Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Battlebirds

12-14 August 2010

Lot 135

1957 Ford Thunderbird # 98 Factory Racing Car "The Battlebird"
Sold for $280,000
Chassis no. C7FH170266

Est. 350 bhp, Hilborn fuel-injected 312 Y-block V8 engine, Jaguar four-speed manual transmission, Halibrand QC rear end, lightweight aluminum body panels, heavily modified suspension, braking, cooling and exhaust systems, wheelbase: 102".

-The only remaining 'Battlebird"
- Driven by Chuck Daigh and Marvin Panch at Daytona in 1957

The "Battlebirds"
Ford's Thunderbird series, which debuted in 1955 was designed more as a stylish and fast boulevard cruiser than as an out and out sports car. However in late 1956, perhaps sensing the early V8 Corvette's potential as a track weapon, Ford decided to build and race two Experimental class 1957 T-Birds.

Peter De Paolo Engineering, a Long Beach, California based race shop subsidized by the Ford Motor Company, got the job of preparing two T-Birds, later dubbed "Battlebirds" by the media. Famed racecar constructors Jimmy Travers and Frank Coons were in turn retained by De Paolo to carry out most of the actual modifications.

"Battlebird" Specifications
Extensive use of aluminum to replace standard T-Bird steel components in order to save weight was employed. This included the doors, hood and trunk lid skins, head and tail lamp housings, side vent doors, passenger side tonneau cover and a beautiful streamlined full length driver's side head fairing. Heavy duty stock car type suspension, steering and brakes were adapted as well as a dual exhaust system with tail pipes being flared into the rear of the rocker panels. The lightweight Halibrand magnesium road wheels with 3-eared knock-offs were fitted with Firestone racing tires. The original interior was completely removed and replaced with a single lightweight racing seat located behind a small six-gauge instrument pod that replaced the original dashboard layout.

The #98 'Battlebird' was powered by a highly modified Hilborn-injected 312 Ford Y-Block V8 with magneto igninition. No suitable American 4-speed transmission existed in 1956, so a Jaguar XK120 unit was adapted, as well as a Halibrand Quick-Change rear end. Removal of bumpers and liberal hole drilling in steel components was also undertaken by the De Paolo team. Weight distribution was improved by moving the engine back six inches and placing it four inches lower. The end result was essentially a "full-race" American automobile that still looked like a 1957 Thunderbird but had very little in common with its normal showroom relative.

A Sports Cars Illustrated (July 1957) article entitled "Ford's 400 Horse T-Birds" said it best: "Performance wise the 'Birds were little short of bing domestic Ferraris. On second thought, they should have been- for each of these finely engineered cars must have cost more then $20,000!"

The "Battlebirds" on the Track
Specifically constructed for the highly publicized Daytona Beach two-way flying mile speed runs, the two cars made their first appearance on February 9th, 1957.

Driven by Chuck Daigh, this T-Bird, numbered as "98" and fitted with injection and a McCullough [McCulloch- Ed] supercharger, reportedly made a 200 plus mph run before ventilating its block and preventing a return run which disqualified it from the record book. After that, the blower was removed and the new engine took Daigh to a third place at 93.312 mph in the standing mile acceleration class. #98 was then entered in the local airport road course races where stock car driver Marvin Panch placed second to Carroll Shelby's 4.9 Ferrai. When the Automobile Manufacturers Association decreed that its members were to withdraw from racing events in 1957, the Ford Motor Company sold off the two experimental "Battlebirds" to the private sector.

"Battlebird" History After Daytona.
Both cars- the #98 (#170266) and the #99, powered by a 368 Lincoln engine- were sold by FOMOCO to Andy Hotten in July of 1957 who campaigned them briefly in the Midwest with a partner. The Lincoln-engined car was destroyed and longer exists, making the #98 'Battlebird' the only Factory-built example to remain.

Later, Hotten sold #98 to Parnelli Jones, remaining in his museum until 1975 when it passed to Gerald Popejoy of Dallas, Texas. In 1991 Popejoy, now in Springfield , Missouri, advertised tn Hemming's for someone to help restore the car.

Californian Gil Baumgartner, Authenticity Chairman of the Classic T-Bird Club and a skilled restorer, replied to the ad but received no response. In 1992, when Popejoy decided against a restoration in favor of a sale, Baumgartner caught the ad and talked his friend Robert "Bo" Cheadle, a well-to-do racecar collector, into the purchase. By this time (1993) the car was still quite original but missing the Hilborn Injection, tonneau cover and Jaguar transmission.

Gil Baumgartner, a perfectionist if ever there was one, did a lot of "Battlebird" research before turning a wrench, but once started, the project came together in less than a year.

