Last weekend’s Hot Rod Homecoming, hosted by Hot Rod Magazine (catch up on our coverage here and here), was filled with cars that had wonderful backgrounds and interesting stories. Today, we bring you one of them.
I met a nice gentleman named Denis LaBonge who had a special connection to not only one of the show cars at the event, but to Hot Rod Magazine itself. Denis provides wonderful detail in describing how this car came to be his own…
This ’57 Bird has remained in the family since 1957. Originally owned by Don Francisco, renowned Tech Editor of Hot Rod Magazine from 1952 through 1962 and later, published dozens of “How To” performance books still found on the desks of hot rodders today. This car’s first Hot Rod Magazine feature article in 1963 was centered around the very typical, popular trend to swap engines from one brand to power a car of another brand. In 1995-97, the car was restored and upgraded by family member Denis LaBonge. In 1998 Gray Baskerville, Hot Rod’s editorial legend of the lens, photographed it. It was once again featured in Hot Rod Magazine’s October 1998 edition with a new look in Ford Thunderbird 40th Anniversary Moonlight Blue paint and full restoration. Baskerville crowned the car with its new name: “Francisco’s Flyer.”
Denis’s comments: “In late 1962 I was barely 15 when my uncle, Don Francisco, HRM’s legendary tech editor asked me to assist him with a photo story he was doing about his ’57 Thunderbird. Little did I know that those very same 1962 photos & his story about blueprinting and swapping a Pontiac engine into that car would ultimately lead me to own it 35 years later! Today this T-Bird is driven frequently all over Southern California.”
The restoration in 1995-97 was accomplished originally under the supervision of Jim Travis along with Prestige Thunderbird in Whittier. Later improvements and upgrades were engineered by So-Cal Speed Shop’s Jimmy Shine in Pomona and most recently by Art & Mike Chrisman in Santa Ana.
Special thanks to Denis LaBonge for sharing this story with us. We’re suckers for cars that have great histories and have been kept in the family! Stay tuned as we’ll bring you another fascinating family story from the Hot Rod Homecoming.