Family's story closely follows cherished T-Bird

 
 
Updated 9/25/2016 11:53 AM
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  • 1966 Ford Thunderbird

    1966 Ford Thunderbird Photos Courtesy of Matt Avery media

  • Classic Recollections columnist Matt Avery, left, makes Larry Leafblad of Crystal Lake the winner of his Daily Herald Cruise Night award.

    Classic Recollections columnist Matt Avery, left, makes Larry Leafblad of Crystal Lake the winner of his Daily Herald Cruise Night award.

  • Kyle Boyer, left, and Mike Menola of the country band In the Stix perform at the final cruise night of the summer Wednesday at Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale.

    Kyle Boyer, left, and Mike Menola of the country band In the Stix perform at the final cruise night of the summer Wednesday at Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale.

  • Golden retrievers enjoy the late summer evening Wednesday with their handlers from the Lutheran Church Charities Kare-9 Comfort Dogs ministry.

    Golden retrievers enjoy the late summer evening Wednesday with their handlers from the Lutheran Church Charities Kare-9 Comfort Dogs ministry.

  • Annie McMillan, 3, of Hanover Park seems to approve of her tiger made by balloon artist Anna Freeman.

    Annie McMillan, 3, of Hanover Park seems to approve of her tiger made by balloon artist Anna Freeman.

  • Daily Herald Auto section editor Mike Burke, left, presents the Best of Newspaper Column Writing award to Matt Avery. Avery recently won the award in the International Automotive Media Competition.

    Daily Herald Auto section editor Mike Burke, left, presents the Best of Newspaper Column Writing award to Matt Avery. Avery recently won the award in the International Automotive Media Competition.

A chamber of commerce is a wonderful place to make connections. Larry Leafblad of Grayslake made an important one way back in October 1965.

Not only did it lead to a new car, but to his future wife and a lifetime of memories.

Back then, Larry attended a chamber meeting in Fox Lake and sat across from Carl, the owner of Carl Abbate Ford located just down the road. Larry was itching to trade up from his current ride, a tired 1963 Triumph TR4.

Larry wasted no time in "making nice" with his tablemate. The strategy worked. Carl invited Larry to stop by the dealership's showroom, promising him a good deal. Larry followed through -- and so did Carl.

Abbate paired Larry with salesman Jim Harrington, who helped the young man out. They accepted his Triumph as a trade and discounted a new 1966 Thunderbird. The vehicle arrived later that December.

In March, Larry ran into Jim again -- but this time not at the dealership. Their paths crossed at the Alpine Gun Club in Round Lake. Larry's band, the Scotch Lads, was playing a benefit concert for the St. Joseph's School.

Between sets, Larry approached Jim and jokingly asked his reason for being there. Jim pointed to a beautiful young lady and informed Larry it was his daughter, Diane. She was a teacher at the school and had asked her car-salesman father to attend the gala.

After meeting Diane later that night, Larry fell in love. He even dropped to one knee and asked for her hand in marriage. They got hitched later that year and drove off in the T-Bird to their honeymoon destination.

In 1968, the couple settled in Grayslake. A few months later they brought home their firstborn child, Eric, in the Ford. The car was working out great for the young family.

Courtesy of Leafblad familyThis photo was taken in 1976 when Ken Clark, at right, the Thunderbird's second owner, visited Larry Leafblad, left, and his son, Eric, at Larry's Grayslake home.
Courtesy of Leafblad familyThis photo was taken in 1976 when Ken Clark, at right, the Thunderbird's second owner, visited Larry Leafblad, left, and his son, Eric, at Larry's Grayslake home. -

Larry had been using it to commute to his job at radio station WKRS in Waukegan and had grown quite fond of the big drop top. What brought about a change was Eric. In 1970, Diane was doing errands when the curious 3-year-old thought it'd be fun to play with the door handle. On one turn, he unlatched it and swung out and over the street rushing past below. Thankfully, the door slammed shut and Eric returned safely inside.

All was well, but it was enough for Diane -- the car had to go. A family friend, Ken Clark, offered to buy it. Not long after, another friend, George Bell, offered to buy it from Clark.

Bell gave the Thunderbird to his daughter to drive. Meanwhile, Larry never let it out of his sight. He still saw it on occasion and would frequently ask George to sell it back. In 1976 he agreed.

Despite being just 10 years old, the convertible had become a complete basket case. Larry sourced another Thunderbird for replacement components. Besides a mechanical overhaul, a ton of bodywork was needed, too. The floor pans, rockers and lower quarters had rusted out and were replaced.

The Ford Thunderbird was given a mechanical and body overhaul in the 1980s.
The Ford Thunderbird was given a mechanical and body overhaul in the 1980s. -

By 1982, all was righted and the completed T-Bird was ready to fly again.

After many decades of happy motoring, Larry and his Ford made another touchdown Wednesday at the Daily Herald September Cruise Night. The Thunderbird was a perfect addition to the event's Original Owner Showcase. This unique feature highlights owners just like Larry who purchased their vintage vehicles new.

Because of the deep memories and rich personal narrative, I awarded Larry my Matt Avery's Pick Trophy at the event, held at Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale. The car celebration also included a live performance by area country rock band, In the Stix.

Other highlights included kid activities and games, food trucks and a special Chevelle display put on by the Northern Illinois Chevelle Club. Car owners and spectators alike also supported a raffle that raised money for the Lutheran Church Charities Kare-9 Comfort Dogs ministry, whose members have brought their golden retrievers to each of this summer's four cruise nights.

• Share your car's story with Matt at auto@dailyherald.com.

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