440-Equipped: 1956 Ford Thunderbird

Finding a classic car that has received some significant mechanical upgrades is a pretty common occurrence. Finding one where these upgraded components were sourced from an entirely different manufacturer is less so. That is the story behind this 1956 Thunderbird, which is now Mopar powered. It has been out of service for a few years but could be a barrel of laughs if it could be returned to the road again in its current guise. If complete originality isn’t a prerequisite when it comes to classic car ownership, then this is a car that could be well worth a look. It is located in Eads, Tennessee, and has been listed for sale here on eBay. The auction has opened at $9,990, but there have been no bids to this point. However, with 108 people currently watching the listing, that is a situation that could potentially change at any time.

Cosmetically, the Fiesta Red Thunderbird looks quite promising. It would appear to have received a repaint at some point in its life. While there are a few spots that have deteriorated, the paint still has a very decent shine to it. The good news with this vehicle is its general lack of rust. The seller states that the Thunderbird has never seen a salty road, and the photos that he supplies of the underside would seem to confirm this. There is some mild rust in the floors, but the frame appears to be perfect. The exterior of the Ford also seems to be rust-free, with the usually prone lower rear quarter panels and rockers looking particularly clean. All of the glass is present, with a cracked door glass on the driver’s side being the only identified fault. Some of the external trim and chrome pieces will require restoration, although nothing appears to be missing. Having said all of that, I can’t see any reason why the Thunderbird couldn’t be returned to a mechanically roadworthy state and be driven as-is.

The gist of the story with this Thunderbird is quite an interesting one. I believe that the vehicle belonged to the seller’s grandmother and that she purchased it in 1966. At that point, it was equipped with a 312ci V8. The lady continued to drive the vehicle in that configuration for many years. Her husband was employed by Mopar Direct Connection, and his easy access to performance parts motivated him to perform a mechanical upgrade on the T-bird. He sourced a high-performance version of the 440ci V8 engine and 4-speed manual transmission and successfully grafted these into the Ford. It isn’t clear just how much power the 440 was pumping out, but it would be a reasonably safe bet that it would have been considerably more than the 312’s original 225hp. The lady in question did tell the seller that the Thunderbird used to really get up and go in its day. The vehicle has only recently been brought out of long-term storage and doesn’t currently run. The state and specifications of the engine are unknown, so there will be some mechanical work required before the Thunderbird can terrorize the tarmac once again.

The Ford’s interior has its good and bad points, but it could be restored relatively easily. The seat looks to be in good condition, while I think that the door trims would present well if cleaned. I would not hesitate to scrap the carpet, because that looks entirely out of place in this classy classic. The dash needs some work, the factory radio is missing, and the aftermarket wheel is not the nicest that I’ve ever seen. However, if these issues were addressed, the interior would look really slick without breaking the bank.

I know that we will have readers who will cry foul on this Thunderbird, and who will provide some very well structured reasons why it should be returned to its original specifications. I understand these arguments because I do love to see classic cars like this left as their maker intended. However, I am broad-minded enough to see that someone has put some thought into this car and that it could be a very entertaining piece of machinery if it were returned to a roadworthy state in its current configuration. Complete originality can never be underestimated, but sometimes good old-fashioned fun will come up trumps. What do you think?

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  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Lot of cars being sold off of this trailer. Why not fix it and drive it like it is. With the exception of small areas of rust in the floorboards it looks pretty solid. Flip the rear spring hangers over, figure out why the the front springs are holding the front end end so high, replace the carpet and the steering wheel and go have some fun. Also, the ’55 Wombat hubcaps should be donated to bean can manufacturers.

    Like 14
  2. Moparman Member

    Since some Mopar and Ford parts interchange, and “cross pollination” has already occurred, I’m entertaining the fantasy of seeing a nice set of Magnum 500’s on this baby! Of course, ANYTHING would be better than the el cheapo fake wire wheel covers on it presently! Get it running,apply some cosmetic TLC and terrorize/offend the purists! GLWTA! :-)

    Like 14
    • Boatman

      O yes. How about a gen one HEMI 331 354. 392 under the hood and get rid of the ford junk. Nice car

      Like 1
  3. MattR Member

    I agree with you Moparman. The first thing I would do is remove those hubcaps. Then, with Adam, I would remove that carpet. bobhess is sending me shivers with talk of springs as I just wrestled the dreaded octopus know as a spring compressor this week putting new coil springs on my truck this week. But he’d have me looking at that while the muscle-memory is there. And the rust of course. All that said, I would be thrilled to get that powertrain going and would only pull it to rebuild it. It must really pull that car when dialed in.

    Like 6
  4. Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

    Super find, Adam! Nice write-up on a unique custom. By the time I was driving age, these early T-birds already had a sort-of untouchable status, but the combination of the Mopar motor, spring shackles, Continental Kit, and $5 hub caps really set this one apart from the mainstream. The four-speed is icing on the cake. I believe I’d get it running and safe but mostly as-is minus the hub caps as everyone has mentioned. It should be enjoyed in that state for a while before making it just another perfectly restored but forgettable ’56. With factory iron intake and exhaust the 440 is 50 lb heavier than the Y-block so with aluminum intake and headers it should weigh about the same. https://www.gomog.com/allmorgan/engineweights2.html

    Like 5
    • walt

      A early version of the truly famed 427 AC COBRA. Rip out that stinkin carpet. Don’t need in a race car

      Like 1
  5. Chuck

    Door trim & dash tan, but seats red & black???

    Like 2
    • Jim

      Look at the eBay photo’s the Dash is Black.

