Regal’s chassis is built with...
Regal’s chassis is built with a 4x2x3/16-inch rectangular-tube four-bar frame. The 102-inch wheelbased chassis is built to allow for more suspension and rubber. The Thunder employs a Ford 9-inch rear, but Regal is completing its own in-house IRS for one-stop shopping.
With the resurgence of the Ford Thunderbird in the Blue Oval line this year, a look at Regal Roadsters’ ’55 Thunder is in order. This replicar is built the way a ’55 T-bird would look if it was a real-gone hot rod, modified using 21st-century technology.
Chuck Siewert, of Madison, Wisconsin–based Regal Roadsters, has a simple strategy: To build the classy and classic ’55 Ford Thunderbird, and finish it as if it were customized by a ’50s hotrodder using 21st century technology. In that context, the Regal Thunder is not a replicar, but a T-bird–inspired custom rod.
The version pictured here is owned by Jim Wagenknecht of Freeport, Illinois. Jim had his car brought to last year’s Carlisle Kit Car Nationals, and he allowed Chuck to show it off to throngs of admirers.
Regal Roadsters chief Chuck...
Regal Roadsters chief Chuck Siewert (driver) is often asked how one gets inside the Thunder when it has its hardtop on, since shaved door handles makes entry difficult. He uses a remote alarm system that rolls down windows for easy access.
Jim has two big-block Cobra replicas in his garage and wanted something he could drive down the street or take on cruises with his wife, Charyl. He chose the Thunder for its class, look, ride, and vigor—he chose 502 ci of Bow Tie power, rather than Blue Oval horses, to propel it.
Chuck began the project with a Regal custom frame—one of five he offers. This one has a 4x2x3/16-inch rectangular-tube four-bar frame, and a Ford 9-inch rear. The body is 100 percent authentic in size and shape—Regal manufactures replacement parts for original ’Birds, and the 102-inch wheelbased chassis is built to allow for more suspension. The inner fender wells are modified and the rear is tubbed. This allows for more rubber—17-inch wheel and tires on this one as opposed to 15 inches on the original—and 4 more inches of suspension travel. This gives the Thunder a much softer ride and lower spring rates than you could get in 1955.
Also included were Moser Engineering front axles, a parallel four-bar-link setup, Aldan coilovers, Wilwood brakes, and an ididit polished aluminum billet column shift. The Mustang II front suspension comes in variations of tubular A–arms with coilover shocks, or air-ride suspension, Mustang II spindles, master cylinder, rack-and-pinion steering and power booster, and a stainless steel gas tank.
Chuck can change the look...
Chuck can change the look of the Regal Thunder by installing the hardtop, which takes only a few minutes.
Jim and his buddy, Dan Dubes, did most of the assembling, but the car was shuttled back and forth to Regal Roadsters for the fine-tuning. Regal gave them all the components and the frame, and the pair assembled the rolling chassis. Jim supplied the GM Goodwrench 502ci crate engine, 30-lb. GM fuel injectors, Street & Performance Super Custom fuel injection, Edelbrock aluminum water pump, K&N air cleaner, Jet Hot exhaust finish, Sanderson 2-inch headers, and B&M TH 400 transmission. Jim went for performance over power, as his setup pops out 450 horses and can propel the car to a top speed of about 140 mph, though he prefers to take these rides more conservatively than he does when he is behind the wheel of his Cobras.
When the rolling chassis was completed, Jim put it on a trailer and hauled it to Regal, where the body was installed after it had been painted PPG Mercedes Benz Yellow. Jim took it back for wiring (Painless wiring harness) and brake plumbing.
The car is stylish with the...
The car is stylish with the top on or off, with wheel skirts in place or put away, and with or without optional rear fender flares built into the body.
Then it was back on the trailer for another trip to Regal for the interior and upholstery work: door panels, dash pads, carpeting, soundproofing, and billet and stainless tubular grille and bumper work. The dashboard is custom-made by Regal, with Dakota Digital instrumentation, a LeCarra steering wheel, and a leather dash cover to match the buckskin upholstery on the custom bucket seats. Jim opted for the comfort and style of buckets rather than go with original-looking bench seats like the ones that came with the ’55.
For 21st-century creature comforts, Jim made the interior his own, with Vintage Air air conditioning, electric windows, Sony radio and CD player, and full Spal alarm system.
Chuck is often asked how one gets inside the Thunder when it has its hardtop on, since shaved door handles makes entry difficult. “With the alarm system, all you have to do is press a button on the remote, and the window rolls down for unlocking either on the driver or passenger side. The other buttons are for the alarm,” he says.
Jim Wagenknecht outfitted...
Jim Wagenknecht outfitted his T-bird with a GM Goodwrench 502ci crate engine, Street & Performance Super Custom fuel injection, and an Edelbrock aluminum water pump. The setup provides about 450 hp.
From start to finish, the project took under a year, and Jim is happy and free as a ’Bird, cruising the countryside in his Thunder.
After 21 years in business, Chuck is happy with the Thunder and has no plans to enlarge the line, despite Ford’s foray back into the T-bird market. He recently gave plant tours to several tech colleges and when students asked about the new ’02 T-bird, Chuck said, “I am glad the way it looks. It is being touted as an old ’Bird but it doesn’t look like an old ’Bird. It looks modified and new. For an old ’Bird, even one customized for 21st-century tastes, hobbyists still have to come here.”
Regal is concentrating on new options for its Thunder and T-bird designs and Chuck is finishing an independent rear suspension package so the buyer doesn’t have to hunt one down in Blue Oval country. It looks like one-stop shopping in Wisconsin for those who like their Thunder on four wheels and with style. Jim Wagenknecht likes it that way, and now he has thunder in his garage to keep his Snakes company.
BFG P245/45R17s tires in front...
BFG P245/45R17s tires in front and P275/40R17s in back sit on 17x9-inch Ford SVO Cobra R wheels.
Jim Wagenknecht finished off...
Jim Wagenknecht finished off this stunning Thunder with PPG Mercedes Benz Yellow paint and a base/clear urethane top coat.
The dashboard is custom-made...
The dashboard is custom-made by Regal. This version has Dakota Digital instrumentation, a LeCarra steering wheel, and an ididit polished billet steering wheel.