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Stories from Steve: 1964 Tasca Ford A/FX Thunderbolt – 1 of 1

In 1964, the wars at NHRA had reached a fever pitch. Everyone thought that GM’s ban on drag racing vehicles would restrict manufacturers’ participation in the top (and fastest) full-bodied class at NHRA events. However, NHRA forgot one important participant in the big three – Chrysler. Chrysler saw an opportunity to win the class that had been dominated by the Chevrolets and their Z11, 427 powered race cars.

Another company eyeing NHRA A/FX (named for “factory experimental cars”) was Ford. Ford had tried this top-level class previously, but their full-sized cars proved to be too heavy to compete against the lightweight cars produced by GM’s Chevrolet and Pontiac divisions.

Ford knew their 427 had the power but couldn’t compete against the lighter cars from GM, even though they also produced several different lightweight models. In 1963, the lightweight Z11 pure race cars made by Chevrolet were again faster than the 63½ Galaxy 500 lightweight.

Something had to be done by Ford for the ’64 drag racing season. Tasca Ford, the second largest Ford dealer in the country, combined forces with Ford Special Vehicles department and produced one prototype 427 A/FX Ford Fairlane, which was raced and tested late in the 1963 season. The name of this creation was “Zimmy1.”

The Ford team worked with the Tasca crew in the fall of ’63 – used the ’63 prototype to finalize the design of the 1964 Thunderbolt – and Ford then produced 11 factory race cars for the ’64 NHRA season. Eight of the eleven cars were completed by Ford in late November ’63 and displayed at Ford’s Dearborn test track. At this preview, the Ford racing teams that were selected to receive the new cars were presented with their cars for the whopping price of $1.00 each.

The 1964 racing season and how it pertained to the Tasca Fairlane is well documented throughout the industry with many magazine articles, internet articles, National Dragster facts and figures, plus many pages devoted to this car in The Tasca Ford Legacy book written by Bob McClurg.

With so much information available about this particular car, the following includes several personal stories involving team Tasca.

The first time I met the team driver, Billy Lawton, was in 1962. He was lightyears ahead of our F/S – 57 fuel injection Chevy wagon, but was very friendly and helpful. I had welded up our exhaust system, but could not form the mandated 3 inch “exit port,” so instead I made an oval exhaust port with the same cross-sectional area. I thought everything would be ok – the sound was loud and fantastic – but NHRA didn’t like it. However, they let me race that one day with the caveat that the exhaust would never be used again. While I was passing through the tech line, Billy looked under the car and said he’d like to know if the system proved faster than the NHRA mandate. It was louder, but not faster, and I reported that to him the following week.

I saw him at various races, and at the end of ’62 at the Indianapolis Nationals, I failed tech procedures due to illegal tires. The recap slicks I was using were 3/8” too wide. We only knew one guy at the Nationals – Billy Lawton. I chased him down. He introduced me to Marv Richfin of M & H competition tires and he sold us a new set of tires and mounted them for us. I was always amazed that even though Billy was a top national competitor, he was wonderful to those of us in the lower stock ranks.

1963 was uneventful, but 1964 was a huge year for NHRA. The Thunderbolts were incredible, but had to deal with the new Chrysler Hemi Dodge and Plymouths.

That year, I graduated from Middlebury College and started a two-year mechanical engineering extension at Columbia University. I started school, but kept racing at Connecticut Dragway. I’ll never forget watching the Tasca Thunderbolt launch from the light and actually hop up in the back instead of tail dragging like everybody else. I told my professor about both the front and rear of the car launching upward (not the usual front up and rear down). He emphatically told me one unbroken rule in physics was that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, in this case front up – back down. In other words, he told me I was wrong!

In retrospect, after studying our car, the professor was right and wrong at the same time. Further analysis showed that the rear traction bars were welded to the rear axle. Therefore, looking from the driver’s side as the rear tire rotated counterclockwise, the axle rotated clockwise forcing the rear of the car up, giving added traction to the rear wheels. Since I didn’t learn about this traction device until after I left Columbia, that professor still thinks he won the argument!

The factory Thunderbolts were replaced by SOHC Mustangs in 1965 and therefore were never a part of the Ford racing program after 1964.

The last portion of this dissertation concerns how I found and purchased the car. In the 1980s and early 90s, I started the present collection and decided the Tasca Ford Thunderbolt was the finest race car that had frequented the New England race tracks.

In the early 90s, I was told at the Spring Carlisle show that indeed the car had surfaced in Ohio and was now in New York. I had already heard that originally the car was sold to Grundee’s Ford in Toledo, Ohio, but after 30 years, no one knew anything about a ’64 Thunderbolt being owned by a dealership in the area.

However, after several inquiries, we found the name of the person who bought the car from Tasca. His name was George “Cork” Marshall and he indeed had worked at Grundee’s Ford in Toledo. We found Cork and he was full of stories. Most stories were about his attempt to change the car into an altered wheelbase A/FX car (common in the ’65 – ’66 era). However, he did run the car in 1965 as it was intended (i.e. Super Stock class). As expected, Grundee’s Ford sponsored the car.

At the end of the ’65 racing season, Cork and his brother started to alter the car into a full A/FX style race car, which necessitated shortening the wheelbase, cutting the rear quarters, the front, and the front end (i.e. quite an extensive project). Cork and his brother worked for years on the project and stopped their work in the late 70s, since the A/FX class was a thing of the past.

In the early 90s, Cork heard about the nation’s top Thunderbolt restorer, Randy Delisio of Lyons, New York, and called him. After much discussion, Cork sold the car in unrestored condition to Randy. In one or two years, Randy had restored the car to original condition, and decided to sell the car, since it was one of the fastest Thunderbolts and was known throughout the country.

The timing was absolutely perfect. I made my choice of buying the Tasca Thunderbolt in early 1997 and called Randy. He had just made his decision and was ready to sell. I was sure the car was in excellent and authentic condition, so I hitched up my truck and trailer and headed for Lyons, New York.

It took me only one-half hour to realize the timing and people involved in this purchase were perfect. Randy was the most qualified man to restore the car correctly and our 501c3 foundation would eventually keep the car in climate- controlled condition forever.


Written By Steve Ames, June 2015

Last Edited: June, 2024, JA


Note: Several years after Tasca Thunderbolt driver Billy Lawton passed away the Lawton family visited the Ames Museum and signed the inside of the Tasca Ford trunk!

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