The next and current owner, a noted East Coast Ford Collector and vintage racer, managed to acquire the remaining 'Battlebird' in early 2000's after some negotiation. In July 2004, after many updates to the restoration, he was awarded a permanent AACA Class 24-A Certification as a modified racecar. After much national show success and vintage racing participations, including the Monterey Histronics, this consignment presents a rare and unrepeatable opportunity for an acquisition of what is surely the most famous 1957 Factory-built racing T-Bird extant.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Dog 'n' Suds


In spite of gray skies and an "iffy" weather forecast, 14 members braved the threatening rain to cruise over to Miller's Dog 'n' Suds on Saturday, June 22nd. The members joining in included: Dan and JoAnn Renda, Doug and Soon Hee Rogers, Lloyd and Joan Schellin, Larry and Karen Kelly, Peter and Lisa Ekstrom, Lee and Gina Bakakos, Jerry and Doreen Michna, Bob and Barb Sroka, Jim Wilson, Dan Mrozek, Jim Elijah, Arthur Hahl, Andy Rominiecki and yours truly. We had 11 beautiful vintage Thunderbirds on display and 1 old Mustang.

The classic car gods smiled on our group as the skies cleared shortly afler our arrival for a beautiful and pleasant evening. Our group set up the lawn-chairs and enjoyed burgers, hot dogs, fries, house-made root beer, ice cream, friendship and rock and roll hits from the 1950s and '60s courtesy of the band, "Tony and the Affects."

All in all, a fun evening was had, as this group usually does when driving our beloved classics and eating is involved!

Tom Bruin



Though the weather forecast was iffy all week for Sunday's Top Golf Event, the sun did shine that day. The 'lil 'Birds flew in to the Top Goif parking lot and lined up by the Miniature Golf area. After most of us had arrived, we went inside and gathered in the party room, which overlooked the Top Golf Driving Range. Outside our room we had two bays reserved with golf clubs and golf balls for those interested in taking a swing at the driving range. Top Golf also provided golf clubs and golf balls for those who wanted to play miniature golf.

As we mingled, our drink orders were taken for those who wanted Mimosas or Bloody Marys. A Bloody Mary bar was set up with various items to put in our drinks. These items included celery, green onions, olives, cheese, bacon strips and various hot sauces. After some time of conversing, Pete Kramer called our June Meeting to order. I thanked everyone for coming and mentioned that though advertised, there was not going to be a People's Choice for the cars due to a conflict, but instead we would have a raffle. Pete had a very brief meeting, which consisted of going over some upcoming events on the calendar. When the meeting finished we all helped ourselves to the buffet, The buffet included scrambled eggs and sausage, chicken and waffles, potatoes, fruit, toast and pastries. During our brunch, Doug Rogers stood up and told a golf joke and then Mike Cielenski had Marylu Kramer draw two raffle tickets - then he read the winning numbers. The raffle prizes were two gift certificates to Top Golf, which were for 6 Free games and a video analysis of your golf swing. The winners of the raffie were Irene Vinyard and yes, Kathy Smizinski. (Kathy continues on with her winning streak.)  Kathy chose to give her gift certificate to Soon Hee Rogers to enjoy.

After Brunch, some of the group headed out to the Miniature Golf area, some remained in the room to mingle, while others bid farewell and the rest of us headed out to the bays to try and play Top Golf. The afternoon was filled with fun, laughter, drinks and conversation as many tried their swing at Top Golf. Mike Cielenski was in charge of going and filling the baskets with the golf balls and giving a brief lesson on how to play Top Golf. As the Miniature golf players returned after a hard round of golf, some joined in to take a swing on the range while others mingled. As the afternoon wore on, the addiction to Top Golf grew. Soon Hee Rogers and Irene Vinyard dominated the driving range sending their golf balls out to the various targets, as did Larry and Karen Kelly. We all ended up taking turns up at the tee hitting the golf balls. We were able to track the distance of our swing and saw what we scored if our golf ball went into the targeted areas.

A big thank you goes out to all those who came out tor the day. Those in attendance for the Top Golf event were Pete and Marylu Kramer, Ken and Kathy Smizinski, Len and Irene Vinyard, Len and Mary Keil, Doug and Soon Hee Rogers, Tom and Judy Bruin, Bill and Liz Werth, Joel Greenberg and Annie Luginbill, Jim Wilson, Art Hahl, Gail Hascek, Jerry and Pat Peterson, Larry and Karen Kelly, Pete and Lisa Ekstrom, Jerry and Doreen Michna and Mike and Laura Cielenski.

- Laura Cielenski