Harry and Wanda Woodward purchased their '55 T-Bird in May 1996, and Harry freely admits that seeing Chris Dixon's T-Bird heavily influenced his decision to not only purchase the car but to take liberties with the original Ford design. The other determining factor was the sad state of deterioration that the body had slipped into. Oh yeah, on the surface it didn't look too bad, but when Harry started digging around he kept discovering little imperfections. Like part of a 45-gallon drum welded into the firewall, a stovepipe welded into the transmission tunnel, and some sort of serious dent, ding, or advanced oxidation damage invading every panel on the car. Fact is, the body shop he had commissioned to perform the restoration work recommended he forget this car completely, sell what parts of any value were left and start with another vehicle of similar make and vintage. In other words, do anything but spend the obscene amount of cash it would require to put this guy back into restored condition. Well, as you may have guessed, that wasn't quite the advice Harry was looking for, nor the road he chose to take.
In the end, the faults that prevented its restoration suddenly became the reasons it was the perfect base for a really neat mild custom. Harry also knew that if enough contemporary materials were incorporated into the construction process it could be a spectacular driving machine as well. So his final decision was to physically alter the car in ways that he found pleasing to his eye, and to update the running gear so it would easily conform to modern motoring challenges.
Starting at the only logical point of origin, Harry stripped the 'Bird to its bare bones. Then he turned the chassis work over to Snow's Hot Rod Shop, where the rear framerails were moved inward some 8 inches to accommodate a wider wheel/tire combination. An 8.8-inch Mustang rearend was narrowed 8 inches and fitted with a pair of custom made Forrest & Forrest hard axles, the disc brakes were reinstalled, and the whole assembly set into place, pretty much completing the work to the back half. Up front the framerails were whacked off at the firewall and a Fatman stub welded into place. This gave the old 'Bird modern disc brakes, power rack-and-pinion, 2-inch dropped spindles, and plenty of room for a modern V-8. The powerplant chosen for the job was an electronically controlled, injected 302-cid Mustang, backed by a compatible T5 five-speed transmission and fitted with March pulleys, a 110-amp GM alternator, and a polished Sanderson Compressor. Then Ford SVO headers were bolted on, along with plenty of polished aluminum, paint, and chrome-accented dress-up items. When finished, a set of 17x7 and 17x8 Boyds wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich rubber were bolted to the new chassis to make it a roller. Now it was not only a rigid foundation with modern suspension components, but it was also blessed with all the equipment necessary to stop, steer, and accelerate in a manor consistent with the demands it would encounter when subjected to today's roadways.
While the modernization of the chassis was being accomplished, Harry had been conferring with Duke Brown (Duke Brown's Body Shop) and Bill Snow (Bill Snow's Hot Rod Shop) in an effort to coordinate the overall look the car would project. With a design direction firmly in place, Duke started the alteration of the body. It all seems pretty minor when you see the finished product (because it all flows so well), but there is quite a lot happening here. The first order of business was to strip the front bumper of its pair of huge overriders to clean up the line of the bumper, exposing the full width of the grille, making one's focus the full width of the car. The bumper was narrowed some 8 inches, smoothed, and turned upside down before it was reattached to its mounts. The rear bumper then received the exact same treatment. Of course it was a bit more complicated because exhaust tips had originally exited through the overriders and the panel behind them. With the overriders out of the picture it was determined that a new panel would be handformed, eliminating the holes, license plate indent, and have a bit more contour than the original, as well. When it was all in place the result was the same as up front; the car appears to be both wider and lower. The rear quarter-panels were such a mess they had to be completely reconstructed. So, while Duke Brown was hammering out the new panels he created wheel lips that were flared to mimic the fronts, then widened the inner wheelwells 2 inches to accommodate the wider tire/wheel combination, as well. Of course all the usual custom mods were done, too-the car was nosed, decked, and the door handles shaved. The chrome hash marks and V-8 emblems were removed from the front fenders, the chrome Thunderbird script from the rear quarters, and the turn signals relocated behind the grille insert. The final addition to the body was the '56-style porthole top that is just so classic that it's a "must use" on a vintage Thunderbird. Then all the freshly smoothed panels, the bumpers, the windshield trim, and some of the engine parts were treated to a slick coating of 21-Line paint in striking Blue Shade Red, expertly applied by Stan at Duke Brown's Body Shop.
The interior came next and the instrument panel was one of the first areas to be attacked. The Astra-Dial instrument dome (speedometer housing) was filled with full digital instrumentation. The pods (tachometer and clock) at each side of the dome were removed and the area blended into a shape matching the rest of the dashboard. At the lower part of the instrument panel the original radio was replaced with a Clarion sound system, and a Vintage Air temperature control system takes over the heat/cool command operations. Then, to properly trim the area, a brushed-aluminum panel was created that wraps around the dashboard and into the door panels the same way the original engine-turned piece did. The difference is that the brushed surface has a smooth, flowing look to it while the original trim was quite busy. From there, Harry installed a cut-down (by 6 inches) pair of Fiero bucket seats, as well as all the wiring, before the car was turned over to Wayne Edwards.
Wayne covered the seats, door panels, center hump, and kick panels in a beautiful cream-colored leather. Then he added a deep red carpet and cream vinyl headliner. The finished product is an interior that blends with the styling, rather than competing with the rest of the car.
When asked what his favorite design features are, Harry told us the hood scoop and color-keyed window trim, and that the brushed-aluminum dash and door panel trim were his favorite interior highlights. Harry also tells us that he's putting about 15,000 miles a year on the car, so it would seem that the blending of classic styling, well thought- out custom touches, along with contemporary components, is a winning combination. Whoever said you couldn't have it all probably hasn't met Harry Woodward.
Modifications At A GlanceHarry and Wanda WoodwardNewmarket, Ontario, Canada1955 Thunderbird
Customizing:Front and rear bumper overriders removed; bumpers smoothed, narrowed 8", and mounted upside down; rear quarter-panels and wheel lips handformed; rear wheelwells widened 2"; rear fascia panel handformed; parking lights moved behind grille; nosed, decked, and shaved; body color windshield trim; bodywork by Duke Brown; 21-Line Blue Shade Red paint sprayed by Stan at Duke Brown's
Rodding:Electronically controlled, injected, '94 Mustang engine; T5 trans; 8.8" Mustang rearend narrowed 8"; Ford SVO headers; polished aluminum, paint, and chrome-plating dress-up
Lowering:Fatman frame stub; Heidt's tubular A-arms; 2" dropped spindles; four-wheel disc brakes; Mustang II power rack; Boyd's wheels, BFGoodrich tires; frame narrowed 8" in rear; chassis modifications by Snow's Hot Rod Shop, Ontario, Canada
Trimming:Fiero bucket seats cut-down 6"; Vintage Air climate control; Clarion sound system; cream leather; dark red carpet; cream vinyl headliner; brushed aluminum trim; Boyds leather-wrapped steering wheel on ididit column; upholstery by Wayne Edwards, Ontario, Canada