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Friday, June 7, 2024

Reviving the Icon: The Unique 1963 Ford Thunderbird 'Italien' Concept

Hidden GEMS 💣 - In the vibrant landscape of 1960s automobile design, the allure of Italian aesthetics captured the imagination of many, including American car manufacturers. Among them, Ford took a distinctive approach by infusing Italian design sensibilities into one of their classic models. The result was the Ford Thunderbird 'Italien' Concept Car, a masterpiece that embodied the elegance and innovation of its era.
1963 Ford Thunderbird 'Italien' Concept Car heavily inspired by Italian design and done by its own team. (Picture from: TradeUniqueCars)
Ford's ambition to blend Italian flair with American ingenuity led to the creation of the Thunderbird 'Italien.' The initial design phase was driven by the Thunderbird styling department, where designers meticulously crafted a clay model over a plywood buck. This hands-on approach allowed for a seamless translation of the concept's vision into a tangible vehicle. To bring this vision to life, Ford collaborated with DTS, a contractor known for constructing many of the era's concept cars.
1963 Ford Thunderbird 'Italien' Concept Car appeared with a unique fastback roof and made of fiberglass and then chrome plated. (Picture from: TradeUniqueCars)
The 1963 Thunderbird 'Italien' emerged as a stunning representation of cross-cultural design. Its sleek fastback roof, a hallmark of Italian influence, was harmoniously integrated with the robust American framework. The car boasted the revered 390FE V8 engine, equipped with the unique M code T-Bird tri-power carburetor setup, blending performance with elegance.
1963 Ford Thunderbird 'Italien' Concept Car beautified with an interior that is entirely covered with red genuine-leather to matches the exterior appearance which is painted in the same color. (Picture from: TradeUniqueCars)
Despite its initial fate as a show car destined for scrapping, the Thunderbird 'Italien' found a savior in actor Dale Robertson. Robertson, enamored by its design, acquired the vehicle and soon passed it on to his gardener, William Warner. Warner cherished the car for several years before selling it to Joe Navaro, an insurance salesman, in 1974. Navaro repainted it metallic blue and used it as his daily driver, adding to its storied history.

The car's next chapter began when Ford collector Don Chambers recognized its rarity and historical significance. After years of persistence, Chambers acquired the vehicle in 1989. By then, the car had suffered from exposure to the elements, requiring significant restoration. In 2005, Chambers, facing health issues, sold the car, setting the stage for its ultimate revival.
1963 Ford Thunderbird 'Italien Concept Car' featured the 390FE V8 with the unique M code T-Bird tri-power carburetor setup. (Picture from: TradeUniqueCars)
Enter Tom Maruska, a renowned specialist in restoring 'Bullet Birds' and rare concept cars, brought a wealth of expertise and passion for automotive history to the Thunderbird 'Italien.' Known for his meticulous craftsmanship, Maruska had already restored the Mercury XM-800 concept and was working on the Mercury Turnpike concept at the time. In February 2006, he traveled from Duluth, Minnesota, to Los Angeles, where he struck a deal to bring the car back to his shop.

The restoration process was a testament to Maruska's dedication. Despite the car being largely intact and rust-free, it had layers of wear that needed addressing. One of the most challenging aspects was recreating a missing piece of fiberglass molding. When an LA shop owner demanded an exorbitant price for the original part, Maruska chose to handcraft a new piece from metal, demonstrating his commitment to authenticity.
1963 Ford Thunderbird 'Italien' Concept Car had 72 coats of paint that required six applications of aircraft stripper to get down to the metal and fiberglass; all trim was restored. (Picture from: TradeUniqueCars)
Maruska's restoration efforts were exhaustive. The car's paint required multiple applications of aircraft stripper to reach the original metal and fiberglass. He painstakingly restored each trim piece and reupholstered the interior by hand. The Plexiglass windows, integral to the car's distinctive look, were restored by a specialist, ensuring that every detail was as close to the original as possible.

Today, the Thunderbird 'Italien' stands as a beautiful testament to the fusion of American engineering and Italian design. Its journey from a concept car to a cherished collector's item highlights the passion and dedication of those who recognized its unique value. The restoration by Tom Maruska not only preserved a piece of automotive history but also celebrated the ingenuity and creativity that defined an era.
As the Thunderbird 'Italien' continues to capture the hearts of car enthusiasts, it serves as a reminder of the timeless appeal of innovative design and the enduring legacy of those who strive to preserve it. The story of this remarkable car is a fitting tribute to a bygone era, where the blend of cultural influences created something truly extraordinary. *** [EKA [14052020] | FROM VARIOUS SOURCES | MECUM | TRADEUNIQUECARS ]
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