|1965 Ford Thunderbird Special Landau:|
A touching recollection of a ten year love affair with a car belonging to the neighbor of a childhood friend
|The Story of One Car
By Mike Jonnaken
I first saw it in early June of 1965. The weather outside was beautiful, as yet not too hot in the lower midwest. Almost seven years old, and just out of school for the summer, each day seemed especially exciting to me. My Mother had arranged for my younger Brother and I to each spend the day at the homes of our respective friends. She was a member of the local Garden Club, and had a luncheon to attend that day. Around 11:30 AM, my Brother and I were loaded into Mom's white 1964 Thunderbird Convertible. It had a white top and a red leather interior. Since Mom had visited the beauty parlor the previous day in preparation for the luncheon, the top was up and so were the windows. We kept our cool by SelectAire, a wonderful invention. The adjustable chrome vents of the unit directed fresh cool air where needed throughout the car.
We dropped off my Brother first, his friend living just down the street. Mom walked him to the door, and spoke to his friends' Mother briefly. The drive to Craig's house, my friend, would not be much longer as he lived just a block away. After exchanging polite conversation, Mom drove off in her Thunderbird. Craig's Mother would be serving lunch soon, and she suggested we go outside and play in the backyard for a little while.
The neighborhood was upper middle class, with the houses sitting on oversized lots. About ten years old, the neighborhood was very nice, with beautifully maintained homes and mature landscaping. Craig's backyard was good sized, with a six to eight foot tall hedge separating his yard from the neighbor's yards on all sides. The hedge was very dense at the top, blocking the view completely. But you could see through it in places closer to the bottom, where small gaps between the individual plants remained. I was chasing after a ball that had hit the hedge and landed. When I bent down to pick up the ball, I peered through the hedge—looking to the east—AND THERE IT WAS!
The house next door to the east was white brick, and had a driveway that ran from the street down the west end of the lot, curving to the east behind the house. There was enough space on the driveway for about four cars to sit in pairs in front of the two car garage. A large patio, partially covered, separated the house from the driveway. The backyard was located across the driveway from the patio. This house sat further back from the street, and had a much smaller backyard than Craig's, but the front yard was larger. The driveway extended slightly past the curve, which allowed a car to be backed out of the garage, and turned around so it could be driven straight down the driveway to the street.
From my vantage point, I was looking east straight into the garage next door. The double door to the garage was open, and sitting inside the garage—right in the middle—was a Thunderbird! I noticed a very nicely dressed older lady emerge from the darkness of the garage. It was about noon, and the sun overhead lit up the driveway, but left the interior of the garage somewhat dark. The lady was carrying a large watering can, and set about watering flowers that were potted and placed around her patio. Craig was yelling at me to throw the ball, but I wanted to look at the car.
I threw the ball back to Craig, and peeked under the hedge again. Being a typical kid, Craig ran over to see what was going on. I told him I wanted to see the car, and Craig said it was brand new. Not sharing my interest in cars, Craig was little concerned with the goings on next door. We continued to play, but I checked under the hedge frequently. After a few minutes had passed, I would go back to check again. This time I saw that the driver's door was standing wide open, and the lights inside the T-Bird were on. The lady came out of her house and walked around the back of the car. She got in, and closed the door. The big bright brake lights came on a few seconds later, and dimmed slightly as she cranked the engine. The car started right up of course, becoming almost silent the second the key was released. I noticed at one point the lady adjusted the rear view mirror.
I don't know what Craig was doing at this time, and I didn't care. The backup lights came on, and the car was backing out of the garage. When the sun hit the coppery-colored finish, I was in awe of the color! I had never seen anything quite like it before. Then I noticed the light beige vinyl roof, which seemed to accent the paint so well. As she maneuvered the car to face it heading out of the driveway, she stopped. I saw her look down towards the center of the car, and point a garage door opener at the garage. As the door lowered, I saw the vent window on the passenger's door open. The lady was still sitting in the driver's seat, so it must be power! I remember that was a very cool thing. Mom's '64 didn't have power vent windows, you had to crank them. The wonders of this new Thunderbird didn't stop with the power vent windows. I noticed that the wheel covers matched the color of the car! Still sitting in the driveway, I looked at the lady to see what she was doing. Was she looking at me? How could she possibly see me under the hedge! My panic quickly subsided when I noticed she was raising the power antenna, and watching it as it went up.
