55-57 T-Bird Overview
After 65 years of constant coverage, it is highly unlikely that anything new and different could be possibly written about the 1955-57 T-Bird, I will try. I won’t bore members with the yearly changes of model year our club members are familiar with.
As most of us know, the early Bird was the brainstorm of Ford Division general manager Lewis D. Crusoe, who went to Paris one year for the auto show and left determined to have a Ford answer to the Picasso, the revival Bugatti, the XJ Jaguar, or anyway the General Motors Lesabre.
Crusoe was accompanied to Paris by designer George Walker. When Crusoe asked why Ford didn’t have a swoopy two seater, Walker candidly replied an “Oh, but we do”, grabbed the nearest phone and told his people back in Dearborn to “get on the stick”. The rest is history.
The first two-seater came off the line on Sept. 9th, 1954, and received wide acclaimed with Ford’s new 292 CID, 193 bhp V8 and automatic, it had plenty of zip to go and good looks. The 292 was only available in 55 Thunderbirds and full sized Fords used for police work.
I wonder how many club members know who took delivery of the first Thunderbird ever sold. It was Tom Mc Cahill, the famous auto tester from Mechanic Illustrated. He paid full retail price for the little Bird in the late summer of 1954. His T-Bird became sports- car-speed-trial champion at Daytona Beach in February of 1955. In stock form, his T-Bird hit 60 in 9.5 seconds and hit 112 mph. Not satisfied with its performance, he had the engine balanced, ports polished, and a station wagon axle ratio of 3:54-1 installed according to my Hollander Exchange Manual. The transmission was a 3 speed with overdrive. Performance from 0-60 dropped to 6.1 seconds and top speed on the beach with ideal conditions went to 127 m.p.h... This was enough to sweep all the old XJ 120 Jags and Porsches to claim the win. The old Ford Y-Block produced from 1954-62 was no slouch, if set up right.
Another tip from my memory; whenever rebuilding an early Y-Block, use the camshaft from a 1957 312 engine. These cams have a machined groove around the circumference of the cam bearings for improved top end oil flow to the rockers and valves, an ailment on Y-Blocks that were not maintained with scheduled oil changes. Always check valve lift and piston clearance when swapping camshafts.
The baby birds of 55-57 were glamorous today as yesteryear. They were a personal car as described by Ford and drew people to the showrooms to look at other Ford products. It was not a family car or practical car for 6 footers, such as myself. Club member, Bud Gibson, had a 57 T-Bird for a short time. With the top on, I had to stretch in an awkward way to enter the car. A problem, I don’t have with my 58 T-Bird.
As with any new model, the 55 T-Bird presented the most problems. The six volt electrical system occasionally produced hard starting, especially in the colder climates, the early Holley 4 Barrel carburetor, nicknamed the Teapot, Flamethrower, etc. tended to flood or catch on fire. This was rectified with a Ford built 4100, 4 barrel carburetor for 1957. Door latches caused problems, and replacements are costly. This was rectified in 1956 with redesigned door latches, part of Ford’s safety campaign. T-Birds of this series also tend to overheat, caused by a combination of high power, small radiator, and small water pumps. Owners often fit thicker radiator cores.
As a body repairman, this series of T-Bird are a nightmare to repair in a front end collision, all front fenders, and the front cowl are welded on and leaded. Clearances and fit must be checked and rechecked. After welding and leading, one’s bodywork will be clearly seen.
All and all, this series of T-Bird has beautiful body lines thanks to stylist Frank Hershey. My personal favorite is the 57 with its beautiful lines, selection of engines, and interior appointments, and the most refined of the series. The 55 T-Bird would be my second choice because of the clean lines without the continental kit. The 56 had many refinements, including the 12 volt electrical system. However, the frame had to be strengthen to accommodate the continental kit. It doesn’t handle as well as a 55 or 57.
Then is now the 55-57 T-Bird has become an instant collectible. It is not a practical car for families or 6’4” people. Ford’s newly conservative general manager wanted a more practical T-Bird with more sales. This is our next article with the 58-60 T-Birds.
Happy holidays to all!
Larry L. Sneary
Langworth, R. M. (1985). Post War Cars A Flight in an Early Bird. Car Collector and Car Classics, 8-9.
