- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 15, 2010

In the early years of the Thunderbird, the body styles were changed every three years, the fourth generation being built during 1964, 1965 and 1966.

Ford Motor Co. undoubtedly did not have young Ronald Lee in mind when the 1966 Town Hardtop Coupe with a formal roofline was designed with a cockpit-style passenger compartment, Silent-Flo ventilation system, front disc brakes and wall-to-wall taillights with sequential turn signals.

However, the senior at Ballou High School was one of the most ardent admirers of the new Thunderbird. He even liked the fake air scoop on the engine hood.

About 40 years have passed but the desire for a 1966 Thunderbird still languished in Mr. Lee’s mind.

In July 2004, he saw an ad for a restored car just like he wanted. It was in Springfield, Ohio which necessitated many phone calls and an exchange of photographs before he finally took the plunge.

He flew to Ohio and found the eggshell white Thunderbird was exactly as advertised, one of 15,633 such models produced that year.

“It looked good and sounded good,” Mr. Lee recalls, “So I bought it.” The air conditioner was in working order as was all the power equipment including:

- Power brakes.

- Power steering.

- Power antenna.

- Power windows.

- Power door locks.

Mr. Lee explains that the transaction was a “buy and ride” deal. Before the ink was dry on the paperwork, he was on the highway heading home to Camp Springs, the big 390-cubic-inch V-8 delivering 315 horsepower. The 4,359-pound Thunderbird rides on a 113.2-inch wheelbase.

Once at home, Mr. Lee gave his new old car a thorough examination.

Since then, he says, “I have replaced a lot of stuff,”and he is quick to add, “But I did it with love.” To assist in starting the car and also to improve gas mileage, a Holley carburetor with an electric choke was installed. The right window was balky and that problem was also fixed. On the trip home Mr. Lee had noticed the steering was loose. That dilemma was resolved with the installation of a new idler arm assembly.

Records that came with the car indicate the entire drive train was rebuilt in 1998.

The air conditioner has only two vents in the center of the dashboard through which cool air enters the cabin. In the event that fresh air is desired, Ford designers really excelled. Besides the large windows in the doors which can be lowered, each door also has a small wing vent. Under the dashboard are a couple of vents to draw air in at knee level. More vents are located on the outside by the base of the windshield to send more air into the cabin. Above the chrome console is a switch which opens 77 vents on the package shelf by the rear window to allow air to escape out the back and through the 204 vents outside the rear window. “I keep the vent open all winter,” Mr. Lee says.

Inside the glove compartment is the trunk release lever. The trunk is spacious but limited in height which is why the spare tire, on a 15-inch wheel, is mounted horizontally. At the rear, below the trunk lid is that swath of red extending the width of the car. In the middle of this enormous taillight is where the backup light is.

Attention to detail made Thunderbirds popular. Items such as the fender-top turn signal warning lights or the Thunderbird emblem on the back side of the two outside mirrors as well as in the backup light. Of course the rear seats that wrapped around onto the sides of the car were outrageously comfortable along with being visually appealing as they should be on a car that sold new with a base price of $4,483.

Once the transmission is in PARK, the two spoke steering wheel swings about 10 inches to the right to give the driver extra room to either enter or exit.

“The inside,” Mr. Lee says, “is designed like the cockpit of a plane.” On the ceiling are four warning lights to alert the driver if the seat belts are not fastened, the doors are not closed, the car is low on fuel or the emergency flashers are on.

“I have confidence in my car,” Mr. Lee says. “But I’m still careful about where I drive it.” Mr. Lee explains that in the era when his car was new, every year the Ford designers made a distinctive rubber floor mat for the Thunderbird. When he first got his car it had a complete set of beautiful black floor mats. However, he had to replace them because they were made for a 1959 Thunderbird. “That was important to me,” he says.

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