The cars we loved.
It seems Detroit at some point wanted to get in on Italian style during the 60’s. Chrysler, Ford, even GM flirted with Italian design, or the Americanized ideal of it. If they weren’t racing against the Italians to boost street cred, they were emulating them with commissioned designs from Italian styling studios like Ghia or Pininfarina. Ford was not immune from the obsession with Italian style and would gobble up the design firm Ghia. At one point it tried adding Ferrari to its staple, but was turned down famously.
Ford’s revenge was producing a Ferrari beater in the 24 hours of Daytona race. From 1966 to 1969 its GT40 dusted the boys from Maranello. After Ford proved its point if quietly de-scaled its Le Mans racing program efforts. Before all of those tension came to a boil, Ford was star struck with Italian influenced design like any other big global manufacturer. While Chrysler had a few limited edition cars actually designed and built by real Italians in real Italian factories, Ford saw fit to commission a car built by an American in the exotic locale of Dearborn Michigan. It was the spirit that counted; with the end result looking like it could have come from Pininfarina or Zagato.
Ford stylists had been toying with the ideal of a fastback Thunderbird and had done a number of sketches before outsourcing the final design and construction. Vince Gardner of Dearborn Steel Tubing designed and built a special one-off fastback version. This Thunderbird was like no other and was heavy on Italian style influences, or at least an American’s interpretation of them. The so-called Ford Thunderbird Italien was even named in a quasi European vernacular, sort of like how the Italians might name one of their Ferrari’s California or Maserati’s Indy. The Italien was more than a pretty candy apple red face, it was a factory supported concept. It’s primary feature was the fiberglass fastback top. Under its long hood was a 3 carburetor 390ci V8. It was said to have 330hp. The rest of the car was actually a 62’ model that Ford sent to DST that would later get 63’ fenders towards the final stages of construction. The interior got a more subtle special treatment with customized leather bucket seats. The dash was otherwise similar to the regular production Thunderbird of 1963.
Fastbacks were just becoming the next automotive styling trend in the US with cars like the AMC Rambler leading the way in the first half of the 60’s. It would be a few years off before the first production Fords would feature fastback styling. The concept was a hit on the show circuit, so much so that model car maker AMT made 1/25th scale kits available. The Italien’s short life of photo shoots and car shows was to cumulate with an appearance at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. After nearly two years of roped off fame on the tour circuit, Ford had planned to retire the car to the scrap yard as it had so many other concepts. Instead famed actor of the day Don Chambers rescued the car. Even back then, Hollywood stars pretty much got their way.
The Italien was bought by noted Ford collector Don Chambers in 2006. His intent was to add it to car museum he had planned after his retirement. After Don became terminally ill, he put the Italien up for sale. The car was restored in 2007 by long time Thunderbird restorer Tom Markuska. In 2008, the one-off concept was auctioned off at the Barret-Jackson 37th Annual Car Collector event for a cool $1.76 million.