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Collector Classics: Restoration of family treasure provided a bittersweet conclusion to 2020

Mike Schmidt picking his 1966 Thunderbird up at the restoration shop on Christmas Eve. Alyn Edwards photo
Mike Schmidt picking his 1966 Thunderbird up at the restoration shop on Christmas Eve. Alyn Edwards photo - POSTMEDIA

By Alyn Edwards

Loretta Schmidt loved the classic Thunderbird she and husband Mike bought 25 years ago. She would take their three daughters for cruises with the top down, and the classic T-Bird had a special place in the garage at their White Rock, B.C. area home. The car had been used for family weddings and other special occasions for decades.

When Mike was found to have kidney cancer in September 2018 and subsequently retired from the family plumbing and heating business, the couple decided a worthy retirement project would be the complete rebuilding of their treasured T-Bird. And so, plans were put in motion last March with the car transported to the restoration shop for assessment and a complete ground up refurbishment.

The 1966 Ford Thunderbird would mark the last convertible model produced until the two-passenger retro Thunderbirds came out in 2002.

It was a remarkable car for its times, as the convertible top retracted into the rear compartment after the trunk automatically opened backwards to swallow the top. Once the trunk closed automatically, the car was a full convertible. It was wonderful technology for its era.

Mike and Loretta Schmidt had wanted a special car when they tracked the ’66 convertible down in Penticton. After $20,000 changed hands 25 years ago, they decided to have some upgrades made including rust repair. Little did they know that the restorer would cover up rust holes in the trunk with tin pop riveted in place and covered with roofing tar.


Loretta Schmidt loved to take her three daughters for rides in the 1966 Thunderbird with the top down. Submitted - POSTMEDIA
Loretta Schmidt loved to take her three daughters for rides in the 1966 Thunderbird with the top down. Submitted - POSTMEDIA


On the positive side, their Thunderbird was well equipped with power windows including the vent windows, AM/FM radio and air conditioning. It ran well and the top always worked. The family enjoyed it for more than two decades before the couple decided to go all the way on the restoration.

Mike and Loretta decided a colour change was in order as the original code N Diamond Blue was not correctly blended at the time of the repaint and looked like the ‘colour of skim milk.’ The 1966 Thunderbird colour code G Sapphire Blue was selected to be complimented with a Navy blue convertible top and leather interior. The car was completely gutted to the body shell. New metal was welded into the trunk, panels were straightened and pieces painted off the car before reassembly.


The 1966 Thunderbird as it was being dismantled for restoration. Submitted - POSTMEDIA
The 1966 Thunderbird as it was being dismantled for restoration. Submitted - POSTMEDIA


Privately, Mike Schmidt was worried health concerns might leave his wife with a classic car that would have problems. “That was part of my reason for choosing to have the Thunderbird completely restored,” he told a friend. “Loretta loved the car and I didn’t want her to have problems if anything happened to me.”

But the unthinkable occurred shortly after work began on the car. Loretta had been experiencing headaches and went into hospital for tests last April. The diagnoses showed she had aggressive terminal brain cancer and would only live another six weeks. She passed away at home on June 12th.

It was devastating for Mike, his three daughters, extended family and many good friends. Mike and Loretta had been high school sweethearts and, once the car was restored, it was to be enjoyed well into their retirement years.

“There was no question I would carry on with the restoration and the process gave me something to focus on,” Mike says. “It was always for Loretta and it still is.”

Loretta died at home one week before the couple’s 40th wedding anniversary and there was an empty chair at the table for the family Thanksgiving celebration. Her piano was nearby where she played beautifully and taught others the joy of music. Christmas would be another festive event without Loretta for the Schmidt family. Once again, there was an empty chair at the dinner table. But the day had been brightened with the Christmas Eve delivery of the freshly restored Thunderbird.

Mike Schmidt picked the car up and drove it home on Christmas Eve day. A lot had happened in the nine months it took to restore the car. His family was on hand as the glistening Thunderbird was parked in the driveway and the top was lowered for photos.


The restored 1966 Thunderbird is a classic from any angle. Alyn Edwards photo - POSTMEDIA
The restored 1966 Thunderbird is a classic from any angle. Alyn Edwards photo - POSTMEDIA


“The car is a hit in the neighborhood and with the family and, of course, with me,” Mike wrote in a note to a friend. “The colour is captivating as was Loretta.

“People say 2020 has been a tough year and I’ll be the first to agree. But, like a lot of good things in life, they happen out of hardship and struggle. Our T-Bird project is a manifestation of that struggle. And we have all gained from it collectively.”

Mike Schmidt believes Loretta would approve of the restored Thunderbird that is now back in the garage at the family home to be enjoyed for special drives once more.

(Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company.)

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