ONCE UPON A TBIRD
It was the spring of 1967. My dad mentioned that he might be able to purchase a 1963 Thunderbird convertible that needed a lot of work. Being just seventeen and in high school, I thought the Tbird would be a great summer project. We always had a car or two in the garage, fixing them and selling them. This was my dad’s way of teaching us about mechanics, electronics, and how to fix just about anything. In our house, we never had to pay a service person to do anything. Between brothers, uncles and friends there was enough technical expertise to handle just about any type of repair or maintenance.
I told my girlfriend about this black convertible Tbird with red leather interior. She thought it would be COOL to cruise around in a convertible during our senior year. So my dad purchased the car. For many years, I paid my dad back for the car and the parts to keep it running, but it was worth every penny. We had a GREAT summer cruising in the TBIRD. Within a few years, my girlfriend and I got married. But TBIRD was too much of an expense for us to keep so we sold it, but never forgot the beauty, power, and excitement of driving that Tbird.
It has been over 35 years since we sold our TBIRD. Homes, mortgages, and two wonderful children replaced it. During those years, as a hobby, I purchased fixed and sold many cars. Some very old, some relatively new. A few years ago, we got the idea to restore a Thunderbird. It had to be the same style as the one we sold so long ago and it had to be a convertible. My wife and I discussed the amount of time and money it would take to do a complete restoration. We decided to purchase a decent driver and start from there. It was a good plan, BUT, in my search for the right car, I fell upon a diamond in the rough; very, very rough. Through friends we where told of a 62 convertible. The car was only 50 miles from our house. When we called the man who owned it, he explained it was a very special Thunderbird, the one with the three carburetors. I had heard of the M series TBIRDS, but never saw one or even heard of anyone who owned one. The owner had a copy of Mr. Bill Wonder’s “THUNDERBIRD RESTORATION MANUAL” and promptly showed me the write up on this Thunderbird. It is ONE of 17 1962 ‘M’ Series THUNDERBIRD convertibles made. Buried in a garage under eight years of dust and debris, was the Tbird. We dug the Bird out of its grave of old boxes, newspapers and assorted building material, filled the tires with air, rocked it to release the brakes and pushed it out of the garage into the first sunlight it had seen in all those years. The first thing I check wasthe Vehicle Identification Number in back of the passenger’s headlight. It was the M series in the book! To be sure, I also checkerd the VIN at the other two locations and the part number on the heads. As we spoke with the owner, he explained that the engine was completely rebuilt before he put it away and the doors, quarter panels and front fenders where all replaced from an Arizona donor car. I was crazy with delight in finding this TBIRD. As I pranced excitedly around the car, my wife knew I was just plain crazy. But, after she surveyed the hulk of the multi-colored, primered, dirty and very smelly car with the old convertible top ripped to shreds, the look on her face confirmed it to me – surprisingly this was the one!
After four and one-half years, 2,500++ hours of work, we have an important part of our younger days back. A 1962 ‘M’ Series THUNDERBIRD convertible. I did all of the work myself, except the final painting. Every hour I spent working on our dream car I felt my dad looking over my shoulder making sure I did it the right way. I know he is very proud of what I accomplished. Taking our first ride in the completed (to me it will always be 95% done) TBIRD was as if we were kids again (luckily, I had the tonneau cover on, so we did NOT try out the back seat). Watching the top fold into the trunk and driving away with the power of the very smooth 340 hp engine was a step back in time for both of us. This summer we attended many local shine and show charity events. Our Tbird is always a major attraction. It is rewarding to have our car picked as a show winner from 10 to 20 TBIRDS in field of 200 to 1,000 assorted vintage cars. Most gratifying is to have other car enthusiast complement us on the quality of the restoration. They may have Chevy’s or Mopar cars, and they might not know TBIRDs, but they do recognize a great classic piece of automotive history. Their comments and praise are what makes all the work worth it!
With the help of my many online friends and VTCI, we will continue to enjoy our special Thunderbird. Today it only goes to charity car shows. At some point, it may become a trailer queen. This saddens me to think this powerful 52+ year old piece of automotive art and history will perhaps never cruise the open roads again.
Nancy & Orlando