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1965 Thunderbird owned by Barry Carson
1965 Thunderbird owned by Barry Carson

Classic Car

The coffee, the kitchen and the car Add to ...

Ford Thunderbird enthusiast Barry Carson reacted to our first meeting by turning a whiter shade of pale, then a sort of 1960s' Jaguar light willow green.

I'd thoughtlessly taken him for a considerably quicker than brisk, first-thing-in-the-morning wake-up ride on the test circuit at last fall's AJAC TestFest - in a 525-hp Audi R8 Spyder.

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And it turns out that classic Thunderbird guys tend to be more cruising than cruise-missile oriented. It was also his first time on a track. Oops.

Back in 1965

The Canada/United States Auto Products Agreement - the Auto Pact - is signed by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and President Lyndon B. Johnson and regulates auto and parts production until 2001.

Toronto's fourth City Hall, the then very futuristic twin-tower design by Finnish architect Viljo Revell, which still holds pride of place into the downtown core, is completed, unfortunately after his death.

Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov pops open the hatch of his Voskhol 2 spacecraft and steps outside to become the first human being to "walk" in space.

Trans-Canada Airlines, established in 1936 as a subsidiary of Canadian National Railways by the federal government to provide a coast-to-coast aerial link, is renamed Air Canada.

Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger, Keith Richard and Bill Wyman, faced with an out-of-order restroom at a London petrol station, pee on a wall instead - and are fined £5 each.

He got his own back recently at the Canadian International Auto Show, trying to drown me with a cup of coffee. A full-time independent financial planner and part-time photographer, he was there to shoot the show for the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada and we were chatting about his 1965 Thunderbird and his plans to procure one of the original mid-'50s versions this spring when the weather allows them to take wing again.

"The most important hurdle has been crossed," he said, "I've got my wife's permission." Adding, just as I was taking a sip of coffee, "of course it's going to cost me a kitchen." At which point I carburetted a rich mixture off the cup's main jet directly into my lungs causing me to sound like I was running on one cylinder for a considerable time.

Carson and wife Paula obviously have their marital quid-pro-quo thing firing smoothly on all cylinders though as his current T-Bird, a 1965 version, apparently "cost" him a redecorated family room when he purchased it four years ago.

Carson, now 48, was born and grew up in the Willowdale area of Toronto and owes his interest in cars to his uncle Bill who took him to car shows and cruise nights. His introduction to auto ownership was a series of 1960s machines, starting with a '63 Chevy II followed by '66 and '67 Chevy Novas. And while acquiring an economics degree from York University, he also owned a number of motorcycles.

His most memorable early ride was a Levi's Edition AMC Pacer - "just like the one in the movie Wayne's World." Carson's was blue with a blue-jean interior and purchased from a girlfriend's father. "She was embarrassed to be seen in it and wanted her dad to sell it, so I got it for a good price."

After that followed marriage and minivans, three kids and a career and a move to Delaware, near London. The notion of fun cars simmered on a back burner until a few years ago when he began looking for a 1960s T-Bird. "I've always liked '60s cars, particularly convertibles, and I've always liked the T-Bird for its style and luxury."

And that's what Ford's Thunderbird has been all about since the first was introduced for 1955 as a counterpoint to Chevrolet's Corvette. Unlike the sports car Corvette, the T-Bird was always described by Ford as a "personal car" created with style, comfort and boulevard cruising in mind.

The originals were built with assorted bits from the corporate parts bins - including a 193-hp, 292-cubic-inch V-8 - and wrapped in two-seater bodywork with fake hood scoop, egg-crate grille and tidy little tailfins. They lasted in this form until 1957 and it's one of these Carson is currently shopping for.

Generation two - dubbed "Square Birds" - arrived for 1958, but to broaden their appeal they had been redesigned as larger four-seaters, a trend that was continue through gen three, the "Bullet Birds" of 61-63, and become fully established with the fourth generation "Flair Birds" of 64-66.

Succeeding generations of T-Birds followed through the final 11th generation that ended the original run after 43 years in 1997. A short-lived "Retro-Bird" was launched in 2002, lasting only three years.

Carson missed his first chance to bag a T-Bird at an auction, despite being prodded by Paula to up his offer, but - taking ready advantage of that spousal approval - found one the next day in AutoTrader and promptly purchased it.

His low-mileage unrestored '65 gets it's "Flair Bird " name from styling that exudes that quality, including neat three-segment taillights that flash in sequence and a convertible top that disappears completely into the trunk. It's powered by a 390-cubic-inch V-8 making some 300 hp with a three-speed automatic, and was the first T-Bird to boast front disc brakes.

Carson likes this year because of its clean lines with the top stowed, the wrap-around back seat area and front bucket seats. Despite its luxury look - enhanced by its Rangoon Red paint job - it didn't come with air conditioning and has just an AM radio.

The car gets plenty of summertime use by Carson and his wife who attend area cruise nights and events put on by the Southern Ontario Thunderbird Club, which also provides a great support network. "The camaraderie is great and there's always someone to provide tips or hook me up with the right people to get work done."

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