One-of-a-kind car could make Lakewood Township man millions
Never heard of a 1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien? Not surprising -- only one was ever built. And Tom Maruska of Lakewood Township has it. Not for long, however. The custom-made concept car, which Maruska spent more than a year restoring to mint con...
Never heard of a 1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien? Not surprising -- only one was ever built. And Tom Maruska of Lakewood Township has it.
Not for long, however. The custom-made concept car, which Maruska spent more than a year restoring to mint condition, is going on the auction block in Scottsdale, Ariz., later this month. The car will be transported to Arizona later this week.
"Concept cars in the past have sold for between $1 [million] and $3.25 million," Maruska said. "And with each of those cars, there were two or more of them in existence. This is the first one-of-a-kind concept car that will cross the block down there. So it is really hard to say what it will do."
Steve Davis, president of Barrett-Jackson Auction Co., which will sell the Italien on Jan. 19, won't guess what the car might bring.
"We feel the car will bring some serious money because it is going to attract some serious interest," he said. "Nothing else like it exists. I think the price will reflect the car's rarity and significance. The folks bidding on it will understand and appreciate what it is."
The Italien represents an exciting time in the auto industry, Davis said. During the 1950s and early 1960s, concept cars were showcased across the nation. To create the Thunderbird Italien -- named to reflect its Italian inspired sporty lines -- Ford took a 1962 Thunderbird convertible and replaced its body with a fastback design. Ford showcased the car in its Custom Car Caravan at auto shows across the country and in the 1964 New York World Fair's Cavalcade of Custom Cars.
When the Italien goes on the block, it may be its first public viewing since the World Fair. Davis expects the car to be sold about 6 p.m. CDT. The auction is scheduled to be carried live on the Speed channel.
The Italien was slated to be scrapped after the 1964 World Fair -- a common fate for concept cars at the time. But the car was sold to actor Dale Robertson of TV's "Tales of Wells Fargo." He later gave it to his gardener. The car ultimately reached the hands of a California collector of rare Fords whose dream of building a museum was stopped by a terminal illness.
Maruska bought the Italien in January 2006 for an undisclosed price.
"It was a solid, rust-free California car, but the interior was entirely baked out and the paint was baked to a point were there were large cracks and craters in it from sitting out in the sun," Maruska said. "It needed a total restoration."
Which is what Maruska loves to do. He began his first Thunderbird restoration in 1988, after his brother, Ray, passed on to him a dilapidated Thunderbird. Since then, he has restored 12 or 14 Thunderbirds, a Chevrolet Camaro and an Amphicar, a novelty vehicle that can be driven on land and water.
Maruska's restoration work accelerated after he sold his floor-covering business five years ago.
"Over the years I dragged home a bunch of project cars," he said. "So when I retired I just started restoring them.
It was a lucky thing to run across this car. It's been
fun and interesting working on it."
He took the car apart and stripped its body down to bare metal, then repainted it candy apple red. Working from Ford archives and old magazines, he rebuilt the interior. He bought seven hides of leather and had them custom dyed to match the car's original interior color. The only job Maruska passed on to others was rebuilding the Thunderbird's 390 cubic inch engine.
Maruska figures he spent between 1,500 and 1,800 hours restoring the Italien.
"It is an incredible restoration," Davis said. "The car is impeccably restored and reflects pretty much the way it looked when it was doing the show circuit back in the early '60s."