T-Bird Makeover

Arliene Kennedy smiled warmly as she was reintroduced to the 1957 Ford Thunderbird she sold to Bruce and Judy Biddle two years ago.

The ruby red gem of a car she saw Saturday at the Oak Harbor Lions Car Show in Windjammer Park barely resembled the old T-Bird she had sold the Biddles.

Kennedy hadn’t seen it since the sale. She had parted with the car reluctantly because it was a big part of her life with her late husband John. She kept it in storage at her Mariners Cove home for ten years after his death, until Bruce Biddle persuaded her to sell it. “It was a rust bucket,” he said.

No doubt it wasn’t a rust bucket in Arliene Kennedy’s eyes, but Biddle knew that beneath the fading old paint job there was a lot of work to be done. He and Judy spent 18 months restoring the classic car, inside and out, but they kept their work secret.

“She had no idea,” Biddle said of Kennedy. The grand unveiling was planned for the Lions Car Show. Kennedy accepted the invitation to attend.

Upon Kennedy’s arrival at the park, the T-Bird was hidden from view by a car cover. After looking at some photos of how the car looked the day it was sold to the Biddles, the cover was dramatically removed, revealing the fully restored beauty.

“Gorgeous!,” Kennedy exclaimed, adding, “It’s the prettiest car I’ve ever seen — except when I owned it.”

John Kennedy purchased the Thunderbird from a Navy Master Chief in Pensacola, Fla., as a combination birthday, anniversary and Mother’s Day present for Arliene 42 years ago, when it was only eight years old. They put many happy miles on the T-Bird as they drove all over the country.

The car was eventually mothballed on a property in Utah for a couple of years before the Kennedys decided to bring it up to their home in Washington. After her husband passed away, Arliene kept the car, turning down numerous purchase offers until Biddle, a retired Oak Harbor teacher, came along.

“She wouldn’t sell it, but I caught her at a weak moment,” Biddle said.

Bruce and Judy Biddle spent the past two years meticulously restoring the car, putting on the finishing touches just two days prior to the car show.

The car was one of the stars of the Lions’ 2007 Car Show, which attracted a record 258 entries. Mayor Patty Cohen and Whidbey Island Air Station Commanding Officer Capt. Gerral David both chose the car as their favorite.

Biddle graciously offered Kennedy a chance to sit in the car, but she wanted more than that.

“I don’t want to sit in it, I want to ride in it!,” she exclaimed.

Biddle promised to arrange to pick her up for a ride in her beloved old Thunderbird in the near future.

— News-Times editor Jim Larsen contributed to this story.

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