Art Kastl's father longed to walk into a dealership and drive away in a new car. The senior Kastl was a hardworking World War II vet, having served as a tech sergeant in the Marine Corps repairing bombers in the South Pacific.
"Dad knew his way around an engine but our family was poor and money was tight," Kastl said. That's why the Darien resident was surprised when his father brought him along on a trip to Westfield Ford in Countryside in the spring of 1966.
"Dad had saved up and wanted to find a car he could be proud of; the car of his dreams. It was the one moment in time when he could buy something he truly wanted."
After pulling onto the dealer's lot, he soon spotted a Raven Black 1962 Thunderbird. "Dad thought the car was perfect," Kastl said. "He couldn't afford a new T-Bird but this was the closest to acquiring a car in pristine condition."
Berwyn's police chief had purchased the black beauty new and brought it back to the dealer after accumulating 26,000 miles. The asking price for the used Thunderbird was set at $1,450 but Art's father managed to negotiate $200 off, including a trade-in of the family's white-and-gold 1957 Plymouth Belvedere.
Over the next six decades, the regal machine pulled light duty and was well cared for. "Dad never used it as a daily driver," Kastl said, adding he drove a Dodge Valiant station wagon to work.
The Thunderbird was reserved for special trips to visit grandma and on weekends to get ice cream. "Wherever we went, my brother and I would be crammed in the back -- a hot place in a car with no AC!"
With the limited road time and Art's father's attention to detail, the Thunderbird always stayed in excellent condition. As such, the body has never been damaged and everything is all-original, right down to the paint, glass, chrome, stainless steel, interior components and carpeting.
Art's father went to great lengths to ensure the exterior finish stayed factory fresh. He even washed it with rain water saved in a 55-gallon drum.
"Without any minerals, the incredibly soft water was perfect for washing and keeping it looking like new," Kastl said.
A bit of clarification is in order; the body does have one minor flaw, evident while looking at the rear of the vehicle.
"In the summer of '66, Mom and I took the car to get pizza for the family. When we returned home, Dad noticed a 3-inch crease in the rear fender. He always blamed us for the damage." It wasn't until 2009, two years after Art's father's death, that the true culprit revealed himself.
"My little brother finally confessed." He was trying to get a rake off the garage wall and it flopped onto the car. "He couldn't bring himself to tell Dad," Kastl said.
That's not the only longtime secret kept: Kastl has one, too. As an 18-year old, his father allowed Kastl to take a school friend out for a drive. "We couldn't resist and blasted the car down the road." A stoplight suddenly changed at an approaching intersection. Kastl just barely was able to bring the car to a stop. While elated at surviving a near accident, Art wasn't going to tell the tale.
However, he suspects his mechanically savvy father's ear picked up on some evidence coming from the 390-cubic-inch V-8. Pulling back into the driveway, the engine made that distinctive "clink, clink" noise of the block cooling down from excessive use. "Dad knew something was up, but didn't ask questions. He just quietly smiled."
Art's father babied the T-Bird until 1999 when he went on one final drive. A battle with cancer prevented him from enjoying his beloved vehicle for the next eight years. Upon his death in 2007, Art took over ownership.
"Dad always believed if you keep a mechanical piece in excellent condition, it'll last multiple lifetimes. I'm thrilled to be keeping a part of our family history alive."