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First T-Bird drives into sunset [UPDATED]

January 20, 2009 |  7:17 pm

Lahytbirdplate_2 If you've been around the Southern California classic car scene for a while, you may have run across a 1955 Thunderbird with the license plate "001 BRD." It was the first T-Bird Ford made, and it was a common sight at local shows like Cars & Coffee in Irvine or the annual Fabulous Fords Forever at Knott's Berry Farm.

But you won't be seeing "001 BRD" on the streets anymore, apparently. The family of the late George Watts of Villa Park, who had showed it proudly since 1965, sold the sporty coupe to private collector Ron Pratte at the Barrett Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week. Pratte, who is known for keeping his collection to himself, had the winning bid of $600,000.

"George's daughter and son-in-law were not going to be able to show the car properly, so they decided to put it in the hands of a true collector," said Allen Johncox, attorney and broker for the family.


(Photo above: The family and friends of George Watts bid farewell to his prize possession just before the auction.)

Ford Motor Co. has validated the car, with its vehicle identification number P5FH100005, as the first production Thunderbird. And if you're wondering how a car with a VIN ending in "005" can be the first, it's because the four other Thunderbirds numbered before it were prototypes of either sedans or station wagons.

Watts originally found the vehicle in very bad shape in 1965 at a body shop in Santa Ana. He paid $500 for it after noticing the low VIN. As he uncovered the history of the car, he found thLahytbirdcrowdat it was originally sold new at Ted Robbins Ford in Newport Beach to a woman whose son-in-law got in a front-end crash and then couldn't make the payments.

Pratte, the new owner, lives in Chandler, Ariz. He also owns many other American milestone cars, including the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Motorama concept car and Carroll Shelby's Supersnake Cobra which he purchased for $5 million.

Attorney Johncox said the Watts family offered Ford a chance to buy the car for its corporate collection, but the automaker declined.

"I guess Ford is not really interested in spending money right now," Johncox said. So, sadly for now, the Thunderbird's public life is in retirement.

-- Joni Gray

Updated, Wednesday, 12:15 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the new owner as Ron Platte, not Pratte.   

Photos: Phil Skinner, Kelley Blue Book