To start this off here is a little bit of history on my quest for an ACC Thunderbird Convertible. Back in June of 1979 Motor Trend ran an article on Mega Buck Motoring that included custom-built convertibles. Seems the public was tired of the status quo and limited runs of what ever custom vehicles the public wanted were popping up at many conversion companies in response to Detroit’s failure to provide the car that convertible lovers wanted. Not quite a year after reading this article, I was heading down I-95 in May of 1980 on a vacation of sorts after graduating from College. I had just started around the Washington Beltway and at the time I was driving my still fairly new 1978 Diamond Jubilee Thunderbird when I spotted what appeared to be a 1979 Thunderbird Convertible weaving in and out of the super heavy traffic just a short distance in front of me. I sped up and caught that Polar White ‘79 and had my first actual look at an American Custom Coachworks Convertible! While not being thrilled with the heavy sail panel convertible top but being a true convertible fanatic (I was infected at an early age by my parents being brought up on new full size Ford Convertibles almost since I was born) I was intrigued by this unusual car and decided I would really like to own one!
Over the years I had seen several 1978-79 ACC Thunderbird Convertibles for sale and even chased a 1978 version down in the Cheektowaga (Buffalo), NY area but the car was a little rough and I was not sold on the inability to use the back seat while the top was down. Several cars came along and went and while surfing eBay in May of 2000, I spotted a fairly rough but complete Polar White with Red Interior 79 ACC Convertible.
Not being really in the market for another project car I let this one go by, but I did contact the new owner and explained that I was keeping the registry on all 1977-79 Thunderbirds and also kept a 1977-79 Thunderbird website that included the ACC Convertible cars like the one he had just purchased. http://holtononline.com/blog/other-car-info/thunderbirds/77-79/
Well, the new owner of that 1979 Thunderbird ACC Convertible was Ken Wolkens and he lived just outside Dearborn, MI. One thing led to another and I was set to sell a bunch of parts to him for his major restoration project. To make things easier Ken decided to meet up with me at the largest all Ford Car Show and flea market that I know of, The 2000 ALL Ford Nationals at Carlisle. I stacked the parts he wanted as well as a bunch of other teaser 1977-79 Thunderbird Goodies into my Festiva (don’t laugh this is the best Truck I have ever owned!) and off I went to Carlisle. We met up and walked the entire flea market area and he did quite well purchasing numerous parts that he was in need of for the project! Up to this point I had no idea what Ken did for a living and while working for an outside design company he had been working on components of the new at the time upcoming 2002 prototype Thunderbird. He even showed me a pair of prototype 2002 Thunderbird taillights for the upcoming project when we took the parts he had bought back to his Bronco! With all the goodies packed Ken was on his way back to MI. Time went by and I stayed in contact with him. I supplied more information on Ken’s car, but his patience had started to run thin and he began rushing the project. Unable to find NOS side moldings he filled all the body side molding attaching holes and had the car repainted. There were numerous other problems cropping up including lack of work at the time for Ken and he soon became bored with the project and turned his interests to his home in MI and to the boats that he loved. On several occasions after this he had offered the car to me stating that the car had been painted with multiple coats of new base coat clear coat and additional work but the car was partially apart and to say the least it needed a new top! Time went on and I kept passing on the car, but we stayed in contact and I continued to look for something a little more together and more reasonable. In early April 2002 Ken sent me an e-mail with an offer I could not refuse so on April 26, 2002 off to MI my father and I were to make arrangements to purchase the car. After about a 10-hour ride we pulled into his driveway and there before us was a car almost identical to the one I had seen 22 years before in Washington, DC! First looks were pretty good, yes there was fresh paint and the car had a recent dual exhaust system that ended just ahead of the rear axle and breathed through Turbo Mufflers but was extremely loud. Now for the disclaimer “I Will Never Buy Another Basket Case (or at least until the next time)”. Really the car was a good deal but it was a true diamond in the rough. There before me sat the tattered roofed ACC Convertible and it did not take long for the car bug to bite! With whimsical thoughts of how it would look with the paint wet sanded and rubbed out along with a new custom top and side trim re-applied. I started the car and while it ran OK it was not quite right, but what the heck it ran and while sitting in the middle of all the boxes of this basket case I struck the deal.
With that said the boxes of parts and bumpers were shortly placed into the back of my Dads F150 and the U-Haul car trailer was hooked up and the car carefully loaded for the long ride home and it was not long and we were on the road again heading back to the Empire State. The trip was not without its hazards! We first found that trailer wiring had rubbed and we had been without lights on one side of the rented trailer so we were lucky to find a parking lot to make the repair. Wiring connectors and electrical tape in hand we were able to make the repair and off we were once again. The next issue was one that plagued us for the rest of the trip and one that should be looked at seriously by anyone using this type of ratchet front tire strap tie down system. The front tire ratchet tie down straps kept loosening up and after numerous stops to readjust the straps we were never quite able to get it right. We made numerous stops to make sure that the car was secure and just after getting off the OH Turnpike we made an additional check before heading towards Cleveland. We were just a few miles East of Cleveland’s famous dead mans turn and we made an additional stop for gas and coffee and to our horror that those straps had completely come off the front wheels. How the car had stayed on the trailer was anyone’s guess and since it had been such a short time before that we had checked it we counted ourselves lucky again to have made it safely to that point to check things out. Luckily we made it the rest of the way home but there was an uneasy feeling that the straps were not doing their job for the rest of the trip, and it clearly slowed our progress!
