Featured Thunderbird for January 1996

Picture of Featured T-Bird

1960 / Exterior: White / Interior: Black/White Vinyl / 352cid / Automatic

Owner: Barney Burke, Mountain View, California

This is Thunderchicken, my 1960 Squarebird with about 75,000 total miles. The photo was taken on Highway 1 just south of Carmel, California, during a recent outing of Norcal VTCA. I've been a member of Norcal for years and also belong to ITC, CTCI, and Santa Clara Valley Thunderbirds. I edit The Wing, Norcal's bimonthly magazine (email me at barney@thunderbirds.com for a sample copy).

I'm still restoring my '57, and have owned four other '60's and a '59. My brother had a '60. So did my Dad. And my aunt. And an uncle. So I tell my better half that natural selection destined me to own a whole bunch of Thunderbirds...it helps explain my collection of 50+ miniature 'Birds roosting on top of the piano. My daily driver is a '59 Ranchero equipped with a 312 Thunderbird engine and Squarebird hubcaps.

The following is a grown-up version of the "what I did last summer" essay.

I drove Thunderchicken 7,140 miles round-trip to Dearborn, Michigan, for ITC's convention honoring the 40th anniversary of the Thunderbird. When my starter went out at midnight the night before we were to leave, I asked myself; "What am I? Nuts? Drive across the USA in a 35 year old car?" Alas, I knew I was driving the most reliable car I've ever owned with two of the best mechanics in the club - Mike Posey and Dick Moody. At dawn the next morning, I called my mechanic, Barney LeBlanc, who had just rebuilt my 352 and pleaded with him to install a new starter so I could make it to Mike and Julie's as planned that night. Mr. LeBlanc said he was busy, but if I could find a starter, he would install it. Ha! Fingers flying through the yellow pages, I found one at a place near his shop, and boy, was he surprised when I showed up, starter in hand. As it turned out, none of us had a breakdown during the entire trip.

Mike, Julie, Dick, Marilyn and I convened in Nevada Saturday morning, and drove to Utah where we spotted a couple of '59 Fords and a '60 T-Bird ragtop at the motel next door. Then we headed for the Great Salt Lake and Medicine Bow Forest in Wyoming. From there, each car took its own route through major league midwestern thunderstorms on the way to Dearborn. We met up with T'Bird owners from as far away as Australia and Holland, but Thunderchicken earned the Longest Distance Driven Award by about 100 miles. Each of our 'Birds won a prize in the Concours, and I received the President's Award for service to ITC.

The Greenfield Village/Henry Ford Museum and CarRail (the private car and toy collection of the owner of Lionel Trains) were among the highlights of the trip. When it was over, I made the pilgrimage to the Wixom Lincoln Plant where Thunderchicken was hatched on April 27, 1960.

Each of us took our own routes home, with the Poseys going through New Mexico while the Moodys and I took northern routes. Heading west, Thunderchicken passed dozens of new cars that couldn't take the 100+ degree heat wave. I met up with my friend Yip-Fong in Cody, Wyoming, where you can park for an astounding two hours at the airport terminal curb. We stayed at Buffalo Bill's House. The next day, we drove through horrendous (read horizontal) rain, barely staying ahead of a storm that ruined a number of cars with marble-sized hail. Our vacuum wipers never let us down! We cruised Yellowstone, photographing bison, elk, and geysers. The scenic route home took us through the Grand Tetons, Jackson, Twin Falls, Virginia City and Lake Alpine/Highway 4, for a total of 7,140 miles. I'm convinced more than ever that you just can't buy a better car than a Squarebird.

Barney Burke

Copyright © 1996 by Barney Burke

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