A Hilborn Injected, 392ci Hemi T-Bird Sleeper
Tom Curnow's '55T-Bird with Hilborn Injected Hemi Power
Curnow has that vision in abundance and he put it to good use building his own personal tribute car for legendary racer and friend Art Chrisman who had built the engine for Frank Cannon's original Hemi powered T-Bird that graced the cover of Hot Rod Magazine in January 1958. Tom admired Cannon's T-bird from his earliest days and once he had the opportunity, he rendered a faithful modern day duplicate.
Cannon and the Chrisman brothers became close friends and the T-Bird ultimately became the springboard for a budding racing partnership that led to the Chrisman Brothers and Cannon "Hustler" dragster; all because Cannon had bet Mickey Thompson $300 that his egine could run over 150 mph in a dragster; which it ultimately did. Curnow's modern version of that car is a tribute to Frank Cannon and the Chrisman brothers who catapulted to drag racing fame with an injected Hemi engine lifted from Frank's "55 T-Bird.
Engine 392ci A Block Chrysler Hemi
Crankshaft Stock forged 392 Crankshaft (std/std)
Pistons Forged Arias, .030 over stock bore
Rods Molnar Technologies Steel Rods with ARP 2000 bolts
Comp. Ratio 10.25:1
Heads Hot Heads aluminum cylinder heads
Head Gaskets Cometic Head Gaskets
Camshaft Isky, Custom Hydraulic Cam
I/E 203°/212°, 0.438/0.468 Lift, 114° LSA with 106° centerline
Pushrods Smith Brothers Adjustable Push Rods
Induction 1957 Hilborn CHY-331-392 Fuel Injector
Modified for installation of electronic injectors
Plenum Custom “below the valley cover” plenum chamber plumbed to the intake
ports provides vacuum reference for proper IAC operation
Injectors 43-lb. injectors by Imagine Injection, Inc., Glendale Arizona
ECU Holley Dominator ECU, Holley FI wiring harness, dual Holley O2 sensors,
Holley Idle Air Control Valve, intake fuel pump
Ignition Scintilla Electronic Distributor with Hall Effect pick up, MSD 6AL CD ignition
Distributor designed by Steve Sbelgio’s Eclipse Engineering, Whittier , CA to provide
dead acurate timing and square wave signal for Holley ECU
Oiling System Hot Heads Modified 340 oil pump conversion
Timing Cover Hot Heads polished timing gear cover
Valve Covers Original 1958 392 Chrome Valve Covers and wire covers
Plug Wires Taylor
Exhaust Hot Heads cast iron exhaust manifolds
Mufflers Borla stainless mufflers
Engine by Joe Souza, Hawaii Racing , Simi Valley, CA
Tuning 40 hours of adjustments and tuning by Steve Sbelgio of Eclispe made the car
as smooth and dependable as a brand new Detroit vehicle , delivering over
500 horsepower and 22 mpg on the highway
Transmission Hughes GM L460E 4 speed automatic transmission, with R -700R4 tail shaft to accommodate mechanical speedometer, L460E electronic speedometer drive signals Holley ECU which controls transmission functions using speed sensor, MAP output, Throttle Position sensor and tach pickup
Rearend Stock Dana 44 with 3.23 ratio
Traction Bars Original “Traction Master” rear spring control
Lubricants Cam 2 motor oil, transmission fluid and rear end gear oil
Front Disc brakes, rear drum brakes
Remote Hydra Boost Power Brake system by Power Brake Service, Bob Sweeting
Rocket Wheels 6 x 15 polished
Coker American Classic Radial tires ( front)
Hurst Pie Crust Cheater Slicks
US Radiator Corp custom 3 pass brass radiator , polished header tank
Custom serpentine front drive system, now available from Gene Adams/ Claude Lavoie Early Hemi Parts
Cast aluminum water manifold (only cast unit that can be used with 392 Block using Hot Heads or Chrysler 354-555 heads)
Vintage Air MK1V under dash AC
Summit Racing 20 circuit wire harness, installed and customized by Eclispe Engineering, Whittier
Chassis modification and fab by Hawaii Racing, Simi Valley CA Rich Manchen of Bonneville Speed Demon fame was the chief fabricator.
Chrome by Verne’s Plating, Gardena CA
1956 Mercury Station Wagon tail lights (extremely rare and expensive)
The stock master cylinder was not up to the job of stopping the car so a complete Hydra-Boost power brake system by Bob Sweeting at Power Brake Service is mounted in the trunk to provide stopping power. It has proved fully capable of stopping the car with all the efficiecy of any modern muscle car.
The Molnar Technologies H Beam Chrysler Gen 1 392 rods used in this engine are machined from billet 4340 steel, and then heat treated to provide improved strength. To make the rods even stronger, they are shot peened which also increases fatigue life. Molnar 392 connecting rods are fitted with highly durable premium bronze bushings for use with floating pin type pistons. Each con rod set for a 392 engine includes ARP fasteners, moly lubricant and installation guidelines. Molnar 392 Hemi rods are finished in the United States at the Molnar Technologies shop in Michigan.
The car was restored for 2nd owner in 1998 (original owner lived next door) and Tom purchased it in 2003. The License plate frame is from is from Jessie E Smith Ford in Glendale. Jessie Smith started a Ford dealership in Glendale in 1915 and the family operated it until the mid-1960s. Tom was born in Glendale and his family were friends of the Smiths since 1939.
Tom's car is a great tribute to Frank Cannon and the Chrisman brothers; a team that exerted a profound influence on early drag racing and launched the Chrisman legacy. It's a fantastic re-creation of a mainstream fifties hot rod that retains its timeless appeal and qualifies as a genuine alternate supercar in an age of endless Camaros and Mustangs.
Frank Cannon's T-Bird was not red, so Curnow's vision is a departure from the original, but its an appropriate choice for a hot street car. It serves as a fitting reminder that great hot rods are built, not bought and you can often create a spectacular machine from a car that the guy before you overlooked. If you were driving a hot machine like this in the late fifties, you were one bad hot rodder. We'd say that is still the case today.
SPECIAL THANKS to:
Engine Swap photos by Rick Head