Thunderbird of Paradise

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni

There was a time when a car could mean more. More than its stats, more than its function. A car could be an end in itself, something taken out only on the days you want to make memories. Something that is not used, but enjoyed.

Larry Seyfarth remembers those days, especially the morning 50 years ago when he took his wife, Nancy, to pick out her first wedding anniversary present: a sparkling new 1959 Ford Thunderbird convertible. White with a turquoise-and-white interior and long rear fins built for sailing to the moon, it was a special car even by the day’s standards. The ’59 T-Bird was unique among luxury cars in that it shared no body components with other vehicles. It also happened to be gorgeous, an example of mass production as art, and was the nicest thing either of them had ever owned. “She was a real treasure,” Seyfarth says.

As an engine designer with Ford since being recruited out of high school, Seyfarth, who was 22 at the time, actually had a hand in the Thunderbird’s creation and knew as well as anybody what it was capable of. So he and Nancy promptly took to the road with their new beauty on a country-spanning road trip to California over much of the fabled Route 66. He says the drive itself was their destination. “We had the top down all the way there and all the way back,” he says.

The Seyfarths’ Thunderbird became a “summer car” for a few years with two more road trips to Florida and Michigan’s U.P. before they stopped using it personally and began entering it in national show-car competitions. It’s retired now, though Seyfarth says he still gets it out once a year to take his wife out for her birthday and for the odd special occasion. “We just enjoy it,” he says.

After all these years, Seyfarth is still drawn to its unique body and retro color combination and says that, in a way, it’s symbolic of his 50 years of marriage to Nancy. It endures, beautiful as the first day, lovingly maintained and cherished.

Seyfarth, who is past director of Meadow Brook’s Concours d’Elegance, will display the 50-year old Ford Thunderbird at this year’s event on Aug. 2.