By the mid-1950s, NASCAR was successful primarily in the South and had a presence on the West coast, too. Bill France sought expansion in the Midwest, where a series, Circuit of Champions All Stars, an all-convertible car division was popular. France purchased the entire series to run NASCAR-sanctioned convertible races as a companion division to the hardtop Grand Nationals.
Convertible racing was a smashing success from the start. Fans were fascinated by the idea of being able to see the driver working the steering wheel inside the car, and the Convertible races began to draw big crowds.
In 1959 Thunderbirds were allowed to run in Grand National races. Holman-Moody built and sold 5 ‘birds for Grand National racing; a couple of owners developed their T-Birds as “Zipper-tops,” with removable roofs so the same car could race in both the Convertible and Grand National Divisions.
From my 21st century perspective I’m continuously amazed how little of any safety standards in motor sports was applied, and NASCAR’s convertible Division certainly demonstrated the lack of even rudimentary safety devices – bare, flimsy roll bars, no driver harnesses, or in some cases not even seat belts. T shirts and polo shirts were de rigueur as noted with my short sleeved driver figure. In some cars the front and rear passenger seats were retained. My ’59 T-Bird nicely illustrates ‘50s vintage safety standards.
A few years ago I bought from Roseburg’s main supplier, Bob Hanna of Spare Time Raceway, an H&R chassis. Had no firm plans for it until I noticed Roseburg’s Rich Vecchio discussing how he and other Roseburg innovators/racers were using them, particularly in their Vintage NASCAR series. So wanting to do something a bit differently but within the parameters of the class (my H&R has hinged side pans that are bolted to body hinges) I got the idea of a Zipper-top Thunderbird. The top is secured by two bolts that are screwed into a ledge in the back of the top just forward of the rear window, and the front of the top is secured by the tough Scotch brand clear vinyl tape. The body is from a 1/24 Monogram kit, 85-420, assembled with liberal amounts of Devcon Plastic Welder. The driver from a Fujimi Garage & Tools kit, 11004-GT-4, that provides three heads – a ‘50’s style polo helmet, a’60’s Bell style without goggles, and the contemporary full head helmet. '50's era decals are mainly from Southern Motorsports Hobbies of Atlanta, GA which has an extensive supply of stock car/NASCAR decals.