T-birds flocking to Monticello car show

T-birds flocking to Monticello car show

A different type of bird migrates to Monticello this weekend – the Thunderbird.

About 25 Ford Thunderbirds will be on display at the "Birds in the Spring" car show from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Monticello Railway Museum, located just off Interstate 72 at the northeast edge of Monticello.

"I'm excited. We have a real variety of cars promised, from the first model year in 1955 to the last model year produced in 2005. I'm counting on 25 cars," says Harvey Hodges of Champaign, who has organized the event for the Illini Thunderbirds Auto Club.

Thunderbird owners don't have to be a member of the club in order to show their cars. The registration fee is $15. The registration form can be printed out from the Illini Thurderbirds Auto Club Web site at www.tnspubco.com/illtbirds.htm.

"We may have some owners just show up to see what's going on," Hodges says.

The idea for the car show came when Hodges ran into his friend Stan Rankin, who has a long association with the Monticello Railway Museum.

"We were talking one day, and he said, 'Why doesn't your Thunderbird group come visit us?' Hodges says. "A lot of Thunderbird events are in August and September, but nothing really in the spring."

Many of those showing their Thunderbirds will be from the area, although Hodges expects cars from as far away as Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Chicago. Barry Stelford of Urbana owns three Thunderbirds, a 1959, a '62 and a '66 – all convertibles. However, because of a schedule conflict, he won't be able to make the show.

"I haven't been collecting too long," Stelford says. "I've always been around old cars, but never collected them until recently. I've been collecting tractors for years. I sold off part of my tractor collection and bought these."

Every Thunderbird owner has a different reason for being partial to the cars, which started out as a two-seater and was Ford's response to Chevrolet's Corvette. The two-seater was sold from 1955 to '57, then became a four-seater in 1958 when Ford opted to develop a car with wider appeal.

Ford went back to the car's roots in 2002 with a stylish retro design that initially sold well. But – largely because of its steep cost – sales soon went south, and the last one was made in 2005.

"I like the looks the '61," Stelford says. "But I couldn't find the '61 I was looking for and ended up buying the '62. I also like the way the top folds down on those Thunderbirds."

The Thunderbird evolved much during the years it was in production.

"It took on so many different forms," says Hodges, who owns a 1955 convertible along with one from 1983. "We'll even have a 1979 model at the show, the last big one that Ford made."

Profits from the car show will be donated to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., according to Hodges. Participants will be able to ride the museum's historic trains into downtown Monticello and back. The museum will run its regular train schedule and is open to visitors as well.

"The mayor of Monticello will be at the car show and hand out a mayor's choice award. Everyone who participates will get a certificate for something. We're just going to have fun," Hodges says.

"We hope to make this an annual event. The idea is that we'll do Monticello this year, and maybe the Chanute Air Museum at Rantoul next year, then perhaps the Early American Museum at Lake of the Woods, then back to Monticello."

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