1966 Thunderbird Convertible
By Vern Parker
“My first car was a white 1966 Thunderbird coupe,” Gary Miller says. “That car got me through high school,” he recalls. Ever since those teenage days in upstate New York Miller has been attracted to 1966 Ford Thunderbirds.
By 1991 Miller's job had moved him to Virginia. It was there when he first saw a 1966 Thunderbird convertible parked behind a funeral parlor. The car never moved, he observed. Passing weeks turned into months and the car remained stationary.
An inquisitive Miller finally left a note with his telephone number under one of the windshield wiper blades.
Two months later he had forgotten about the car when he received a call inquiring if he wanted to buy the car. The caller was moving to Greece and was unloading most of his possessions, including the Thunderbird which then was 25 years old.
A meeting was arranged and Miller discovered, “It ran, but not very good and it ate oil.” Nevertheless, Miller bought the car and with his fingers crossed set out for his parents home in New York where he could store the car.
Surprisingly, the trip was uneventful.
“It was a rusted hulk,” Miller says.
Before disassembling his car Miller constructed a plastic booth where he could keep his car dry.
Inside that plastic coccoon Miller sand blasted all the parts of his car and spray painted it and stored it with the weather held at bay.
When new the car left the factory wearing a coat of red with a black fabric top. When Miller took possession of the car it was maroon with a white top. After stripping off all the paint Miller returned the original candy apple red paint to the body. In 1993 he bought a new black top with a clear plastic rear window.
While both of the bumpers were sent off to be replated with chrome the 390-cubic-inch engine was undergoing surgery. A persistent Miller says overheating problems were finally corrected on the third rebuild.
The powerful V-8 now delivers 345 horsepower which is more than sufficient to propel the 4,496-pound Thunderbird.
The Thunderbird was designed as a personal luxury car and was loaded with extras. The bucket seats, console and instrument panel emulated aircraft cockpit styling of the day.
The front seat passenger is comforted in the reclining bucket seat.
Entering the driver's seat is made accommodating complements of the Swing-Away two-spoke steering wheel. With the automatic transmission placed in park the steering column can be shifted about ten inches inboard to the right providing an abundance of room for the driver.
An AM/FM radio is mounted in the dashboard near the controls for the air conditioner and the convertible top. The spacious interior is covered in red vinyl over the red carpeting on the floor.
The steering, brakes, windows, antenna and door locks are all power assisted.
Small lights atop each front fender flash to alert the driver that the turn signals are activated.
The turn signals in the taillights flash in a sequential fashion.
With the healthy four-barrel carburetor gulping fuel Miller in 1994 declared the restoration of his Thunderbird complete – as complete as a restoration is ever complete.
When he purchased the sleek car the odometer had recorded 72,000 miles. Since then the 15-inch wheels have turned so many times the odometer now reads 97,000 miles. Those were comfortable miles riding on the 113.2-inch wheelbase.
Only 5,049 Thunderbirds like this one were built and even with a hefty base price of $4,879 in 1966 the Thunderbirds were a spectacularly good deal.