Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
February 28, 2007

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Many people think the '61 Thunderbird "bullet" body style is one of the most beautiful ever built by Ford. Certainly the '61-'63 T-birds are among the best-looking Fords ever. After checking out the car of Steve Marks of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, with its subtle and tasteful modifications, it's easy to see why people feel this way.

From the distinctive grillework to the bullet-like profile and afterburner taillights, this 'Bird is a flamboyant design. Aero-streamlining and even Deco styling cues from the '30s and '40s combine with Jet Age influence from the '50s. The extraordinary result is a car that looks as good today as it did for its debut 46 years ago. When the example of this Thunderbird body style is a convertible, the top-down profile of the car is the ultimate in boulevard styling.

Everybody knows a Thunderbird is not a race car, particularly in its four-seat form. Rather, it was offered as a personal luxury sport coupe or convertible. Equipped with the famous 390 FE Thunderbird V-8 engine, the car is no slouch, and it was designed for high-speed turnpike cruising for hours on end. Stylish comfort for both driver and passenger were at the top of the design priority list. Just one look into the car's interior and this design philosophy is readily apparent. The sumptuous bucket seats impart a luxurious feel when combined with the wrap-around steel instrument panel and console. The striated steel trim continues the full length of the doors into the back seat. The overall effect is impressive. From the exterior and interior, the design excellence jumps out at you.

Steve performed a miracle transformation with this car using four other T-birds as donors-two convertibles and two hardtops, all from Brooklyn, New York. There were rusty floorpans, a cowling, and quarter-panels all needing replacement. Getting the convertible top working, as well as the many other complicated systems, was a Herculean effort made by Steve's shop of choice-Carlisle Customs and Classics' Vinny Scalavino. Steve tells us the car you see here is the result of two long years of nearly continuous effort. We congratulate him for saving 1 of just 10,516 Thunderbirds built in 1961 and say whole heartedly that his efforts have paid off handsomely.

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Mufp_0704_10_z 1961_ford_thunderbird ThunderbirdMufp_0704_04_z 1961_ford_thunderbird Engine_bay
The big FE fits easily in the wide engine bay of the Thunderbird. The prominent shock towers identify this car as one of Ford's early unit-body cars. Steve has everything looking super-sanitary underhood, and he removes some serious weight off the front end by replacing the nearly 100-pound cast-iron intake with an Edelbrock aluminum unit. An Edelbrock 600-cfm carb provides the required fuel while their air cleaner and valve covers adorn the engine.
Mufp_0704_06_z 1961_ford_thunderbird Back_seats
The two-tone look of the interior is carried over into the rear-seat area on Steve's T-bird.
Mufp_0704_07_z 1961_ford_thunderbird Gauges
A remarkable feature of the interior is the instrument panel that waterfalls down to become the console, while it also continues around the interior, wrapping around all the way into the back seat. It imparts a quality feel you just don't get with plastic. The visual impact of this interior is equaled by few cars. The freshly upholstered seats are from a '62 T-bird. The padded banjo-style steering wheel comes from Grant, while the instrument cluster is adorned with one-off, custom-built Dakota Digital gauges.

The Details
'61 Thunderbird convertible
Owner: Steve Marks, Carlisle, PA

390ci Thunderbird V-8
4.082 bore (0.030-over), 3.784 stroke
9.6:1 compression ratio
Rated 300 hp at 4,600
427 lb-ft torque at 2,800 rpm
Clevite bearings, pistons, and rings
Clevite stock replacement camshaft
Edelbrock aluminum intake and 600-cfm four-barrel carburetor
Mallory distributor
Built by Sheaffer Brothers Machine Shop, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Ford-o-Matic three-speed automatic
B&M shift-improvement kit

3.00 gears

Stock manifolds
Aluminized dual exhaust

Front: Stock, coil springs shortened 1 inch, gas shocks
Rear: Rearched leaf springs for 1-inch drop, gas shocks

Front: Stock drum
Rear: Stock drum

Front: Foose Design Nitrous Chrome, 17x8
Rear: Foose Design Nitrous Chrome, 18x8

Front: Nexen NS3000, P225/45ZR17
Rear: Nexen NS3000, P255/35ZR18

Refinished with black and silver vinyl and oxen-grain naugahyde by Fritz Upholstery in Carlisle, Pennsylvania; black cut-pile carpet; '62 T-bird bucket seats; Grant steering wheel; one-of-a-kind Dakota Digital instrumentation; Alpine CDA 9820 AM/FM/XM stereo; power windows; power seats; and Vintage Air heating/cooling system

House of Color silver and black basecoat/clearcoat, beltline smoothed and lower edges rolled, '62 hood, '63 grille, rear fender skirts eliminated and wheel openings rolled under, custom airbrushed Thunderbird emblems and script by JR Arts, Hartz cloth convertible top installed by Mike Haverstock Upholstery in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

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Web Exclusive

We amassed quite the photo collection of Steve Marks' 1961 Ford Thunderbird, and can you blame us? We have selected a few more photos that we felt would give you a better look into this custom masterpiece. There is also some wallpaper for you to decorate your desktop with. If there is any other cars you want wallpaper made from, place your suggestion in our message board. We will try our best to keep new images up for the readers.

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