Motor City

25 July 2015

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Lot 110

1956 Ford Thunderbird

  • Chassis no. P6FH291216

Sold for $52,250

225 bhp, 292 cu. in. OHV V-8 engine with a four-barrel carburetor, two-speed Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission, independent coil-spring front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptical rear springs, and power-assisted hydraulic four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 102 in.

  • Offered from the Ochsner Automobile Museum
  • The Las Vegas Alamo Airways support vehicle
  • Formerly owned by Howard Hughes’s Hughes Tool Company
  • High-quality, authentic restoration in original colors
  • One of the best stories of any “Little Bird”

This 1956 Ford Thunderbird was purchased new by George and Peg Crockett, founders of Alamo Airways and owners of Alamo Field, the predecessor and site of today’s McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Beach Boys may have “fun-fun-fun” in their Thunderbird, but the Crocketts’ car had a more serious purpose: it was their support vehicle, used to race at high speeds across the tarmac, rapidly bringing supplies and, occasionally, fire-fighting equipment to and from planes. Yet it also fit the flamboyant image of an airline that carried visiting celebrities to and from Alamo Field in a V-16 Cadillac and whose owners were literally high-flying friends with Howard Hughes (more on that later).

The Thunderbird was famously used to keep a Cessna 172 aloft for 64 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes in late 1958. With the fuel tanker designed to feed gasoline up to the plane out of commission, George Crockett drove the T-Bird along a dry lakebed near Primm, Nevada, keeping up with the plane above while feeding several 5-gallon cans of gasoline up to it using a rope. Reportedly, supplies were sent up to the pilots (and waste sent down) using the same method. Today, that Cessna still holds the world record for longest-duration continuous flight.

The car was sold along with all other Alamo Airways assets to Howard Hughes’s Hughes Tool Company in 1967; the Hughes Tool Company property tag is still present on the firewall. Hughes, in turn, sold the Thunderbird in the mid-1970s to his personal pilot, John Seymore, who passed it to a boat dealer in 1981. The boat dealer used it as a trade-in on a new car at Sunland Motors in Las Vegas. John and Marian Vetterli, of Wisconsin, acquired the car in 1983 and owned it for 22 years, completing its restoration to original condition using the original engine, colors, and equipment, as well as numerous NOS parts, in the early 1990s.

The car’s restoration has held up extremely well and still shows to a very high quality, including near-perfect paint over a very straight and well-fit body; accuracy and authenticity is obvious throughout, including the use of proper hoses and clamps under the hood. Features such as the soft and hard tops, power steering and brakes, and Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels shod in wide whitewall tires are authentic.

Today, McCarran International Airport holds a replica of the Crocketts’ Thunderbird. This car is the real thing—a part of Las Vegas and aviation history, as well as the most interesting “fire truck” ever built!

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more