Don Von Dwingelo's 1956 Ford

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The first version of Don's Thunderbird as it appeared in 1959.
The second version of Don's Thunderbird made its debut at the 10th annual Hartford Autorama in 1960.
Photo from the Anthony White collection.
Don's Thunderbird at the 1961 Hartford Autorama. Photo from The Brian Frederick Photo Collection.

1956 Ford Thunderbird owned by Jane and Don Von Dwingelo of North Haledon, New Jersey. The restyling was done by Don and Tony Bruskivage, and the first version of the car featured a custom frontal area built around 1958 Lincoln quad headlights. A new grille was fabricated to fit the new front. The rear end and quarter panels were custom made featuring 1959 Buick taillights and 1957 Studebaker Hawk fins. The front bumper was scrapped in favor of a rolled pan, and the rear bumper was replaced by a newer 1957 Ford Thunderbird bumper. Side pipes ran down the body sides, and the door handles were shaved and replaced by Lincoln push-buttons.The interior was done in rolled and pleated black Naugahyde, and a custom instrument panel was fit with Stewart-Warner gauges. The chassis was modified in order to lower the car. Heavy duty suspension, traction masters and a posh-traction rear was installed along with a 400hp full race 1958 Oldsmobile engine. The engine featured 6 2-barrel carbs.[1]

The first version of the Thunderbird won many top awards, but at the 10th annual Hartford Autorama indoor show Don debuted a second version of the car. The second version featured a radically restyled front end featuring a brand new grille opening incorporating dual headlamps from a 1960 Chevrolet. After completing the bodywork, the body was painted with 16 coats of red lacquer. The hardtop was cream speckled with gold. The car was still upholstered in black Naugahyde seats and a black, piled rug flecked with gold dust. The dash sported Stewart Warner gauges and a white radiotelephone. The full race 1958 Oldsmobile 461 cubic-inch engine still lured under the hood. Don's Thunderbird did the flying mile at 164 mph, standing quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds. When the car was featured in Mechanix Illustrated April 1962 it had supposedly won 182 trophies in car shows throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. By then, Don was also living in Paramus, New Jersey.[2]

Magazine Features

Rodding and Re-styling July 1960
Rodding and Re-styling August 1960
Car Craft September 1961
Car Craft February 1962
Mechanix Illustrated April 1962
Kustoms Illustrated 23


  1. The 1960 Hartford Autorama Souvenir Program
  2. Mechanix Illustrated April 1962

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