RK Motors Charlotte has become pretty notorious for its Pro Touring models, which are ultra-high-performance versions of classic muscle and sports cars. Not only are they extremely powerful, but RKM also has the restored to a condition that is better than the factory could have ever imagined. Just recently, RKM launched an all-new Pro Touring model in the form of the 1955 Ford Thunderbird Pro Touring.
After the Corvette was a smash hit, Ford decided two years was a long enough wait to build its direct competitor to the Corvette, the Thunderbird. The T-bird and Corvette, however, went to completely different directions over the year. As expected, both vehicles became progressively larger through the `60s and `70s, but the T-bird grew to proportions that no one expected by the time it hit the 1967 model year.
After 1997, Ford decided to axe this growing monster, but released it again in the 2002 model year with styling cues taken from its first generation model. The first generation was arguably the most beautiful for the T-bird and RKM’s model promises to not take away from its classical styling, but rather add to it with modern modifications.
Did RKM hold true to its promise not to completely hack up this first rendition of the T-bird, or did it make this beautiful car just a shell of its former self?
Click past the jump to read our full review and find out.
RKM looked to Street Visions to custom build this T-bird. They began with an all-original, steel-bodied 1955 Thunderbird, not some cheap fiberglass replica like most pro touring T-birds are made from. The body was completely stripped of all defects and all of the body lines were carefully adjusted to assure a seamless finish. After making sure they had a perfectly clean and precise canvas to start painting, Street Visions laid a thick coat of DuPont Chroma Merlot Burgundy Metallic paint on the body. The paint came out just about as flawless and glass-like as possible.
While the front fascia resembles the standard T-bird, there was a significant amount of modification performed. One mod that may go unnoticed until nighttime is the fact that the old sealed-beam lights were eliminated and replaced with a halogen setup. Where the front turn signals were originally mounted there is now a pair of fog lights. In addition, the T-bird emblem was removed, exposing this bird’s sloped nose. The team also completely eliminated the large chrome bumper and replaced the traditional grille with a mesh one, giving the front end a smooth look.
The hood is 100 percent stock and features the standard hood scoop seen on any 1955 T-bird. Inside the scoop is the same mesh fabric used to make up the front grille. Another modification on the hood is a “Supercharged” emblem, which is a sign of what’s to come when we crack open the hood on this bird.
The `55 T-bird had vents on its front fenders from the factory, but the folks at Street Vision replaced the old factory chrome vents with the same mesh you see on the front grille and scoop. Just above the raised belt line a ghost flame starts from after the fender vent and runs all the way to almost the rear of the rear fender, which really gives this Thunderbird’s side profile a sharper look that the factory design. To add to its side profile, you also get am 17-inch TSW aluminum wheel.
The rear end of the `55 Pro Touring Thunderbird features chrome-trimmed LED taillights and a smoother trunk lid. The rear bumper was eliminated and replaced by a fully customized fascia. On each side of this fascia, Street Vision cutout holes for side-exit exhaust, making for a totally clean looking rear end.
There is not much more to say about the sleek exterior of this T-bird other than “Wow.” We aren’t too fond of them completely eliminating the factory bumpers, but the end result was not bad at all.
On the inside, Street Vision took the already sharp interior that the `55 T-bird had and just brought it up to the times. This all begins with a custom-built dashboard that does resemble the original. Right where the instrument cluster arch is on the `55 T-Bird is where Street Vision had an arch built to house the Dakota Digital LED gauge set. In front of the gauges is a Grant steering wheel with three chrome posts and a mahogany ring, matching the exterior almost perfectly.
The dashboard houses three chrome-trimmed vents that direct the cool air produced by the Vintage Air air-conditioning system. The center stack is very basic, but extremely modern, housing an AM/FM Kenwood radio with a CD/DVD player, LCD screen, SiriusXM radio, and MP3 playback capabilities. There is also a navigation system included with the stereo system and it boasts Bluetooth connectivity.
The center console boasts a chrome Hurst short shifter with a white knob, featuring a tan leather shift boot to match the entire interior. The entire center console is wrapped in tan leather, just like the seats. Speaking of the seats, these are not original. They were custom built for this T-bird, using all Toyota parts, but they are gorgeous nonetheless.
To add to its already modern feel, Street Vision even threw in a power window system to replace that ancient wind-up window system.
The interior, though not stock, is totally awesome. Street Vision took great care to custom fabricate this interior to make it look like it belongs in a `55 Thunderbird, but once it’s powered up you know it’s modern. Great job by these guys and gals.
Engine and Drivetrain
Under the factory hood there lays a beast that is anything but factory. This is a modular 4.6-liter V-8 engine that came from a Mustang Mach 1 . Slapped on top of this already awesome engine is an Eaton supercharger usually only reserved for the Mustang Cobra, featuring an intercooler to keep that forced air nice and cold.
