The first time I saw this bird it was driving the opposite direction as I was on Illinois Route 50 in Fairview Heights, Illinois. But on this day at the grocery store, I had an opportunity to check it out up close, and I didn’t even need binoculars to get a good look at it!
I grabbed a few quick pics and dropped a note on the front seat, leaving my contact information and reason for wanting to talk to the owner about the car. A few days later I got a call from JoAnn Oakley. We spoke for a time that night and JoAnn told me much about her car and invited me to come out to Okawville, Illinois to see it and learn more. The next Saturday, I drove to meet JoAnn and her husband, Harry, at their place of business, Oakley Services, Inc.
Most of the cars I chase down for a story involve a short drive and generally take all of about 20 or 30 minutes for an interview with the owner. On this day, however, I drove 35 miles to Okawville, a town with a population of roughly 1,400 people... and I spent nearly four hours with JoAnn and Harry.
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During our phone conversation, JoAnn told me Harry operated a generator business, to which I asked, “Oh, like the generators you pick up at Home Depot in?” JoAnn explained, “These are very large units like used in hospitals, municipalities, agricultural operations and various companies where even a momentary loss of power would mean catastrophic damage to computers and other equipment that rely on electrical power.” You’re wondering where I’m going with all of this, aren’t you?
After speaking to JoAnn on the phone, my mind was prepared to meet her husband, the company president, seated in a spacious office with plush carpet and in an expensive leather chair, behind an impressive, polished mahogany desk. I was not prepared for the real Harry Oakley Jr., but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
Harry turned out to be a very affable man. His background, since his first job at 16 working for the business that his father founded, is impressive and is one of devotion and dedication to his product, installation and service.
But about that bird... power for the ‘57 T-Birds was provided exclusively by V-8 engines. The standard mill was a 292 cubic-inch engine producing 212 brake horsepower at 4,500 rpm, fueled by a Holley four-barrel carb.
The Thunderbird for ‘57, with a factory base price of $3,408, was priced $57 under the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette. As both cars were in their infancy, reputations were already beginning to form. Corvette’s reputation for performance was growing while Thunderbird’s reputation grew in terms of creature comfort and luxury power and convenience options. Thunderbird took more than its fair share by taking a big slice out of the new American sports car market and outselling Corvette by a margin of more than three-to-one for the 1957 model year!
And, BTW, as far as total brand unit sales for the 1957 model year of 1,655,068, Ford outsold Chevrolet, under the same criteria, by a total of 13,989 units.
UPCOMING EVENTS: Don’t miss the 2022 It’s A Gas! petroleum and memorabilia swap meet in Lebanon, Missouri.