1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien Fastback Concept Car

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This special 1963 Thunderbird features a new roof line / trunk with aerodynamic styling and a customized leather interior with bucket seats front and rear. The Thunderbird Italien was a styling study from Fords Thunderbird styling department who actually built the plywood buck over which they sculpted the clay model of the roof in their own studios. Construction was done at Ford outsourcing contractor DTS where many other concept cars were built. When completed this one-off design was taken by Ford to many of the Autoramas such as Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles and more. Having been featured in more than 14+ magazines and two covers this car is the most famous Thunderbird in the world. This car has received a complete restoration in 2007 and is in as new condition.

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As with many manufacturers' experimental, concept and special show cars, it was common practice to destroy these cars when the factory was done with them, as they were considered hard to warranty, service, and possibly unsafe, having been built just for show only. An internal Ford Motor Company letter, dated July 31, 1965, signed by Special Promotion Manager Jacque Passino, lists the Italien as one of the cars slated to be scrapped. Somehow the Italien was pardoned by Passino and subsequently sold to DST on September 22, 1964, for the sum of $5,000, according to Ford documents.

DST then immediately sold the car to movie and television actor Dale Robertson. It is unclear if Robertson purchased the car (one source say he paid $10,000 for it), or if it was gifted to him. There is a hand written and signed note from Robertson stating it was presented to him by Ford. Dale Robertson appeared in many western movies and played Jim Hardie on the TV series “Tales of the West” and was guest star on other TV Westerns in the 1950's and 1960's including “Wagon Train” and later played JJ Starbuck on the TV series of the same name. Robertson had previously received a special factory show car when he was gifted a new 1958 Buick Limited convertible by GM, modified in a Wells Fargo western theme.

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Robertson kept the Italien in Southern California until 1965 when he passed it on to his gardener, William Warner. Records show Warner registered the car in 1967, then sold it to Joe Navaro, an Insurance salesman in 1974. Navaro brought the Italien to a local body shop in 1975 and had it repainted metallic blue, then used it in his insurance business travels around the Los Angeles area. Don Chambers, a noted Ford collector and operator of a local Mustang parts business recognized the Italien when he saw it on the street one day. Chambers attempted to buy the Italien from Navaro for years but to no avail. It is said that Chambers even offered to trade him a motel he owned, named the Thunderbird Motel for the car, but Navaro still said no. Finally in the late 1980's Chambers was able to acquire the car and register it in his name in March, 1989. By then the car was in rough shape, sun baked by the California sun. Chamber held on to the former show car until 2005, placing an ad in Hemming Motor News, when he decided to sell it due to health reasons.

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The restoration and return to greatness

In October of 2005 Tom Maruska saw the ad in Hemmings Motor News. Maruska was very familiar with the 1961-1963 “Bullet Birds” and had restored 15 convertibles by then, including a rare M-series Sport Roadster. For a Bullet Bird enthusiast, this is the Holy Grail of collectibles. Maruska recalls “As with most Thunderbird enthusiasts, I had heard of the Italien but I had no idea it existed.” After traveling to Los Angeles from his home in Duluth, Minnesota, a deal was made and the Italien was shipped back to Maruska's shop, arriving February 19, 2006.

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Fortunately the Italien spent its whole life in Southern California, and the body was not rusty or badly damaged. The car was complete with the exception of the hood lip molding. According to Maruska, “The story goes that somewhere in the past, the piece was removed by a repairman and kept as collateral because the owner at the time, most likely Dale Robertson's gardener, didn't have the funds available to pay for the repairs.” The molding was made of fiberglass, then chrome plated, and unique to the car. The molding was discovered at a shop in Los Angeles, but the owner wanted the sum of $10,000 just for the molding, so Maruska passed, crafting his own perfect replica to exact standards. Maruska completely disassembled the car and started the restoration in October of 2006 with the goal of returning it to like-new show condition, just as it was in 1962. The process of painting a car with a deep candy apple paint job required many coats of paint in 1962. Maskura found no less than 72 coats of candy apple on the car, plus several coats of blue that required six applications of aircraft stripper to get down to the metal and fiberglass. All the trim parts were stored, requiring countless hours recreating the engine turned metal trim exterior and interior parts, one small round swirl at a time for a total of 3840 individual “turns”. Maruska even did the upholstery himself on a sewing purchased on EBay that he says was the same age as the car. The Plexiglas rear glass and quarter windows were sent out to a specialist and came back looking flawless. Every nut and bolt of the car was restored to factory specifications, and by August of 2007 the Italien was finished.

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https://www.hemmings.com/classifieds/cars-for-sale/ford/thunderbird/2259884.html

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