Here’s a Texas girl who’s building a torque monster, daily driven 1978 Thunderbird. She also works full time as a mechanic at a custom Hot Rod shop. So let’s find out more as we step “In the Garage” with Samantha Markham.
SG: Tell us, how did you first get into cars?
I’ve been all about them since I was a small child. Even around the age of 5 years old, I remember being outside helping my dad with his trucks when I was with him. Watching racing with him on TV and looking back I remember wanting to be a NASCAR driver!
SG: We all have dreams! But now you’re working on hotrods, which is pretty rad! How did that come about?
My grandfather owned on of the first body shops where I’m from in Upper Michigan, and my uncle built cars and motorcycles when he was alive. Watching my dad work on cars really made me want to carry on the family tradition. When I got into high school I was obsessed with auto tech since it meant I got to learn more than I got to learn from my dad, and also I helped out friends and teachers by fixing their vehicles while growing my knowledge of the trade I loved.
SG: Nice! So what was your first car?
It was actually the ’78 Thunderbird I have now! The summer before my senior year after got my drivers license, is when I got it. My mom wanted to buy me something that I would have forever and that I loved, and this was the car!
SG: That’s a great first car!
Yes, and that day changed my life. I already had a passion for cars and I was always obsessed with classic cars. I don’t think I would be the same person I am today without this car. It really gave me the drive to pursue my dreams in Texas to further my education.
SG- So where did that take you?
I ended up attending Universal Technical Institute and obtained my degree in Automotive Technologies and some Diesel courses. From there I spent almost five years at a dealer working on new cars. I finally caved and decided November of 2019 it was time to go for my dreams and landed my dream job at “House of Hotrods” in Mansfield, Texas.
SG- That sounds amazing! So then what have you been up to with the Thunderbird?
The car was born with a 400 cid small block and a FMX 3-speed transmission. The engine developed oil pressure problems not long after getting the car, and I didn’t have money or time to dig into it when it happened. So I drove it around for almost six years and 60,000 miles until the engine got to the point where it made it undriveable.
SG: Wow! That’s a long time.
I had already been planning to build a 557. I had the 460 block that I was going to build, but I ended up having to sell it to buy the complete 429 cid big block and the C6 3-speed automatic that came with it. They came out of a 1968 Lincoln and were sitting in storage for 15 years.
Both the engine and transmission had rusted out oil pans, 7 out of 8 of the wrist pins were rusted and the block had pitting in the cylinders. I had it machined out .030″ to turn it into a 435 cid. Installed .030″ flat top pistons and a Stage 2 RV cam (260 duration .484 lift), stock crank and rods that were cleaned up.
The heads were completely rebuilt with hardened exhaust seats and some mild port work. Valve springs matched to my cam, and roller tip rockers. The block and heads had to be decked to clean up the rust so it bumped the factory 10:5:1 compression to 11:1 compression. Topped with a Weiand Stealth intake, and a canton street strip oil pan.
SG: Sounds like its a torque monster! Did you do any other mods to it?
Of course! In March, I installed Holley Sniper EFI and their Hyperspark Ignition System, which was a game changer. Getting to work on several cars with it sold me on it even though I was always set in my ways being all about my Holley Carburetors. Everything is stock replacement suspension and brake wise that I’ve completely gone through. I’ve been putting my own touches on the interior that I can but nothing crazy besides my Hurst Quarter Stick Shifter currently. Exterior wise it’s rusty with a cowl hood my boyfriend and I custom built in 10 hours using my original hood. Overall, it’s a Torino platform so it’s pretty stout.
SG: Do you do the work yourself?
Absolutely! I’ve touched every bit of the car myself. I enjoy getting to work on it with my boyfriend since he’s been teaching me how to fabricate and weld. I do all this while continuing to daily drive it. The only time it was down was during the engine and transmission swap last year. I’ve got hundreds of hours into this car, it might not look like much to some but it’s one of best driving classics I get to drive.
SG: Do you ever attend any events or races with it?
Yeah! I attend local car shows and I try to go to Goodguys every time it’s at Texas Motor Speedway. I’m also trying to get out and do more drag racing since I haven’t raced the car since 2017.
SG: What’s one of your best experiences with it so far?
That has to be when I got to drive it around the track at Texas Motor Speedway. That’s one of the coolest things I have ever done with it!
SG: That sounds amazing! Not many people get to to that. So, what are your future plans?
Next year I’m planning on installing coil-over suspension, while over the next several years, I’m going to start building a 557ci fuel injected big block Ford and match it to a six-speed manual transmission. Originally, I was building the 557 but that’s when I had to hurry up and build the 435 block to get it back on the road. Oh! and it’s not getting a paint job, I’m sticking with dirt track look and even hand painting numbers and lettering on it.
Also next year, I’m planning on participating in the Hot Rod Drag Week or maybe the Power Tour, and I’m going to get back into drag racing as well as autocrossing.
SG: We definitely look forward to seeing it in action. Is there anything else you want to share?
Just to do what you love and work hard to make it happen! I look back and never imagined being from a small town in upper Michigan, and that would have my dream job to be wrenching on Hotrods and classic cars for a living at the age of 25. I definitely worked hard to get where I am and to chase my dreams down.