BAY AREA THUNDERBIRD OWNERS CLUB
50TH. GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY
1958 – 2008
Dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of the
1955 – 1956 – 1957
Bay Area Thunderbird Owner’s Club is comprised of a group of men and women who have a wide range of backgrounds, personalities, vocations, interests and opinions. Our common passion is our love of the 1955, 1956, & 1957 Thunderbirds and the pride we take in owning and caring for them.
The first production Thunderbird for sale to the public came off Ford’s assembly line on September 9, 1954 with the serial #10005. This black beauty is currently owned by Rob and Leslie Paino of Villa Park, California. Ford has transported it to BATOC’s 50th anniversary celebration to honor BATOC as the first Classic Thunderbird club.
Ford destroyed the first three prototype cars and number four is believed to be in Pennsylvania. It was rumored to have been assigned to Lee lacocca when he was Regional Sales Manager of Ford in Philadelphia. The farsightedness of the Ford Company, their executives and Franklin Hershey (the man who created the design), made these cars what they are today, legends in their own time.
BATOC EARLY HISTORY
In April 1958 Lloyd “Skip” Riggs and his wife Jane began working to establish a club for the owners of Fords first, and now classic, models of the Thunderbird. They spent evenings and weekends placing pre-stamped postcard invitations on the windshields of any 1955, 1956, & 1957 Ford Thunderbird that they could find. They rented the Oakland Lake Merritt Boat House for the first regular meeting, which was held on June 4, 1958. Approximately thirty interested Thunderbird owners attended that first meeting 50 years ago. Skip Riggs was elected BATOC’s first president and was also the first editor of the club newsletter “What’s New In Bird-Land.” Roger Neiss soon took over as editor and continued in that position until 1962 when Winnie Gregovich became editor. All members in attendance at the June 4, 1958 were designated as “Charter Members”. Fifty years later BATOC still has four Charter Members on its Roster, Skip and Jane Riggs and Lew and Faye Edwards.
The club initiation fee was $10.00 a year and remained the same until this fee no longer covered mailing costs for the newsletter. Other fund raising activities were then established; which included the annual Halloween party, raffles, and parade participation. From the beginning the club gravitated toward social activities, car tours, parades, and rallies all of which revolved around their Thunderbird Automobiles.
BATOC’s first activity was on May 18, 1958 which was a group tour to Marsh Creek, Contra Costa County in which twenty-one cars participated. The first club overnighter was in June of 1958 to Holberg’s Resort in Lake County. The first social event was held in July 1958 which was a tour to Brighton Park by way of San Jose for a picnic.
On July 2, 1958 BATOC’s original By-Laws and the club Constitution were adopted. BATOC was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation under the laws of the State of California on August 5, 1958. The incorporators and first directors of the Bay Area Thunderbird Owners Club: Lloyd Riggs, Arthur Horsfall, Richard Nagle, Jane Riggs and Faye Edwards.
In 1958 Ford elected to build a four-passenger vehicle called a Thunderbird, a decision which caused strife within the club. Some of the original members bought the four-passenger 1958 model car, but the club was originally for the two-passenger car. This divided the club as to whether or not to allow the four-passenger model owners as members. The By-Law’s First Amendment came in November 1958 which changed the membership requirement from being a Thunderbird Owner to being an owner of a two-passenger Thunderbird. It then seemed that the is-sue calmed down for a time. The By-Laws were amended once again in 1962 to allow any registered owner of a two-passenger Ford Thunderbird to become an active member in the club. Thus any four-passenger Thunderbird owner would no longer be accepted for full membership. BATOC has recently acquired several associate members who own the “Retro” two seat Thunderbirds. Charter members Lew and Faye Edwards, as well as long time member Kathy Petersen are now associate members with
BATOC AFFILIATION WITH CLASSIC THUNDERBIRD CLUB INTERNATIONAL
Early in 1961, Vic Take, from Clayton Missouri came up with the idea of forming an international club for the small Thunderbirds. BATOC was asked if they, being the oldest club, would be interested in mothering his fledging group. The reason for this request was due to the quality of their monthly newsletter “What’s New in Bird Land”. Vic realized that a quality monthly newsletter was necessary for the continuation of the group. A special meeting was held by BATOC in which they met with their lawyer and decided to turn down the proposal. BATOC’S current editor Roger Neiss assumed the responsibility on his own. Classic Thunderbird Club International (CTCI) was created and was an organization of 1955, 1956, & 1957 two-passenger Thunderbirds from throughout the Western Hemisphere. The club was a chance to widen the scope of interest and information to members with these Thunderbirds. Vic was the director until he found the management too much to handle alone and reorganized. He named three energetic leaders to assist him as directors, one being Skip Riggs founder of the Bay Area Thunderbird Owners Club. Skip is BATOC Club Member No. 1 and CTCI Club Member No. 00001. CTCI became incorporated in 1965. BATOC was awarded Chapter #4 opposed to Chapter #1 as three clubs that formed later than they did made their application prior to BATOC’s, hence, the designation of being the 4th. Chapter! However, the members of BATOC feel they are the number one club and a classic in itself. In 1963 CTCI created their newsletter called “Early Bird”. In 1969 they sent letters to all chapters of the independent clubs stating that compulsory membership in their club was mandatory. Each club member was to be initiated and any member not joining their club would be forced to expel that member. BATOC was against this even though they were strong supporters of CTCI. The argument against this was that they were in existence be-fore their club and were also incorporated, so that their concerns for liability did not exist in their case. Also the club needed all members wanting to join, keep the chapter viable and encourage participation by those who did belong. In the year 1970 it was decreed that all clubs forming a chapter after May 1965 must also be a CTCI Member by December 1970. Today the club is affiliated with the Classic Thunderbird Club International (“CTCI”) and the 1955, 1956 & 1957car owning members must belong to that club, since the club insurance is now through their organization.
