Don F 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 2dr Hardtop

From Fire to Fireball

It's the realization of a 40-year dream. I've always wanted a NASCAR street car... just because. And I've always loved the looks of the '64 Galaxie. But to destroy a classic for my harebrained idea? Nope.

Then I ran across a '64 Galaxie 500 on eBay that was being sold with a salvage title because it was the victim of theft and arson. Interior burned out, body damage, and fire and smoke damage throughout. Seemed a good place to start...

But which vintage race car to recreate? I'm thinking Ned Jarrett's blue #11, but my wife says that's the color of my truck, and I should do something different (never mind the fact that it's MY car and project!) Maybe the burgundy #21 of Marvin Panch? Nope, she says; same color as her van. The white #28 of Fred Lorenzen? "That's the same color as your refrigerator in the garage."

Sigh.

I hand my wife (decidedly NOT a racing fan) a book of historic stock cars and ask her to pick out the one she likes best. After a few minutes of study, she points out the purple #22 of Fireball Roberts. For a non-NASCAR fan, she has good taste!

But wait... Fireball Roberts was severely burned in an accident racing a 1964 Galaxie at Charlotte Motor Speedway and later succumbed to his injuries. Would this be seen as kind of a sick joke, turning a burned-out car into a rolling reminder of the legendary racer's death from fire? Or would it be recognized as a tribute to a would-be Champion, as I intended? Time would tell.

It was time to go to work. I scuttled the remains of the interior, grinding out the melted foam and vinyl that otherwise refused to budge, followed by cleaning up the fire and smoke damage, and replacing all of the wiring. Then it was on to cleaning and reviving the 289 under the hood and dressing it up. Bodywork? LOTS of bodywork to clean up melted out lead and rust, fix fenders, and fill the 161 holes left over from removing nearly all of the chrome trim.

A 6-point roll cage and fiberglass panels flesh out the spartan race-inspired interior, and classic Stewart-Warner gauges fill out the dash. Then there's the single bucket seat and homemade side bolster to keep me in place along with a 5-point harness, though I had no intention of ever racing it; I'm just going for a correct racing appearance. That included rebuilding the exhaust system for side exit, and installing the rear window straps to keep the back window from blowing out at 200 mph. Okay, so I won't be exceeding the posted speed limits, but I want as many period-correct details as possible.

Then it's custom-mixed purple paint to match what color pictures I could find, a set of 15x7 steelies, hood and trunk pins and removable headlight covers. I then applied custom-cut vinyl numbers and sponsors (I couldn't hand-letter a car decently to save my life), and the final touches are the period-correct contingency decals.

The kicker? My built-not-bought dream is realized in 9 months for just under $4000. It's street legal and turns heads everywhere as I drive it to shows. It's a conversation starter that enables me to share NASCAR Grand National History, talk about the legendary Fireball Roberts, and watch the faces of kids light up when I let them climb into the car for parents to take pictures.

The Fireball Galaxie has won a few awards here and there, but the ultimate reward came just after its completion in late 2007, in the form of an email from a gentleman named Richard Trivette... the husband of Fireball Roberts' only daughter, Pamela Roberts. Beyond the compliments, he said, "Pam says you did it right."

From a fire to Fireball, it doesn't get an better than that.

1 Reader Comment

  • 1
    Don Falloon California July 17, 2014 at 12:17
    It should be noted that Hagerty was the only classic car insurer that would cover the Galaxie. Other companies denied coverage because the car had a roll cage, therefore they assumed it was a race car and not a show/pleasure car. Thanks, Hagerty!

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