Car of the Week: 1964 Ford Thunderbird

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Story by Michael Petti; photos by Jim Haklar

With his lively wit and ability to make people laugh, Joe Giglio is a real card. However, he’s better known as a member of the Four Aces, the band with numerous top 10 hit songs during the ’50s. Giglio’s personal ace in the hole is this 1964 Thunderbird convertible.

Like cars, music provides a cultural reference point. The Four Aces typified early-’50s pop music before rock ’n’ roll became mainstream. This vocally driven music replaced ’40s big band. Artists such as Patty Page, Nat King Cole and the Four Aces had a laid-back style with light melodies and innocent lyrics. Rock ’n’ roll is to the “Jetsons”-tailfinned cars of the late ’50s as what the Four Aces are to the reserved style of early-’50s automobiles.

As soon as the garage door lifted during my visit, Giglio drove out his T-Bird and it became understandable why 50 years ago it was a valet’s favorite charge. Handsomely proportioned with a long, low and sleek silhouette, the ’64 Thunderbird was an attention magnet. Compared to today’s generic-looking “belly button” cars, the Four Aces’ song “Stranger In Paradise” comes to mind when walking around and sitting in Giglio’s sultry ’Bird.

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The fourth-generation Thunderbird of 1964-’66 revitalized the 1958-’60 “Square Bird” look using more contemporary mid-1960s creases. The coupe’s wide sail panels returned to the knife-edge look that had disappeared with the 1961-’63 “Bullet Bird” Thunderbirds. Gone, too, were the Bullet Bird’s smooth, curving lines below the greenhouse. In place was a return to sharp corners and angles. The front grille on the ’64 ’Bird paid homage to the ’58, as did the scooped-backed headlamps.

For their crisply detailed geometric lines, the fourth-generation T-Birds have been nicknamed the “Flair Birds.” Coincidentally, Giglio has his own flair. He’s as buff, ruggedly handsome and fashion-conscious as pro-wrestler Rick Flair. Also like the wrestler, Giglio’s personality is devilishly brash and full of fun, and he’s always ready to spring a new surprise. Giglio shares his flair at Four Aces shows, adding his own stand-up comic bits during concerts.

The flair that Giglio appreciates from his 1964 Thunderbird is its style and looks.
“The car takes me back to younger days,” he says. Those days include singing with local Philly groups such as the Untouchables, the Echoes and the Cheers. The last group did the music for the Four Aces. When an original member left, Giglio joined the group by singing tenor.

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The style that takes back Giglio flies throughout the interior of the Thunderbird. The 1964-’65 “Flair Bird” instrument panel had no allegiance to the past. Aluminum brightwork from the full-length console turned left to meet and then pass the steering column as the console ran between the seats, then ascended at an angle toward the instrument panel, becoming integrated with it. Above and ahead of this aluminum sweep were four chrome “golf balls” that housed oil, fuel, temperature and amperage displays. On top and behind these golf ball gauges was a speedometer. Underneath large stationary numbers was a rotating drum-strip speedometer. The needle moved under each fixed number as the car accelerated or decelerated.

The speedometer was on a recessed panel that continued to the passenger side. Above the gauges was a mantle that prevented sun glare on the instrument displays. Hanging underneath this hood were gauges and fresh-air vents along with a clock.

In short, the instrument panel was a three-dimensional, multi-layered configuration. Controls consisted of levers, knobs, dials and buttons. No wonder T-Birds such as Giglio’s were advertised as “Begadgeted and Bedazzling.” Because of the aircraft-inspired instrument panel, another ad stated, “All you need is a flight plan.”

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Giglio’s T-Bird has the fiberglass tonneau that changes the four-seater into a two-seater by hiding the back seat. With this rare accessory in place, Giglio’s car is in kindred spirit with the 1955-’57 two-seat Thunderbirds. The tonneau is shapely with raised twin headrests behind the front bucket seats that gracefully slant toward the trunk. If necessary, the tonneau can be removed so rear seat passengers can enjoy the wraparound “lounge” T-Bird seat that curves around the sides. Of the 9,198 convertibles assembled for the 1964 model year, it is estimated that less than 50 had the tonneau option.

Giglio first spotted a Flair Bird convertible with a tonneau at an antique car show where he was displaying his 1966 Thunderbird coupe. It was love at first sight and, as Four Aces fans know, “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing.”

The Four Aces’ signature recording is Three Coins In A Fountain. It is based on a movie by the same name in which three young ladies throw coins into Rome’s Trevi Fountain and find the loves of their lives. Giglio must have tossed a coin, too, because the owner of the ’66 T-Bird with the tonneau told Giglio about a collector in Trenton, N.J., who was paring down his collection, which included a 1964 Thunderbird with a tonneau. In order to get this car, Giglio sold his 1966 hardtop.

Giglio’s 1964 T-Bird convertible was a turnkey purchase. It is a true original, but Giglio added the optional wire wheels to give his car the complete Sports Roadster package.

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The only engine and transmission available in 1964 Thunderbirds was the 390-cid V-8 at 300 hp and the Cruise-O-Matic three-speed automatic. Surprisingly, on T-Birds of this period, the gear selector is on the column of the swing-away steering wheel, not on the console.

Giglio uses his Thunderbird for the purpose for which it was built, and the convertible is driven and enjoyed. As the ’Bird eats up the open road in a hurry, you can bet Giglio is singing the Four Aces’ “Shangri-la” all the way down the road.

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