Open Menu
Open Menu

Reminiscing – My daddy’s Thunderbird

Published in

[Editor’s note: This “Reminiscing” story, edited by Richard Lentinello, comes to us from Hemmings Classic Car reader Al Hirth of Pueblo West, Colorado.]

I just turned 13 years of age in October of 1959 when a couple weeks later my Dad said, “let’s go look at some new cars.”

The local Ford dealer in a Chicago suburb had two 1960 Thunderbirds on the lot. One was white with a yellow roof and a red and white interior. It also had the Lincoln engine, probably one of a kind. The other T-Bird, and the one he bought, was light blue with a two-tone blue interior and the standard V-8.

I remember the ride home with just my Dad and I. I was fascinated with the new car interior smell, the console, bucket seats, 300 horsepower and Dad’s first car with dual exhaust. I was in teenage automotive heaven.

Our family always took a vacation every summer but Dad couldn’t wait. So, in December, with only about 500 miles on the car we went to Florida for Christmas vacation. Once we were in Florida, Dad got a speeding ticket, which was a common occurrence on family vacations.

The following summer we decided to go to California for vacation. One of our overnight stays was in Salt Lake City. The next morning we headed West. After a couple of hours we saw a billboard for the Bonneville Salt Flats. Dad looked at me in the rear-view mirror and asked if I wanted to drive the T-Bird on the salt flats. I said “yeah, that’s where they go top speed isn’t it?” And that’s exactly what I intended to do as my heart started beating harder when Dad pulled onto the salt.

My mom climbed into the back seat with my sister and Dad rode shotgun. I had driven the T-Bird several times before but never more than about 40 MPH. As I pulled the shift lever into drive I thought I should ask it was okay to over over 100 MPH, but I didn’t. I put the pedal to the metal and the Cruise-O-Matic shifted into second gear at 45 MPH and into Third at 78. When I got to 100 I thought Dad would tell me to slow down, but he didn’t. I think he wanted to see what his new car with only about 4,000 miles on it would do.

Well, it did 130 MPH with this 13-year-old kid behind the wheel. To this day I can’t believe my Dad let me do that on whitewall biased-belted tires with no speed rating.

After we left Bonneville we had lunch in Wendover, filled up with gas, and headed into Nevada. At that time there was no speed limit in Nevada; I think it was called “reasonable and proper.” Dad quickly got the Thunderbird up to a comfortable cruise at about 100 MPH on this lonely two-lane road.

After a few minutes I noticed my Dad looking in the rear-view mirror every few seconds. I turned around and saw this 1960 Plymouth gaining on us rapidly. Since a lot of police cars in the day were Plymouths, Dad slowed down to about 80. As the Plymouth passed us, it looked like we were standing still on the side of the road. It was not a cop. In fact, it was a Fury station wagon. I thought, wow, that wagon must have one of those dual four-barrel cross-ram Golden Commando engines in it to be going that fast.

Dad let the Plymouth get about a mile or two ahead of us and then stayed with him. I leaned over Dad’s bucket seat, looked at the 140 MPH speedometer, and saw we were doing 132 MPH.

Evidently my run on the salt must have inspired Dad. We stayed with the Plymouth for about two hours. Occasionally, we slowed down to about 60 for a little town, then back up to speed.

All of a sudden Dad slowed down to about 100 and said “Look, he blew it up,” as smoke was coming from the Plymouth. As we approached him, a trail of oil on the road indicated that he indeed probably threw a rod through the block or pan. We flew by him and quickly got up to speed again. I leaned into Dad’s ear and said, “we’ve been running with that guy for a couple of hours. Aren’t you going to give him a ride to the next town? You can’t leave him stranded in the desert.” Dad swiftly answered, “to hell with him. He probably robbed a bank and stole that car. That’s why he was driving like such an idiot!”

Soon we needed fuel. When we stopped for gas in the next town, the station had an old COE Chevy tow truck. Dad told the attendant what had happened several miles back. I was relieved that the poor guy with the Plymouth wasn’t going to be left in the desert for the vultures.

About an hour later we pulled into Reno, and then crossed the state line into California. I looked at the clock on the dash and it was 4:30. We had just crossed the state of Nevada, slightly over 400 miles, in a little over 3 ½ hours! Try to get away with that now days.

The Thunderbird was not Dad’s commuter car for work. It mostly sat in the garage until Mom went to the grocery store or picked us up from a high school function. I occasionally would take it out at night, street racing all over the Chicago suburbs. When I was a senior, I once got it up to 135 MPH on a deserted two lane road near Joliet.

After high school my parents moved to Colorado and in February 1966 traded the T-Bird in on a new Mustang. I was now 19-years old and enjoyed the Thunderbird throughout my teenage years. Like the Beach Boy song, I had “fun, fun, fun, till my Daddy took the T-Bird away!”