Loyal CC follower Big Paws spotted this Thunderbird on holiday in Sonoma, and what a good reason this is for having gone there. He was only able to get one shot, but it’s enough to start some detective work. The Bullet ‘Bird (not just because of the superb name, but that certainly helps) is probably my favourite American car (though sometimes it’s the Corvette Sting Ray, or maybe the 1957 Corvette) and this example would catch anyone’s eye.
From my vantage point in England, this looks very much like a Ford Thunderbird Sportback or a Chevrolet Nomad-type derivative. Given just this photo, I was initially thinking “I’m not aware of it as a Thunderbird variant but maybe Ford built such a version”. After all, a Thunderbird in the UK is a bit of an event, and not seeing all the variants, especially low volume ones, the notion seems quite plausible.
In search of more knowledge, in the spirit of academic rigour and intellectual certainty that pervades CC, some research was necessary. The key point that was brought home to me by Jason Shafer was that this is not a Ford factory product but an aftermarket conversion.
He also flagged up that the roof panel came from an Oldsmobile Vista-Cruiser (another great name for a car), probably a 1964 or 1965. And Paul Niedermeyer told me the whole rear roof structure, including the rear side windows, came from the same car to, as this picture makes quite clear.
Normally, roof conversions like this, from the Vista-Cruiser (or Buick Sport Wagon) would be asscoiated with maybe a van conversion or onto another older estate car, but to see something like this, using the windows and the roof of an estate car on a sports car, is almost certainly unique.
Having just written the last sentence, I then find this Dodge Challenrger Vista-Cruiser mix on the web, which somehow doesn’t work as well.
Further research showed that this car had been advertised for sale in 2012 and 2013 on Hooniverse and Hemmings, and may still be for sale, or for sale again, going by the notice in the rear window. The photos on the Hemmings and Hooniverse entries also show the rear of the car, with rear tailgate made of a flat piece of plexiglass above a rear panel with an attractive convex curve running across the back of the car, consistent with an adaptation of the standard car, and the regular Thunderbird rear lights, changing which is probably still a capital offence in Dearborn. The piece on Hemmings is well worth reading, and has links to an older article from Special Interest Autos in 1997.
So, a unique car, spotted in California by a tourist from Britain. And, externally at least, in my opinion, it’s a stunner. Why did Ford not do something like this? After all, Volvo did with the 1800ES. We might still have a Thunderbird if they had, and I might be able to have a Ford Vista-Bird Thunder Cruiser!
Exactly, what is not to like about this? Not much for me!
Thanks to Jason Shafer and Paul Niedermayer for their help in the research for this piece.