Custom cars are all about dreams! You're longing for that "so-sweet" cruiser, a car that stands out-and especially built your way. For Daniel Lawhorn, that was certainly true when he started on this crisp, clean '63 Thunderbird custom.
According to Daniel, "I wanted a car that looked silky smooth. I'd seen plenty of customs and especially liked Rick Dore's mango-colored 'Bird that he did a couple of years ago. I could see if I sat a '63 just right, the rear wheels would hardly be visible with the stock skirts. This gives it an even neater look. I didn't have a huge budget and did most of the work myself with the help of my dad and my father-in-law, Jerry Page. These two old guys really know the hot rod tricks. We built virtually the whole car in my garage and driveway!"
Daniel picked up the Thunderbird just over a year ago for $2,200. It was straight and rust free, having been a Central Valley car all its life. With his "peach of a car" in the garage, Daniel started out by stripping it down to the bare interior, engine bay, and suspension. The suspension was reworked and converted to use Air Ride airbags with the help of Brandon at the Area 51 hot rod shop in Bakersfield.
During this stage Daniel also updated the suspension with new bushings, ball joints, and power steering hardware. He had already picked a set of 15-inch steels wheels capped with whitewall Coker tires and replica Dodge Lancer hubcaps centered with white checkers. "You only see the front wheels on this Thunderbird because of the rear skirts and the air suspension which slammed the car down so low. These hubcaps look perfect on this custom, adding just a highlight of sparkly chrome and texture."
The body was in fine condition but needed a little detailing after nearly 40 years on the road. Daniel shaved off what little stock trim there was and sent the bumpers and remaining chrome trim off to Bill "The Bumper Man" in Los Angles for repair and replating. He prepared his garage as a spray booth and shot the doorjambs, engine bay, and trunk. He then shot the body with his custom mix of two-stage Candy Green. The paint was color-sanded and made right before the multi-layers of clear were applied.
His special Candy Green was mixed by Jeff at D'Angelos Paint and Body Supply in Bakersfield, California, but getting the paint color right took some time and testing. "Working with a paint shop that will custom-mix colors until you get it right is a real bonus for any custom car builder," he admitted.
With the body rubbed out, he reinstalled the engine. The refreshed stock 300hp 390 V-8 engine went back in, as did the stock three-speed automatic transmission. The engine was painted and detailed with aluminum and chrome accessories including a Billet Specialties air cleaner. The exhaust was updated for performance and sound with a pair of throaty Flowmaster Delta Flow mufflers fitted to a 2 1/2-inch exhaust system, giving the 'Bird's exhaust the sound of pure American muscle. As you can imagine, with 300 hp this car moves along very briskly even though it weighs a tad over 4,100 pounds.
With the body and running gear back together, the 'Bird headed into the garage once again. Daniel created a custom fiberglass dash panel using stock instrumentation and restored the stock steering wheel. However, he handed the interior "software" over to R&A Upholstery in Bakersfield to re-trim the stock seats in white marine-grade vinyl. This re-trimming included a new headliner, dash cover, door panels, quarter-panels, console, and seats. It is all done in a very simple custom style with a minimum of seams. R&A also trimmed up a set of black carpets for the floors to contrast the bright-white seat covering. The overall effect is a classic-looking custom interior.
According to Daniel, "The 'Bird is really the creation of my dream car. I wanted a cruiser to drive, not some trailer queen I had to tow to show off. With a limited budget, I figured I could compete as long as I did the work myself. I drove it to Paso Robles for the West Coast Kustoms Show and to a whole bunch of other Southern California shows this summer, but mostly I get to drive it around Bakersfield, which is what I really love."
From every angle, Daniel Lawhorn's '63 Thunderbird looks just great. With its simply shaved bodywork, stunning paint color, sparkly white interior, and ant-high ride height, only one word covers it all-Cool.