February 8, 2014

A T-Bird of a different color

At first glance, Allen Hale’s ’57 Thunderbird looks like a perfect Valentine’s Day gift.

At first glance, Allen Hale’s ’57 Thunderbird looks like a perfect Valentine’s Day gift.

To the untrained eye, it appears to be a beautiful pink convertible.

Hale is quick to point out, though, that his T-Bird is actually “Dusk Rose” — a Ford factory color.

“You only know five colors: red, green, yellow, blue and `Dusk Rose,’ ” his wife, Kathleen, chides. “It’s pink!”

“The car was originally purchased in Wichita for a girl’s high school graduation present,” Allen Hale said. Then, in the mid-1960s, his mother spotted the Thunderbird for sale in their neighborhood.

“She came home and said, `Ralph, I found a car I want,’ ” Hale said. “They went and looked at it and bought it. Mom drove it a week, maybe two weeks and she couldn’t stop it because it had no power brakes. So she went back to driving her old Buick.

“Dad, being a practical person, drove it to work every day until he retired. When he found he couldn’t drive safely anymore, he turned in his driver’s license, in about 1998. He wanted to sell it, but I told him, `No, you can’t sell it. This is like a family car.’ I finally convinced him I could take care of it and be the caretaker of the family car.”

The car had been repainted in the 1980s in the original Dusk Rose hue. The fender skirts, which proved a challenge when a rear tire had to be changed, had been hung up on the garage wall and left there. Hale’s mother figured they weren’t being used, so she sold them at a garage sale.

Once he inherited the Thunderbird, he removed the body-colored hardtop and it’s seldom on the car anymore.

“I figure if it’s not nice enough to drive with the top off, then you don’t drive it,” he said. “Everything is original, as far as I know. It’s had the usual stuff replaced, the water pump, fuel pump and so on.”

“I have made some improvements so it is more dependable,” said Hale. That includes electric wipers, an electronic ignition system, an Edelbrock 4-barrel carburetor and reworked cylinder heads and valve seats so the engine will run on unleaded gasoline without a problem. The car is powered by a 312 cubic inch V-8 with solid lifters and dual exhausts, which exit through openings in the rear bumper. It still is equipped with the original Fordomatic transmission.

“The car runs really good,” said Hale. “I even drag raced it. I think it ran in the 15s. If you put it in low, it will do burnouts.”

The old dealer-installed, under-dash air conditioner was removed because Hale, a good-sized man, kept bruising his knee on it. It’s a close fit inside the two-seater, which is finished in white vinyl upholstery, including a custom padded dash installed many years ago by Hale’s father.

The plan is to replace the yellowed whitewall bias ply tires and the shock absorbers soon, and possibly find a smaller diameter steering wheel for the car, again to free up more interior space.

“My plan is to keep making it a nice-driving car. There’s no sense making a trophy out of it. I can’t see having it and not being able to drive it,” said Hale, who still drives it to work, to the grocery store and just for fun when the weather is nice.

“That’s the joy of owning it,” said his wife.

But there’s still the issue of the color of their vintage Thunderbird.

“That’s the biggest irritant — people calling it a `Mary Kay’ or a `Barbie’ car,” Allen Hale said. He said one day a biker pulled up next to him when he had the car out.

“He looked over at me and said, `Mary Kay,’ right?’ And I said, `No, my name is Allen.”

“It’s a lot of fun to drive it. It makes people smile. You get a lot of thumbs-up in it. At car shows, people want to get in it and have their pictures taken,’ said Allen, who is president of the Wichita Classic Thunderbirds car club.

“Especially little girls,” noted Kathleen.

“Hey, I’m a big-enough guy, I’ve got no problem driving a Dusk Rose car,” he said.

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