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Bird is the word

Talking T-Birds with the International Thunderbird Club
Hershey AACA Museum with members cropped

In 1993, a group of Thunderbird enthusiasts gathered in New York to form a Thunderbird club with a different angle. Since there were already Thunderbird clubs that focused on specific eras of Thunderbirds, the enthusiasts forged ahead with a club that encompassed every Thunderbird every built by Ford from 1955 to, eventually, 2005. The result was the International Thunderbird Club, which is 27 years old and counting.

International Thunderbird Club president Gerard (Bart) Bartasavich

International Thunderbird Club president Gerard (Bart) Bartasavich

The ITC is still going strong with annual conventions designed to gather members for camaraderie, but also with a judged concours component for those who so desire to have their cars judged. For its members, ITC also publishes the bimonthly magazine ITC Thunderbird Script, an Old Cars Golden Quill Award-winning publication.

Old Cars spoke with ITC president Gerard (Bart) Bartasavich to learn details of the club and trends he’s seeing among Thunderbirds and Thunderbird collectors.

Old Cars: How many members and how many events does the club have and host each year?

Gerard (Bart) Bartasavich: International Thunderbird Club (ITC) has approximately 1400 paying members from around the world. ITC is very much involved with social media and has over 9000 (ITC) International Thunderbird Club Facebook members from all over the world that continues to grow daily.

ITC hosts an annual convention in different states each year. The 2019 Convention was held in Cleveland, Ohio, with participants attending from all over the U.S. It was sponsored by Hagerty Insurance Company and Ford Motor Company. Saturday’s Concours show featured Hagerty Youth Judging. Ford Motor Company representatives set up their Club Van and tent and gave out various gifts... Members attended the Crawford Auto Museum and viewed the famous ’60 Stainless Steel [Thunderbird] that they showcased for members....

ITC’s second major event is the annual All Ford Nationals (AFN), Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In 2015, ITC attracted over 400 T-Birds for the T-Bird anniversary. Many special T-Birds were showcased in various buildings. In 2015, ITC won the Best Club Award by Ford Motor Company and also won second place for the number of club participants...

Local chapters also hold events throughout the year, which many club members attend. These events are promoted in ITC Thunderbird Script magazine and the (ITC) International Thunderbird Club Facebook page.

ITC Members Hershey AACA Museum

OC: The ITC focuses on all Thunderbirds, but what Thunderbird is most represented in the club?

GB: One unique ITC club feature is that it accepts all T-Birds and as a result there is a good representation from all years. We accept original, custom, modified and even T-Bird Juniors and pedal cars.

OC: What sets the ITC apart from other clubs?

GB: ITC is a very unique club. ITC accepts all Thunderbirds from 1955 to 2005. You do not have to own a T-Bird to be a member. Social media has advanced ITC tremendously with people posting and commenting daily. Some “Record Breakers” with ITC has been a member with over 300 T-Birds, who tragically passed away in 2019. Our oldest member, Zoe Dell Nutter, was 104 years old when she recently passed away. We have a member with 12 Retro-Birds and one member who owns the millionth-produced T-Bird. ITC has a lot of outside support from every Thunderbird vendor and many car-related entities. ITC has been supported by Ford Motor Company and sends a Ford representatives to convention over the past five years. Hagerty Insurance is another sponsor that supplies various items for our conventions. Hagerty offers ITC members 5% discount on members insurance. They have even agreed to insurance the 2002-05 Retro-Birds as a classic car, which the owner sets the value with no mileage restrictions....

International Thunderbird Club dues have continued to stay reasonable at $30 per year, which is the lowest fee compared to the other clubs.

OC: What Thunderbirds are up and comers with growing interest?

GB: The 1958-’60 Square-Birds were not as popular as the 1955-’57 ‘Baby-Birds,’ 1961-’63 ‘Bullet-Birds’ and the 1964-’66 ‘Flair-Birds.’ The ‘Square-Birds’ are very popular now. People are appreciating the unique design that represents that time period. The 1980s Turbo Coupes and 1990s Super Coupes are becoming popular with the younger generation. Members with these T-Birds were very excited to hear Ford Motor Company representative talk about these forgotten years at the 2017 ITC Convention.

