Tom Kitchen, a NASCAR history...
Tom Kitchen, a NASCAR history buff, produced a super-accurate replica of Fireball Roberts' '57 Ford Grand National race car. Kitchen actually saw the real version run at Daytona.
Fifty years ago, he was one of the kings of NASCAR. Even today, his name is still spoken with the same reverence as Richard Petty's and Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s Glenn Roberts certainly fulfilled his "Fireball" nickname from his daring performances on the NASCAR racetracks.
Tom Kitchen of Tampa remembers the aggressive driving style of Roberts. "He was my NASCAR hero back when I was a kid, and I certainly don't feel any different about him today," Tom says.
To that end, Kitchen decided to re-create his favorite Fireball car to the most minute detail. To accomplish this daunting task, he undertook serious research in the Daytona Archives, numerous books, the personal photos provided by Pamela Roberts (Fireball's daughter), and consultations with Fireball's best friend and teammate, Marvin Panch.
So, which of Fireball's many cars would he re-create? It was a tough choice, but Kitchen decided it would be the '57 Ford that Roberts ran during the first part of that season. "It was significant, since you could use any engine that was being offered by the company for public sale. That year, you could get a 300 horsepower, supercharged 312-cid engine, and that's exactly what he had under the hood until NASCAR barred it later that same season," says Tom.
But even though the completed replica would be basically stock-appearing from the outside, that certainly wasn't the case under that heavy sheetmetal. To create the Fireball clone, there was a ton of work to be done, and Kitchen did it correctly, to the smallest detail.
"I started out with a fairly good '57 Custom 'D' Code body," Kitchen says.
The extensions on the forward...
The extensions on the forward edges of the rear bumper were requested by the teams to prevent two cars from hooking together. But the smooth extension reportedly provided an aerodynamic advantage.
Heavy-duty factory wheels...
Heavy-duty factory wheels were the standard during the period, with these coming from a Ford station wagon. Wheels from trucks were also used. The car has vintage 8.00x14 bias-ply tires.
That "Supercharged" nomenclature...
That "Supercharged" nomenclature on the hood was something that you didn't expect to see in NASCAR. But the engine could be ordered in '57 Fords, which made it legal with NASCAR-at least during the first part of the season.
With most of the sheetmetal very usable, Kitchen painted the underside black and covered the headlights and taillights. Per the custom at the time, the rear bumpers were extended forward along the rear quarter to avoid hooking another car. This also provided a bit of an aerodynamic advantage.
To keep the front-hinged hood from opening at speed, there was a pair of hooks on the body in front of the windshield and two more on the hood rear. They were hooked together with a stretch rope, which held the hood in place. There was also a door handle on the right side of the hood to aid a crewman in lifting it to gain access to the engine compartment.
The trunk lid hold-down mechanism had two hooks behind the bumper and a single hook on the trunk, with a stretch rope passing through all three hooks.
Interestingly, the stock stainless steel side-body trim was retained and actually used in the racing paint scheme. Even the stock door handles were retained, but it has to be noted that the doors were prevented from opening by molded metal strips on both sides. All the factory window glass was still in position.
In race trim, the wheels (minus wheel covers) were heavy-duty Ford station wagon units along with larger 8.00x14 tires. The color scheme was carefully copied with the familiar red-and-white detailing. All the correct decals and stickers are in their exact positions, and the passenger side of the car even sports a trio of tire marks.
And you better believe those "Supercharged 300 HP" statements on the hood really got your attention. That was big-time horsepower for the period.
Kitchen continues, "There were a number of red-and-white cars at the time, so the team created a way to immediately identify Fireball when he came into view. They put a large white cross on the left-front headlight, which could be easily viewed with binoculars. This was before in-car radios."
You don't have to look twice...
You don't have to look twice to realize that the stock aspects of this 50-year-old model have been mostly retained. The model identification of the era was one of the strong points of the sport back in the day.
As can be clearly noted, all...
As can be clearly noted, all the factory trim was still in position. Here, the chrome strip fits around the windshield and around the windows. Also, note that nifty 1957 NASCAR decal.
With a number of red and white...
With a number of red and white cars competing that long-ago season, it was necessary to figure out a way to identify Fireball's car. It was done with a white "X" covering the left headlight.