Silently, the car began moving towards the street. I jumped up and ran towards the fence separating the front yard from the back. The fence was about eight feet tall, and ran from the side of the house to the hedge, which completely blocked my view. I opened the gate, and ran into the front yard in time to watch the Thunderbird come to a stop at the end of the driveway, slowly turn into the street, and silently continue down the street. I went to the curb, and watched the car until it disappeared around the bend.
Craig's Mother was on the front porch at this time, telling me to not go into the street, and to come inside for lunch. As I went inside, I remarked about how cool the car next door was. Craig's Mom said that the neighbor had just picked it up last week. We ate lunch, and Craig's Mother made us stay inside for awhile afterwards. I wanted to go outside to see if the car had returned home. After an hour or so had passed, we were given permission to go outside, but were cautioned to play quietly. I immediately ran over to the hedge and peeked underneath. The garage door was down, and no sign of the Thunderbird. Good, I thought. Not home yet. Then it hit me: maybe she came home during lunch, and put the car in the garage! Maybe I missed it entirely! I watched the house for signs of life, but nothing was going on.
Craig's Mother opened the gate to the front yard a while later, and asked if we wanted to help her. Craig wasn't so sure he felt like helping, but my decision came quickly when I was told that I could get a good look at the new car next door from the front yard. What! You mean the car was sitting in the driveway out front all this time? Running towards the front yard, as I reached the edge of the hedge, I could see it! I wasn't more than fifteen feet away! The sun was shining from the west now, and the paint and chrome really sparkled. All of the windows were open, just like in the ads. Craig's Mom asked us to get the hose, and bring it to her. We helped her water the flowers out front, but I spent more time looking at the car next door than I did paying attention to what I was doing.
After we put the hose away, I walked over to take a closer look. The Thunderbird script on the rear side of the car was certainly elegant looking, as were the little plates on the molding at the lower side edge of the vinyl roof. The small Thunderbird emblems were in gold - solid gold - I was certain. I focused my attention inside the car. Creamy light beige everywhere. And the wood trim on the inside of the doors was very rich. Then I noticed that the coppery color was inside as well. The carpeting and the recessed section of the dash really contrasted with the other color. What a gorgeous car, I thought. I also noticed that the power window controls on the console seemed quite long, compared to Mom's '64. I figured the extra buttons must control the vents.
The controls for the map light and the power antenna didn't escape my attention either, before Craig's Mom called for me to come inside. Not too much later, Mom came by to pick me up, and I remember thinking the inside of her Convertible seemed awfully plain compared to the car next door. I wanted just one last look, but it was gone. Off an another errand, or possibly put in the garage.
I spent as much time as possible at Craig's that summer, and checked out the car whenever possible. I learned that the lady's name was Paula Douglas, and that her husband had died earlier in the year. I remember a big metallic blue 1963 Cadillac Sedan deVille, as well as a black 1960 Ford Falcon four door sedan sitting in the driveway of that house before, but didn't pay as much attention to them as I did the Thunderbird. Apparently Mrs. Douglas didn't like the cumbersome Cadillac, and her little Falcon didn't have air conditioning, so she traded them both in on the Thunderbird following the death of her husband.
At one point during that summer I remember looking inside the car and noticing the nameplate mounted to the console, just above the radio. I just didn't think that a car could possibly look any nicer. The car was always immaculate, never a speck of dirt inside or out. Mrs. Douglas took very good care of the things she owned, and the Thunderbird was certainly no exception. She was always dressed very nicely, and her blonde hair always looked as if she had just stepped out of the hairdresser's.
Mom traded her Convertible in on a new 1966 Thunderbird Town Landau, which I felt was more elegant looking with the wood trim inside, and the contoured headliner with overhead roof console. It was blue metallic, with a dark blue leather interior. I loved all the Thunderbirds, but the Special Landau still remained a favorite. A few years later, we moved to a new house in a new neighborhood. I went to a different school, and lost touch with my old friends, including Craig. But I never lost touch with my love for cars.
In late 1974, I turned sixteen and got my license to drive. I called every used car dealer in town looking for a Thunderbird. Something in the 1961-1969 time frame. I finally found one at a price I could afford. I remember also looking at a Candyapple Red 1966 Town Landau with black vinyl roof and black cloth interior that was fully loaded except for the 428 engine. It had bad brakes, and was scary to test drive. The brake pedal was very hard, no power assist at all—and the car was very hard to stop. Pretty much everything on the car worked, except for the speed control. With the exception of the brakes, it was in overall good condition.
