Eric English
August 13, 2007

One of the great things about vintage Ford muscle is the ease with which the cars are identified. Are you wondering if that '68 fastback is a desirable 390-powered machine or a top-of-the-heap 428 Cobra Jet? Just check the fifth digit in the VIN where the given letter tells the tale. Sure, it's possible to counterfeit even the rarest of Ford musclecars, but the VIN identifier makes it far more difficult, if not an out-and-out crime. The GM camp should be so lucky. You'll need proper paperwork or a leap of faith to believe that '70 Chevelle is really the LS6 it claims to be.

Mid-'50s Fords share the same ease of identification as their '60s counterparts, just in a different location. Still a part of the VIN, the engine identifier isn't the fifth digit but the first, and a quick look in that spot on our two feature cars reveals almost everything you need to know about them.

The gorgeous '57 Thunderbird of Cathy Stubbs has an E as the first digit in the VIN, indicating an original dual four-barrel-powered 312 V-8. Even better is the F at the beginning of husband Frank's '57 Country Sedan, indicating the tour de force of '57 Ford powerplants: the supercharged 312. That's right, this is a factory-blown four-door station wagon, one of a handful ever built, and the only one Frank knows of in existence.

If Frank was only a casual observer of the hobby, we might be skeptical of the claimed rarity of said wagon, but to say he's into supercharged '57s is an understatement. Currently, the Stubbs stable includes the Country Sedan, an F-code Custom 300, an F-code Skyliner, three F-code '57 T-birds, and an ultra-rare Phase 1 supercharged '57 T-bird.

As a '55-'57 Thunderbird restorer by profession, Frank has had a hand in the restoration of several other factory blown machines and is clearly an expert in the field. That said, he'll readily admit that another supercharged wagon could surface at a later date, but for now, it appears Frank has sole bragging rights.

The Stubbs purchased their Country Sedan in 2001 from the widow of former owner Jerry Torczyner, who had owned it since 1969. The sale included a smattering of supporting documents along with an account of the wagon's history from Jerry himself.

Jerry had drag raced factory supercharged '57s since the mid-'60s, and during that time, he was told of the wagon on a couple of occasions. Scarcely believing such an animal could exist, he was finally led to the car which was sitting in the corner of a used car lot, sans blower but possessing the all-important F-code serial number.

After a deal was struck, Jerry tracked down the original owner and learned it was special-ordered from Atascadero Ford in December 1956. It seems the fellow frequently pulled a trailer over Sonora Pass (elevation 9,628 feet) in the Sierra Nevadas, where the 300hp wagon could reportedly climb the grade at 80 mph with a full load in tow. The second owner apparently removed the blower equipment, but Jerry contacted him as well and recovered the coveted McCulloch assembly.

Jerry also relates organized drag racing with the wagon, where it was competitive in I-Stock and apparently won the class at the '69 NHRA Winternationals. M&F attempted to confirm the winternats story, but was unable to access the appropriate records.) Frank purchased the car as-seen, perhaps less pristine than some of the cars in his collection but plenty presentable nonetheless.

If the supercharged County Sedan has a few issues that keep it from the top of its game, Cathy's T-bird more than makes up for it. This is a frame-off effort that left no stone unturned, and yes, '55-'57 T-birds do have body-on-frame construction.

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Of course, while Frank did the restoration, Cathy pretty well dictated the direction. To the casual observer, the T-bird may appear to be a fully-stock restoration, but an assortment of worthy upgrades leaves it just short of what we might typically consider a mild restomod. For starters, Cathy chose to change the original hue to one of her favorites from the original '57 color palate: Seaspray Green. Deftly sprayed by Frank in Deltron acrylic urethane, it's a perfect fit for this classic roadster. Gas-charged shocks team with aftermarket front and rear sway bars to handle the curves, while four-piston front discs with a dual-reservoir master cylinder replace the original drums, for obvious reasons.

The 56-spoke Roadster wheels look absolutely awesome, although, as Cathy explained, such a wheel wasn't available on the '55-'57 T-bird series. However, if these liplace beauties look vaguely familiar, it's because they're patterned after the rare Kelsey Hayes wheels that were optional on early-'60s Thunderbirds, but the ones seen here are specifically designed with the correct offset and width for the '57s.

Under the hood is a largely-stock dual-quad 312. Such E-code T-birds aren't nearly as rare as their 196 F-code siblings but still account for just 7 percent of Thunderbird's 21,000-plus production total in 1957. Most factory ratings indicate 270 hp for the dual-quad mill, although mention of a 285hp version appears from time to time as well. This is in comparison to 245 horses for the four-barrel 312 and an even 300 for the supercharged F-code.

In contrast to the sparkling engine compartments of the musclecar era, chrome was virtually nonexistent on engines of the '50s, even performance powerplants. Thunderbirds at least could be optioned with the cast-aluminum valve covers seen here, but they wouldn't have been chromed as on Cathy's ride. Neither would the dual-quad-specific air cleaner lid, but a trip to the plating shop provides a sparkling cover for the twin Holley 4000 series carburetors.

Cathy is an admitted early-Thunderbird nut, having served as president of the Classic Thunderbird Club International (www.ctci.org) and apt assistant in the family's restoration business, Frank's Restorations. She and her husband have owned an assortment of '55-'57s, but this particular example suits her to a T

It's a car that's first and foremost a competent cruiser, which is all but a requirement for the Stubbs since they drive their rare and restored Fords to events as far away as Oklahoma and as near as the local burger joint. For this couple, the hobby isn't about rolling rare iron on and off a trailer; it's about driving cars as they were originally intended. They'll get no argument here.

The Details
1957 Thunderbird
Owner: Cathy Stubbs, Newcastle, WA

Engine
'57 Ford dual-quad 312 V-8
Displacement: 312 cid
Bore x Stroke: 3.80 x 3.44 inches
Compression Ratio: 9.7:1
Horsepower: 270 at 4,500 rpm
Torque: 336 at 3,400 rpm
Carburetor: Dual 4000 series Holley four-barrels

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The Details
1957 Country Sedan Wagon
Owner: Frank Stubbs, Newcastle, WA

Engine
'57 Ford supercharged 312 V-8
Displacement: 312 cid
Bore x Stroke: 3.80 x 3.44 inches
Compression Ratio: 8.5:1
Horsepower: 300
Torque: not published
Carburetor: 4000 series Holley four-barrel
Power Adder: McCulloch supercharger (6 psi)

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