Inherited 1955 Ford Thunderbird Has NASCAR Link

WATERTOWN, CT – It’s not farfetched to think that Ed Montambault of Watertown was perhaps born with motor oil in his veins. His full name is Edward Montambault III and he’s the third generation owner of Montambault’s Auto Supply and Service Center in Waterbury. 

Montambault’s grandfather, Edward Montambault Sr., opened the business in 1934. His father, Edward Montambault Jr, assumed control in 1955. “He was a hot rodder,” Montambault  said of his dad. 

“We were the first speed shop in Waterbury. My dad was an innovator. He got a lot of stuff coming from California. Every old-timer in Waterbury that ever had a car was spending their paycheck at our place on pay day.”

Ed Montambault behind the wheel of his 1955 Ford Thunderbird

Montambault spent time “sweeping corners at the shop growing up. When I turned 16, I had built a ’68 Pontiac LeMans.” 

The LeMans was his first car upon getting his driver’s license. He’d modified it in anticipation of reaching driving age, replacing the Pontiac’s automatic transmission with a Muncie four-speed. He also added Hooker headers, Holley carburetors and a Crane cam.

Montambault recalled the project back in late October when My Ride visited his house to inspect his glistening two-seat 1955 Ford Thunderbird convertible, which he inherited after his father passed away in 2017. 

See the 1955 Ford Thunderbird in action in this YouTube video…

His father had purchased the T’bird used in 1958 and owned it for 59 years. “He was always into cars and this one caught his attention. He was a car collector over the years. All the cars he ever owned, this was the only one he talked about keeping forever,” Montambault said.

Coincidentally, Montambault is also the third owner of the Thunderbird. The car’s original owner was Carlton Stevens, founder of the Stevens Company, which began in 1945 in Waterbury and is now located in Thomaston.

Montambault reported that like his father, Stevens was also into cars. “He was friends with Russ Truelove who ran the sands at Daytona Beach, bought his 312(-cubic-inch V8)  backup motor and put it in before my dad bought it.” 

The engine in the 1955 Ford Thunderbird

Truelove was an early NASCAR driver, a Waterbury native who died six years ago at age 93. Stevens died in 1970 at 72. The Stevens Company website reports that he served in the military as a motorcycle courier during World War I and rode 287 miles across France to deliver news of the Armistice to General John J. Pershing.

While it was Stevens who replaced the T’bird’s engine, it was Montambault’s father who swapped out the factory transmission. “My dad put a four-speed back in the early 60s ’cause he didn’t like the automatic in it, and it’s just a fun car to drive with the four-speed in it.”

Somewhere along the way, the rear fender skirts on the T’bird got removed, presumably to make it look sportier. “Back in the day, people trimmed them to match the front fender. They lipped ’em; took the fender skirt off,” Montambault said. “I actually like the car a little bit better with the rear lip.”

Since acquiring the Thunderbird, Montambault has added disc brakes. He’s also kept it looking like new. “It’s got 40,000 miles on it. The car’s never been hit,” he said. 

Ford introduced the Thunderbird at an auto show in Detroit in February 1954 and it went on sale as a 1955 model in September 1954. The first-generation was a two-seat sports car that lasted for three model years. Ford’s website reveals that the company considered such names as Beaver, Detroiter and Runabout before deciding to apply the Thunderbird name.

Montambault views the early T’birds as being a “nice alternative” to Chevrolet’s Corvette, which had arrived a year earlier. “They were unique for the time. They had some nice highlights,” he said of the Thunderbird. 

“The ’55 had the bullets in the front, the chrome tail pipes in the rear. They changed it a little bit as they went to ’56 and ’57 but I think they did a nice job when they first came out with (the) ’55 to head-to-head with the Corvette.”

Montambualt’s father was a life-long car lover and was 82 years old when he passed away seven years ago. “He probably had at least 15 to 20. When he passed away, he had eight or nine,” he said.

“This car here was always one of our family favorites. When he passed away, my brother and sister passed on it, and I took it.”

Montambault said Thunderbird drives like a car of its era. “It’s not a 100 mile an hour car, but it’s a nice 50 to 60 mile a hour car. Pretty solid,” he said.

“I love driving this car. A smile on your face every time you’re driving down the road. When I’m in that car and it’s running, It’s a smile from ear to ear until I get out of it.”

About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A graduate of Vermont Academy prep school, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

Leave a Reply