William Scaffidi had a fondness for Fords. His daughter, Barb Gilling — who worked for William “Red” Lewis, founder of The Automobile Gallery in Green Bay, Wis. — says that everyone called her dad “Bill.” According to Barb, Bill’s brother, Sam, owned Scaffidi Motors in Stevens Point.
“Sam’s kids run it as a multi-brand dealership now,” said Gilling, “but it used to be called Scaffidi Ford, so that might be why Dad was so fond of Fords.”
Bill lived all his life in Cudahy, a small suburb south of Milwaukee. He was the son of Sicilian immigrants and grew up in a household of nine. Gilling recruited the help of her brother and sister to get the stories behind their father’s Model A Ford and Thunderbird, which is featured here. They believe Bill bought the T-Bird in the late 1980s.
“He would have been right around retirement age at 62,” Barb estimated. “He saw an advertisement for the T-Bird at a Model A Ford swap meet. Over the years, dad owned four Model As including a 1928 AR Sport Coupe, a 1929 Briggs sedan, a 1931 Town Sedan and a 1931 Deluxe roadster. The roadster was his prized Fourth of July parade vehicle. It is still in the family along with the 1931 sedan. So yes, he was a real Ford lover!”
According to Barb, the “advertisement” was really just a photograph of a 1955 T-Bird body. “It wasn’t a finished car back then,” Barb explained. “It was the bare frame of a first-year Thunderbird and a lot of pieces, of which many came to him in buckets.”
The T-Bird was purchased and kept in the family garage. “It was just a two-car garage and filled with all kinds of household necessities,” Barb recalled. “The T-Bird was his retirement project. It was a former drag racing car and needed a lot of attention. It had the wrong motor and transmission, a roll bar and parking lights that were welded shut.”
Barb said her dad worked on this car for at least 25 years before he turned it over to others who finished restoring it to its original glory. Throughout the years, Bill was engaged in bringing parts and pieces back home. He practically “lived” in the basement or garage where he tinkered with the T-Bird and its parts, even during the ice-cold and snowy Wisconsin winters.
“Dad was very motivated to work on his car,” Barb said. “It was his hobby, his entertainment and his pride and joy. Even when the car was in buckets, he really enjoyed sharing his progress. In the early years, he was always searching out the parts needed for its restoration. Dad was the kind of guy who could fix or reproduce just about anything with the help of his lathe. He was undaunted by the task and up for the challenge. I think he always had a vision in his mind of restoring it to its original glory.”
Barb said that her dad and her brother attended the Iola Old Car Show together for almost 40 years to sell and buy car parts. “My mother always said that they often came home with more parts than they left with. My brother had a hand in helping dad restore his Thunderbird and being involved with all of his other car-related projects.”
Eventually Bill reached a point where he wanted the car done and he knew it was not going to get there at the pace he was maintaining. He decided to take the car to a small restoration shop in North Cape, Wis. That is when a gentleman named John Weyker took over and spent several months completing the T-Bird’s assembly.
Bill had gotten the car painted at another shop in south Milwaukee years earlier, but Weyker took care of all the many finishing touches that a good restoration requires. Bill was very pleased with the results and extremely proud of his little red Ford. The car was restored to factory condition as much as possible, but it was converted to a 12-volt electrical system and power steering was added.
Unfortunately, Bill waited so long to have it restored that he was only able to drive it a few times. He displayed it at the annual Cudahy Sweet Applewood Festival where he won the “People’s Choice” trophy. It was also shown at a local car show. Although its time on the show circuit was short, the T-Bird evokes many good family memories.
“Dad was a Ford lover for sure,” Barb emphasized. “He owned mostly Fords over the years. Mom remembered a 1940s Studebaker that they drove on their honeymoon in the 1950s. That might have been his very first car. But, us kids remember the Ford station wagons he had, and even a Pinto, with fond remembrances.”
The family owned a cottage in northern Wisconsin and Barb recalls the Ford wagon and other cars that were left parked there. “Among them was a 1952 Ford F1 panel truck and a two-tone blue 1955 Ford Country Sedan that might have been the first brand-new car he purchased.
“As they grew old, these Fords were used to navigate the northern woods and transport our family of six to our regular Saturday night entertainment spot where we watched bears visit the local town dump,” Barb remembered with a smile. “The cottage ‘up north’ was the final resting spot for those cars. Folks driving by often made inquiries about purchasing those gems and hopefully they were bought and restored to a new life.”
The 1955 T-Bird was Bill’s dream car in a way. At one point, he told his son that he had been eyeing up Ford’s brand-new Thunderbird while he was car shopping in 1955. With Bill anticipating a family, a two-seater wasn’t practical So, he wound up waiting another 30 years before being able to purchase his potential dream machine.
“We’re happy that Dad was able to see a project he was so passionate about come to fruition,” said Barb. “Hopefully, future owners of the car will appreciate that.”
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