Joe Greeves
October 14, 2010

Lifelong friends, Dave Starkey and Dennis Mulberger have known each other since the fourth grade. Both are avid automotive enthusiasts and eventually became partners in their New Smyrna Beach, Florida, shop called Cruzin' Motorsports, which they opened in 2003. Although they specialize in restorations, they decided to use some of their free time to create a unique shop vehicle-something that would showcase their talents to potential customers.

The original goal was to find and restore an original Ford Thunderbolt. Prices, however, even on poor-quality cars, were prohibitive. As a second alternative, they decided to modify their original plan and create something entirely new. After combing through dozens of potential candidates, they found a '57 Fairlane two-door post car in a salvage yard outside of Augusta, Georgia. Both immediately saw the potential and agreed that it would make a great project vehicle. The notion of a Thunderbolt was not entirely scrapped, however.

Only about 125 of Ford's legendary Thunderbolts were built and they were designed especially for drag racing. Using parts off the shelf, Ford engineers mixed and matched, creating a lightning-quick car whose sole purpose was to leave the competition stalled on the starting line. The heart of their conversion was the large 427 V-8 usually reserved for the heavier Galaxies. To make the car competitive on the strip, though, Ford squeezed the high horsepower engine into the lightweight '64 Fairlane chassis. Before that happened, the frontend was strengthened to handle the additional weight, and a comprehensive weight reduction program involved replacing the metal doors, hood, front fenders, and the front bumper with fiberglass. Plexiglas was substituted for glass and dozens of normal options were deleted. Their efforts produced a car that weighed about 3,200 pounds with an engine conservatively rated at 425 hp (it actually produced closer to 500 hp). It was a dynamite combination, and strong enough to run away with the 1964 Super Stock title for Ford. Produced for only one year, the car's legend still lives on today.

Dave and Dennis wanted to follow a similar path, using their '57 Ford as a basis for their own version of a Thunderbolt-one that they nicknamed "T-Bolt." They determined from the outset that this car would be unique, retaining the classic lines of the '57, but being completely rebuilt with 21st-century components. The search began for an elite motor appropriate for the undertaking, and both agreed that a cast-iron FE 427 side oiler block from Genesis Performance Casting was the perfect choice-but with a twist. They added a half an inch to the stroke, lengthening the original 3.78-inch dimension to 4.25 inches. Now the "square" engine had a matching bore and stroke and topped out at 482 ci. As soon as the block was complete, Dave and Dennis set out to collect all the period-correct internals, accomplished with help from longtime Ford enthusiast, Lee Holman of Holman and Moody, and the experts in the '57 Ford club.

Building the engine began with a Scat steel crank and H-beam rods connected to Ross 10.5:1 forged pistons. A Crower cam activates Manley valves (2.25 intake and 1.90 exhaust) with 1.76:1-ratio Crower rockers. Edelbrock aluminum heads and a Ford aluminum Tunnel Wedge intake create a free-flowing path for the air/fuel mixture, which is supplied by a pair of 710-cfm double-pumper Holley carbs. An MSD Blaster 2 coil and billet distributor create precisely timed explosions, while custom-made headers dump waste gases into a pair of Flowmaster mufflers that exit in front of the rear wheels. Big Bob's Hi Performance Engines in Edgewater, Florida, handled the engine build, with final flywheel dyno readings coming in at an awesome 657 hp. Johnny's Transmission shop in Deland, Florida, reworked the Top Loader four-speed trans to handle the load, and added a new Hurst floor shifter. Power is then fed to a 9-inch Ford rear running 4.10 gears and 33-spline axles. The awesome combination is as bulletproof as it is powerful!

