1987 Ford Thunderbird: The Car That Made Bill Elliott the Fastest Driver in NASCAR History

Published 12/04/2023, 3:55 PM EST

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There was a reason why Bill Elliott won the NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award 16 times. With his dashing skills behind the wheel, he not only amazed the fans but also made the sport an entertaining affair. While his talent knew no bounds, his 1987 Ford Thunderbird played a key role in making him the fastest driver in NASCAR history.

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It is no secret how Elliott enjoyed competing in superspeedway races. After all, with 19 superspeedway victories to his name, the Georgia-born driver showed that he thrived best under more speedy tracks.

Bill Elliott made history in 1987 with his Ford Thunderbird

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In the 1980s, Bill Elliott raced against some elite drivers like Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, and many others. In the process, he made sure he brought his best to the track. Ultimately, Elliott triumphed in his battle as he won the Winston Cup in 1988.

While that was an achievement to be proud of, what he did a year prior to the title victory was even more special. Driving for Melling Racing, Elliott was making all the noise both with his performance and Ford Thunderbird. With a Ford V-8 engine, 625 horsepower, and a steel tube frame, the car was a beast on the track.

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A car of this stature gave “Awesome Bill” some serious advantage on the track. In fact, he displayed his dominance quite effectively in the 1987 season. Elliott won the Daytona 500 pole position with a lightning speed of 210.364 mph. If that wasn’t enough, what he did at Talladega Superspeedway was even more mind-blowing.

Without restrictor plates in place, Elliott went full throttle on the 2.66-mile Alabama track. He once again won the pole position but this time with a lap of 212.809 mph. While he comfortably set a track record, his record remains intact 36 years later as it remains the fastest single qualifying lap in the Cup Series history.

Amazingly, it took Elliott only 44.998 seconds to drive a full lap in the Winston 500 then. While his limelight was stolen by Bobby Allison’s wreck in the main race, his record remains an unbeatable one. Rusty Wallace clocked 216.309 miles per hour but unfortunately, it was during the trial run to test the performance of radio equipment at high speed.

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Indeed, it is a difficult record to break. While Elliott remained humble about it, he couldn’t be more proud of the achievement.

Bill Elliott takes immense pride in registering the qualifying record at Talladega Superspeedway

There is no doubt that Bill Elliott did almost the impossible. With the restrictor plates in place right now, it looks very unlikely his Talladega Superspeedway record will be broken. And rightly so, he and his team put in a lot of effort back in the day to achieve it.

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As reported by ESPN in 2017, Elliott had his say on the fastest car record. He said, “I think the qualifying record at Talladega just kind of puts an exclamation point on our legacy. I’m talking about for our whole family – me, Dan, Ernie and my dad.” At the same time, Bill Elliott realized that had it not been for restrictor plates, his record would have been comfortably broken by now.

He said, “If you unrestricted the cars, and with the way technology is today, I don’t know why they wouldn’t go over there and run 225-230. I mean, we had 625 horsepower back then and now they’ve got 850 to the rear wheels. If you put all of that together today, the sky is the limit.”

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Elliott’s probably right about it but it is what it is. Also, they don’t make the cars like the 1987 Ford Thunderbird. In fact, the record-breaking Elliott’s Thunderbird has been well preserved and donated to The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, MI. While it is displayed with plenty of other special vehicles, it has a unique story of its own.

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Written by:

Priyank Mithani

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One take at a time

I was a little kid when Dale Earnhardt said, ?The winner ain't the one with the fastest car, it's the one who refuses to lose.? Years have passed and those words could not be more true. Having grown fond of motorsports at a young age, I?m strongly addicted to the adrenaline rush the sport offers.
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Edited by:

Nischal Kandpal

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