The clubs newsletter “What’s New in Bird-Land” first appeared on May 7, 1958. The first editor was Skip Riggs and then the editorial duties went to Roger Neiss. In 1963 Roger was appointed the editor of the Classic Thunderbird Club Internationals “Early Bird” newsletter. In 1962 WNIBL was discontinued as it was to be combined with the “Early Bird” in the following year, although it was reinstated in June of 1967. The newsletter has had many editors through the years, some being short termed and some long termed. Both Winnie Gregovich and Ann Gregory held the position for many years, each doing a wonderful job. For the last four years Don Perry has been the editor and the newsletter during which time the newsletter has won both CTCI’s Gold Award and Silver Award, as well as many other awards.
Some of the many columns featured have been, Get Acquainted, Members Profiles, Words for Birds, The Bird-Land Spotlight, Presidents Corner, Editors Ramblings, It’s for the Birds, Shots at Random, Sunshine News, On the National Scene, Buffer Zone, National Council, Pssst! Did You Know???, Potpourri, and Technical Notes. Technical articles have been included in the newsletter for most of the clubs existence. Notable contributors have been Nick Gregovich, Art Marr, Bob Tokarski. Pete Lefevre, our current “Tech Expert” has written this column for the last twenty-four years.!!
CLUB MEETING SPOTS
The first meeting was held at the Oakland Lake Merritt Boat House. The second was held at the Cirimele Ford Agency in Oakland. Meetings were then held at member’s homes and later
at random restaurants. Between 1973 and 1986 a permanent meeting place was established at Art’s Restaurant in Oakland. After Art’s was sold, meetings were held at Denny’s Restaurant in Jack London Square in Oakland for a short time. Then in the late 1987’s until 1996, the meetings were held at Day’s Inn, Emeryville. Since 1996 the club has met at the Buttercup Grill in Walnut Creek where they still meet at this time
Over the last fifty years BATOC has hosted many popular events. Some of the significant events have been:
Anniversary Dinner, Danville Hot August Nights, Christmas Dinner Party, Funkhana, Presidents Event, Super Bowl Party, Reno Hot August Nights, Halloween Party, Rallies, Hounds & Hare (First Rally-1958), Mission Impossible, Poker Run (Second Rally-1958), Powder Puff Rally, Reno Rally, Tahoe Rally, Marsh Creek Tour (Clubs first activity), Mystery Tour, Luther Burbank Gardens, Charles Schultz Museum, Holberg’s Resort, Eugene O’Neil House, Murphy’s, Hearst Castle, Treasure Island, Wine Country, Gold Country, Monterey, USS Hornet, Parades, Berkeley Football, Miss Oakland Beauty, Miss California, Santa Cruz, S.F. Columbus, S.F. Easter Day, Olympic Winners, S.F., and Fourth of July Parades.
BATOC has also hosted various Thunderbird related events, such as, Regionals, Conventions, Concourses, Tech Clinics, Joint Club Outings, and Car Shows
Forty percent of all new two-passenger Thunderbirds were sold in California. A Perpetual President Trophy was donated to the club which would be inscribed with the past presidents name and year or years served. That president would keep the trophy until the next president completed his or her time in office. A small plaque for officers with their name, year or years served, and office they held was inscribed and given as a gift to the outgoing officers.