  6. Fred W

    Only problem with this is, at car events you would have to contend with the diehard Ford guys who think a non Ford motor in this is sacrilege (as I do with my 350 powered ’48 Lincoln). However, you could wipe the condescending looks off their faces when you lay rubber for 50 feet.

    Like 7
    • Walt

      Distributor in front, 1/2 wouldn’t know the difference

      Like 4
  7. Leroy

    Where is the radiator? Am I just not seeing it or is it gone?

    Like 9
    • Lance

      That was one of the first things I noticed as well.

      Like 4
    • Jim

      Radiator & Fan are in the trunk in the eBay photos.

      Like 1
      • fran

        So, this guy never had it running? Hmmm.

    • IkeyHeyman Member

      Radiator?! We don’t need no stinkin’ radiator!

      Like 8
  8. RicK Rothermel

    At least one of the TBirds used in the ‘VEGAS’ TV series had a MoPar 440 instead of the two-block.
    Like this one, the TV hero cars were 20-footers.

    Like 3
  9. Russell Ashley

    I’d love to have a T-Bird like that but I think I would pass on that one. I’m a Mopar person but that engine and transmission in that car just doesn’t seem right to me. The EBay description does mention that the radiator is in the trunk but there is no hard or soft top with the car. Even if I were interested the no top part would kill the deal for me.

    Like 3
  10. John Wilburn

    First Mopar powered early Bird I’ve ever seen. I’d make it a pleasant driver and leave it as is.

    Like 1
  11. Fran

    I bet it ran HOT.
    I would yank that engine so fast. Put a 5.0 with a 5 speed, with a radiator. Then massage the body and interior.

    Like 9
    • BillCinMA

      Please do not buy this hot rod then.

      Like 6
      • Fran

        Thats intelligent. It was just an opinion. Your comment was a statement like a group of people that as long as you take the side of theirs, it’s ok.

        Like 4
    • Kenneth Litton

      I had one inearly 80’s that had a 428SCJ. the mopar junk would have to go even if I had to put a 300 ford 6 banger in it

      Like 3
  12. John Wilburn

    A small block Mopar would have been a much better choice. Better weight and balance and all the power it could use.

    Like 2
  13. Chas358 Chas358 Member

    Mopars in Mopars, Fords in Fords, and so on. IMO this is a waste of a Thunderbird and a 440.

    Like 4
    • John Wilburn

      Not every Thunderbird needs to have the same 312, red paint job, fuzzy dice on the mirror, and be parked next to six that look just like it at a car show. Celebrate diversity!

      Like 12
      • Fran

        Oh boy.

    • fran

      You said it Chas358…….right on! Brother! At least keep it in the family, same company family.

      Like 1
    • David Ulrey

      I’m with you Chas358. I don’t believe every classic car needs to be completely restored to original condition. To me it’s fine to install a much more modern power train in different vehicles. I have to like Ford, Molar, and GM. I’m not brand loyal but like you said I feel too. A Ford in a Ford, a GM in a GM and a Molar in a Molar. I DO understand the other line of thinking but it isn’t my preference.

      Like 2
  14. Huntley Hennessy

    With the top down and no radiator, it could be a Franklin roadster.

    Like 1
    • fran

      Ha! It either ran hot or yes its really a Franklin motor, not Mopar!

  15. Paolo

    I know a guy who installed a Mopar 383 in his 57 Ford. He did it for the hell of it but discovered afterward , much to his delight, that it drove Ford people completely mad, spinning in circles, gnashing their teeth, cursing and wailing.
    He also said it was a good fit, with minimal fuss and excellent performance.
    I also remember more than one T-bird with a towering blown 392 hemi running on the dragstrips in the 60s.

    Like 8
  16. Maestro1 Member

    I think not.

  17. Dave Graham

    A bid of $9999 from an unknown bidder, huh.

  18. pwtiger

    I remember back in the 60’s a crazy friend put a 392 Hemi into a small bird, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I really like 440’s but being a Ford lover I might go with one of those aluminum 351 windsor blocks, stroke it to 400+ cubes, get one of those 6 speed trannys, and a good disc brake conversions kit…after my ship comes in.

    • walt

      The 440 was installed way before ur tie, didn’t have ur cool stuff then

      Like 1
  19. Brad

    My dad owned 2 identical red 55 tbirds with the 312’s in Topeka Ks. They were used in the Shawnee Heights High School homecoming parades. Their colors were red and white just like his cars. He had a pad for the seats to keep the prom queens high heels from puncturing the seats! I got to drive them from time to time and remember how hot my feet got after awhile!

    Like 1
    • walt

      What/why where u driving with ur feet on seat when they got hot after the Prom Queens sat on them? Just sayin. LOL

      Like 2
  20. Troy s

    Just goes to show you never know what that car in the other lane has lurking under the hood. Nobody would ever expect a 440 in a T-Bird, not ever.
    I’m trying to be neutral about the mopar in a Ford thing……I like all brands for sure but,, and this is my own opinion, it’s a put down using another brand engine.
    It’s like saying Ford power didn’t cut the mustard, have to use a different brand if you want a real machine. I know that wasnt the reason here but the slap to the face is still there. At least it doesn’t have a small block Chevy, which is the biggest insult of all to Ford fanatics under the hood of something like this or an early Mustang.

  21. TimM

    I’ve driven the T-bird with the 312 in it and I must say this is such a big improvement and I’m a Ford guy!! I would love to drive it around the block a couple times when it got running!! Would be a hoot!!!

    Like 2
  22. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Auction indicates that it was sold for $10,500, but is now re-listed.

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