Despite their deep love and devotion, it’s not uncommon for collector car enthusiasts to let go of their special four-wheeled rides. Most things are, after all, for sale if the numbers are high enough. But as Lee Bakakos found out with his 1961 Ford Thunderbird, sometime that massive pile of cash just isn’t worth it.
For the majority of its life, the elegant drop top belonged to a single owner in Texas who cherished the Ford for over forty-five years. Failing health eventually forced him to part ways, passing the vehicle on to Thunderbirds Southwest, in La Grange, Texas, in 2005.
Right around that time, one of Lee’s close friends, Bob, happened to be in the market for one of these sleek cruisers and purchased the fully restored ride sight unseen. Once the car was in Illinois and Lee saw it, he became smitten. Two years of watching his friend enjoy the dream machine was too much to handle. In 2007 Lee became serious about becoming the next new owner. “I spent the following three years chasing my buddy to get him to sell me the car. He just wouldn’t part with it. It was a tremendous amount of effort but I knew it would be worth it.”
Eventually after endless coaxing, Bob broke down in 2010 and took Lee’s check and turned over the keys and title. “I only drove it for a year before I sold it in the summer of 2011 for a sick amount – way more than the car was worth. I really shouldn’t have let it go but it was just a money grab – plain and simple,” said Lee.
The special car was loaded up and shipped out west to a new home in California and for the next twelve months Lee lamented his decision. “Soon I began to call the owner in an attempt to buy the car back from him.” Finally, persistent Lee was able to once again own the car. “I just bought it back three weeks ago. I’m thrilled to have the car returned.”
The classic ride’s jetlag has barely worn off but Lee has wasted no time in getting behind the wheel and cruising to show off the fine lines. One of the reasons Lee, along with numerous other enthusiasts, appreciate and love the vehicle so much is the rarely seen Nautilus Grey paint with red interior color combination. “You just don’t find many like this but the red and grey are a perfect match.” For those too hot summer days, factory air conditioning keeps Lee cool.
Powering the massive 17-foot long drop top is the factory Thunderbird 390 Special 390ci V8, mated to a three speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission. A four-barrel Holley carburetor feeds the eighty-cylinder engine while dual exhausts dump the spent fumes out the back.
Check out our photo slideshow below for a closer look at this vintage Ford cruiser.
How it looked back then:
With Lee’s devotion to his ’61 Bird, it’s safe to say he’s in ‘Thunderbird Country’, which this period advertising explains “is a place where everything is magical”.
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Categories: Feature Story