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1961 FORD STARLINER AN EARLY MUSCLE CAR

By KENNETH HALL - Motoring Tampa Bay correspondent
They say you never forget your first love. For Rick Cabaniss of Seffner, that first love arrived when he was a youngster and his uncle John came home from the Air Force with a shiny new red 1961 Ford Starliner, with a white roof.
The Ford Starliner was introduced in 1960 as a two-door, top-of-the-line version of its successful Galaxie. The jet-age design featured impossibly thin roof pillars and fastback styling.
“The design really caught my eye when I first saw it,” Cabaniss recalls. “The sleek roofline with the three stars down the rear post, the fins along the rear fenders and the afterburner taillights reminded me of a jet. It had a 390 cubic-inch engine and a three-speed transmission with overdrive with the gearshift on the steering column. My uncle took me out for a ride, and it was the fastest car I had ever been in.”
In 1995, with the blessing of his wife Patti, Cabaniss began his quest to purchase a 1961 Ford Starliner, but found the prices, in the $35,000 to $40,000 range, a bit too steep. Instead, he settled for his secondary dream car, a 1963 Galaxie convertible. Although he cherished that convertible, Cabaniss never stopped pining for a 61 Starliner until a chance listing on eBay caught his attention in 2013. After a trip to Denver to check the car out, and the obligatory price negotiations, Cabaniss was the owner of a 1961 Starliner, even if it was not exactly like his uncles.
Although it had left the factory with a Corinthian White paintjob and a 350 cubic-inch engine with a three-speed transmission, by the time Cabaniss found it, the Starliner had been painted red and a 406 cubic-inch Tri Power engine and a four-speed transmission had replaced the original power plant.
“It is not a Barrett-Jackson original numbers-matching car, but that does not matter to me,” Cabaniss says. “My dream was to be able to own a Starliner.”
With the exception of an aftermarket AM/FM cassette stereo, the interior is all original, although he has had to do some restoration work.
“I had the steering wheel refurbished and I had to replace the dashboard and the foam padding in the driver seat. I do need to have the exterior repainted because it is bubbling up in some spots,” Cabaniss explains.
The main reason Cabaniss bought his Starliner was to be able to drive and enjoy it. Driving a nearly 60-year-old vehicle in traffic today calls for upgrades that will make his car even less original, but safer to drive.
“It needs a power booster and dual master cylinder for the brakes and I may have to install disc brakes in the front. With all that weight and power, it is worrisome to have to rely on a single master cylinder. Installing power steering might be the next project after sorting out the brakes, because at 3,500 pounds, it is pretty hard to make a turn if you are sitting at a dead stop,” Cabaniss says.
Despite Ford having built almost 100,000 Starliners during its two-year production run, they are fairly rare, which adds to the joy of owning one.
“It is so much fun to drive and attracts a lot of attention,” Cabaniss says. “My wife and I will drive it to Sonic in Brandon and you had be surprised at how many people will come over to talk about the car while we are eating our banana splits. It was a long 14-year wait to get this Starliner, but I had do it all over again. It sure has made getting old a lot more fun.”

Do you have a classic or rare American car you would like to see featured in Motoring Tampa Bay? If so, send details and contact information to Kenneth.hall54@gmail.com or motoringtampabay@gmail.com