NASCAR’s T-Bird 430 and Olds 88
By Greg Zyla
Q: Hello Greg, in your column in Auto Round-Up Magazine about the T-Bird and the big engines, you mention the 430-inch V8. Thunderbird raced this engine in 1959, and it was available in both a street version and the (Holman-Moody) NASCAR racing version strictly for racing. The 1958 Thunderbirds had four coil springs, which was a poor setup for the NASCAR race cars. Ford raced the ’59 T-Birds with a better Holman-Moody suspension) and then moved over to the USAC stock cars when the 1958 ‘Birds were too old for the NASCAR events. I had a Thunderbird in high school and it was a 1959 with the 430 V8 engine and a 3-speed with overdrive transmission. It also had a sunroof.
Also, the Olds 88 in NASCAR was fast. I know the first 88 with the V8 came out in 1949 and NASCAR ran its first races in 1949. You’ve said before the Olds 88 was the first-ever muscle car. Can you please tell me more about how the car raced?
Keep up the good work, and I still recall the first Daytona 500 where the T-Bird of Johnny Beauchamp was flagged the winner in a photo finish with Lee Petty in an Olds, but then Petty got the win after NASCAR studied the photo a few days later. Keep up all of the good work and thanks for all of your columns. “Grandpa” Bob Dalsky, from Wausau, WI, retired in June of 2012.
A: Bob, thanks very much for the kind words. You are correct in your recall of the 1959 Thunderbird and its capability on the NASCAR racetracks. Many of the big name drivers started in these Holman-Moody prepared race cars, which could run with a hardtop on or off (see photo).
To this day, I really like the 1959 T-Bird both street and race versions and both command top dollar from collector enthusiasts.
As for the Olds 88, in my opinion, it really was the first-ever muscle car although Olds didn’t build it to become a muscle car. In NASCAR’s first season, the Olds 88 of champion Red Byron won two events, and the Olds brand won four of eight overall. In 1950, Olds 88 V8s scored 10 of 19 event wins and in 1951 20 of 41 NASCAR victories. In 1952, however, the Fabulous Hudson Hornets with a six-cylinder began to dominate, followed by the Chrysler 300s. Still, Olds went on to many wins through the late 1970s and 1980s, too. Today, it’s just Ford, Toyota and Chevy, with hopes of a Dodge return in the future.
Thanks for your letter and enjoy your retirement.