In order to make this modern-day V-8 work on this classic rod, a fuel injection wiring harness was custom fabricated by Detail Zone and an SCT chip with a Pro Dyno tune was tossed in. Bolted onto the engine are a cold air intake and a set of Sanderson block hugger headers, which help with clearance in the crowded engine bay, bolted to a set of true dual exhaust pipes. This cranks this 4.6-liter V-8 to an astonishing 451 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque at the rear wheels. That’s right; none of this at the flywheel bull, these guys measured what’s hitting the concrete.
Behind this powerful V-8 engine is a Tremec 3650 five-speed manual transmission, which was also harvested from a Mach 1 Mustang. Street Vision shortened up the donor Mach 1’s driveshaft, rebalanced it, and connected it between the Tremec five-speed and the 8.8-inch rear axle. An extra shirt set of 3.27 gears are housed in this 8.8-inch rear end, which drops its acceleration time, but greatly increases its drivability at highway speeds, or slightly higher.
Suspension and Braking
There are loads of modifications done on the suspension of this `55 T-bird too. On the underside, you will find the suspension from a Mustang II. Yeah, that’s right, despite us detesting the Mustang II (AKA the Mustang Pinto) it was a very nice handling car in its era. The front and rear suspension both feature a sway bar, the rear being a 1-inch bar and the front being a massive 1.5 inches. The T-bird’s subframe is a custom Fat Man setup, making the front end more rigid and a boxed “X” member connect the two rear frame rails, giving it greater strength. Wrapped around the aftermarket 17-inch wheels are a set of 245/40ZR17 BF Goodrich G-Force T/A Radials, which are good for plenty of stickiness.
The front brakes on this Pro Touring T-bird are 11.5-inch Brake Tech discs squeezed by heavy-duty calipers fed via braided brake lines. The rear brakes are 10-inch discs from a Mustang Cobra. The brake system’s heart is the donor Mach 1’s Hydraboost braking system.
We absolutely love the fact that Street Vision didn’t just load this T-bird up with power and some cool tech features, but also modded the frame and suspension to handle all of that extra muscle. We bet this beast handles like a modern-day sports car, despite the relatively outdated rear leaf spring suspension.
Now onto the fun part, how much does it cost? First, let’s examine the actual worth of a `55 Thunderbird. Despite its beauty, it only has a worth of about $53,000 in mint condition, per NADA. However, this is not your typical mint condition T-bird, it’s fully customized and ready to kick ass. Though the $109,900 price tag attached to this custom bird may seem high, we think it is just right for this classic one-off model.
This is like the entry level market of RKM’s Pro Touring series of cars, so there really isn’t much competition. The Pro Touring Sting Ray `Vette comes close, but it is in a different class of vehicles. This puts this T-bird in its own little class all by itself.
We absolutely love this car. Yeah, we usually hate when custom car companies start modifying classics for the modern era, but when they are done right, we love `em. And this 1955 Thunderbird Pro Touring is done to absolute perfection!
If you can afford to fork out the $110K to buy it, we say to snag this one up and sit on it for a few years. In 10 to 20 years, you will likely double your money on this, as not only is it beautifully restored, but perfectly modified to modern standards without taking away from its original beauty.
- Awesome custom job while retaining its original look
- Sweet interior
- Upgraded suspension and engine
- Slightly high price, but still fair
- Should have kept some type of chrome bumpers
- We preferred analogue instruments to digital
Gallery Ford Thunderbird Pro Touring
There’s something to be said about the shape of an early Thunderbird. It’s pure, clean and looks so light that you just want to jump in the driver’s seat and toss it around the track all day. With this killer, take-no-prisoners 1955 Thunderbird Pro Tourer, you can do just that. Completed in August 2010, it features a customized all steel body, a modular Mustang Mach 1 powertrain, a Mustang II suspension with a ton of bolt on upgrades and a comfortable, modern interior.
Custom built by Street Visions in Waxhaw NC, this all steel ’55 T-bird took one year to build and underwent 1300 hours of restoration and customization. Use of a steel body resulted in gaps that are much better than you find on typical fiberglass Thunderbird Pro Tourers and everything lines up extremely well, from the original scooped hood to the modified deck lid. Once the body was completely smooth and straight, it was covered with a thick coat of Dupont Chroma Merlot Burgundy Metallic basecoat/clearcoat that has an excellent finish and displays a brilliant shine. A few liberties were taken with the body to enhance the predatory look of this piece. At the front of the car, a custom fascia houses new halogen headlights in traditional T-bird hoods above blue tinted fog lights that are a direct fit where the cars turn signals used to be. Between those lights, a chrome mesh grille replaces the traditional Thunderbird stainless grille and extends down to where the cars bumper would normally sit. Behind the headlights, a stock Thunderbird hood sits below a correct Thunderbird scoop that houses chrome mesh inserts and features chrome “Supercharged” badges on each of its sides. Below the hood, the car’s front fenders incorporate custom fender vents with chrome mesh inserts and serve as the starting point for slick painted ghost flames that continue to the rear fenders. On the doors you’ll find custom rear view mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and traditional chrome T-bird door handles above stainless covered lock cylinders. At the front of the doors, a traditional curved Thunderbird windshield is cleared by custom Newport Engineering stainless wipers and housed in pristine stainless trim. Connected to the top of that windshield is a tan Haartz cloth convertible top with a plastic rear window. Below that plastic rear window, straight rear fenders house chrome trimmed LED tail lights, custom cut exhaust outlets and showroom fresh “Thunderbird” scripts. At the back of the car, a modified deck lid features a stainless lock cover, and a custom fabricated rear fascia replaces the traditional ’55 bumper.
