Cars We Remember: Tasca Ford, 427 Thunderbolts and current Bob Tasca III funny car racing
Q: Greg, I see that Bob Tasca III has returned to full-time racing on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) touring show in nitro funny car. I know Tasca Ford has been around since the beginning of the muscle car days back in the early 1960s, and I most remember those wild and fast Ford Thunderbolts.
I’m wondering if you can give me an update on Bob Tasca III, and also those Fairlane Thunderbolts that originated out of their Tasca Ford shops in 1963.
I enjoy your column very much and thanks for answering this question.
— Jeff K., Jacksonville, Florida
A: Jeff let’s start with the Ford Thunderbolt and its relationship to Tasca Ford in Rhode Island, to this day a “major league” Ford dealer.
Officially, Ford built just 127 Thunderbolts using the 2-door Fairlane body style in 1964 and 1965. The Thunderbolts came with the powerful 427 Ford engine and were similar in theory to today’s limited production drag race only Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers.
Specifically, in 1964 if you had the necessary $3,780 you could walk in to any Ford dealer and order your very own 427 Fairlane Thunderbolt. I had one friend who did this, and he told me it was the fastest car he ever owned.
However, only one experimental (concept model) Ford Thunderbolt was ever built. It was back in 1963 as you note and the brainchild of the fine folks at Tasca Ford. Ford was so impressed with the one-off Thunderbolt experiment they OK’d 125 1964 Thunderbolt 427-powered units to be built. In 1965, only two Thunderbolts were delivered, resulting in the 127 official Thunderbolts produced.
Similar to the marketing of the aluminum front-end 1965 426 Hemi Plymouths and Dodges and Z-11 1963 Chevys, the 1964 Ford Thunderbolts were brutally fast and lightweight. The 427 Fairlane put out 425 horses with a two four-barrel setup and delivered 480 lb. ft. of torque. But again, you had to know how to order one as there weren’t many Thunderbolts sitting on the showroom floor nor were they promoted much at the dealership.
Most important and directly related to Tasca Ford is the aforementioned ’63 Thunderbolt concept car. It began life as a Fairlane two-door post (see photo) that Tasca then assembled with fiberglass hood, fenders and trunk and then they added aluminum inner fender panels and bumpers. The result was a ready to race Fairlane that weighed just 3,320 pounds.
Also, and most important for you trivia fans, is the fact that this first ’63 Tasca Thunderbolt received power from a 406-inch engine, not a 427, and ran in A/Factory Experimental classes. In 1964 to officially legalize the car, Ford released a special build number at all Ford stores for its now 427-inch powered prize possession, and the rest is history.
Additionally, it wasn’t until the 427 was legalized by NHRA in mid-1964 that the Tasca Ford Thunderbolt, driven by Bill Lawton and now sporting a more powerful 427, became competitive and ran quarter mile times of 12.20s at near 119 mph to set the A/FX NHRA record.
Today, I enjoy watching the nostalgia Thunderbolts at the dragways, although most of the Thunderbolts you see these days are clones, not original Thunderbolts. The original ones are priceless and very rare.
As for Bob Tasca III, to this day he proudly upholds the Cranston, Rhode Island, based Tasca Ford tradition as he races his Mustang Nitro Funny Car on the NHRA circuit. His grandfather, Bob Tasca, Sr., was a winner in developing the Thunderbolt in 1963 and the soon to come Ford Cobra Jet programs, too.
Tasca III will compete for top honors at the upcoming Labor Day weekend granddaddy of all NHRA drag races, the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park. With four career nitro funny car wins to his credit, Tasca III returned in 2018 to a full-time schedule in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang for the first time since 2014. He is currently just 24 points out of a top 10 Countdown playoff spot sitting in 11th position of 31 ranked drivers. He also recently signed a multi-year agreement with new sponsor LINE-X, a worldwide leader in extreme protective coatings, renowned spray-on bedliners and top-shelf truck accessories.
We wish Tasca III the very best at this weekend’s race, and thank you Jeff for your letter and very kind words.
— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and GateHouse Media.