COAL #7: 1964 Ford Thunderbird – Another Avian Ford

Looking back on 1966, it was a year of change. Two years after Mother’s passing, our home in Morris Plains still felt different and emptier than before. Perhaps that was one reason why Dad felt the need to move away from those memories, event if only a few miles away. So, in the that summer of 1966, we found ourselves in Morristown, NJ, in a somewhat smaller home befitting our now-smaller family.

It also seemed time for a new family car, as well. The ’64 Galaxie, while a perfectly reliable and dependable vehicle during our ownership, also carried with it bittersweet memories of the past. Given our good experiences with Ford ownership, it was only natural that we should return to the Blue Oval for my father’s next daily driver.

Readers of COALs #4 and #6 may recall that we were repeat new-car customers of Laurie Ford, our local dealer. Established in 1925, the friendly, family-run dealership remained in its original location on Speedwell Avenue, the main drag running through Morris Plains, New Jersey.

Laurie Ford in the mid-1930s. Source: Morris Museum


By the mid-sixties, the northern New Jersey suburbs were growing dramatically, with major highways such as Route 10 and Route 46 attracting commercial establishments of all sorts, becoming shopping magnets for many folks who had largely patronized their hometown businesses.

Ford management, it turned out, was not unaware of this trend. They strongly suggested that Laurie Ford should move from their cramped small-town location to a more modern site on one of the highways noted above, where a new, larger showroom would surely attract more traffic and increase sales. (That suggestion may actually have been more of an ultimatum.) I’m told it resulted in the Laurie family patriarch telling Ford in no uncertain terms what they could do with their franchise. Unfortunately, it also resulted in their loyal customers being forced to shop elsewhere for their new wheels.

So it was that we found ourselves at Dawson Ford in Summit, New Jersey. Perusing their used-car lot, our attention was attracted to a low-mileage ’64 Thunderbird in Dynasty Green with a similarly green interior. Dad had never before expressed a specific liking for T-Birds, but for some reason this car held his interest long enough that a salesperson soon approached.

The ’64 T-Bird, like the Mustang, violated Ford Engineering’s “no sheet metal below the bumper” edict. Source:


Once the sales guy took a look at our pristine Galaxie 500, I’m sure he envisioned our Raven Black over red two-door hardtop sitting in a prime front-row spot (presumably with a prime asking price attached, as well as his resulting commission). Soon, however, the deal was done, and I have to admit that despite the lure of the T-Bird, leaving the Galaxie at Dawson’s felt like losing yet another part of the family.

This graphic rendition captures the ’64’s unmistakable square-rigged presence. (crwpitman/deviantart)


We continued our usual weekend-afternoon “spins” from our new home base, an enjoyable few hours listening to Dad providing commentary on the small towns we drove through, or stopping at some particularly picturesque roadside scene, the view through the T-Bird’s windshield constantly changing.

Didn’t we all dream of piloting our own private jet in the mid-60s?           Source: Hemmings.


The thin-shell front bucket seats, unique wraparound “lounge” separated rear seats, and countless other finely-designed amenities gave the T-Bird a much more modern look than the Galaxie it replaced. The horizontal speedometer with gauges in their own binnacles below, courtesy lights and sliders deployed aircraft-like below the center of the dash, all evoked a jet-setting, space-age image.  And with its road-hugging weight motivated by the 300-HP 390 V8 under the hood, the T-Bird was a faultless highway cruiser, if a bit thirsty.

It was also the first car I actually “drove”, if one could call it that. One of our late-Fall weekend “spins” took us to the home of one of Mother’s ex-Doubleday colleagues in upstate New York. At length, when we were ready to head back home, Dad threw me the keys to the T-Bird and asked if I would “warm it up” and move it down the driveway.

Remembering to secure the steering wheel and making sure the transmission was still in the “Park” position, I hesitantly keyed the ignition, pressed the brake pedal with all the force I could muster, and selected “R”. My first drive encompassed no more than 100 feet or so, but it left a lasting impression that I’ll never forget!

I never had to use the Dynohub in a fallout shelter. Source:


Suddenly, my three-speed Raleigh seemed hopelessly inadequate. Now, even though it was still a couple of years away, I couldn’t wait to get my learner’s permit and start Driver’s Ed., an appropriate topic for the next COAL…