Nearly 10 years ago, Lance Burton spotted a vintage red car in a driveway with a for sale sign. It didn’t matter that Burton already had three other vintage cars in his garage at the time.
Burton, of Raymore, wanted the car that appears to the casual observer to be a 1955 Ford Thunderbird. But he knew he was looking a Shay 1955 Replica Thunderbird made in 1981 by Harry Shay.
The story behind the 1981 Shay ’55 Replica Thunderbird is interesting, filled with twists and turns. Only about 200 were made, and Burton figures there are just 100 of them left.
“He ended up building these cars, but because he reverted to the old days of taking a group of guys (to build them) instead of an assembly line, he couldn’t turn them out fast enough,” Burton said.
“The whole purpose of them was to draw people into the Ford showrooms. Most of the dealers weren’t going to actually sell them until they had a chance to park them out front and let people see them.”
When customers saw them, they wanted to buy them so orders were placed. Shay faced close to 125 lawsuits because deposits for the cars were made, but production of the cars was very slow.
“The main problem with building the cars was he didn’t have enough time to train people so you have a crew of five or six guys putting these cars together,” Burton said. “Well, if two of them miss work, it was not like things continued to move down the assembly line.”
Burton wanted this car for his collection. First, though, he had to convince his wife, who has since passed away.
“She said, ‘We don’t need another car,’” he said.
Burton got her to agree to look at it in exchange for a dinner out.
“She saw it and said, ‘You have room for one more,’” Burton said.
Burton bought it for $7,500. Sometime later, Burton was thinking about selling the car. Before doing so, he showed it to Terri, who he was dating before she became his wife.
“I keep all my cars in the basement,” Burton said. “She came down and saw it and she asked what I was going to do with it. I said probably sell it. She said, ‘I don’t think so.’ Now it is her car.”
Terri said she liked the style of the car.
“It was pretty cool,” she said.
So much about the car is unique. The engine and transmission came from a Pinto, Burton said. The frame and the body is all fiberglass.
Burton said the car has about 16,000 miles on it and drives well. But he and his wife only use it for car shows and occasionally drive it around town.
“When you pull into a car show, people don’t realize that it is not a T-Bird until you start talking to them about it,” he said. “We enjoy talking about it a lot. We sometimes take the brochures with us and show them.”
To learn more about the history of the Shay roadster and T-bird, go to www.shayhistory.com/HistoryShay.
The car definitely grabs people’s attention.
“First off, they are delighted to see it,” Burton said. “They are waving and smiling.”
It is easy for Burton to smile right back because fewer than 200 people in the country have one like it.
Do you have a car, truck or motorcycle or other vehicle you would like see featured in Make It Yours? If you do, email your idea to David Boyce at Drive@kcstar.com