Mark Mundorff's 1959 Ford
1959 Ford Thunderbird owned by Mark Mundorff of Lincoln, Nebraska. Mark bought the Thunderbird in Omaha in 1967. In 2015 Mark told Kustomrama that he wanted a T-Bird for a long time; "I came from a farm in Nebraska. I saw an ad in the newspaper for my car, but I was only 15 at the time, so my dad bought it and we took it back to the farm 200 miles west of Omaha."
Custom Body Work
The car had been customized when Mark bought it, and the name "Avancier" was hand lettered on the driver's side sun visor. All chrome was removed, large functional side vents had been cut into the front fenders, and the rear wheel wells were radiused. The roof had a special raised rib welded into each side, changing the whole look of the roof line. All work had been performed very professional in lead. "At 15 years old, and to farmers, the differences were odd, but none the less it was my dream car. At that point there was farming to be done, so we did not pursue any of its history."
The hood had been fit with a peculiar small reversed hood scoop on the passenger's side. It was powered by a Lincoln 430 engine and a 3 speed overdrive transmission. The car did not have any power Accessories. The interior was factory original black leathers. The car was factory black as well, but it had been completely stripped down and painted red. Mark has found traces of Gold on the car, so it might have had some gold accents painted on. "Since my dad bought it for me, he also talked to the dealer. He was told there was another "like it," but it had been wrecked in a race. He was also told that the previous owners did not know whether to run it as a hardtop or convertible, which made no sense to us." The seller did also tell Mark's dad that the car had been officially clocked between Omaha and Fremont, Nebraska at 180 mph. The engine appeared stock, and there was no chrome or any attempt to dress up the engine compartment; "Also, there does not seem to have been any attempt at dressing up the undercarriage of the car, it all seem very functional" according to Mark. "We were told that it had truck coil springs in front, which it may have. But other aspects of the car's history are still visible. Extra shock towers were welded in up front for 2 shocks per wheel. In back, traction rods were welded in between the body and rear axle, and a welded in pan hard/ watts linkage was welded in. The rods and pan hard were removed when we got the car, but the brackets and welded parts remained on the car, leaving no doubt it had a serious attempt at doing something other than a show car in mind." Mark has not found any indication of a roll bar ever being installed. The steel wheels that were on the car when he got it had been reversed and re-welded "offset" from the original. "I still have one factory rim with the original tire and with a truck inner tube inside the tire." According to Mark, many says that alone indicates an intent to race the car in some manner.
It had 30,000 miles on it when Mark got it; "My mom could barely drive it without power steering or brakes, but she could, and I let her drive it to the grocery store. I could then take the groceries out of the car and head out myself and take it out on new smooth asphalt and hit 150 mph and it was quite stable. We put 20,000 miles that way the first couple of years we had it. After then, work and life took over, and I parked it for the next 30 years." In the early 1970s, before Mark parked it, he installed mag wheels and radial tires.
In the mid 1980s Mark started restoring the car. He has been working on and off on it since then, and plans to have it back on the road again soon; "The color was red with a white top when we bought it. It was only after I had repainted it this year I fully understood the car had been black from the factory. And with that, I also realized that the car at one time has had some gold paint on it somewhere, since there was still gold paint visible in several places." When the car was sanded down for repaint, Mark found no traces of black or gold under the red paint. No attempt at all had been made to repaint the engine compartment. The VIN says it was built in August of 1959. It also has a grease pen number written on the VIN plate of 359.
