Ford didn’t produce the 1980 Thunderbird “GT Bird” with a convertible roof. That was left to Dave McKelvey, who drove “Olive,” as he calls his creation, to the 25th annual Muscle Cars Plus show and swap meet this past weekend at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan.
McKelvey used to work for a doctor who had purchased the Thunderbird new and who “drove the wheels off it,” McKelvey recalled.
Late in the decade, McKelvey bought the muscle car from the doctor, decided in the early ‘90s that he needed “an ice cream car” and proceeded to turn the solid-roofed coupe into a convertible-topped roadster.
Why “ice cream car”?
“I wanted a convertible to take my sons out for ice cream,” McKelvey said, “and I also didn’t want to have to go out and buy one.”
Since he also was operating a body shop while working in the doctor’s office in Kalamazoo and at a hospital in Battle Creek, McKelvey was able to expose Olive’s passenger compartment to the Michigan summer sky.
McKelvey calls Olive a work in progress, and displays a sign that lets people know the muscle car isn’t “road kill” but rather “a rescue.”
Besides, Olive draws a lot of attention at car shows such as this one at the Gilmore, and the Gilmore event also gives McKelvey an opportunity to do some swap-meet shopping for his other project car, a 1969 Ford Mustang that, believe it or not, was someone else’s project before McKelvey got it — after that someone else had taken off the roof and begun to make a roadster out of the Mustang.
McKelvey’s topless Thunderbird may have been the most unusual car at the Gilmore show, but it wasn’t the only rare bird among the hundreds of muscular cars on display.
Mike and Kris Campbell drove to Hickory Corners, Michigan, in their 1976 Ford Mustang II Stallion, a muscle car that Mike bought new and in which he courted Kris more than 40 years ago. She likes to remind him that he almost traded in the now-rare car and its 302 factory V8 for a 1994 Indianapolis 500 Mustang Cobra until she nixed that transaction.
Instead, they now have a rare collector vehicle that has been featured in at least one Mustang magazine and that they will be taking to the new Mustang Owner’s Museum in North Carolina for the second time very soon.
And parked not far from the Campbells’ Mustang was a 1974 AMC Gremlin — with Levis interior — that original owner Gary Steely says regularly snacks on Mustangs in stop-light sprint races.
The muscle car has an AMC factory 360 cid V8 under its hood, side exhaust pipes and some other goodies that belie its economy-box design.
By the way, not only were hundreds of muscle cars displayed outside on the Gilmore’s farm-size campus, but inside the main museum building there’s a special “Born To Perform: The Era of the Muscle Car” exhibit featuring more than two dozen pristine examples of Detroit muscle cars from the 1960s and early ’70s.
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