The Story of Our Thunderbirds
by Ron and Susan Wacek
Hello. My name is Ron Wacek. I live in Pleasanton with my wife Susan, and this is the story of my ’55 Thunderbird. Let’s go back to 1955 or thereabouts. This is how I remember it at 7 years old. I was living with my Aunt and Uncle. They had a café/gas station on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) about 5-7 miles south of Oxnard and 1/2 mile north of Mugu Rock. The location is now home to the Chumash trailhead of Mugu State Park. A portion of the Pt. Mugu base is directly across the PCH. One day a cool car drove in and a Navy guy got out and went in for a bite to eat. I went over to check the car out. It had no back seat and it had a big black phone in it! It must have been for military communications. I just said wow to myself and thought that one day maybe I could have a car like that with a phone in it.
Fast Forward to 1967. I graduated from High School in Concord and was attending SMC in Moraga. I didn’t have a car and so was dependent on other local students to give me a ride. This soon became problematic and I told my parents that I really needed a car. So, I borrowed $1200 from my stepmother and promised to pay her back $50 a month. I met Skip Riggs and he invited me over and introduced me to T-Bird land, so I went out and bought the first early Bird that I saw. It had a dull red paint job, the driver’s door was stuck, but heck I could call the car mine, so I slid in through the passenger door and drove it home. I also joined CTCI. Then came the problems. I parked it outside and routinely had to bail it out after a rain. There was no such thing as a quick getaway because it turned over so slowly. Then I started going through transmissions- 3 speed O/D. The cluster gears would go out. I would replace the trans, drive around the block and the cluster would blow again. I did that about three times and then became discouraged. I advertised the car for a week in the SF Chronicle for $1000. No takers, so I was forced to keep it. I put in another 4-5 transmissions- got real good at it. Then, on about the 10th trans I realized that only three bolts actually tightened down on the bell housing. I knew that the fourth hole had a crack through it, but didn’t think it was a big deal but I replaced the bell housing anyway. Voila! No more busted transmissions.
Now it’s the 70’s. On New Year’s Day 1970 I replaced the speedometer. Today it reads 128500. From 1967 thru 1969 I figure I put on 30000 miles. So I’ve put on about 160000 miles since I’ve owned it. In 1973 at 35000 miles I replaced the ’55 292 with a ’57 312 short block from Ford. By then I had installed a ’57 T-85, a more robust trans than the ’55. I also kept the six volts
since the starting issue was resolved by installing a special 6V starter. It went through two versions of BRG paint jobs in the 70’s. The mid-seventies found me acquiring other vehicles (became a car nut actually) but those are other stories.
In the 80’s I went to a GM light yellow paint color. I also put a porthole kit in and continued to use it as my daily driver. The 80’s also found me with a starter wife and mortgage. Car activities were curtailed somewhat, at that time in my life.
Over the years the car has morphed into a ‘55-‘57. As well as the ’57 engine and trans, I acquired a ’57 soft top, converted to ’56 sun visors as well as ’56 backup lights. For safety I converted to front power discs. I found that thirty years on the last set of drum brakes and the replacement linings was just no longer adequate on the freeways. I now feel much safer on the road.
Over the years I have made other subtle modifications and additions. If only someone made a 15 inch steering wheel for a ’55. Getting in and out has become somewhat of a task these
I retired in 2013 and my retirement gift to myself was a 2005 Thunderbird. I wanted to have the first year and the last year Thunderbird- a span of 50 years. What a difference in technology and manufacturing processes! We have been BATOC members for 6 years now. We appreciate BATOC recognizing both versions of the Thunderbird in the club.