I decided on another 1966 Town Landau, this one in slightly better condition, although the price was a little higher. I also liked the color combination better than the red one. It was Antique Bronze metallic, with a Parchment vinyl roof and a Parchment and Palomino leather interior. And it had a 428 engine. The car needed a few minor things, and that was when I discovered the wonderful world of automobile salvages. One of them in particular became my favorite, as they specialized in Ford vehicles. It was laid out pretty well, with all of the T-Birds grouped together. On a visit to this particular salvage, I was touched by Paula Douglas' Special Landau once again.
One of my friends was also working on his car, a Mustang, and we would go searching for parts every few weeks. New arrivals at the yard were noticed immediately. While wandering through the Mustang area, I looked across to see the Thunderbirds. And there it was. My view was from the right rear, and there was no mistaking a 1965 Special Landau. As I approached the car, it looked to be in pretty decent shape. The paint was a little faded, and the vinyl roof was worn, but still looked serviceable. As I rounded the front of the car I could see the result of a pretty substantial impact. The bumper, grille, hood, and left front fender were wiped out. I opened the hood, and could see that a lot of the sheet metal near the left front corner was bent, but everything else looked pretty good. The radiator didn't seem to be damaged, and I began to wonder if the car could be fixed. This was 1975, when T-Birds of this era were a dime a dozen, and nobody thought twice about junking them. They weren't worth very much money, and little thought was given to restoration, except by those of us who had always loved them.
I opened the driver's door and looked inside. Typical interior wear with a crack on the driver's door armrest near the recessed area. The passenger door panel looked good. The carpet was faded and worn. The glass on both of the doors wouldn't stay up. Car was fully equipped except for speed control and reclining passenger seat. I noticed that the deck lid wasn't closed, and when I lifted it I saw that the hinge on the right side had bent, which prevented the deck lid from closing properly. It had also been wet in the trunk, and the lining was trashed.
A guy that worked at the yard was walking by, and I asked him how long the '65 had been there. It had been about two weeks, came in on a tow truck after the wreck. He said that the engine had bad main bearings, and that the transmission was shot. It was leaking transmission fluid really bad. It would take way too much work to get it on the road again. I sat in the driver's seat, and noticed the name plate mounted on the console: PAULA DOUGLAS. Talk about a step back in time! It had been a few years since I last saw the car, and a feeling of sorrow quickly overtook me. It was still in pristine condition when I last saw it! WHAT HAPPENED?
I later found out that Mrs. Douglas had traded the car in 1973 for a new Continental Mark IV. Since it was in such good condition, the Lincoln dealer put it on his used car lot. A man purchased the car for his daughter, who apparently didn't realize the need for oil changes and maintenance. When the gears in the power window regulators split, it was parked and not driven very much. Seems the daughter never thought of getting the windows fixed, and during the two years she drove it, nothing else was tended to, either. Including the oil pressure gauge, which had not registered any oil pressure for several months prior to the accident. So when she pulled out in front of someone at a stop sign, the brakes which were worn from two years of fast driving and quick stops—with no maintenance—were not able to stop the car in time. I guess the little T-Bird was in the final stage of its life.
On subsequent visits to the salvage, I noticed that the car was slowly being dismantled. First, the AM-FM radio was gone; then the bucket seats were thrown back in the car minus their four way power mechanism; I wasn't able to look at the car again after I noticed that the rear end of the car had been removed. Literally everything from the doors back was missing. I knew that it would not be long before what little remained of the T-Bird was crushed. As I was leaving the yard that day, I decided to go back in to buy the name plate on the console. It would remind me of that car as it was the very first time I saw it. But alas, someone had already removed the plate from the car. The remains of the adhesive were once again seeing the light of day for the first time since the plate was installed back in 1965. How I wish I'd thought of it sooner, and how I wish I had paid closer attention to the number on the plate. The remains of the car were gone the next time I returned to the salvage.
What a sad ending for a glamorous car that started its life so beautifully just ten years earlier. I first saw that car in its first week of service, and I last saw it in its last. If you happen to be lucky enough to own one of these models today, no doubt you understand its value. If yours has a name plate that bears Mrs. Douglas' name, this is the history of the car that plate came from. The Special Landaus that remain today serve as survivors to remind us of the ones that haven't made it through the years, including a very special one that was purchased new in May 1965 by Mrs. Paula Douglas.
|1965 Thunderbird Special Landau...
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