Eric English
February 11, 2011

Pat Skahan was called on to set up the '63's suspension, adapting an Air Ride Technologies airbag system in order to dial in the ride height at will. Skahan also modified the front spindles to accommodate GM-based rotors and calipers, and fitted Explorer discs to the rear. A 9-inch rearend housing was narrowed to accommodate the E-T Classic Five 17x10-inch wheels from Team III, and filled with 3.89 gears, Moser axles, and a Detroit Truetrac differential. Collier reports that a set of Quickor Engineering (Beaverton, Oregon) antisway bars made a big difference in cornering capability, and while still no canyon carver, the car handles very well compared to its original configuration.

In an effort to move nearly 5,000 pounds with authority, the original 390 was pulled back apart, and fitted with enough go-fast goodies to yield admirable muscle. Collier had Lyle Winters work over the engine, employing a 3.98-inch 428 crank and an 0.030 overbore to achieve 416 cubic inches. A Crane hydraulic roller cam lifts the valves in Edelbrock aluminum heads, while farther upstream, a Performer RPM intake greatly improves airflow. When we shot our pictures, the T-bird sported a Holley 750, but has since been fitted with FAST's EZ-EFI.

"The driveability of the car is phenomenal now," says Collier, sounding almost like a FAST pitchman. Assuredly, he isn't on the company dole, so we take his comment as a credible assessment of the new plug-and-play fuel injection.

We've photographed plenty of engine bays with a Ford FE, but seldom have they been as stunning as the one containing this 416-incher. Body colored paint is standard T-bird treatment, but little else is. Collier's godson, Rick Finch, spent some 40 hours filling and smoothing various holes, and reworking the area where the original battery once sat. With the preponderance of wiring hidden, there's little to distract from the well-appointed big-block.

After restoration of the factory futuristic interior, it was deemed difficult to improve on. Minor alterations come through a Billet Specialties steering wheel, and several well-placed Auto Meter gauges-including a tachometer in place of the original clock. Big changes are perhaps most evident in the trunk, what with the artful concealing of twin batteries, air compressors, and air tanks for the air bag suspension. Magnolia Hi-Fi gets credit for the quality workmanship, as well as installation of a stereo system featuring a Pioneer head unit, a 1,200-watt amp, a 12-inch subwoofer, and a smattering of Diamond speakers.

Collier is quick to thank friends such as Bud Mullen, Grant Brenneka, and others for their input and hands-on help, but even more the support of wife Robin. "Without her, I never could have pulled this off!"

In conclusion, Collier has no regrets in his decision to take a road less traveled with his Thunderbird, and he gets a steady stream of positive comments wherever he goes. Among many awards and accolades, few have more meaning than the First Place trophy he took at the 2005 International Thunderbird show in Portland, Oregon.

"This was a show utterly dominated by concours-quality restored Thunderbirds, and to tell you the truth, I was a little nervous to take mine. But the response was great, people loved it." Ditto here!

The Details
Bob and Robin Collier's '63 Thunderbird

Engine

  • 416ci FE by Lyle Winters
  • '63 390 block, 0.030-inch over
  • 428 3.98-inch crank
  • Stock connecting rods with ARP bolts
  • Hypereutectic pistons
  • Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum cylinder heads
  • Edelbrock Performer RPM intake
  • Edelbrock aluminum water pump
  • Crane hydraulic roller camshaft
  • MSD ignition
  • FAST EZ-EFI fuel injection