Over the next few months I had made attempts to get the car ready to at least attend the 2002 ITC Convention but there were so many problems from damaged wiring to non painted parts and not enough time to complete the job and time was clearly running out! Between assisting with the 2002 convention and getting the new toy ready to go sure made for some really long hours of work! The car was made road-able after new wiring harnesses were installed, suspension and brake components replaced, bumpers reattached and those famous blue eye’s Diamond Jubilee head light covers were placed temporarily on the car! Alas it was Tuesday the second morning of the convention and I registered the car and made a hasty maiden voyage to meet up with the group at The National War Plane Museum! That was the first time I had driven the car and while it ran really rough, it did serve us well for the next 5 days and even through the lost key incident the morning of that convention it got us around all of the convention sites including the laps and lunch at Watkins Glen International!
Over the course of the next year quite a few additions were made including newly painted matching headlight covers, 1/4 end caps, impact bumper inserts, new deluxe front bumper, new steering column, carpeting and more NOS components than one would want to know about!
Not the least on my list of stories about this car was the now humorous replacement of the steering column after losing the keys at the 2002 Convention. This issue also led directly to my showing my carpentry skills. I had removed the interior of the car to replace the rug and while everything was out I replaced the steering column with a new one! After replacing the column I found that the car would not start and narrowed it down to the ignition module, so I picked a new one up on our way out to dinner one night. When I arrived home from dinner I thought I would put the new box on and while I was replacing the ignition module our neighbor stopped over to see what I was up to. It was fairly late by the time I was able to put the new box on but I jumped in the car and turned the key and the car came to life so I just shut it off. My neighbor prompted me to start it up and let it run, so I did. I sat on the floor for about 5 minutes when I decided to get out and talk to my neighbor who was standing right in front of the car. We stood there and talked for a few minutes when I noticed the car start to slowly back across the patio it was parked on. I grabbed a hold of the bumper and yelled for my neighbor to hit the brake. My holding onto the bumper was having little or no effect as I watched my neighbor jump inside the car and disappear (remember there was no interior) everything was moving very slow except the Thunderbird as it was picking up speed on high idle and clearly dragging me off the patio. I am looking eye level across the hood with the top of the steering wheel very visible and I see one hand then another come over the top of the wheel then I see my neighbor staring back at me with a totally lost look in his eyes as we were now clearing the patio heading across the driveway. While I was yelling for my neighbor to shut the car off or hit the brakes all I could see was that blank stare like a deer in the headlights look and my other neighbors fence looming ever closer in the back ground. As I was still attached to the front bumper with a death grip and still being dragged as I attempted to stop the car and still seeing the lost look of my neighbor starring off into space, the crunching noise of the fence echoed loudly through the night but we were not quite finished with the mayhem! Lucky for me the car kept on its course (and I had no idea we had glanced off my Festiva parked in the driveway) as it went up over a compost pile and climbed over and finally struck a tree which was boxed in by 4×4’s while the left rear tire started to dig into the ground as the car had come to a halt.
Now the reasons that I say we were once again lucky is simple: no one was hurt, had the car turned left when it had hit the Festiva it would have ended up in the neighbors in ground pool, had it managed to miss the tree and turn right it would have made their kitchen a drive through, and had it kept going it would have flattened another fence as it continued its attack on another neighbors property! As it sat there digging a hole at the tree I opened the door and asked my neighbor if he was OK as I reached over and turned the key off to stop any further late night fun! After the car was off, my neighbor said, “I think I’m OK”. The neighbors who owned the flattened fence were soon on the scene asking of all questions “what happened”? At that point I still was not sure and attempted to tell them what I could from my side of the fence and pointed to the 2 drag marks from my shoes across the patio and then the driveway! I told them I’d fix the fence in the morning, jumped carefully in the Thunderbird started the car up drove it off the rubble and surveyed the damage tallied the score: car 1 fence/tree 0! As I had promised, I spent the next day rebuilding the 2 sections of custom basket weave fence! When all was finished everyone appeared happy but after 20 years with my wife, the secret was out, yes I could handle a hammer and saw as well as a wrench!
After some minor adjustment to the Bird I also promised it would be kept on a much shorter leash and clearly not allowed to roam the neighborhood unattended!
June we were proud to be part of the Ford Centennial in Dearborn and had quite the interesting trip home but once again we made it and even were lucky enough to keep her on the road when a right front tire exploded nearing the end of the journey. A short time after that we experienced another high speed blow out of yes you guessed it another right front tire so all new tires went on all 4 corners!
So the bottom line is, it is lucky it made it back to NY without falling off the trailer, lucky I did not throw the towel in after losing the keys and tearing the ignition lock off, lucky it survived the fence ordeal and no one got hurt and really lucky that the two odd blow outs had no real ill effects! So with all that out of the way it is time to have some fun times cruise-in with Lucky!
This is 1 of 249 ACC Thunderbird Convertibles produced. Our car is Polar White with a Maroon all vinyl 50/50 interior. Like almost all of the ACC cars that I have cast aluminum turbine wheels, select air-conditioner, power: windows, door locks, side illuminated vanity mirror, tilt steering column, cruise control, cornering lamps, aluminum rocker panel moldings.
I found this one is a fairly loaded car with: 351 W, FMX transmission, red insert cast drivers seat and trunk release, AM/FM 8 track with 40 Channel CB Radio, right side exterior décor group, deluxe bumpers, wide vinyl insert body side moldings and aluminum Approximate original list price with the options listed would have brought this car in at around around $24,000.00 a tidy sum in 1979!
We are Lucky enough to own this one!