"Hey Titus, let's go pick up a T-bird,"were words that resonated in the brisk, late fall morning air in 1959, spoken by the man who'd just pulled up in a customized '59 Buick with open trailer in tow. That man being none other than the now legendary customizer/show promoter, Darryl Starbird. The place, Star Kustom Shop at 734 E. Mt. Vernon in Wichita, Kansas (still standing alongside the railroad tracks when last we checked).
The shop gopher, Jerry, quickly pulled down the doors and hopped in for the 30-some-mile trip with his 26-year-old boss and friend (friends for 50-plus years). What they found were the sad remains of a '56 Thunderbird in a shed that was literally falling down around it. Darryl just had to have it to fulfill his vision of the future. Forking over $800 (a lot of loot in 1959), the two cleaned out the rubble around the car and loaded it up for the haul back for its destiny. Yep, it was to become the Predicta, one of the great milestone custom cars of all time.
If the wrecked hulk that Darryl started with looked like it had been hit by a train, well, that's because it had. He obviously had his work cut out for him, but already having a '57 T-bird, Le Perle, under his belt, the plan was set in motion. Note that Le Perle had really put Starbird in the limelight, not only winning the 1959 NHRA National Sweepstakes Championship, but the Top Body Shop award as well. He had to get this new and vastly improved T-bird finished in record time so as to not break the momentum, which we're glad to say is still rollin' headlong into the future to this very day.
It was indeed an intense few short weeks to turn a totaled sporty car into the groundbreaking Predicta in time for the 1960 National Roadster Show in Oakland, California (February 19-28th). (Note that "Grand" wasn't added to the title until '62 and, even though held in Oakland, it never was officially the Oakland Roadster Show). The show was the goal, and they (Darryl and assistant Dave Stuckey) almost make it. Actually, they did, but I say "almost" because the bubble wasn't ready when it came time to load Predicta on the trailer for the long haul to California, and had to be shipped separately. If you look closely at the August '60 CAR CRAFT cover photo with Darryl and the magazine's editor, Dick Day, sitting in the car, you'll note that the bubble is merely sitting on the car, not attached. In another of the three cover shots, with Darryl alone in the cockpit, the bubble isn't seen at all, only the partial ring with hinges behind him. Complete or not, Predicta impressed the judges enough to bestow Darryl with Oakland's Sweepstakes of the Future Award.
The original interior was...
The original interior was the work of Wichita's Paul Matz, which was also button-tufted frieze, the "buttons" being glittery rhinestones......
......For Monogram's version,...
......For Monogram's version, the Admiral portable television remained (there's now a small lever beside the TV which activates the '57 Chrysler tranny's ex push-button gear selector). The reclining seats are also original to the Monogram build, and again button-tufted by Walt's Upholstery in Mulvane, Kansas.
The original version's nose...
The original version's nose was quite different, sporting a unique, free-standing grille shell surround formed from 12 lengths of copper tubing coiled around frosted headlight covers and 16 white, painted '59 Caddy taillight lenses. This final version is of course, much more sophisticated, having a molded-in shell with a simple horizontal tubular grille emphasizing greater width. The headlights were also changed to a style similar to Darryl's Star Bird '61 T-bird of that same year.
A coordination with front...
A coordination with front end styling is in evidence at the rear as well, with full-width tubing overlaying a single red Plexi taillight filling the entire cavity. A full rear grille cavity existed on the original version as well, but it too was filled with '59 Caddy lenses, 28 in all.
A major part of turning that wrecked '56 `Bird into the Predicta was to reshape the perimeter of the cockpit to accept the footprint of a semi-double canopy. To do so, a steel ring was created which would serve both as a base, as well as provide hinge mounting locations.
Lustre Craft in Wichita was chosen to blow the bubble. Upon accepting the challenge, however, they had to build an oven large enough to accommodate a 6x8-ft. sheet of Plexiglas, as well as a rail system to move the plastic into and out of again once heated. In working the hot plastic, speed is of the essence, as it cools quickly. So, with the edges of the Plexi clamped to the rails, it's slid into the oven. When heated to just the right point of elasticity it is pulled out and clamped between the aforementioned plywood ring and a solid sheet on the bottom. Air nozzles then apply pressure through holes until the bubble is blown to its vertical form on either side of the profile shape. The first couple of tries got the plastic too hot, which caused it to pull away from the rails when pulled from the oven. Eventually they got it right.
