When we found out that Fireball Roberts’ ‘57 Ford Fairlane was headed to Mecum’s Kissimmee auction, we were excited. Although the authenticity of the Ford has since been questioned, this unique auction lot has opened many people’s eyes to an automotive practice in the South that many of us knew little about- the cloning of legendary NASCAR cars. As we found out from Hemmings Blog, some people actually take it quite seriously and the results are more than impressive.
Tampa, Florida resident Tom Kitchen, who contacted Hemmings about the possibility of the Mecum Ford Fairlane being a clone, is what you would call an avid Glenn “Fireball” Roberts fan. From the time that Kitchen saw Roberts race at the Daytona Speedway in 1957, he was fascinated with Roberts’ cars. But it wasn’t until Kitchen moved to Florida that he figured he could have cars just like the ones that Roberts once raced.
After seeing the NASCAR clones popular among Southerners, Kitchen built a Fireball Roberts ‘57 Ford in 2005. But it wasn’t just some simple mach-up.
Kitchen actually spent hours upon hours researching the original Fireball car and even got in contact with Roberts’ daughter Pam, and NASCAR-great Marvin Panch, in the process.
After the ‘57 was complete, Kitchen started building a ‘56 Ford to Fireball Roberts specifications at the request of Pam, who died shortly before the car was complete. Kitchen then started on a Fireball Roberts-spec ‘57 Ford convertible that he sold prior to its completion to another avid fan.
Although Kitchen’s first three Fireball Roberts clone projects have since been sold, his fourth remains with him. Kitchen’s fourth and final Fireball car, inspired by a car that Roberts drove at Daytona for Holden Moody in April 1959, is a Fireball Roberts Battlebird. Currently the car is running a two-barrel carburetor but Kitchen plans to put the correct Hilborn fuel-injection unit he has for the car in it some day.
In addition to the four Fireball Roberts cars, Kitchen has also cloned Fred Lorenzen’s 1963 ½ Ford Galaxie and Starlifter, a ‘62 Galaxie convertible with the roof of a ‘61 Ford Starliner affixed to it.
Regardless of your opinion on car clones, you have to admit that giving legendary NASCAR cars a new life is pretty cool. With that being said, we hope to one day see the Fireball Roberts Chrysler HEMI-powered ‘61 Starliner clone that Kitchen would like to build in the future.
Now what do enthusiasts do with NASCAR clones in the South? Well, they take them to shows and nostalgic race meets that are specifically for NASCAR tribute cars, the biggest of which is during Speedweek at Daytona and put on by the Living Legends of Racing Club.