Modified Mustangs & Fords
1961 Ford Thunderbird Restored
With Close To 700 Hp On Tap, This Thunderbird Has The Power The Original Can Only Dream Of
In 1961, the "Bullet Birds" had plenty of flair when they burst onto the scene. They were sleek, sophisticated personal luxury cars with a relatively powerful 300hp 390 FE big-block engine. One can imagine the status elevation earned by thousands of American graffiti types as they rolled by the Dairy Queen with their slicked back hair in their slick red sleds. Today, the T-bird is still a symbol of opulence, but you have to admit whenever you see one, (modern or classic) you wonder what it would be like to really go wild with it, installing a huge engine, custom rims, and all the trimmings. While the T-bird originally came with a healthy amount of power, it had to move something like 20 million pounds (Exaggerate much?-Ed.) and 0 to 60 was a lackluster 10.5 seconds according to Motor Trend's testing.
"We go to as many shows as we can and everyone asks what it will turn a quarter in," says Henry Binder, to whom we will refer to as Hank. "But at 69 years old, I tell them that it is just for fun and fun it is." Well, we can't expect all hot rods to be driven in anger. After all, someone has to be responsible. But you can bet that Hank wasn't always such a mellow fellow. He's been running Blue Ovals close to 50-years now and you can bet that in the beginning, the examples he piloted left more than their fare share of rubber on the road.
"In 1961 I turned 21 and bought my first new car, which was a '61 Ford Starliner with a 401hp Tri-Power," said Hank. "Three months later Uncle Sam called and I had to sell my car. Some 30 years later, I purchased a '61 Starliner. One led to four and I thought, 'to go with the four Starliners it would be neat to have a '61 Thunderbird.'" Hank acquired a decent example of said year and model and started the process of turning the timid tit into the terrifying pterodactyl you see before you. Bad bird analogies aside, the mission for this ex-serviceman-turned-contractor would be to turn the tame T-bird into a truly intimidating one-one that could get from 0 to 60 a lot quicker than 10 seconds at least.
While Hank, at 69, doesn't really have the need for speed, he does seem to have the need to collect Fords. At present, his compilation includes the following: four '61 Starliners, a '99 Cobra Mustang, an '02 Neiman-Marcus T-bird, an '03 James Bond T-bird, an '04 Pacific Coast Roadster, and an '05 50th Anniversary T-bird. These all exist too. This writer can attest that Hank's barn-size garage looks like some sort of Starliner/T-bird museum on the edge of Golden, Colorado. Well, you didn't think the only thing Golden produced was foamy beer did you? While the taste of Coors is debatable, so is that of blowers such as the one Hank's T-bird is running. While they obviously provide copious amounts of power, they also stick out like Amy Winehouse at a church picnic. And how the hell are you supposed to see around righthand turns anyway?
Regardless of aesthetics, or lack thereof, there is no doubt that this Dyers unit with electronic ignition enables the already potent 502 to produce some serious street-stomping torque. The engine wasn't always a 502 though. Hank originally got his hands on a 460 big-block and took it to Roy's Performance Motors in Denver, Colorado, where they had it bored 0.030-inch over with a 4.140 stroke making it into said 502. Two 750 Holley carburetors deal with air/fuel intake while the Comp cam is ground for a blower application. "I wanted this car to run well, but I still wanted it to be driven on the street," said Hank. He also mentioned that there are no motor mounts. "The 460 block took up a lot of room under the hood so we chose to go metal to metal. We also dished the front crossmember so the crank pulley would clear."
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After they cut the hood to fit the blower, Hank decided he wanted the hood to open from the rear. He originally tried to install a pair of '57 Ford hinges, but they kept hitting the grille. After about five different sources (the majority of which were Hank's drinking buddies), he decided to try late-model Buick hinges. After a few more small modifications in this area, everything fell into place and Hank still uses the original hood latch with a small lever under the hood for opening-a minor detail that soothes Hank's psyche when he gazes upon his T-bird with a hood opening like no other.
With the power safely under the hood it had to be put to the ground in similar fashion. This blown 502 would break a stock T-bird trans when the power is put to the ground, so a Ford C6 transmission was built to get the power to the 9-inch Ford rearend with 3.70 gears wrapped around the differential. Once through the trans, the fat Mickey Thompsons out back have plenty of girth to hook up all that power to the tarmac. The resulting squat is handled by leaf springs combined with AirRide Technologies Shockwave air shocks.
With the business side handled, Hank turned his attention to the interior, which was handled by Darrel's Upholstery in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Bucket seats reupholstered in gray and red leather, fresh black carpeting, and new chrome bits. Of course, there's a fair bit of white and blue on the interior as well in the form of American flags on the seat backs. Henry Binder is nothing if not a red-blooded American with a car replete with various pieces of iconic Americana to match. But this one is the only one that truly leaves you Thunderstruck.
Henry "Hank" Binder's '61 Ford Thunderbird
- 460ci big-block stroker (502ci displacement)
- 4.392-inch bore (0.030-inch over)
- 4.140-inch stroke
- Electronic ignition
- Dyers blower
- Two Holley 750 cfm carbs
- C6 three-speed automatic
- 9-inch housing
- Strange S/S 31-spline axles
- 3.70 gears
- Custom-built long-tube headers
- 3-inch dual exhaust
- Thrush mufflers
- Front: Coil springs with airbags
- Rear: Leaf springs with AirRide Shockwave air shocks
- Front: Granada disc, 11-inch rotor, single-piston caliper
- Rear: Factory drum
- Front: Centerline Convo Pro, 15x8
- Rear: Centerline Convo Pro, 15x12
- Front: BFGoodrich Radial T/A, P245/60R15
- Rear: Mickey Thompson Sportsman Pro, 29X15.50-15LT
- Restored in red and gray leather by Darrel's Upholstery, bucket seats
- Mitsubishi red basecoat/clearcoat, flared rear fenders, hood modified to open forward (rear latching)