The 50th Anniversary Ford Thunderbolt



History of the Thunderbolt


The Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt was a limited production, factory race car built by Ford Motor Company and DST in 1964, a total of 100 units were produced. Forty-nine four-speed and fifty-one automatic cars were built, but it was enough to secure the 1964 NHRA Super Stock title for Ford. The history of the Thunderbolt begins with America's love of competition. ”Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” was the advertising tag line at that time, and the big "3” Ford, Chrysler and General Motors knew customers could identify with cars that they saw at the track and in the showroom.


The Thunderbolt was not built on a regular Ford assembly line, but rather in conjunction with Dearborn Steel Tubing (DST). It was there that partially built Fairlane bodies in top-of-the-line "500" exterior trim were combined with the new 427 cubic inch engine and either a heavy-duty automatic transmission or a four-speed manual transmission. The first eleven cars were painted in Ford's "Vintage Burgundy;" the remaining eighty-nine cars were painted "Wimbledon White”.


It was determined that this combination would give Ford the weight break it needed to run with the Max Wedge MoPars and the soon to be released Hemi’s. Dearborn Steel Tubing Co. (DST) was picked to do all of the conversion work on the Fairlanes. The cars were built at the Dearborn plant as Fairlane 500 two door sedans, minus all sound deadener, sealer and insulation.


Jim “Hammer” Mason from DST was named the Program Manager of the Thunderbolt build team; the first Thunderbolt was delivered to Dick Brannan as a test and development vehicle. Once Ford Special Vehicle Team personnel, Dick, Hammer and the rest of the DST team fine-tuned the Thunderbolts, Ford then assembled a team of ten factory-backed racers, known as “The Ford Drag Team”, which included Dick Brannan, Les Richter, Bill Humphrey, Bob Tasca, Bill Lawton, Phil Bonner, Ed Martin, Les Ritchey, Ed Martin, and Mickey Thompson to take delivery of the new Thunderbolts from DST.


Ford officials at first believed the NHRA would accept the 10 Thunderbolts as an acceptable homologation figure, but the NHRA demanded that Ford build at least 100 Thunderbolts fifty with manual transmissions and fifty with automatics and all this before the 1964 NHRA Winternationals in February, when Ford planned to introduce the Thunderbolt. The DST crew worked tirelessly to complete the needed 100 vehicles for homologation and the Thunderbolt debuted at the 1964 Winternationals with Butch Leal driving a Mickey Thompson owned Thunderbolt to a first place finish in the Super Stock class. “The Ford Drag Team” and the rest of the Thunderbolt teams went on to dominate the 1964 drag race season and the multiple championships in the Super Stock class.


Some of the modifications that DST performed once the vehicles were delivered from the factory to produce the light weight drag car were the installation of aluminum front bumpers, replaced the front bench seat with a set of bucket seats from a 1964 Econoline van; the rear side windows and backlight were removed and replaced in favor of lite weight fixed Plexiglas; the rear window crank and front armrest the passenger side windshield wiper and sun-visor were also removed. DST replaced the steel front fenders and hood with fiberglass versions, which concealed the newly DST installed high-riser 427 cubic inch engine; to make room for the big FE engine the shock towers were modified, special headers were hand built and rear axle traction bars were fabricated. DST also relocated the battery in the trunk. There are a few of the original Thunderbolts still in existence and they have become sought after collector items for many car enthusiast.


Building of the Tribute Thunderbolt.


In 2013, Brenda Lewo President and CEO of DST Industries, Inc. decided to use the resources of DST, a Tier One Automotive Supplier, to build a tribute Thunderbolt in honor of 50th anniversary celebration of the very first Thunderbolt built at DST in 1964.


The restoration team at DST obtained a 1964 Fairlane, a 427cubic inch side oiler engine, 4-speed Borg Warner transmission and set out to create a tribute Thunderbolt. This Fairlane received a complete rotisserie restoration/build including replacing body pieces, gapping and flattening the body panels and applying a show quality paint job in the original “vintage burgundy color”. Although the Fairlane is not a true clone of the first car, it has been assembled with care and a sense of pride from the DST team and we have included few upgraded components to provide the future owner with a vehicle that can be driven on the street is so desired.


Brenda has elected to donate all the proceeds generated by the tribute Thunderbolt to the JDRF foundation in memory of her late husband and previous owner Joe Lewo. Brenda and the DST team have been working closely with JDRF and Ford to determine the optimum time to auction the vehicle at one of the future Barrett Jackson Auctions in 2015. This special vehicle will have the signatures of Dick Brannan (driver of the number 1 Thunderbolt), Brenda Lewo CEO and President of DST Industries, Edsel Ford, and Mark Fields from Ford Motor Company.


Please look into the DST website ( as to where and when the Thunderbolt tribute vehicle will be displayed in the near future, including the Woodward Dream Cruise (M1 Concourse Display) and 2014 SEMA in the Ford out front area.


What is JDRF


For more than 40 years, JDRF has been a leader in the search for an end to type 1 diabetes, through both research funding and advocacy. During that time, we have talked about a cure as a singular destination: a return to normal physiology.


But today, we realize that we are engaged in a process of curing type 1 diabetes – that a cure is not just a destination but also a journey along a path. And we recognize that a part of our mission must be to help those living with type 1 today to live healthier, easier, and safer lives until we arrive at the end of that path. To provide “less T1D” until we can deliver “no T1D.”


In addition, we understand that the word “juvenile” is no longer descriptive of the disease or those burdened with it. Today, 85 percent of those with type 1 diabetes in the U.S are adults. We must communicate that JDRF is an organization for ALL ages, and ALL stages of this disease.


The JDRF identity was created with these key considerations in mind. We have dropped the formal name “Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation” from our identity and will be known simply as JDRF. This better reflects our commitment to work for ALL those with type 1 diabetes.


The graphic element of “T1D” in the logo design reinforces our focus on type 1 diabetes, while the “momentum lines” that frame the JDRF name help to communicate the energy and urgency with which we are pursuing our mission. Most important, it is reflective of both the progress we’ve made and the accelerated progress we aim for. The logo works in conjunction with the brand tagline to succinctly communicate who we are: the leader of the type 1 diabetes community, improving lives and curing type 1 diabetes. It reflects the current progress of our strategic plan to progressively remove the burden of T1D until we reach our ultimate goal:


A world without Type 1 diabetes.


JDRF is the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. JDRF’s goal is to progressively remove the impact of T1D from people’s lives until we achieve a world without T1D. JDRF collaborates with a wide spectrum of partners and is the only organization with the scientific resources, regulatory influence, and a working plan to better treat, prevent, and eventually cure T1D.


As the largest charitable supporter of T1D research, JDRF is currently sponsoring $568 million in scientific research in 17 countries. In 2012 alone, JDRF provided more than $110 million to T1D research.


- Thank you from the DST Team Members.