Modified Mustangs & Fords
1957 Ford Thunderbird - Pure Lust
When Rosemary Nichols Took The Wheel Of This Dusk Rose '57 Thunderbird, It Was. . .
I can't recall who said fire in the hearth fades with time, but it certainly wasn't Rosemary and Daryl Nichols. They've been in love for 32 years and have four grown children, 12 grandchildren, and two great grandchildren--and they managed to have a wonderful time along the way.
So, how do you improve a winning scenario right out of a storybook? You do it behind the wheel of a Dusk Rose '57 Thunderbird with the person you're deeply nuts about. Rosemary was born on the brink of that bizarre baby-boom phenomenon everyone likes to talk about--1945, before our troops came home from Europe and the Pacific--yet she's not ready for a rocking chair and retirement. She's a radiant, youthful woman with a refreshing spirit. Rosemary's vision for greatness began with a Dusk Rose '57 Thunderbird poster. That, coupled with a gentle cattle prod in Daryl's ribcage, set her field of dreams in motion. After all, could you say no to Rosemary? We didn't think so.
As the Nichols walked a Portland, Oregon, swap meet looking for a project car, they found a disassembled T-bird for $14,000. Daryl asked Jerry Sharp of Bird Brains if the car was worth 14 grand. That's when Jerry suggested Daryl purchase one already completed. When Daryl asked Jerry if he had one in Dusk Rose, he responded with a resounding, "Yes--ripe for the picking."
"We drove it home, intending for it to be a driver," Daryl says. "Rosie handed Ed Hubbs of Full Blown Customs a pink pearl earring and told him that's the color she wanted." Ed painted the T-bird with three coats of pearl and three coats of clear. A local artist--inspired by the car's youthful, sport-luxury theme, handcrafted those stained, rose-clad glass portholes. The interior was done in Cadillac White leather at Stan's Upholstery in Eugene, Oregon. Because Daryl wanted Rosemary to have all the comforts of modern transportation, he had the car outfitted with an awe-inspiring sound system from Evolution Car Audio, also in Eugene. Daryl says it dims the lights and runs the battery stone dead in about 11 minutes. Open the trunk and it's JBL from quarter to quarter--rich, powerful sound unheard of in 1957. In the main cabin is a Kenwood disc system with DVD screens and global-positioning navigation.
Ford's Thunderbird for 1957 wasn't just sporty, open-air transportation; it was a lifestyle, much like the Mustang to come seven years later. Although it's easy to think of the T-bird as a sports car, it's nothing of the sort. It's a personal luxury car with room for two--and later, room for four when Ford's marketing people concluded they could sell more Thunderbirds if they added a rear seat (they were right). This makes Rosemary's two-seat 'Bird exceptional because it's the symbolic end of a short, romantic chapter in automotive history.
Conceiving Rosemary's dream ride was never easy, Daryl says. He had Les Schwab Tire Stores order him a set of American 120 knock-off, wire wheels and Toyo Proxes tires. They checked wheel offset and backspacing, and it looked like a perfect fit. When Daryl brought them home, he discovered his 18-inch rear wheels would not fit inside the fender skirts. That's when he had Messler Products narrow the car's 9-inch rearend by 2 inches on each side to achieve proper wheel and tire fitment. Disc brakes were installed in all four corners for safe, reliable operation.
The cool thing about Rosemary's '57 is its restomod, yet wonderfully classic, demeanor. Under the forward opening bonnet is this car's original 312-inch Y-block. Nothing radical here--just a smooth, mild stocker yielding the beat of 16 iron shaft-mounted rocker arms riding the wave of mechanical tappets in soft chatter. Inside, cast pistons and skinny I-beam rods beat a smooth tempo on the American road. Because the Holley 4V Teapot carburetor was problematic in 1955-'56, Holley developed the more advanced 4150 series carburetor for 1957. This is the more traditional Holley four-bore we're familiar with today. In fact, the venerable Holley design became legendary and remains in production today in all its various forms. The Holley 4150 employed an easy-to-adjust automatic choke and accelerator pump system that provided flat-spot free performance during cold-start operation. It became the basis for a lot of imitations to come later on.
Although Ford's Y-block V-8 was ultimately replaced with the FE-series big-block, the 90-degree Fairlane small-block, and the Cleveland/Midland engine family, there's no substitute for the way these classic V-8s sound and function. They make a soft burble coupled with the sweet sound of solid tappets. Ford has come full circle, by the way, with a Y-block design known to most of us as the overhead cam Modular V-8--a skirted-block V-8 engine that returns to the tried-and-proven Y-shape employed by the 312 and FE-series engines of long ago.
Although we don't associate the 9-inch Ford rear axle with classic two-seat Thunderbirds, it debuted in 1957 along with the Holley just mentioned. Because Rosemary's Thunderbird was factory fitted with the Borg-Warner two-speed Ford-O-Matic transmission, it has 3.10 cogs--a nice compromise yielding both acceleration and cruise.
Despite all of the modifications performed on Rosemary's two-seat Thunderbird, the car never lost its original charm. It remains Dusk Rose with a smattering of pearl and plenty of clear--with rich leather unlike anything available in 1957. The Nichols have taken an American favorite and made it better than anyone could have imagined 50 years ago. Think of it as a metaphor for an extraordinary relationship that has lasted a lifetime.