Joe Walden's Bonneville T-Bird
The legendary Ford Thunderbird debuted February 20, 1954, at Detroit's first auto show after World War II. Weary of wartime deprivation, the Thunderbird quickly rekindled America's love of two-seater sports cars. The T-Bird entered production for the 1955 model year as a sporty two-seat convertible. It was created to compete with Chevrolet's new Corvette. The first generation T-Birds were built from 1955 to 1957 and were introduced with great anticipation with more than 4000 preorders waiting for the first cars to roll off of the Dearborn Assembly Plant. The car before you is a 1957 and is the last of the "baby birds". There were 21,380 '57 T-Birds produced. The T-Bird in this display is special.
On February 6th, 1958 Joe Walden walked into Frank Dore & Sons Ford at 345 S Greenleaf Ave in Whittier, California and purchased this 1957 Ford T-Bird brand new for $3,575.00. He was young enough at the time the dealership required his father M.E. Walden to co-sign for him. The car has never left Joe's possession and despite its race history still has its original paint!
Joe was a true California hot rodder interested in going fast with style making this a perfect car for him. Because of his welding talent Joe worked with many people involved with quarter mile drag, Indy, and land speed racing. Many of these car people became Joe's friends and it fueled his fire to continually improve the performance of his car. He first installed a 406 cubic inch modified Ford engine and turned a respectable 112.65 mph with a 12.57 second el at Lion's Drag Strip, Joe also did a fair amount of street racing with this car in those days too; he jokes it wasn't exactly legal! Joe's attention for detail is evident down to a one-off custom cast aluminum oil pan needed to clear the T-Bird front x-member.
Most Bonneville racers would tell you that buying an SCTA rule book is what causes you to take a leap from casual observer to full-blown involvement in land speed racing. Joe was lured onto the salt in a different way. During a casual visit to a local coffee shop one morning in 1963, he met some friends including hot rod pioneer and racer Jerry Kugel. Jerry surprised Joe by explaining that he had taken the liberty of signing him up for the 1964 speed trials. It caught Joe by surprise having no prior knowledge or discussion about this happening. With no time to spare he went right to work to ensure his car was ready!
Joe teamed up with another friend Vern Houle who would share the driving duties. Vern was older and had even more connections than Joe at that time. Together they located a big 427 cubic inch Mercury Super Maurauder engine available through Bobby Unser's Pikes Peak team. They installed a set of Halibrand mag rims 18" in the rear, and 15" fronts with NASCAR tires for traction. Knowing aerodynamics are everything in speed racing they built a special bolt-on front air foil, and sculpted a custom hood to clear the dual 4 barrel carburetors.
The Bonneville surface was wet and difficult in 1964 but Joe and Vern were tenacious and pushed the T-Bird to the limit. Typically the course was 5 miles but because of conditions it was shortened to 4. The first run off the trailer was 178 mph. That run cleared them to take the car down the long course. Vern took the wheel and drove the car to official speeds of 189, then 200.34 mph. On the final pass with Joe driving the car clocked its best speed of 200.48 mph which was astonishing fora street driven car. Joe said it had more top end if only they had that fifth mile of salt to stay on it! 100-mph Street Machine
Over the years Joe continued tuning on this 7-Bird to keep it in prime condition while continuing to drive it to California car events. We are so thankful to Joe Walden and his family for allowing us to share this car with our visitors and tell its amazing story.