Clarke and Wilma Hamm from Washington state with their 1955 Ford Thunderbird. (Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press)
The classic car hobby affords enthusiasts plenty of opportunities to participate in events including local show and shines, cruise nights and car club runs. Some folks, however, prefer a long and scenic road trip.
While driving a 60-year-old car across the country is indeed quite a feat, such a journey has become old hat for a small group of Ford Thunderbird owners.
Beginning in 2008, members of Classic Thunderbird Club International (CTCI), the recognized governing body for Thunderbird clubs across North America, went on a tour of the United States, visiting all of the lower 48 states and making stops at each state capital. They followed in 2009 with a trek from northern Washington state to Juneau, Alaska and a shipboard trip to Honolulu in 2010. Having covered all 50 states, the group took a break, before hitting the road again this summer.
Last week, local Thunderbird enthusiasts had the opportunity to welcome a pair of these well-travelled Thunderbirds and their owners to Winnipeg. The 10 in ’17 tour kicked off in St. John’s, N.L., with four early two-seat Thunderbirds on a tour destined to cross the country and stop in every Canadian capital city.
Initially taking up the challenge was Walter Strohmeier of New Jersey with his 1957 Thunderbird — nicknamed Golden Eagle —; Clarke and Wilma Hamm from Washington state, with their black 1955 Thunderbird and Ortwine Dockter, better known as Doc, from California — with his 1956 Thunderbird — nicknamed Chick Magnet.
Doc, at 80 years young, has long been a mainstay with these CTCI cruises and both he and his T-Bird have seen every capital visit. As a result, he’s received many long-distance awards.
“I always say, I want to go places and do things and these cruises make it real,” Doc said.
Unfortunately, due to a broken leg, Lucy Clark and her 1957 Thunderbird had to miss the journey.
Leaving Augusta, Maine on Aug. 7, the trio took a 14-hour ferry ride to St. John’s, N.L., for their first stop on the Canadian coast-to-coast cruise. On to Charlottetown and, next, Halifax, it would be the leg to Fredericton that would claim its first casualty. Strohmeier’s Golden Eagle would develop a brake problem that would take him out for two days for repairs. Unable to catch up with the others, he subsequently returned home.
The others pressed on through Quebec City, Ottawa and Toronto. While heading for Winnipeg, Doc’s windshield wiper motor began to malfunction. A call to a T-Bird supply house had a new wiper motor shipped overnight to Winnipeg. As pretty as these baby T-Birds are, they are far from trailer queens and aren’t modified to take on long-distance travel.
Doc’s 1956 runs a 312 cubic-inch Thunderbird V-8, with updated carburetion, electronic ignition, air-conditioning and cruise control. Backed by a factory overdrive manual transmission, it’s a freeway flyer. Clarke and Wilma Hamm’s ’55 Thunderbird has also received many upgrades. The original 292 Y-Block V-8 was replaced with a Thunderbird 312 cubic-inch V-8 running a modern four-barrel carburetor, electronic ignition, Blue Thunder aluminium intake manifold, exhaust headers and a set of John Mummert aluminium cylinder heads.
“The cylinder heads alone add over 50 horsepower and with the Tremec five-speed manual overdrive transmission, it easily runs the turnpike at 80 miles-per-hour at 2,000 r.p.m.,” Clarke said.
Add to that five-spoke mag wheels with radial tires, an oversized radiator and disc brakes — this is a serious road car.
“The trip has been great, with wonderful weather, we’ve really enjoyed the scenery and everyone has been so helpful,” Wilma said.
Meeting in Winnipeg last Thursday for the necessary wiper repair on Doc’s car, local Thunderbird enthusiasts hosted a laid-back evening, which included a dinner party and plenty of storytelling. Come morning the group was off to the Manitoba Legislature for photos to mark the trip before heading off to the next stop in Regina. Photos are a big part of the journey and travelling with them is a large album loaded with pictures of every stop at every capital city since the journey began in 2008.
Our last contact had Doc and the Hamms arriving in Victoria on Monday. Having completed the cruise, they plan to travel home down the mainland West Coast. What’s next on their cruising list? Well, for now, let’s just say a long-deserved rest.
Local T-Bird enthusiasts met with the cross-country cruisers who stopped in Winnipeg last week for a fun-filled evening. (Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press)
Ortwine ‘Doc’ Dockter, from California, had his T-Bird repaired here in Winnipeg. (Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press)