Ford Thunderbolt sold, will race from AutoHunter to new museum

In the mid-1960s, Ford’s lightweight Fairlane Thunderbolt set records on the drag strips, and one of the 60 or so survivors has set yet another record, this one for the highest transaction price on the AutoHunter collector car auction website.  

Soon, the car will travel to its new home, a planned museum up near the Arctic Circle.

The buyer of the car is Doug Gonder, who lives in Whitehorse, capital city of Canada’s Yukon Territory. Gonder’s family moved from southern Ontario to the far north when he was “a kid,” he said in an interview.  

At first, he was disappointed to be leaving behind a vibrant car culture, but he soon learned that, in retrospect, “Whitehorse was like a mini-American Graffiti in the old days,” he said, remembering how the locals would line up on both sides of a roadway for impromptu drag races; folks still talk about the time the ’67 Chevelle beat the ’67 Mustang in one of those races.

“I’ve been a car fanatic since I was old enough to know the makes and models,” he said, adding that the “gassers” – cars custom-built for drag racing – “were a fascination for me.”

“I wanted to be a car designer but was never as good as Chip Foose.”

427-cubic-inch big-block Ford V8 was built for speed

Instead, after moving to Whitehorse, and long before there was an internet to feed his interest, Gonder read car magazines and books and worked in his family’s business, which he grew to the point that he could begin to collect cars, especially those with drag racing history. 

His favorites were Fords, especially those powered by the company’s heralded big-block 427cid V8, and his collection also includes some important Mercury Comets and even “a couple of Dodge Hemi cars.”

Gonder said he followed Ford Thunderbolts as they came up for sale. He chased several but couldn’t strike the right deal. 

He had bought another collector car just before Jim, the seller, put his Thunderbolt up for bidding on AutoHunter, he said. 

“When this one came up, I thought, ‘heck, I can’t buy two cars in a row’,” Gonder said. “But I got talking with Jim and we made a deal and I acquired it.”

Gonder, who will soon celebrate his 61st birthday, said he has purchased cars by phone bidding at live auctions, but that the Thunderbolt was his first online transaction. 

This car was built to fulfill the need for speed

He called AutoHunter a “great way” to buy a car, not only for the extensive library of photos showing the car in detail, but the way he could communicate with the seller when he had questions about the vehicle. He said he got a “good feel” for the car through that communication. 

“I think it’s a good deal for the buyer and the seller,” he said, adding that in these times of the coronavirus, “you’re not traveling, especially right now when you can’t get over the border.”

Ah, yes, the closed border between Canada and the US. Buyer and seller hope to meet in the late spring to do the actual handoff of the Thunderbolt.

Once home in Whitehorse, the car will be featured in the new non-profit museum Gonder is creating for his collection. One of the family businesses was a Chevron filling station, and Gonder has a collection of Chevron petroliana dating to the 1930s, as well as a collection of neon signs. The museum may have a vintage-gas-station backdrop for displaying Gonder’s collection of around 20 rare muscle cars. 

“What’s it for? You don’t drive them,” Gonder said of his collection. “But it’s a passion and I’m lucky enough to acquire them and (now to) put them on display.”

And it won’t necessarily be a case of build it and they will come because Whitehorse, located at the intersection of the Alaskan Highway and the Yukon River, already is a tourist destination, especially for people interested in the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th Century, when around 100,000 prospectors invaded northwestern Canada.

Before too long, those visitors also will have a car museum to enjoy, and a special 1964 Ford Thunderbolt to see in person.

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