Would you race a ‘57 Thunderbird against a Jaguar C-Type?
Not that Aston Martin DB3 Coupes are plenty a piece, but in terms of rarity and visual drama, nothing came close to Bill Shepherd’s 1957 Ford “Battlebird” at the Goodwood Revival. Seeing that thing race head-to-head against a Jaguar C-Type is just the most surreal experience. But first off, here’s some T-Bird history.
In 1956, Chuck Daigh built a streamlined Thunderbird with a bored V-8 to race the Corvettes at Daytona Beach’s Speed Week trials. After both his Ford and Zora Arkus-Duntov’s Corvette got disqualified, Daigh went back with a stock 312 V-8 to record an 88.778-mph average for the standing mile.
The following year, Ford commissioned DePaolo Engineering in Long Beach, California, to build a pair of single-seat speedsters, known as Battlebirds, as well as two mostly stock-looking Thunderbirds still packing stroked and supercharged engines. One of the aluminum-bodied speedsters had a fuel-injected and supercharged 348-cubic-inch Y-block and a Jaguar four-speed, with the other getting a 430-cubic-inch MEL V-8.
Chuck Daigh pushed the Lincoln-engined car to a 205-mph flying mile at Daytona, but couldn’t make the mandatory return pass due to engine trouble. The other Battlebird managed to average 160.356 mph for its two-way run, after which Ford pulled the program due to Automobile Manufacturers Association’s new regulations regarding factory racing involvement.
UK Mustang specialist Bill Shepherd spent two years turning the wreck of the 7.0-liter car into something that would go around the Goodwood Circuit, and had the following to say about his Battlebird to GRR:
“[After Daytona Beach] the cars were sold to Dearborn Steel Tubing. The guy who owned that ran them and raced them in various regional events. Eventually, he sold them to a jet pilot who then leased them to a film company. And it was leased to the people who produced Viva Las Vegas for Elvis Presley. Elvis was going to be driving this car, but the mechanic on the shoot took it out and wrecked it. So they changed the Thunderbird to an Elva, and so we call the car Elvis now. I found the remains of it about two years ago. So, it’s been a two-year project to get it here, and it’s been a bit of a fight to get it here today, but we were keen to get it out for this event because it’s the right thing to do. Hopefully, we might run it here again at Goodwood.”
And you shall, Mr. Shepherd. Those Jaguar C-Types had it coming.