Back in 1955, this Thunderbird would’ve had a 292 cubic inch Y-block V8 under the hood that cranked out maybe 200 horsepower. Today, when you pop the hood you’ll find a high-revving modular DOHC 4.6L Ford Mustang Mach 1 motor that is fed by an intercooled Mustang Cobra Eaton supercharger. To make everything communicate properly and perform without fail, a Detail Zone electronic fuel injection wiring harness and an SCT chip tuned by Pro Dyno were installed and the result was a very stout 451 horsepower and 417 lb./ft. of torque at the rear wheels. In front of the motor, a custom aluminum radiator by Arrow is equipped with a Sparco fan to take care of cooling. Behind that fan, a serpentine belt, that is standard equipment from the Mach 1, sits below a modified cold air intake and turns an inverted alternator. At the sides of the motor, coated Sanderson block hugger headers send exhaust into a true dual exhaust system with Magnaflow performance mufflers. The engine bay is completely finished with a satin black firewall and body colored hood and inner fenders. And the exceptionally clean engine features stainless fuel rails, chrome valve covers with body matched coil covers and a stainless Spectre breather. This motor is show ready and reliable enough to head wherever the road takes you. No more tuning carburetors, all you need to do is get in, turn the key, and it fires up instantly, idles perfectly, and pulls like a freight train.
There is more to this car than just a trick engine. Take a look underneath and you’ll find a Mustang II suspension with a Fat Man front sub frame and a custom boxed and modded X-member. Bolted under the front of the car is a heavy duty 1.5 inch sway bar, 11.5 inch Brake Tech disc brakes with braided lines, power steering from the Mach 1 donor car and a Flaming River stainless steering shaft and joints. Bolted under the back of the car you’ll find Mustang II leaf springs, a heavy duty 1 inch sway bar, custom Cal Trac style rear control bars and Mustang Cobra 11 inch rear disc brakes. Sending power to the wheels is the Mach 1 donor cars Tremec 3650 5-speed manual transmission. Behind that transmission is a shortened and balanced Mustang Mach 1 driveshaft that is connected to an 8.8 inch rear axle with 3.27 gears. Stopping is aided by the Mach I donor cars Hydraboost brake system, and go-juice is supplied by a Tanks Inc. 16 gallon stainless fuel tank with an internally mounted high volume fuel pump. The bottom of the car looks awesome with Chrysler Almond Metallic paint adorning the frame and Lizard Skin undercoating protecting the floor pans from the elements. At the corners, 17 inch TSW eight spoke aluminum wheels have been dipped in chrome and wear 245/40 z-rated BF Goodrich G-Force T/A radials.
The wow factor doesn’t end there. Inside you’ll find a completely custom-built interior that is a modern interpretation of the already stylish 1955 Thunderbird’s cockpit. Behind the curved windshield a custom fabricated and painted dash displays some of the best workmanship I’ve ever seen. A polished Grant steering wheel with a Mahogany rim sits on an Ididit column in front of classy looking Dakota Digital LED gauges. On the dash itself, chrome trimmed vents for the Vintage Air climate control system complement a locking glove box and a billet aluminum handle for the headlights. Below the dash a custom built and custom covered center console houses controls for the Vintage Air system, a Hurst short throw shifter and a Kenwood system that features an AM/FM radio, a CD and DVD player, XM and MP3 capability, navigation and Bluetooth connectivity which includes a steering wheel mounted mic. Custom seats that were fabricated out of Toyota parts, are covered in Katzkin leather and sit on new Hushmat and new carpet. Beside you, custom door panels feature painted toppers, leather covers with custom arm rests, chrome trimmed courtesy lights, new Relic power windows and Rocky Hinge billet door handles. The trunk is nicely finished as well, with matching carpets and side panels and a trick hidden fuel filler. The car even comes with Viper keyless entry, a power antenna and remote start; there’s absolutely nothing in this car that wasn’t done to the highest standards.
On a hand-built car like this, documentation is everything. Included with this car is a CD of completed build pictures and a build sheet that has a categorized break down of the car, a list of all the companies used during the build and maintenance specifications for the aftermarket parts.
This 1955 Thunderbird is an extremely impressive Pro Touring car that will eat any original T-Birds lunch six days a week and twice on Sunday. It features a great looking vintage shape and benefits from 50 additional years of technology. If you’re looking for something a little different with a lot of horsepower and enough eyeball appeal to bring home a trophy at virtually any show you attend, this is the roadster for you. Call now!