Nearly every Saturday morning, a cornucopia of classic cars assembles at First Watch restaurant on East 68th Street and South Memorial Drive. The cars are different colors, but they share the trademark round headlights and long lines of the classic Ford Thunderbird.
Inside the restaurant, members of the Tulsa Classic Thunderbird Club meet for their weekly breakfast. They plan monthly meet-ups, including dinners and car trips, and arrange to drive in parades such as Broken Arrow’s Rooster Day.
They’ve been doing this since 1965, when the club was founded as a chapter of Classic Thunderbird Club International.
Classic Thunderbird chapters exist across the United States and all over the world. Every two years, owners and admirers of 1955, ’56 and ’57 Ford Thunderbirds gather for an international convention.
What is it about the classic Thunderbird?
“There’s something about the Birds,” says Tulsa club member Steve Clouser. “They’ve never gone out of style, never ceased to be popular.”
Clouser got his Bird on July 3, 2013. He’s the fifth owner of his ’57. The car is all original.
“I have liked the classic two-seat Thunderbirds since childhood,” he says.
“In 2013, I decided to get one and a friend knew of this ‘57. I liked it because it was original and had low miles. The last owner had preserved or restored original components. He stored the car for several years, and the car had come ‘plain Jane’ from the factory with very few options.”
Clouser says he didn’t anticipate the sort of reaction the car would get.
“People wave and roll down windows and want to talk,” he says.
Longtime club member Tom McCartney, who also directs the South Central region of Classic Thunderbird Club International, has two Birds, a ’56 and a ’57. He says the cars remind people of the late 1950s, when America was a land of progress and optimism.
McCartney says he enjoys driving the cars to regional and international Thunderbird conventions, even when he has a breakdown, which doesn’t happen often.
“The car’s old like me,” says McCartney, who had a long career as a mechanic. “You fix it and go on.”
In every convention city, he says, the host club organizes special activities for attendees.
McCartney recalls attending a 1984 convention in Dearborn, Michigan, home of Ford Motor Co. Attendees were given the chance to race their automobiles on Ford’s official test track.
McCartney’s son and his father, then in his mid-70s, drove to Dearborn with him.
“My dad was always a Ford man,” McCartney explains.
The trait obviously runs in the family.