Ron McCloud’s love affair with the Ford Thunderbird

Published 9:41 am Monday, March 18, 2019

The Saturday night car shows will soon be a part of the downtown scene — the first of the 2019 season being April 6.

There are a few cars you can expect to see at every car show. There will always be a Tri-Five Chevy as well as Corvettes, Camaros, and Mustangs. And, there will always be some early Ford Thunderbirds.

Over the years the T-bird has worked its way into icon status. It is common throughout pop culture. Who hasn’t heard the Beach Boys song “Fun, Fun, Fun” (till her daddy takes her T-Bird away)?

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Remember when Suzanne Sommers was the mysterious beautiful blonde in the white 1956 T-bird in American Graffiti? And, who can forget the scene where Thelma and Louise tried to make their 1966 T-bird fly?

One local car enthusiast has his own fleet of T-birds. Ron McCloud, local businessman, has 14 Thunderbirds. To McCloud, who built the Thunderbirds during his 31-year working career at Ford Motor Co. in Michigan, the Thunderbird is an icon, a sports car with a 50-year history that’s the rolling embodiment of nostalgia. But, McCloud will tell you it really isn’t a sports car. “It was too plush, too heavy, and too sluggish to compete with the likes of sports cars like the Jaguar, Porsche, and MG. The Thunderbird was a personal car, appealing to well-to-do buyers, who wanted something fun to drive without sacrificing comfort. I find the Thunderbird a pleasure to drive. In addition, it brings a unique look to the road, and it’s smooth and quiet. It’s comfortable. To me, it’s about putting the top down, taking a long scenic ride, and going back to a time when pleasures were much simpler than they are today,” said McCloud.

The Thunderbird first appeared in 1954 as a 1955 model, and remained in constant production for 42 years. “There is so much style in one of these cars. It isn’t easy to think of it as a dream car that actually made it into production. However, they rolled with the times and continued to sell,” he said.

McCloud bought his first Thunderbird in 2008. “I was always interested in them since I helped build them. I retired from Ford Motor Co. in 2002, and one of the reasons I never had one earlier was that they were so expensive. But, after I bought the first one, the bug bit, and I wanted another one, and another one, so my collection grew,” he shared.

Among McCloud’s collection of retro T-birds is the 2002 Neiman Marcus edition — a black T-bird with a silver top and a black interior with silver accents; a 2003 coral Thunderbird; a 2004 Pacific Coast roadster, which was painted in Monterey Mist metallic with a light ash hardtop; and a 2005 Inca Gold Thunderbird, of which only 80 were built. He also has Thunderbirds in mint green, a Merlot Red, a Dusty Rose, Torch Red, Whisper Yellow, and his favorite being a 2003 white T-bird with a black and red interior.

McCloud was quick to point out that the 2003 feature car was the ’007 James Bond edition, limited to 700 vehicles. “It was inspired by the James Bond film, Die Another Day, starring Pierce Brosnan. It was painted in a unique coral and is considered one the most desirable of all the newer Thunderbirds,” McCloud said.

The 2005 Thunderbird was also the car’s 50th anniversary year. The car was painted in a cashmere metallic tri-coat with cashmere seats.

McCloud goes on the road two to three times each year, choosing one of his Thunderbirds to drive cross country. “I have seen a lot of America in my Thunderbirds. I have driven the Dusty Rose, the Inca Gold, and the Merlot to all 48 lower states. Many of the others have been on road trips to a number of states. My friend, Liz, and I plan a trip to Maine in June and another trip in August out west,” said McCloud.

While driving a 20-year-old car across the country is indeed quite a feat, such a journey has become old hat for McCloud and Liz. They travel to a lot of Thunderbird events, and last year hosted a Thunderbird event in Elizabethton. He and Liz are members of an area-wide Thunderbird club, which includes members from all over the Tri-Cities as well as Elk Park, N.C., and Southwest, Va.

During his travels, McCloud has been to the southern most point in the lower 48 states; the eastern most point, the western most point, and the northern most point, which is in Minnesota, and is the only place in the U.S. north of the 49th parallel. He and Liz have visited a number of historic landmarks as well as cities from the East Coast to the West Coast.

McCloud, who was one of the organizers of the Carter County Car Club car show in downtown Elizabethton, is the current club president. “Classic car owners are a unique breed. I enjoy the car shows, cruise nights, and car club runs, especially with my T-bird friends from other parts of the country. I  also enjoy the scenic, and long road trips,” McCloud shared.

“The Thunderbirds bring back a lot of memories — like when you were young, gliding down to a local diner for a milkshake and then going to a drive-in movie,” said McCloud. “I didn’t have a Thunderbird when I was young. I just dreamed of one, then.”

And, just as McCloud rolls up the miles on his Thunderbirds on cross-country trips, so does the number of banana splits that he tries in almost every town. “And, don’t forget the bread pudding,” said McCloud.

His Thunderbirds aren’t just to look at, they’re to drive as well. “I drive one downtown to work every day, and Liz drives one, too,” McCloud said.