of 1963, the Thunderbolt combined the light weight of Ford's intermediate-sized body introduced in 1962 with a "high rise" 427 CID (7.0 L) V8 engine with dual Holley four-barrel carburetors intended for use in the much larger Galaxie. That engine as used in the Galaxie for NASCAR racing did well, but the Galaxie was simply too heavy an automobile in stock trim to be drag raced successfully; so-called "lightweight" 427-powered Galaxies were built both for stock car racing as well as drag racing during the 1964 model year, although these cars were not modified to the extent of the Thunderbolt. As installed in the Thunderbolt, the engine was (like all US cars, due to insurance regulations) conservatively rated at 425 horsepower (317 kW) at 6000 RPM; estimates placed the actual output at +600 horsepower.(+450 kW). In Thunderbolt trim, the Fairlane was three inches (8 cm) shorter than a Galaxie and weighed a significant 700 pounds (318 kg) less. Installing the engine in a vehicle intended for an engine no larger than 289 CID (4.7 L) required major reworking and relocation of the car's front suspension components and the modification and strengthening of the suspension mounting areas. Fiberglass doors, hood, front fenders and even the front bumper on the earliest cars along with Plexiglas side and rear windows aided in weight reduction; the hood with its distinctive raised "teardrop" ram air scoop designed to draw hot air from the engine compartment was pinned in position, eliminating the need for a hood latch and making access to the engine quick and easy during the course of a race. Later cars had aluminum front bumpers in place of the fiberglass unit due to racing regulations.
Racing equipment included tubular exhaust headers, an electric fuel pump, altered rear suspension with heavy-duty traction control bars and asymmetrical leaf springs, heavy-duty trunk-mounted battery, locking differential, auxiliary gauges, special drag race wheels and tires supplied both by Goodyear and Mickey Thompson (himself a recipient of one of the first ten cars) and an aluminum scatter shield designed to contain the clutch in case of disintegration under load. The claimed compression ratio was 12:1.
Other weight-saving measures included the elimination of such street items as the sunvisors, radio, heater, wheel covers, passenger side windshield wiper, arm rests, rear window cranks, mirrors, sound deadening material, carpeting, trunk mat, lug wrench, jack and spare tire. Front seats were either lightweight units from Ford's police package vehicles or rudimentary bucket seats from the Econoline van; the carpeting was replaced by a black rubber mat. The rear seat was a standard Fairlane unit. The high-beam headlights were eliminated as well and in their place were mesh-covered air intakes which ran directly to a special air cleaner atop the 427. Like the street version, the Thunderbolt's outer high/low 5.75 inch (146 mm) headlights of the type normally used with a four-lamp system were selectable with a standard foot-operated switch. Though it was technically a street legal automobile, these modifications and deletions along with a final drive ratio of 4:58.1 for the four-speed cars and 4:44.1 for the automatics made the Thunderbolt impractical for street use. However, these modifications resulted in a car which, as tested with a four-speed transmission at Lions Drag Strip in November 1963, ran 11.61 seconds at 124.8 MPH (200.8 km/h). Best 1/4-mile pr.01.01.2011 for an authentic Thunderbolt on today's slicks are 9.23secs/243kmh The Thunderbolt was not built on a regular Ford assembly line, but rather in conjunction with Andy Holten of Dearborn Steel Tubing. It was there that partially built Fairlane bodies in top-of-the-line "500" exterior trim were combined with the 427 and either a heavy-duty Lincoln automatic transmission or a Borg-Warner four-speed manual transmission. The first eleven cars were painted in Ford's "Vintage Burgundy;" the remaining eighty-nine cars were painted "Wimbledon White." The engine code reflected not the 427 on most cars but rather the so-called "K-code" solid lifter 289.
Given the special nature of the car, Ford riveted a metal plate to the inside of the glovebox door of the Thunderbolt and other race-only models with a disclaimer relating to fit and finish. The plate read:
- THIS VEHICLE HAS BEEN BUILT SPECIALLY AS A LIGHTWEIGHT COMPETITIVE CAR AND INCLUDES CERTAIN FIBERGLASS AND ALUMINUM COMPONENTS. BECAUSE OF THE SPECIALIZED PURPOSE FOR WHICH THIS CAR HAS BEEN BUILT AND IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE MAXIMUM WEIGHT REDUCTION, NORMAL QUALITY STANDARDS OF THE FORD MOTOR COMPANY IN TERMS OF EXTERIOR PANEL FIT AND SURFACE APPEARANCE ARE NOT MET ON THIS VEHICLE.
- THIS INFORMATION IS INCLUDED ON THIS VEHICLE TO ASSURE THAT ALL CUSTOMERS WHO PURCHASE THIS CAR ARE AWARE OF THE DEVIATION FROM THE REGULAR HIGH APPEARANCE QUALITY STANDARDS OF THE FORD MOTOR COMPANY.
Only forty-nine four-speed and fifty-one automatic cars were built, but it was enough to secure the 1964 NHRA Super Stock title for Ford.
Miniatures of the Thunderbolt are currently manufactured by Hot Wheels and the Ertl Company.
The Thunderbolt appears in the Xbox360 game Forza Motorsport 4.