Whether you liked it or not, the era of big personal luxury cars is largely behind us. In the early 1960s, however, the genre was building a big head of steam, and chief among the protagonists was Ford's Thunderbird. The '58 T-bird's new four-seat configuration was a radical departure from the car that debuted in 1955 as a two-seat blend of sport and luxury, but product planners felt they were headed in the right direction. Indeed, sales would soon affirm their decision, as production in 1960 alone almost doubled the entirety of the '55-'57 era.
"When they came out, we thought the big Thunderbirds were laughable," says Bob Collier, a youthful 16-year-old when the '63 he now owns was born. And why not? Besides propelling middle-aged fat cats to and fro in style, did the T-bird really do anything well? Was it quick? Did it handle? Even with its large-by-large size, could it really haul anything? The answer to all the above is a resounding "not really," but in the end, the market proved that style and luxury were all that mattered. The Thunderbird proved an undeniable success, and remains one of Ford's most recognized nameplates.
As the years have passed, Collier and others have softened their stance on the post '57 generation T-birds, particularly the leaner appearing '61-'63s. In fact, when looking for a car project in the early 1990s, Collier had actually come to find the big 'Birds of the '50s and '60s to be a rather appealing idea. The price was right, the style was there, and rather than a hard-core performer, Collier's desire was for a fun cruiser from the start. He found this '63 hardtop with help from a friend, and soon began the extensive rebuilding process.
While originally thinking of enhancing the performance of his new prize, Collier soon found himself caught up in restoration fever. In the end, he put the car back completely stock, featuring lots of N.O.S. and refurbished original trim, and a flawless PPG-based two-stage topcoat applied by Buffalo Restorations (Puyallup, Washington). Collier offered that the toughest parts to find were the aluminum dash trim pieces, which are so critical to the overall interior appearance. "The originals were pitted and oxidized, and it took a lot of searching to assemble a nice set," he said.
Once finished, the expected show competition followed, whereupon Collier realized the folly of his course. "I soon got really bored with it, and then when my buddies started calling me 'grandpa' whenever I got behind the wheel, something had to give."
What "gave" was any concern about originality, or what T-bird purists would think. Instead, Collier gathered his friends and family together, and vetted ideas on modifying the '63 into something more satisfying.
"We spent plenty of time in the garage just looking the car over, asking 'what ifs.'" In the end, the group decided there was nothing wrong with the basics of the car, both in what Ford had originally designed, and as it had been restored. That left traditional hot rod modifications as the chosen course, however, when applied to an early '60s Thunderbird, there was little tradition about it. You see, the aftermarket has never embraced the T-bird as restomod fodder, meaning Collier and friends were mostly on their own to figure it out.