When it comes to classic cars of the '30s, '40s, and '50s, there's several companies that make reproduction fiberglass body parts. Popular models, such as the Model T, '32 to '34 Fords, and more, can be had in various designs with prechopped tops, suicide door hinges, and other trick "rodder" upgrades that would be quite a bit of work to accomplish on an original steel body.
Luckily for Ritchie Brandl of Hudson, Florida, his '55-'57 Thunderbird dream car was just such a model available from an aftermarket body company. In this case, Regal Roadsters Ltd. [(608) 273-4141; www.regaltbird.com] had what Ritchie was looking for--a complete '55 T-bird replica in fiberglass that included a one-piece body tub that rides on a jig-welded 2x4 custom steel tube frame.
With a Regal T-bird on order, Ritchie knew what he had to find next--a 4.6 Modular Ford engine from a Mustang Cobra, his engine of choice for most of the projects at his Superior Custom Classics shop. He found his motivation in a wrecked '01 Mustang Cobra. He left the internals alone, but gave the four-cam wonder the once over with a detailer's touch for the show car looks Ritchie is known for. The Cobra engine was mated to Ford's popular 4R70W automatic overdrive, and his son, Ritchie Brandl Jr., installed the whole shooting match into the tube frame skeleton. With everything fitting well, the body was sent over to Car Classics in New Port Richey, Florida, for a slick coat of Vermillion Red and Performance White (Ford colors in a DuPont mix).
While the body was being painted, Ritchie Sr. and his other son, David, wired up the engine's electronics package, while Frank Narcisi and Jimmy Webber, also employees of Superior Custom Classics, tackled the installation of the Mustang II front suspension, the late-model 8.8 rearend fitted with Traction-Lok and 3.73 gears, and the Stainless Steel Brakes binders front and rear. Once the body was back and fitted to the Regal Roadsters' tube frame, the rest of Ritchie's dream T-bird could come to fruition. The last few steps, which he handled himself with the help of David, included stitching up a bench seat interior in red and white vinyl, dropping a full complement of VDO gauges into the dash, bolting in custom power windows and the A/C system, and then giving the car some tunes with a Kenwood classic-style stereo and matching 5-inch speakers.
It took Ritchie, his two sons, Frank, and Jimmy about nine months of on-and-off work to complete the project (while also building customer cars). with just a twist of the key, Ritchie can now enjoy the 'glass-bodied 'Bird and its modern drivetrain whenever he feels like motoring around town or frying the stock-looking 14-inch rubber bands out back.