Rare Bird

This 1962 Thunderbird convertible is one of 17 built with the triple-carb M-code engine

In the Spring of 1967, Orlando Amato’s father asked the 17-year-old if he’d be interested in a 1963 Ford Thunderbird convertible project. Young Amato and his girlfriend Nancy loved the idea of driving to school in a sleek T-Bird. But first there was much work ahead, with the help of Dad, two brothers, uncles and friends who taught him the skills to last a lifetime.

After the couple married, however, reality set in and the T-Bird had to be sold.

More than 30 years later, after raising two children and owning several other cars, Orlando and Nancy Amato wanted another Thunderbird like their first. After determining the time and money required for a complete restoration, the Amatos opted to start with a “decent driver.”

Their plan lasted only until a friend mentioned a ’62 convertible just 50 miles from their Connecticut home. When Orlando called the owner, he found out it was one of 17 “M-code” triple-carburetor convertibles. When he and Nancy went to see the car, it was “buried under eight years of dust and debris.” The engine had been rebuilt before the car was stored, and the doors, quarter panels and front fenders had been replaced with rust-free panels. After seeing the multi-colored, dirty and smelly car, both Orlando and Nancy knew it: “This was the one!”

They found out just how smelly the car was once it began to thaw in their heated garage. With the odor permeating the house, the Amatos had to push the T-Bird outside at two in the morning.

The restoration took four-and-a-half years and more than 2,500 hours. Orlando did virtually everything: He stripped the car to bare metal, rebuilt the chassis and suspension, tore down and inspected the engine, rebuilt the rear end, inspected the Cruise-O-Matic transmission and, with the help of a friend, installed the new top and interior. The only major tasks he didn’t do, either on his own or with help from his brother, Dennis, or his two children, were the final paint and chrome.

“Taking our first ride in the T-Bird was as if we were kids again,” Orlando says. “Watching the top fold into the trunk and driving away was a step back in time.”

These days, the couple take their gorgeous Rangoon Red T-Bird to charity shows, where the car is a consistent attraction and show winner, though Orlando still dreams of cruising the open road in his “52-year-old piece of automotive art.”

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