A Rare
Wisconsin Bird!

Terry Kohl

A Rare Wisconsin Bird

by Terry Kohl

In October of 2002, Don Guisleman, went to the Volo Auto Museum in Volo, Illinois near Lake Geneva, to buy a 1955 Buick Convertible.  Instead he found himself purchasing a very rare bird.  The car had just arrived at the museum the day before and the owners had every intention of keeping it for themselves, that is until Guisleman spotted it and fell in love.

As with all affairs of the heart there is often no rhyme or reason as to why someone (or something) causes our heart to speed up, our palms to perspire, our appetites to wane.  In this case, however, one look at this very rare 1955 Fairlane-Thunderbird and you can see why Guisleman was a goner.

Back in February, 1954 at the Detroit Automobile show, the Thunderbird prototype pretty much resembled the one that went into production in September of that year.  There were a few minor differences in appearance such as the use of the "flat" headlamp bezel, but in general, there was an unusually strong resemblance between that prototype and the final production Thunderbirds.

During the spring and summer of 1954, the design of the standard Ford line, having already been firmed up, became a mirror against which to play the new Thunderbird for appearance as well as performance.  Not surprisingly, since the Thunderbird was initially to be marketed as a variant of the Fairlane series, there were those who contended that the familiar resemblance would be enhanced by the application of the already-accepted chrome stripe down the side.

Sketches were prepared to illustrate that effect, and a full-size cardboard cut-out prepared which included the stripe, yet to become known a the "Fairlane stripe" due to it's exclusive application to that luxury line of Ford's cars.  Various locations for the stripe were considered.  By summer, location of the stripe above the door lock gave way to a less garnish placement below the lock.

There are those who contend that the insistence on the stripe, thought to be far less attractive on the smaller proportioned Thunderbird, was that of the top Management of the Company in whose mind was the apparent need to tie the standard line and the T-Bird more closely together.  In any event, tooling was prepared.

Well into the early fall, Ford advertisements for the new Thunderbird continues to show the Fairlane Stripe, but it now appears that perhaps as few as two were actually built that way, these being pre-production prototypes.  From all accounts, those who favored the clean, unembellished, straight lines of the "bird" won out and the dies were scrapped after having formed only a very few sets of Thunderbird-Fairlane stripes.  No production Thunderbirds appear ever to have been so adorned.

Guisleman lucked out as the car had already undergone a full frame-off restoration but he wasn't taking any chances.  He had two complete examinations done to be certain the car had not been altered in any way.  Vintage Vehicles, in Wautoma, WI, went over each nut and bolt and declared that the restoration was a fine job.  A certified appraiser also took a look and Guisleman was able to secure an original owners manual to check the car against.

The Owners Manual is a collectors piece all on its own.  Even the pencil drawings show the Fairlane Stripe and since there were only a couple of these cars produced, it stands to reason that the manual is just as rare.

Guisleman's "Fairbird" sports power steering, windows, and brakes.  It has the telescoping steering wheel, tachometer, clock, and Kelsey Hayes wheels.  Unlike welded wire wheels these spokes are adjustable.  They were screwed to the rims and adjusted to run true at the factory.  Should you hit a rough road or bump, they could be re-trued.

The Fairlane trim was opted for in the pre-production models over the fender louvers that become synonymous with production T-birds in 1955.  This car also sports a prototype Continental Kit which is slightly longer than production model kits.  A pair of exhaust pipes protrude out through decorative chromed donuts and extend past the tail lights and Continental Kit.  They are unique in that as the molecules heat up from the headers back, the tail pipes lengthen about an inch.  They retract again once the system cools.  The engine is an Overhead Valve V-8, 292 cubic inches with a bore of 3.75 and a stroke of 3.30.  The wheelbase is 102 inches.  The manual cautions that at a road clearance of 5.5 inches, one should "keep in mind when driving on rugged, country terrain."

We know that at least two of these cars were made but "sightings" have been rare in the past 49 years.  Bruce Girdauskas of Vintage Vehicles who checked this car over from head to tail light has never seen another like it except for a Ford pre-production PR photo.  Vintage Vehicles employs a team of highly trained craftsmen dedicated exclusively to the restoration of Classic and other extraordinary cars including Collectibles, Antiques and Milestone vehicles since 1974.

The speedometer shows 2,900 miles and from all indications, these appear to be original.  The entire car, including the under carriage, is in showroom shape.  The only change Guisleman has made is to convert the clock to a quartz movement.

Guisleman is no stranger to the world of classic vehicles and has been a collector for many years.  Obviously, insurance for these cars is of utmost concern.  For over 15 years he has been with American Collectors Insurance (ACI), a company that is one of the country's leading providers of antique and classic vehicle insurance.  From turn-of-the-century "brass & wood" antiques to the "muscle cars" and high-performance sports cars of the '70's and '80's, ACI's program is broad in scope and offers collectors a variety of coverage options.

Expecting a high premium for insuring a collector car, truck, or motorcycle, many enthusiasts are pleasantly surprised by the low cost of an American Collectors policy.  Guisleman's Fairbird is well-protected by ACI's "Agreed Value" coverage.   Agreed Value guarantees the full insured value of a collector vehicle in the event of total loss.  By contrast, most standard auto insurers pay claims based on Actual Cash Value, which is "replacement cost minus depreciation."  Since ACI's policy guarantees the full insured value, there are no worries of depreciation or haggling with an adjuster in the event of loss, a huge benefit to classic vehicle owners.  Guisleman also places high standards on customer service and finds American Collectors to be impeccable.  ACI, located in Cherry Hill, NJ, can be reached at 800-360-2277 or online at www.americancollectors.com where you can get a free quote.

Would he sell?  Well, we all know that everything has a price but I would place no bets on this happening anytime soon.  It looks as if this rare bird has a home in Wisconsin for some time.

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