OC: How did the revival of the Thunderbird from 2002-’05 affect the club and values of Thunderbirds?

GB: ITC was very involved with the introduction of the [2002-’05] ‘Retro-Bird.’ ITC members were invited to Dearborn for its introduction. Many ITC members were the first to drive the car prior to it being released. The ‘Retro-Bird’ has been very controversial. Some say it does not properly reflect the Thunderbird, some complain it was too expensive, some report that it did not include the latest technology. Beside the complaints, many ITC members own them including me with a red ‘03 to match my red ’57 T-Bird. ITC has one member with twelve of ‘Retro-Birds.’ Many members that have a classic T-Bird also have ‘Retro-Bird.’ Some members have taken their ‘Retro-Bird’ to all 50 states. Unfortunately, Ford has not maintained adequate replacement parts for these T-Birds, which makes it difficult at times to maintain. Many people purchased the ‘Retro-Bird’ believing it would eventually become a classic. There are cars still available to purchase with very low mileage.

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OC: What is the best Thunderbird for a new T-bird owner?

GB: Each Thunderbird is unique in its own way. There is no “one size fits all, like your personal car whether being an SUV, luxury car, economy car; a T-Bird should fit your personal needs. The 1955-’57 may be the best deal at the present time, but may not be practical due to only one seat and lack of comfort features. The 1958-’66 T-Birds are wonderful classics but require maintaining that can become costly. The in-between classic T-Birds are rare and fun, but parts are difficult to obtain. The ‘Retro-Birds’ are enjoyable to drive, especially with the luxuries of A/C and cruise control and less likely to break down on long-distance driving, but many may not feel they are driving a classic T-Bird.

OC: What benefits does a T-bird owner receive for their membership in ITC?

GB: There are numerous benefits in joining the International Thunderbird Club (ITC). Annual membership is still very low at $30 US/Canada and $40 International. New members receive a welcome package which includes some T-Bird-relate items and documents. They receive a bimonthly publication, ITC Thunderbird Script magazine, which for years has won the Old Cars Golden Quill Award. They receive access to most Thunderbird suppliers and Technical Advisors for each specific year T-Bird and numerous other benefits. It is also a way to support and promote the Thunderbird.

OC: 1955-’57 Thunderbird prices seem to be volatile these days – why do you think that is?

GB: I have had this discussion with many people about this question. The 1955-’57 was very unique when it was introduced. Many people loved and admired them when new, but couldn’t afford them and found them impractical at the time. When these people became older, many followed their dream and purchased one. Some spent numerous dollars completing rotisserie restorations on them. Unfortunately, these same people that enjoyed them for years became older and were unable to drive and maintain them. Many owners have even passed away. The younger generation have no memories of these classic cars, so they are not interested in them. This has caused a large inventory of them lately, which affected the market. For years, ITC member Marvin Hill, Hill’s Restoration, only restored 1955-’57 T-Birds. Very few people are now spending large sums of money to restore them so he is now restoring all cars.

OC: What is the best bargain Thunderbird?

GB: The best bargain today is the 1955-’57 T-Bird since there are an abundance of them due to current owners aging out, and there are still an abundance of suppliers that feature these years’ parts. Although there are still many vendors that supply T-Bird parts up until 1966, it is very difficult to obtain parts for the classics 1967 and on.

OC: What changes has the club seen since it was founded?

GB: Many changes have occurred since the worldwide internet. All clubs are currently suffering and many have disbanded. Years ago, clubs were the only way to share their classic car and connect with other enthusiasts. They enjoyed having meeting and attending hosted events. Many bonded and became friends for years. With the fast pace of the internet and social media, you can now see classic cars and read the owner’s stories on the internet. The younger people are now accustomed to their iPhones and are not used to attending formal meetings and socializing at car shows and events.

OC: What future do you see for the Ford Thunderbird?

GB: Fortunately, Ford still maintains the Thunderbird name copyright. The Thunderbird has always been a unique car with Ford. I don’t see the Thunderbird name being used soon; however, I do foresee it being used as a future unique Ford, possible an electric or driverless vehicle.

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