Jane Riggs suggested starting a collection for a needy charity each Christmas. The funds collected from members would be matched by the club and contributed to the St. Anthony’s Dining Room, which was approved and continues today.
Officials at the Modesto American Graffiti Car Show informed BATOC Member Jerry Parsons, who was at the show, that his 1957 White Thunderbird was “The Car” that was in George Luca’s film America Graffiti.
The rally “Funkhana” put on in the early years was a course laid-out in a closed area with marker cones. Drivers of the T-Birds left the start line and went around the course to find out who had the fastest time. The second was a “Blind Mans Funkhana” whereby the driver was blindfolded and assisted by a co-pilot who gave verbal instructions as to where to turn left or right. This really slowed down the cars and made for some really amusing driving around a course lined with rubber pylons.
Birdman of the Month was created to give acknowledgement to a man or woman who had done the most to further the clubs interest.
In the Hounds and Hare Rally the lead car was the “Hare” would be driven over back roads placing flour at each road inter-section. The “Hound” cars must follow the trail by locating each turn indicated by the splashed flour along the roadside.
In 1971 a Safety Sticker attached to the windshield by the California Highway Patrol was a requirement for membership in the club.
In the early years an article in WNIBL by Nick Gregovich read “High Cost of Gasoline – What you can do to your Bird so you can lower octane use and get better mileage”. If they only knew what was ahead of them.
The 1972 Anniversary Dinner at the Lake Merritt Hotel the menu read, Prime Rib or N.Y Steak $5.95. The same year on a Reno, Nevada event a motel room with a king size bed was $22.00 and two double beds were $24.00. We think they call those “the good old days”.
In 1963 Skip and Jane Riggs were awarded Honorary Lifetime Membership to the Bay Area Thunderbird Owners Club.
After the 1955 T-Birds were produced one was officially tested for maximum speed and topped out at 130 MPH.
In a Poker Rally the rally participants follow a charted course featuring from five to seven stops at which each participant receives a playing card. The participant with the best poker hand at the finish is the winner.
An etched BATOC wine glass was traditionally presented each year as a “thank you” to all members who hosted an event that year. This practice has just recently been discontinued.
Prior to 1982 the By-Laws read, “Members must own a 1955, 1956, or 1957 (running) two-passenger Thunderbird” or they were not eligible for membership. That By-Law was changed to read “Members must own a 1955, 1956, or 1957 two-passenger Thunderbird”.
In 1984-CB Radios were purchased by the club to be used in case of a breakdown of a T-Bird on an event. Today WalkieTalkies are used. A Parts Tool Kit was also purchased in 1984 to carry on events.
Early years Passport Punch Cards were given out to members who attended club events and the one with the most punches got a prize.
Recently the club has launched a new Web Site. Members and others can access the latest in electronic newsletters, new features, interactivity and a Club History can be found there.
In 2005 a BATOC calendar was created in which club members cars were pictured each month. Professional photographer Michael Russell, who is a member of the club, is responsible for this beautiful calendar. The calendar is not only sold to our members, which helps our treasury, but is also sold to T-Bird lovers around the world.
In 2004 “BATOC BUCKS” were created to stimulate members to attend meetings wearing their name badges, attend events, and drive their cars to meetings. Plastic chips in various amounts are awarded, which can be used towards payment of club brunches, merchandise, fee events and other related items.
Over the years previous club members have visited BATOC meetings and events, some have joined the Club again. Recently the Club reinstated as members Charter Members Faye and Lew Edwards as Associate Members with their 2005 T-Bird. We are very happy having these long ago members join us again. It only goes to show you that we are a “great” Club!
GOOFS AND LAUGHS ALONG THE WAY
On one of the club caravan outings to Murphy’s in the Gold Country the long line of Thunderbirds all at once came to a stop. Everyone waited to hear what the problem was. It seems that the leader had run out of road and was definitely lost. With help the red faced leader once again got the caravan on the road and the destination was reached, but never forgotten.
On a road trip to Charles Schultz’s Museum in Northern California the caravan went through a fairly large city. Soon it was noticed that we had lost a member in an X Brand car. We never did find our “lost member”. We eventually learned that he ended up miles away in another city. I guess you can’t win them all.
When on one of the clubs annual snow trips, we were in the party cabin playing a game called “What Makes You Hot”? The object was to put a blanket over a person sitting on the floor and tell them to remove what makes them hot. One gentleman took off his sweater, shirt, undershirt, shoes, sox’s, and belt. He was stopped at that point by his wife yelling “Bob, Hot-Hot-Hot”. By the time Bob finally got the message that it was the blanket making him hot the group was laughing hysterically.
Compiled by Carol Glander