This 1963 Thunderbird Italien Is a Unique Show Car From Ford's Total Performance Era

1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien 14 photos
Photo: RM Sotheby’s
1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien
Introduced in 1953 as a response to Chevrolet's Corvette sports car, the Ford Thunderbird has a long and eventful history, having been produced from 1955 to 2005 across a total of eleven generations. The Thunderbird gained great popularity as a personal luxury car in the first decade after its release and went on to become a true classic American icon over time.
Ford made over 4.4 million units over the model's lifespan, but the car you see pictured here might be the most famous Thunderbird ever. This is the 1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien, a one-off show car developed by Ford Styling and built by long-time Ford prototype and show car supplier Dearborn Steel Tubing (DST) specifically for exhibition as part of the Custom Car Caravan, a Ford factory tour that visited the Autoramas and major dealers between 1962 and 1966.

The vehicle started life as a standard 1962 Thunderbird convertible and was subsequently remodeled at the Dearborn Steel Tubing (DST) facility in Michigan based on the drawings sent by Ford Styling. The car received a dramatic fastback roofline for greater aerodynamics, and fiberglass was used instead of steel to reduce weight. New front fenders and doors from a 1963 Thunderbird, a Ferrari-inspired egg-crate grille that partially concealed the turn signals, a chrome-plated hood molding, and no less than 80 custom trim pieces made the donor vehicle almost unrecognizable.

Additionally, the interior was customized with bucket seats front and rear, luxurious leather upholstery, faired-in rear seat headrests, and chrome-plated moldings. The exterior was finished in an eye-catching, deep Candy Apple Red hue, a color that evokes power, speed, and boldness. The result was a true showstopper, and the Italien ended up being one of the most popular cars on tour at the time.

1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien
Photo: RM Sotheby’s
Under the hood, the Italien had the much-loved 390 cubic-inch V8 engine fitted with a rare tri-power carburetor setup with finned cast aluminum air cleaner used on M-code production cars. The mill would have produced 340 hp (345 ps) when new and was mated with a three-speed manual transmission.

During the early 1960s, Ford's head honcho Henry Ford II developed an affinity for all things Italian, which explains both the name and the clear Italian influence in the styling of the car. It was also during this time that his company attempted to acquire Ferrari but failed to because Enzo Ferrari was not ready to give up control of his racing division.

Going back to the T-bird Italien, it's worth mentioning from the beginning that this vehicle was not intended as a concept car meant to showcase and test new and futuristic designs but rather as a custom/show car. It was, after all, part of the Custom Car Cavaran. However, the fastback with Italian flair did end up influencing subsequent designs at Ford, including the Galaxie, Falson, and Mercury models, though these featured a less dramatic version of a fastback roof.

For the uninitiated, the Thunderbird Italien might look like a special edition built by an Italian coachbuilder on the all-American Ford chassis, but the reality is that this is a car designed and built in the United States with the aim of showing the world that Ford was paying attention to the "kustom kulture."

1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien
Photo: RM Sotheby’s
Once completed, the one-off fastback was shown by Ford on various Autoramas, such as Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles, and more, as well as at major Ford dealers across the country. It was also featured in multiple American specialist magazines of the time, showcasing what was possible. However, its show car career was quite short, and as it so often happened back then with experimental, concept, and show cars, the Italien was supposed to be scrapped. This was a common practice because these kinds of cars were considered hard to warranty, service, and possibly unsafe. Somehow, the T-Bird Italien escaped this dark fate and was sold to film and television actor Dale Robertson.

The car would then exchange hands a few times, with one of the owners using it as a daily driver in Los Angeles for about 15 years and another keeping it in storage for 16 years. In 2005, it was acquired by Tom Maruska, a noted Thunderbird restorer in Duluth, Minnesota, who had already had 15 restorations under his belt. He carried out a complete restoration to return the T-bird Italien to its former glory, which was completed in 2007.

During the comprehensive restoration, the engine/drivetrain was fully rebuilt, and the car was returned to its original Candy Apple Red paint. Maruska also reupholstered the vehicle by hand to restore the interior to its original condition, the Plexiglass rear and quarter windows were restored by a specialist, and the unique metal trim pieces were also restored.

The unique 1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien was recently auctioned off in Florida in restored condition and sold for USD $456,000.
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About the author: Ancuta Iosub
Ancuta Iosub profile photo

After spending a few years as a copy editor, Ancuta decided to put down the eraser and pick up the writer's pencil. Her favorites subjects are unusual car designs, travel trailers and everything related to the great outdoors.
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