Ken Thompson's molecular make-up, and his complex, wonderfully bizarre machine, are proof that he cannot or will not follow convention. Current trends and styles mean nothing. To him, building a car is an absolute art, as true art must be, flowing from hands that take orders from a different mind's eye and a very special part of his brain-qualities that many of us just don't have.
His Falcon (yes, Falcon) is not meant to copy, emulate, or in any way imitate something that already exists or is likely to exist. It is his mission, his lonely but happy journey. It is simply a tangible extension of himself. Thank the gods for a thinker, innovator, and the very subjective mind of maverick Ken Thompson. To set the stage: "There's probably more engineering in this car than in 10 cars combined." Ken built the Falcon in its entirety, and there is a reason for every single part. Here, form is bound to follow function. OK, dawgs, pull your harness real tight. Ken's 'bout ready to take you for a ride into a different dimension.
His background is as wide as it is diverse, and surprise, it's always had to do with building race cars, dealing with the politics, dealing with the egos, but always remaining true to his vision.
Ken Thompson's a man of the South, born and nurtured in the heart of NASCAR country. He's always had an affinity for machinery of all kinds, so he learned their capabilities, their shortcomings, and their absolutely critical importance very early on. In his new world, you had to make what you needed because it wasn't for sale anywhere at any price. His attraction became his livelihood. Ken soon became very adept at fabrication and word got around. He was sought after for his considerable talent.
"I started at Holman and Moody in 1962, and worked there for about 12 years. John Holman sent me to Detroit-Dearborn, actually. There, I was working for Holman and Moody, but inside at Ford Motor. I did that for several months and then quit and worked for Ford [on its racing program] and stayed there for about four years. I returned to North Carolina in 1975. I had to come back home. It's always nice to come back home.
"I was with the program when Dale Earnhardt started driving NASCAR in 1979 and was on that particular team in 1979 and 1980 when we won the Rookie Championship and the Championship. Then I moved on and worked for the Skol outfit with Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds. I was there probably nine years. Then I did a short stint at Hendricks. Ever since, I've worked out of my home shop for at least 18 years. The whole time I was a fabricator. Anything they could dream up, I could produce the particular piece or the whole concept. It didn't matter. I feel that I am a very fortunate person in that I get to make a living doing what I enjoy-right here at home. Now you tell me, who wouldn't love to be in that position?"
So when he contemplated the Falcon, he envisioned nothing less than a full-on NASCAR-like construction plan-no frills, just facts. There was the guiding carcass, yes, but the rest of the car was assembled like a race machine with custom-crafted panels rather than common body stampings. The speed seed was Ken's underlayment. He wanted it to go very fast but still be completely tractable on the street. To produce the form he desired, he removed a 3-inch section from the middle of the body, widened it 4 inches, and put a 3-inch chop on the hand-fabbed roof. He crafted all of these things, including the doors, from aluminum.
"The reason for the hood scoop isn't for looks or anything like that," said Ken. "Because of where the turbocharger is mounted at the front and the top of the engine, I needed clearance and I needed a way to vent the super-heated air to the outside. The car's been widened right down the middle, reason being if you look at a car that's got this kind of suspension in it, most of them doors would be sorta flat and have a bubble at the rear for the rear wheel and also at the front. I didn't want that. I wanted it perfectly straight down the sides like a Falcon should be, so I widened the body accordingly. A lotta work just to achieve that. I had to make the windshield and the backlight out of two pieces of glass. It was quite a job."
Ken fabbed the perimeter frame from many feet of rectangular chromemoly and made provisions for some of the ancillaries where the trunk ought to be. Most prominent is the 17-quart dry sump tank located just forward of the third member. Adjunct to it a 12-point chromemoly rollcage is surrounded by yards of fresh-looking aluminum sheet, formed and fitted to the soul of the Falcon.
The inside of the phantom Ford is strictly grab-you-by-the-throat business. Not an ounce of carpet, not an inch of sound deadener, only a skimpy facsimile of the factory dashpad. He made the skeletal seats and had nary a thought about including a parasitic radio or, heaven forbid, air conditioning. James Pharr over in Boger City upholstered the spartan buckets in black and blue vinyl. About the only things that Ken didn't make are the Auto Meter gauges and the steering wheel. Just out of the shop a few months back, he's working on the laptop tune and sorting the chassis and suspension a little, but mostly it's simple, stark, completely without distraction, and right on the money ... and why wouldn't it be?
The engine bay is tuxedo sharp, crisp, angular lines surrounding the brutally serious Indy small-block Ford, Thompson's stainless steel snakes terminating at the big, fat Turbonetics snail as per the original factory plan. On the normally aspirated Indy engine, the headers on the rear-mounted engine grew from the inside of the engine valley usually reserved for the isolated intake runners on the intake manifolds. Here, the convention is totally reversed.
All the complexity and tight proximity of the pipes are truncated and aimed at the single turbo, as per Ken Thompson. Ken "balanced" the appearance with handmade aluminum plenum chambers sprouting from the middle of the DOHC cam covers. Bits and other distractions on the firewall and inner panels would only serve to complicate the already complex tableau. Thompson has showcased the engine as art, an icon of pure power and intricacy and only that. The unseen air-to-air intercooler is quenched by a CO2 sprayer.
"I found the motor in Maine-or I should say I found parts of it there-from my source, Jay Cushman. I was going to put a SOHC 427 in it, but Jay said, 'Well, they're in short supply, most of the stuff is used and cracked, and there's a shortage on cam bearings. Why don't you use some other engine?'
"'Well, what else do you have?' I said.
"'I got a Boss 429.'
"'Well, Jay, I've already had one of those in a '34 pickup. Uh, what else you got?'
"'I bought out Dan Gurney. I got summa those Gurney-Weslake Indy heads [that will bolt to standard 289 or 302 block].'
"'They look good an' all that,' I opined. 'But it's just another 289 or 302. It's not the same.'
Already at ant-level, the 4-inch-wider phantom Falcon looks wide angle and lower with its
"'Well, I bought AJ Foyt out, too,' he said matter-of-factly. 'You know that he ended up with all the stuff from the Ford Indy engine program.'"
Ford designed this engine in 1965 and ran it several years at The Brickyard. They did what they wanted with it and won the race several times. Some time after the fact they sold the whole operation to Foyt-for $1!
That was it, Ken mulled. He had to have that stuff. "I bought a block, cylinder heads, all the gears, pumps, and some camshafts. The rest of it I had to make or have made. I got a crankshaft made out of billet 4340 and some $2,700 Carrillo connecting rods with Carr bolts that are $50 apiece. I made an example of the piston I needed and sent it to Diamond ,and they had one that was close. The connecting rods are made out of a material called 300M, very exotic. It's not 4340 or anything like that, but more resembles steel than anything else. Things only weigh 536 grams.
"Aside from being basically one of a kind, one of the reasons I chose to use this engine was the bellhousing. It's from a '631/2 Falcon Sprint that had a 260ci V-8 engine, and the bolt pattern is a perfect match to the Indy block-not a 289, mind you, only the 260. But I had to modify it some to fit the Tremec five-speed. Even with the three-disc clutch, it's amazingly easy to drive around in traffic."
Meanwhile, this project more or less complete, Ken's submersed himself in a somewhat large endeavor. He's building seven 427 GT-40 Fords, as per the original blueprints, as per the six deposits already lining his piggy bank. The seventh such bastard will be his, of course.
Eventually, Ken will take the Falcon upstate to the Maxton Mile and get the empirical data he craves and discover how well this creature really does perform with 29 psi of positive manifold pressure. He's pretty sure it'll run 250. "I feel confident."