This Coyote-Powered ’55 Ford Thunderbird Restomod Has Unmatched Style

A Tastefully Modified and Highly Potent T-bird

By Brian Brennan   –   Photography By Michael Christensen

At first glance this ’55 Ford Thunderbird, T-bird, or Ford ’Bird appears to be stock, save the Billet Specialties Sprint wheels. Yet upon closer examination you begin to see there is more than meets the eye. Stan Cox of Texas, along with the staff at Cotati’s Speed Shop out of Santa Rosa, California, joined efforts and came away with this tastefully modified and highly potent T-bird.

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003 the body was de badged and the panel gaps were tightened The fuel door is no longer visible via the trunklid

A little more on the backstory on how Stan came away with this T-bird: “I always wanted a ’55-’57 Ford T-bird. I have been looking for a few years and never thought of a restomod. Barrett-Jackson was a bucket list thing of mine and with some friends we began about eight years ago and have bought some nice cars. In the beginning it was just us guys, but the last few years we’ve brought our wives along. Well, they were having a blast, then I saw this T-bird and I wasn’t sure what my wife was thinking of, but I was going to bid on the car. When I began bidding on the car my wife started rooting me on. Well, then I knew that I had to get that car. I knew it was a very good build, but I had no idea how good. A few days after the auction the Barrett-Jackson staff called me and told me the builder of the T-bird wanted to talk to me and [asked if they] could they share my information. I said, ‘Absolutely.’ When Zane Cullen contacted me, I knew right away that he was a standup guy; he sent me all the information on the car. The T-bird is an awesome car.”

005 Custom First Generation T Bird hot rod

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Quick History Lesson: Ford Thunderbird Vs. Chevrolet Corvette

The first generation Ford Thunderbird was a three-year run beginning in 1955 and going through 1957. Both Ford and Chevrolet were on record as wanting to introduce their own brand of sports car and while Ford had the T-bird it was Chevy that would introduce first with their ’53 Corvette. In fact, between 1955-57 the Ford Thunderbird outsold the Corvette by a noticeable margin. The price of both factory sports cars were within dollars of each other, but the T-bird resonated well with the postwar sports car–buying public.

007 the rear wheel openings are modified so that they match the bodyline position of the front wheel openings

Stan’s two-seater convertible has undergone some mild sheetmetal modifications at the hands of the staff at Cotati Speed Shop that have enhanced its appearance. For starters, the rear wheel openings are modified so that they match the bodyline position of the front wheel openings. From here the front and rear bumpers were tucked tighter to the body, requiring the bumper ends to be fabricated from the get-go. As is typical when “tightening up” the look of any hot rod, the body was de-badged and the panel gaps were tightened. The fuel door is no longer visible via the trunklid.

008 There is a custom made center console that is Alcantara draped that houses the shifter electric switches for window control and a pair of accessory buttons

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The Cotati Speed Shop staff removed it and now you pop the trunk and the fuel filler cap/neck is where you expect it, you just can’t see it from the outside. The side molding is another one-off effort from Cotati’s and Greening Auto Co. The bodywork and subsequent paintwork were all handled at Cotati using an Axalta Coating Systems basecoat/clearcoat Carbon Metallic color—a medium gray when in the sunlight.

009 The chrome ididit tilt steering column is topped with a Billet Specialties tri spoke–influenced leather wrapped wheel

The chassis comes by way of Art Morrison Enterprises and features all the required body, suspension, and powertrain mounts. To make the fit “just so” for the T-bird, Cotati modified the Art Morrison Enterprises chassis for a truly custom fit. The foundation for the chassis is an Art Morrison Enterprises frame made from mandrel-formed 2×4-inch rectangular steel. It also features lower control arm attachments, upper mounts, tubular control arms, ball joints, linkage, and the required hardware. The front spindles are the Wilwood Pro (drop) spindles plus JRi coilover shocks and Hyperco coil springs. To this assembly there is a Wilwood Superlite system consisting of 14-inch slotted rotors with six-piston calipers.

010 There are also the obligatory cup holders and an Alpine touch screen entertainment system

In the back complementary slotted rotors are used but this time there are four-piston calipers. Managing the brake system is a Wilwood black powdercoated aluminum tandem master cylinder with factory pedals. Other front suspension items include an Art Morrison Enterprises sway bar and a Detroit Speed rack-and-pinion. In the back the Art Morrison Enterprises Multilink IRS is used with their axles and 3.27 gears.

011 Classic Instruments gauges in a stock ford thunderbird dash

More JRi coilovers, Hyperco soil springs, and an AME rear sway bar can be found. Rolling stock consists of Billet Specialties polished Sprint model wheels that measure 18×8 at the corners and are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport rubber that measure 245/40R18.

013 an engine turned dash panel that houses one of the Vintage Air A C registers

Dropped between the framerails is an all-aluminum, first-generation Ford Coyote 5.0L (302 cubes) V-8 paired to a TCI six-speed automatic utilizing a TCI converter and Lokar Automatic Electronic Sport Mode shifter. Connecting the trans and rearend is a Driveline Service of Santa Rosa steel driveshaft. Helping the Coyote V8 to get a deep breath is the use of Ford factory exhaust manifolds with Flowmaster U-Fit dual exhaust kit in 3-inch stainless exhaust tubes combined with a pair of Flowmaster mufflers. The V-8 externals are pretty much Ford factory with the use of an Aeromotive fuel pump and K&N air filter.

014 a Ford Coyote swapped into a Ford Thunderbird under the hood

A Ron Davis radiator is employed with SPAL electric fans, a customized Mechman alternator, Powermaster stater, and an Optima battery relocated to the trunk. Look closely and you will see a great deal of detailed work that takes advantage of ARP fasteners, custom air intake, and the ubiquitous Vintage Air Front Runner system.

015 A Ron Davis radiator is employed with SPAL electric fans a customized Mechman alternator Powermaster stater and an Optima battery relocated to the trunk

Inside the first-generation Ford Thunderbird’s comfy driver/passenger compartment you will see what began as a stock dash but now is fully padded and outfitted with custom Classic Instruments gauges, featuring a 160-mph speedo, dash-mounted 8-grand tach, and an engine-turned-dash panel that houses one of the Vintage Air A/C registers. The chrome ididit tilt steering column is topped with a Billet Specialties tri-spoke–influenced leather-wrapped wheel.

016 wildwood manual brake master cylinder

The wiring is based in a custom-applied Ford engine management system that features a Racepak SmartWire 580-CA harness that was positioned by the staff at Cotati. While taking in all the creature comforts Stan finds himself sitting on Glide bucket seats with reshaped foam by DJ Designs in a brilliant red Hydes Alcantara leather. DJ Designs handled the upholstery as well as the application of the lightly hued salt and peppered square-weave carpeting.

017 first generation coyote v8 swap under the hood

There is a custom-made center console that is Alcantara draped that houses the shifter, electric switches for window control, and a pair of accessory buttons all within another engine-turned decorative plate. There are also the obligatory cup holders and an Alpine touch-screen entertainment system.

018 custom wiring on a ford thunderbird hot rod

It was back in the mid ’50s when the Ford Thunderbird made its first appearance. It was also one of the first muscle cars and over time would morph into a luxury ride. The Thunderbird has a long and storied history among performance enthusiasts as well as customizers. What a great piece of hot rod history to build and enjoy. MR

Click on this issue’s cover to see the enhanced digital version of This Coyote-Powered ’55 Ford Thunderbird Restomod Has Unmatched Style.

mr october 2023

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