Mark's Thunderbird is neither a race car or a show car, but there are aspects of the car that qualify it to some degree for either potential. The VIN plate on the Thunderbird indicates that it came with an automatic transmission, but according to Mark there is no indication of an automatic ever being installed; "The 3 speed overdrive was not an option when the 430 Lincoln engine was used on a factory Thunderbird, but it was the standard combination on 1959 Ford Thunderbirds built for racing." In fact, the inaugural Daytona 500 was won by Johnny Beauchamp in a 1959 Ford Thunderbird from Omaha, only to have the title taken away and given to Lee Petty. The race is still considered the most debated and controversial race in NASCAR. Roy Burdick out of Omaha owned the Thunderbird. According to Mark, there is quite a history with Ford following that win; "A lot of people wanted to get one and go racing, and many did. Until the 1960 model Fords came along, which were lighter in weight and more streamlined, and thus more suited for racing. There are all kinds of urban legends about efforts Ford made to get the Thunderbirds out there to race. Ford denied some, but others confirmed getting cars configured for racing, featuring 430 engines and 3 speed transmission, obtained unofficially directly from Ford. A lot of 1959 Ford Thunderbirds competed in the first Daytona 500, including the winning one from Omaha. Those were all prepared by Holman and Moody in Charlotte, North Carolina." One of the Thunderbirds from the race is restored and displayed at the stock car museum in Moorresville, North Carolina. Mark has looked closely at it, and found out that the preparation done on that one was much more extensive that the work on his, so there is no real connection to his Thunderbird in that sense. Many 1959 Thunderbirds were locally modified for racing in various ways, and to various degrees of modification. They were mostly prepared for function though, and not customized in any way except for the radiused rear wheel wells. The rear wells were often crudely cut out, and after a couple of races most cars looked like they had been in a wreck. Mark's Thunderbird shows no evidence of ever being in a wreck of any sort. Also, chrome was left on, and a roll bar was installed.
When it comes to the vents on the front fenders on Mark's Thunderbird, they have a similar appearance and placement to vents seen on design proposals for Ford's 1960 Thunderbird models. Mark has also seen a similar sketch of a possible future design featuring ribs on the roof, similar to his. This has prompted several comments about his Thunderbird might have been a "design test mule," either created by Ford or done for Ford by one of the several body shops that would do that for them to see how it looked. These cars were often sent out on show tours. The suspension mods could have been done to see what it would take to improve the car handling. This work would have been done by Ford or and outside fabricator and then taken out on test tracks; "One comment was made by a former stock car driver that on the high bank tracks like Daytona, the body would slide sideways and hit the tires. Everything that was done on the suspension on my T-bird could have been done to reduce that possibility. Also he said that the car had a tendency to get light on the front end at the speeds the car could reach on the big NASCAR tracks. The T-birds were the fastest cars on the tracks in 1959 with the Lincoln engines. The driver I talked to was older than I am and had run 59 T-birds on some of the big tracks in the early days. He had actual experience."
Mark has also found out that in the NASCAR races of 1959 - 1960, there were two classes of stock cars, hardtops and convertibles; "They literally cut the tops off the hardtop cars to make them into convertibles. They were called zipper cars. Dad said the dealer mentioned the previous owner did not know if they would run as a hardtop or convertible. Totally nonsense without context to farmers."
Mark has tried for years to find information about the Thunderbird, but has not been able to find anything yet. He has not seen any other Thunderbird stock cars, nor any other Thunderbirds at all, with vents like his. He has also been told that when a car came through the assembly line, if it was to get some special attention, the VIN plate literally got a grease pen notation as it went thru. This might be just another urban legend. During his research, Mark has found out that it seems for some reason Omaha was a focal point of Ford's interest in getting back into racing; "I have found misc mention of Ford contacting Burdicks in Omaha about racing Fords, and anecdotes about Ford sending cars to Omaha to be prepared for racing by Burdicks." So far they are only unverified anecdotes and urban legends, for all we know, the Thunderbird could have been built by a teenager having an urge for street racing! Just imaging the Thunderbird coming down Woodward Avenue in the late 1950s or early 1960s, featuring a gold fogged paint job! According to rumors, Ford did in fact have an under the table drag racing development group that built cars to take out on the streets racing. Ford both built and and sponsored to have built cars to street race to gain a reputation of fast on the street is someone would buy one and build it up. By winning street races, Ford gained a reputation, selling more cars. An obscure bit of Ford racing history that would fit the purpose of Mark's Thunderbird.
Do You Know This Car?
Avancier is an old French verb that means "to advance" or "to move forward." Hopefully someone has the information we need to move forward with the history of Mark's Thunderbird. If you have any information or additional info about the mysteries surrounding this car, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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