Jim and Diane Hatcher weren't looking for another '56 Thunderbird. They already had one and were quite pleased with it, but when another strayed into their path, they just had to take a look at it. It turns out this particular 'Bird was in the hands of its second owners and had been purchased as a birthday present when it was only a year old. Now, after more than four decades of service, the poor old thing was in need of some serious attention and, due to their ages (86 and 87), these owners weren't willing to invest the time or money. They had offered it to their daughter but she declined. So there it was-the one object that had been with them most of their adult lives, about to be turned over to total strangers. For the owners, it was like parting with a well-loved companion-a task not to be taken lightly. No, the buyers would have to be the right people, or the car would just have to stay.
It's no surprise that the first time the Hatchers talked to the owners face-to-face it was simply an audition to see if they were worthy of the prize. After making that all-important favorable first impression, the Hatchers were shown the car. They were quite taken with it; sure, there were some flaws, some things to be fixed, some alterations to be made, but for what they had in mind it was the perfect starting point. As with all automobile transactions, a deal was struck, money changed hands, the previous owners reluctantly parted with their old friend, and the Hatchers left with a coveted treasure and heads full of hopes and dreams.
Beginning The Project
When Jim and Diane got the car back to Kansas City, they became serious about the buildup process. Having built one '56 already, they decided this one would be a bit more aggressive in the mechanical department. As for the body, well, they really like the way these little 'Birds look, so only mild modifications were made. The big changes were underhood; this time the power on tap would match its handsome good looks, and, yes, this one would have the proper mix of power, handling, and sophistication required to impress the heck out of some of those snobbish European two-seaters. This one would be a superbird.
In Jim's mind, the 'Bird should have a lot of the traditional '56 feel but be enhanced.It was decided to keep the original steering, but the front springs were clipped an inch and 2-inch drop front spindles added. At the back, the leafs were altered to lower the ride height while maintaining adequate tire clearance. In addition, a pair of rear air shocks were fitted, along with a narrowed Dana rearend.
Of course, the brakes at all four corners were also enhanced to dramatically increase the stopping power, and large sway bars were added to control body roll. These changes, along with the addition of a front/rear 17- and 18-inch wheel/tire combination, significantly improved the car's handling characteristics without trashing the 'Bird's signature, down-the-road comfort. Then, to complement the upgrades, a Ford Racing Performance Parts GT-40 crate engine with fuel injection and plenty of other goodies fournd its way into the engine compartment. But the serious power increase came from a ProCharger supercharger that kicked out 7 psi of usable boost, turning the gentle rumble coming from the Flowmaster-equipped 3-inch exhaust system into the roar of abundant power. To finish the power package, a Ford AOD four-speed automatic overdrive, with a few internal tweaks, was installed to keep cruising rpm at a relatively low level.