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1955 Ford Thunderbird Doane Spencer Custom Convertible
Kirk F. White Collection
Lot No. 3157
Auctioned on Friday, August 30, 2013
Sold for $110,000
Doane immediately began modifying the Thunderbird. When the Thunderbird wasn’t outrunning cars on the streets of Los Angeles, it was racing at Bonnevile where, in 1966, it reached166-mph.
In later years, Doane became involved in building powerful five-liter Ford engines and he decided he would replace the Thunderbird’s modified Y-block with a small-block Ford. From 1990 to 1991 he began to disassemble and reconstruct the old Thunderbird from the ground up, utilizing a newly engineered chassis with an independent rear suspension and other modern changes.
Jim O’Mahoney a close friend and devotee of Doane’s work spent many hours in the small shop and as the Thunderbird was being dismantled, O’Mahoney kept an eye on the fact that many of the valuable original components were being tossed to the back of the shop. O’Mahoney told Doane: “You can’t just throw all that away, there’s a long history to your car”. O’Mahoney proposed that Doane take the valuable components that he was discarding and rebuild for him the “original” car. Doane agreed to the idea, warning O’Mahoney that it would be expensive and there would be no time constraints.
O’Mahoney then promptly acquired a 16,000 mile, California rust free Thunderbird from the original owner and delivered the car to Doane’s shop.
A decision was made to make the Thunderbird into a capable road racer incorporating Spencer’s decades of racing knowledge. He fully expected O’Mahoney to run the Thunderbird in the Retro Mille Miglia.
Original items of note that went into the O’Mahoney car included: the frame, the rare and original Ford heavy duty dual outlet radiator, the original windshield with Bonneville 1961 “Safety Inspected” sticker, the rare ’57 Ford Spicer Limited Slip differential, the complete front and rear suspension assemblies, the T-10 four-speed close ratio gearbox, Stewart Warner gauges including Jaeger eight day clock, the bucket seats, the Halibrand 5-1/2-inch knock-off magnesium wheels, the finned Lincoln Pan American racing brakes, the 1961 Bonneville timing tag, and, of course, the original modified Y-block engine.
The Y-block engine was torn down, completely rebuilt, bored and stroked resulting in a displacement of 322 cubic inches. New cylinder heads were obtained and Doane radically changed the valve angles and stagger on both the intakes and exhausts. The engine was topped with dual Holley carburetors and a Spencer-built custom aluminum air intake. Other engine modifications included a Holley NASCAR racing ignition system with a mechanical tach drive, a Mellings oil pump, and a Spencer-built custom oil sump and custom exhaust system.
The entire project took close to two years and cost well into six figures. Road tests deemed the new car quicker than the original.
Almost as quickly as Mahoney took delivery, Kirk White began an aggressive attempt to purchase the Thunderbird. During this time, the car earned national publicity and was featured in “Rod & Custom” in April of 1992, once again in April of 1993 and later Hot Rod Magazine’s swimsuit edition. Finally, O’Mahoney agreed with White to discuss the purchase of the Thunderbird. After a spirited test drive, an agreement was reached and the car became part of the Kirk White collection.
Upon joining the White collection, the car was campaigned at a variety of driving events and concours where it has been multiple award winner and has always remained a bulletproof runner.
In the flesh, the Thunderbird masquerades behind a thin veil of civility. With the slightest prodding, its wicked reality quickly surfaces.