Vinnie The Hitman
November 1, 2007
Photos By: Courtesy Of The NMRA
Ron Barek's Thunderbird started life as a plain-jane V-6-powered coupe, but in its new life packs a stroked 5.0 and shiny PPG Red Hot paint. This neat little T-bird can lay down 11.60s at 118 mph and is docile enough for the street.

Few late-model Fords have been as blessed as the '83-'86 Thunderbird when it comes to having stunning-good looks and a racing pedigree. With its flowing silhouette, graceful roofline, and handsome appearances from all angles, you'd be hard pressed to find one particular flaw in the car's design. In fact, NASCAR driver Bill Elliot still holds the top speed record at Talladega Speedway at 212 mph in a like T-bird. But the cars were more than skin deep, as these "Aero Birds" also featured silky-smooth driveability thanks to a long wheelbase, and with its well-sorted and capable Fox chassis, it was indeed the quintessential complete package-particularly in Turbo Coupe guise.

To nobody's surprise, it wound up being one of Ford's best-selling cars during the '80s. But to the amazement of many-including us-the aftermarket and subsequently its enthusiast base never really caught on to this curvaceous coupe as most efforts were focused on the mainstream Mustang. We figured that eventually these cars would take a bigger place in the Ford racing scene, but time has proven otherwise.

Let's leave the '80s and fast forward to 2001 where we find Ron Barek scratching his head. He's sitting in front of his computer trying to find a new project to build into a street/strip machine, and all he can dwell on is stuffing a 302 into something fierce. His plan is to find a Mustang, but then out of nowhere, his blood starts to pump and his tongue unfurls when he comes across this T-bird. As he explains, "While I was looking for an '86 Mustang GT, I found this car. I ran my eyes across the body and fell in love with it right away. I bought it because it's a Fox-chassis car and different from the average Mustang." He knew not many people chose to build Thunderbirds, but that didn't bother him. As a matter of fact, he considered its rarity an attribute as he chose to be different without veering too far off the beaten Fox-chassis path.

At the time of purchase, Ron knew he had a lot of work ahead of him. With the crusty body in dire need of attention and paint, he set aside his calendar for many late-night visits with his new mistress. In addition, the blown engine would require many more hours of hard work before he could see the light at the end of this T-bird's tunnel. But patience and perseverance slowly began to pay off, as the body was the first item to come together.

Starting with the sheetmetal, Ron stripped off the original paint and installed a later Turbo Coupe hood replete with its functional scoops. He then had his local Maaco body shop in Taylor, Michigan, prepare the body with PPG primer and prep all the factory trim pieces for paint, as he desired a monochromatic look. After the car was masked off and in the spray booth, Maaco technicians laid down six coats of PPG Red Hot paint in the engine compartment, doorjambs, and even the trunk area for a complete makeover. Once buffed and prepped, it was time to move on to the engine.

Ron chose to build the powerplant himself because he was already familiar with the Ford 302. Starting with a fresh Ford Racing Performance Parts cylinder block, he had it sent out for a quick hone and a deck job to make sure he'd have a solid and true foundation. With the freshly prepped block back in his Canton, Michigan, garage, Ron stuffed it with a Probe 327-inch stroker kit complete with its 3.25-inch arm and forged Probe pistons. With compression checking in at 10.7:1, the 4.00-inch bores were capped off with a set of Canfields that were gone over by the gurus at Flow Technologies in Plymouth, Michigan. Camshaft Innovations was given the call to come up with a stout hydraulic roller with 226/238 duration at 0.050 and 0.602/0.620-inch lift on a 111 LSA. Taking full advantage of this 327's high-winding cam is an Edelbrock Victor Jr. that pedestals a 750-cfm Pro Systems carb that receives a healthy head of go juice from an Aeromotive A1000 pump and regulator. Once that MSD billet distributor and 6AL box has lit the fuse on this explosive combination, a set of BBK long-tubes are called upon to funnel the fumes into a pair of DynoMax Race Bullet mufflers with turndowns. No need for a subwoofer box in this ride-there are 5.3 liters of booming bass going on here.

Have you chased a Ford lately?

The familiar Fox suspension benefits from tried-and-true aftermarket hardware that can be found in just about any Mustang catalog.For shocks, a set of Lakewood 70/30s ride in front, while 50/50s in back help those four-cylinder springs transfer the weight rearward for maximum bite off the line. That beefed-up 8.8 underneath is crammed with 4.10 gears and a set of 31-spline Mosers mated to an Auburn Pro for reliable horsepower-to-asphalt power transfer. A set of solid rear control arms and subframe connectors built by the Flat Rock, Michigan-based Team Z Motorsports, helps keep things in line once the shift light blinks at nearly 7,000 rpm. With 28x11.50-inch Mickey Thompson ET Streets mounted in back, Ron can bang away at his Liberty-prepped T5 for incredible 1.61 short times and 11.60 timeslips at 118 mph without the use of a power adder. Nitrous has been considered, but his car doesn't need a rollcage for its cur-rent e.t. and is still plenty quick for the street, so he'll more than likely leave things the way they are.

We credit Ron for daring to be different and building one of the most forgotten Fords of the '80s. It's not that we're tired of seeing Mustangs, but we like to remind ourselves and our readers that Ford did stamp out plenty of other two-door Fox cars from 1978 onwards, such as the Fairmont Futura, the Lincoln Mark VII, the Mercury Cougar, and our perennial favorite, the '81-'82 Granada coupe. We love seeing creative minds at work, and with Ron's T-bird, it's obvious his mind was doing double-time to come up with the cleanest, meanest, and most unique ride we've ever seen. Kudos to those who do things differently.