The Mono Stick
Besides the bubble, one of Predicta`s other Car of the Future features was the absence of a conventional steering wheel; directional control being achieved by a centrally located stick, much like that found on some airplanes, which could be accessed from either side, as there were two sets of pedals on the floor. Very innovative for then or now, with a 100 percent wow! But "how th' heck do it work?" Well, after almost half-a-century of speculation, here's the skinny: Sometimes knowing what you want and achieving that goal are downright incompatible, but luck was on young Darryl's side.
It was off to the local boneyard to be an organ donor for Darryl's latest project. The early production '57 Chrysler had two major components he was after--a 392cid Hemi (with tranny) and a full-time power steering unit. The powertrain would be a straightforward swap but the steering? Chrysler engineers had made their new power steering integral with the column. Sometimes the most obvious solution to a problem is right before your eyes, you've just got to look at it from a different perspective. The simple and elegant answer was to lay the column under the floor, attached parallel to the frame, problem solved with a little tinkering to fit the column to the T-bird's steering box and the center stick, and with everything married together, it worked like a charm.
Note that it was only during the first few months of '57 production that Chrysler offered full-time power steering. They then switched to a more conventional power-assisted system using mostly the same components, but with different valving. This is something Darryl would find out the hard way later when he went to duplicate the system. He would go on to use this central stick steering concept on several more of his fantastic creations, including Futurista and Electra.
Visit www.streetrodderweb.com for more on the Predicta restoration and some tall tales from Darryl Starbird.
Here we see the '57 Chrysler...
Here we see the '57 Chrysler 392-cube Hemi that's been with the `Bird since '59. However, instead of being either injected or blown (it's been both), a four-barrel carb now gives go-juice to the heavy hunk of Mopar iron.
This is the $800 '56 T-bird...
This is the $800 '56 T-bird that Darryl started with in late 1959. The driver's side was pretty much erased. An interesting bit of trivia is that the photo of the wreck published in CAR CRAFT's August '60 issue is flopped, showing the passenger side being wiped out.
A rare construction shot of...
A rare construction shot of Predicta showing Darryl hard at work installing '59 Buick finned quarter panels-into door skins. Note that another '56 `bird front fender is already in place. You can tell it's a '56, as there's an air vent just ahead of the front door jamb.
Here's Darryl behind the "stick"...
Here's Darryl behind the "stick" under the Predicta bubble at the AHRA drag race Nationals at Kansas City in 1960, proving that 100 mph in the quarter mile wasn't too bad for a show car steered with a "tiller," either then, or now. (B/W photos courtesy of the Starbird Collection)
Ever since Darryl got his beloved Predicta back and reversed the changes made while in the hands of others, his goal was for a full and authentic restoration back to its 1963 Monogram model release form. When he opened his ever-expanding National Rod & Custom Car Hall Of Fame Museum in Afton, Oklahoma, Predicta became the centerpiece. But no one knew better than Darryl that it would need a little freshening up. The day finally came in 2006, just around six months before Darryl's 50th Anniversary Wichita Show early in '07, where she was to be the star attraction. She was as one of seven bubbletops featured in the show, four of which were Starbird creations.
Darryl dismantled Predicta down to the last nut and bolt, refurbishing, re-plating, or replacing everything, making her as good as the day Monogram Models had taken possession some four-and-a-half decades earlier. He even engineered and built his own rotisserie, where he could more easily work the body and frame to perfection before having son Rick spray it in a trademark Starbird Blue. As paint has changed significantly over the years, Darryl started with a House of Kolor Kandy Blue, which he lightened and finessed until the Predicta original shade of blue was ready to apply. If you're saying; "but, wasn't Monogram's model red?" You are correct, but it was only painted candy red as part of the Monogram deal. Blue it once was, blue it is again, and blue it ever shall be.
Getting close to his Wichita show's deadline, Darryl called on the car building talents of son-in-law, Tom Vogele, to lend a hand in what must have been the ultimate Monogram kit, a one-to-one Predicta. Tom, a hot rodding celebrity in his own right having cut his teeth building AMBR winners with the late Boyd Coddington, and later as editor of STREET RODDER, was more than willing to help Darryl. Putting all those painted and plated parts back together again turned into an intense month of 10-hour days.
Now, fully restored and on display at the Starbird Museum for this and future generations to enjoy and see, it illustrates how things were in an era when a young man with vision could put his dreams into steel (and plastic) to predict a bright and unlimited future, and Predicta stands as a benchmark of still-viable "what ifs."