For Paul Baker, Squarebirds have long been a frustration, styling-wise, that is--their having been just about perfect when the '58-60 models first rolled off the assembly line some 44 years ago. And despite the best efforts of many top customizers over the years, no one had ever been able to improve on what the factory designers had already accomplished--at least to Paul's satisfaction. Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, during the '60s on a diet of American hot rod and custom car magazines and reading about famous custom builders and their creations, these men were heroes to a young and impressionable Paul. However, their efforts to better the stock T-Bird's lines always seemed to come out somewhat the same--a mild makeover with some really cool paint, a low stance, and possibly graphics, as was the case with Larry Watson's 'Bird (see CRM, March '01 for the feature).
Paul went on to train as a graphic artist in the advertising business, where he perfected his airbrushing technique before moving to New Zealand in the '70s. It was there that he explored his talent for custom automotive painting and graphics, building cars for both himself and others who admired his work during his spare time. In no time at all, he established a reputation as the coolest custom painter in New Zealand, even adding graphics to new cars for local dealers. Moving back to Australia in the '80s saw him employing his growing talents in the popular custom van scene.
In the early '90s Paul bought a '59 Thunderbird, beginning the long journey that would eventually lead to making his own statement with the frustrating custom Squarebird. At first he followed the traditional resto route, adding a low stance, some trick wheels, and wild murals over a black base. Then, after a couple of years, he reworked the car once again into a mild custom, much the same, but with a custom grille, extra chrome, and a wild candy-pink paint job topped with pink flames. Even then he knew that this would never be enough--he simply had to tackle the toughest-assignment custom around. And so it was at the dawn of a new century that Paul sketched a number of ideas: a targa-topped coupe, an open roadster, even a wild, bubble-topped cruiser. But whatever he did, he realized the roof would have to be central to his design. It seemed that the "Square" in 'Bird stemmed from its boxy roof--thus the body type's longstanding nickname. The answer to Paul's styling dilemma lay just a few feet away, in a garage behind his home in the form of his son Shane's Candy Apple Red '59 Caddy coupe. In a blinding flash of design inspiration it occurred to Paul he could replace the 'Bird's square roof with one that was smooth and flowing from a '59, just by turning it backwards. Fitting the roof in the normal way would have utilized the Caddy's windshield, which would have locked the car into '50s styling, square or not, from which he wished to liberate it. By fitting the roof backwards, he could employ the Caddy's backlight as the windshield, and by fabricating new C-pillars he could use another such backlight in its intended position. The resultant exercise totally transforms what was once square into one very cool creation--thus its new moniker, "Kool Bird!"
For body modifications, which even without the discussed roof swap turned out to be rather extensive, Paul turned to local metalmen Andrew and John Finch at Top Shelf Automotive. Aside from the standard nosing, decking, emblem removal, and shaving of handles, there was major restructuring to consider as well, things like changing the trailing edge of the hood, along with the cowl to match the new windshield, and the leading edge of the trunk to do likewise with the new backlight. The hood also got a modified, re-sculptured and extended scoop, and fender eyebrows were extended forward as well, while the openings themselves were restructured to house '97 Hyundai triangular headlights. And while raising and extending the fins is essential to the overall design changes, the front bumper/grille probably stands alone as the most amazing part of the transformation. While others would have molded in and painted the area to a similar design, Paul chose to completely remodel the piece but keep it in chrome as an anchor to the beautiful body, with the same concerns carried out in the rear as well. To this end, the opening was extended to the outer edges, the ends reshaped, a tubular custom grille created, and even provisions made for side marker lights. As mentioned, the rear was extensively modified as well, with custom-blown taillight lenses buried deep within the quarter-panels. The bumper was sliced 'n' diced extensively, leaving chromed protectors around the taillight area, which also include extra taillight, backup, and side marker lights, as well, while the lower panel is now a body-colored rolled pan, incorporating a power-operated gas lid within its central, sculptured recess.
When it came time for paint, that was Paul's department, as his business of many years is called Kolor Me Kool. To achieve his goal of creating a complete custom statement, he utilized a PPG Radiance IIR Candy System, consisting of a Hi-Sparkle Silver base, followed by Silver Micro Flake, then blends of Gold, Yellow Amarillo, and Tangerine candies, all buried under what Paul describes as "Liters of clear!"
Metalwork wasn't contained to the exterior either, as the stock dash was discarded in favor of a custom unit that flows not only into a full-length console, but the doors as well. When finished and painted, it was Gary Blackman's turn at bat, where he custom-built the seating and door panels, covering everything in a bone-colored vinyl with matching carpet. The steering wheel is a refreshed original but painted to match. Teardrop knobs are custom items, and instrumentation is from an Aussie-built Ford LTD.
As for the driveline, Paul elected to retain the stock 352-cid T-Bird V-8, rebuilt by SLD Automotive and beautified with a body-colored block, chrome, H.P.C. coated custom headers, and an exhaust system by Dave Hall at Western Port Exhausts--you know, the works!
Lowered but 4 inches (which is a bunch for one of these 'Birds, as they were pretty close to the pavement in stock form), "Kool Bird" now rides on Roadster Wire Wheels with custom, gold-plated bullet caps by Paul Kelly at smooth Cruzin' that are wrapped in Remington whitewalls. The end results speak for themselves, making Paul Baker's 'Bird Australia's koolest kustom!