GRANT Ovens doesn’t know the entire history of his ’63 Thunderbird, but he does know that sometime when the car was near-new, someone went to town on the interior – we’re talking white shag-pile seat covers, diamante studs everywhere and a dashboard covered in crushed red velour.
“The car was owned by my mate’s dad,” Grant says. “He’d bought it in 1969 with all the crap on it, then stuck it in the shed and forgot about it.” Back in conservative 1960s Australia, the only sorts of people who drove machines like this were rock stars, ‘colourful racing identities’ and disc jockeys. “I’d like to know more about it,” Grant admits.
At least the past 45 years are accounted for. But although we all yearn for the ultimate barn find, time often isn’t as kind as we’d like.
“It was rooted when I got it,” Grant sighs. “The rats had been through it, pissed in it, shat in it and made four nests in it!”
As you’d expect, having been extensively nibbled on, the trim was stuffed. But the rats weren’t the only problem – those shag-pile seat covers had been glued onto the original seats! Still, the car was dry, with barely a scrap of rust, and Grant was after a project with a difference. How many T-birds do you see getting around to car shows? Yep, and how many do you see hotted up? That’s right.
After getting it home, Grant enlisted the help of his old mate Mick to tackle the bodywork. “We cut out two 20-cent-sized bits of rust and that was it,” Grant says. Rat piss aside, at least there was some benefit to the T-bird’s 45-year slumber.
With little time spent on fixing up rust, there was more time to enjoy some slick customising. Grant and Mick smoothed the engine bay, while Nick and the boys at Rowe & Sons Car Restoration were tasked with deleting the window-glass slots in the doors and rear quarters.
“I just wanted to get it smooth,” Grant explains, “and I’m not gonna drive it in the rain anyway!”
Rowe & Sons also filled the doorhandle scoops, ready for Grant to fit poppers. But once installed he found the doors were actually a bit heavy.
“I just reach in and open them from the inside; no doorhandles is just a bit of wank, really,” he laughs.
The T-bird didn’t need much more fettling to get it smooth as a baby’s bum; the bumpers hug the body like a long-lost friend straight from the factory, and the repro Sports Roadster fibreglass tonneau conceals the rear seat area, perfecting the sleek look Grant was after.
Once he was happy with the body, Grant approached Wayne at W&W Custom Spray Painters to sort him out with shiny black duco for his ride. The shop specialises in respraying trucks, but as Grant had helped Wayne build a spray booth a while back, he figured he could lower himself to paint a car this one time!
Speaking of low, while things were coming together above the skin, skilled fabricator and friend Neil Anderson worked out what was needed below, designing and installing the airbag and braking system – everything needed to get this cruiser low and slow.
And the trim was handled by Graeme Johns of Auto Trim in Perth. The seats were finished in a pleated vinyl with perforated inserts and silver piping, while the tonneau needed a pair of matching headrests attached to the double-bubble. Graeme also replaced the dashboard cover, again in black vinyl. But Grant’s worried that the project broke Graeme – he retired the moment it was done!
With the car coming together, it was time for Grant to address the problem of motivation. The stock 390-cube FE could have been made to rumble, but after talking to Steve Molson at S&E Automotive, he decided to install a crate motor instead.
“Grant bought a 427ci tall-deck Windsor and we were just going to do some bits and pieces,” Steve tells us. “Then we found an oil leak in the back of the valley and had to do a bit of work.”
The swap itself was pretty simple, though a custom sump was needed to clear the T-bird’s crossmember – oh, and to stay off the deck when slammed, of course!
Behind the Windsor is a B&M C4 street ’box. New mounts were needed to fit it up, while custom linkages mate it to the original column-shift selector. While he was about it, Steve also sorted out a tidy custom exhaust.
With around 350 rear-wheel horses at his disposal, in a package with no roof, no seatbelts and a ground-hugging stance, Grant is careful when he takes the Thunderbird out. “It’s supposed to be a cruiser, but it’s pretty hair-raising!” he says of the drive. “And when it idles, it rocks!”
With a history of mystery and that crazy interior, we reckon it’s been rocking since day one, man.
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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