Once all of the performance upgrades were complete, suspension mods were next on the agenda. Up front, the Fairlane uses tubular upper and lower control arms and in the rear, they fabricated a triangulated four-link. In keeping with their unique twist theme, the flashy Ford's altitude is now under the driver's control, thanks to the new air suspension system. Pressurized with a trunk-mounted compressor and reserve tank, the RideTech system fills the bags using quarter-inch lines to position the car "low for show," "high for the highway," or anywhere in between. The final handling mod was the disc brake upgrade that is guaranteed to haul the T-Bolt down from speed quickly. The system starts with late-model Lincoln rotors and calipers up front, and ends with a modified Mustang package in the rear.

Once the suspension and powertrain were complete, the interior was next. Naturally, it had a twist of its own. The raucous, retina-searing red leatherette interior follows the original '57 Fairlane theme, but incorporates embossed Thunderbolt and 427 graphics throughout. There's even a custom-made mechanic's fender protector, stitched to match, and laid in place during maintenance. Schreck's Upholstery in Deland, handled the task. The build team followed up with an ididit column and classic, vintage steering wheel, proudly displaying its Holman and Moody logo. The dash was smoothed and an updated package of Classic Instruments gauges added. The trunk, upholstered to match the interior, has a removable rear panel that opens to reveal the RideTech suspension components.

The final step was reworking the '57 Ford's sheetmetal, and like the rest of the car, all of the body mods were kept subtle. Since many believe the '57 is one of the best Ford designs ever, the changes were minimal, and concentrated on proper fit and finish. The indents around the rear wheel openings were smoothed and, with the exception of the hood and trunk, all of the emblems and names were removed along with the side chrome. The bumpers and grille were triple chrome-plated to highlight the Ford's classic styling. Dennis and Dave prepped the car for paint and turned it over to the spray gun wizards at Klamo Garage in Edgewater, Florida. The color scheme combines House of Kolor Platinum on the bottom along with a custom blend of Silver and HOK White Pearl on top. A bright red graphic separates the two colors, while picking up the interior shade. The rejuvenated "T-Bolt" rolls on classic American Racing Torque Thrust II rims, 17x7 up front and 17x10 in the rear.

Although it has been an intense, three-year project with lots of twists and turns, the result was certainly worth it. The completed "T-Bolt" is somewhere between the comfort of a T-bird, and the awesome power of the Thunderbolt. We should also tell you that now that it's complete, Dave and Dennis are already looking around, ready to create their next rolling work of art.

The Details
Dennis Mulberger and Dave Starkey's '57 Ford Fairlane

Engine

  • Genesis 427 Side Oiler block
  • 4.240-inch bore
  • 4.250-inch stroke
  • Scat steel crankshaft
  • Scat H-beam connecting rods
  • Ross forged pistons
  • 10.5:1 compression ratio
  • Crower camshaft
  • Edlebrock aluminum cylinder heads
  • 2.25-inch intake, 1.90-inch exhaust valves
  • Crower 1.76:1 roller rockers
  • Ford Tunnel Wedge aluminum intake
  • Two 710-cfm Holley double-pumpers
  • MSD distributor, coil, and 6AL ignition
  • 657 hp

Transmission

  • Top Loader four-speed
  • Hurst shifter

Rearend

  • 9-inch Ford
  • 33-spline axles
  • 4.10-gears

Exhaust

  • Custom headers
  • Flowmaster mufflers
  • Side exhaust

Suspension

  • Front: Tubular upper and lower control arms, RideTech air springs
  • Rear: Triangulated four-link, Ridetech air springs

Brakes

  • Front: Lincoln disc, single-piston caliper
  • Rear: Mustang disc, single-piston caliper

Wheels

  • Front: American Racing Torque Thrust II, 17x7
  • Rear: American Racing Torque Thrust II, 17x10

Tires

  • Front: Fuzion ZR1, P235/45R17
  • Rear: Fuzion ZR1, P275/40R17

Interior

  • Custom interior in Torch Red leatherette

Exterior

  • Paint by Klamo Garage in Edgewater, Florida; the top is a blend of PPG Metallic Silver and House of Kolor White Pearl, the bottom is House of Kolor Platinum