- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

When Ford introduced the first two-seat 1955 Thunderbird, the public overwhelmingly approved.

Although the racy design was impractical for more than two, that didn’t stop Assumption Elementary School student Les Jackson from trying to convince his father that the Thunderbird was the perfect car for their family.

His more practical father thought otherwise.

“Since then I’ve come close to buying a 1955 Thunderbird three times,” Mr. Jackson says, “once each in 1965, 1974 and 1996.”

For a variety of reasons each deal fell through.

The recurring Thunderbird virus bit Mr. Jackson again in the spring of 2004. Never one to say die, he began what he thought would be a long, drawn-out process to find a Thunderbird that wasn’t half rusted away or a restored one priced in the stratosphere.

Surprisingly, Mr. Jackson says, “I found my car in one week.”

The odometer read about 97,000 miles, all of which had been accumulated in and around New York City by several owners during a 49-year period.

Records indicate the car, originally painted turquoise with red and white vinyl upholstery and a white fiberglass top, was delivered to a dealer in New York City on April 6, 1955. When new, it had a base price of $2,944.

The Thunderbird Mr. Jackson purchased from the borough of Queens arrived at his home on the back of a truck on April 4, 2004, two days short of 49 years from the build date.

The car was exactly as advertised and just what Mr. Jackson wanted, a car that essentially was whole but was in need of extensive care.

The original 1955 Thunderbird V-8 engine, a 292-cubic-inch Y-block that developed 195 horsepower had long since been replaced by a similar engine from a 1959 Ford Galaxie.

“The engine smoked,” Mr. Jackson says, “and it ran, but under duress.”

After surveying what he had bought Mr. Jackson removed the engine for overhauling and set about removing pounds and pounds of body filler from the mostly rust-free body.

A previous owner had cut out rusted body panels, Mr. Jackson reports. Instead of welding in correct new body panels, flat pieces of healthy new steel were welded into place.

“After that,” Mr. Jackson says, “someone beautifully sculpted an entire T-Bird out of Bondo.”

Many of the original subtle contours were obliterated while others found new curves in the imagination of the body putty sculptor.

With all of the body filler removed, the 14-foot, 7-inch-long Thunderbird was once more at the 3,250 pounds it was when it left the factory.

Ford made some improvements in the Thunderbird for the next year, most notably rerouting the dual exhausts through the bumper and adding a Continental kit to make more space in the trunk, ostensibly for golf clubs. Additionally, the big blind spot created by the removable fiberglass hardtop was eliminated with the addition of a porthole.

Because Ford saw fit to fix initial design flaws, Mr. Jackson decided he was not obligated to adhere to the original design.

He determined that the four-way power seat had to go because it positioned the driver in an unnaturally high position.

A four-speed automatic transmission permits the engine to loaf at highway speeds.

The steering was improved with the addition of a rack-and-pinion gear from a modern Mustang. Stopping chores are handled by disc brakes from a modern Mustang, while the master cylinder came from a 1971 Corvette.

Now that he had a car that appeared to be a restored stock 1955 Thunderbird, he set about making the half-century-old car meet modern-day comfort standards. A modern aluminum radiator was installed to handled the air-conditioning unit that was hung from the bottom of the dashboard disguised behind a facia that appears to be straight out of the Ford parts bin.

While all the body work was being completed, both bumpers were sent out to be replated with chrome. New trim pieces are readily available at much better prices than having the originals replated.

Before mounting new radial tires to replace the original 6.50x15-inch bias ply tires that supported the 102-inch wheelbase, Mr. Jackson painted his Thunderbird torch red.

He located a new wraparound windshield in Wisconsin and after installing it he adjusted the white hardtop with the porthole windows.

From all outward appearances, Mr. Jackson’s 1955 Thunderbird appears as if it has just left the Ford factory. He says, however, the electronic ignition and superior four-barrel Edelbrock carburetor make his car modern-day reliable.

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