McBride, J. W. (1990). T-Bird: It was a Sports Car with High-Heeled Sneakers. Classic Auto Restorer, 22.
McCahill, T. (1969). MI Tests the 69 Thunderbird. Mechanic Illustrated, 53-54.
Robinson, E. (1979-80). And I Never Want Another 55 T-Bird. The Best of Old Cars Weekly, 25.55-57 T-Bird Overview
Ford’s Fabulous Flip Top
As an original member H.V.T.C. started in 2001 by our club president, Roger Noll, I have always been fascinated by our club member’s 58-66 T-Bird convertibles. After requiring a restorable 64 Lincoln Convertible (a future project) and a 64 T-Bird convertible from my wife’s grandfather, I have taken a keen interest in the operation of these engineering marvels of the time. By reading the shop manuals and learning the electrical and hydraulic of the top operation, I restored the 64 T-Bird top operation and restored the car. This retractable top mechanism was used in the 57-59 Skyliner, 61-67 Lincoln Convertibles, and the 58-66 Thunderbird. True T-Bird enthusiast know the top was not fully automatic until mid-59. On the 58 and early 59 T-Bird Convertibles, one had to lift the deck lid manually and push a button on the inside of the left trunk quarter to initiate top operation. Read on to learn the origins of this engineering masterpiece.
On April 14, 1957, President Eisenhower was handed the keys to the first production model of the 1957 Ford Retractable Hardtop. The first prototype had been exhibited at the New York Automobile Show, and the car was announced in the Motoring Press in February 1957.
The retractable had been under development at Ford since 1953. Originally, it was slated to be offered on the Mark 11 Continental. But after spending $2.19 million on its development Ford did not feel they could regain their development cost on the low production Lincoln. Late in the program, the retractable was turned over from the special project’s division to the Ford Division. It would take another $18 Million to get the car into production.
Called the Skyliner, the car was priced at $3137.69. It was offered with a 292 engine as standard equipment and was the only 57 Ford which could not be ordered with a 6. The car drew 20,766 buyers for the first model year, a mere five months of production. Today, it is the most collectible of all 1957 Fords, save the Thunderbird.
The top operating mechanism utilizes a complex system of four lock motors, three drive motors, ten power relays, ten limit switches, eight circuit breakers, plus a neutral switch, activating switch and cycle indicator light switch. There are 610 feet of wire in the system, which operates sequentially.
Despite its complexity, the system proved to be so reliable that it was carried into later Thunderbird convertibles and Lincoln Continental convertibles. A far more serious problem then top mechanism failure was lack of trunk space when the top was retracted. The only luggage space available was a 24x 30x15- inch bin in the center of the trunk. Loading the bin was inconvenient as there was a 20-inch stretch between the top edge of the lower back panel and the bin, and you couldn’t pile anything higher than 16 inches in it without hitting the retractable top.
The retractable hard top was continued into the 1957 and 1959 model years. The 1959 retractable mechanism is somewhat different than the two previous years, and there is very little interchangeability of parts. The car was discontinued after 1959, because the 1960 models did not lend themselves to retractable hardtop design, and sales did not live up to expectations. It stands today as one of the classic symbols of the decade of hula hoops, Sputniks, and 3D movies.
I’ve finished my research on the 55-57 Thunderbirds and this will be the next subject of our tech news article. Happy Motoring!
Special Interest Autos, August 1981, By Mr. Tim HowleyFord’s
Thunderbirds in the Spring
Spring is here with all the rain. Hopefully, some day we will have a car show with no rain. It is time to wake-up our collector cars from the long winter slumber. To recap, our collector cars have been sitting all winter, it is important for safety to check the following before that first drive:
*Check the battery for voltage for at least 12.5 and above, also battery connections. Even though your battery maybe new, it can be defective. I learned this the hard way by buying two expensive batteries on two occasions, when out of town. From now on, I will carry a good spare battery.
*Before that first drive, check for all fluid leaks, especially fuel and brake fluid, these two are the most important from a safety point. I noticed a small fuel leak from the tank of my 1958 T-bird. I restored this car in the early 90’s when no gas tank was available, I had it repaired. This tank will be replaced this spring.
*For cars sitting any length of time, moisture can invade a brake system. On single chambered master cylinder systems, as many of out thunderbirds have, check and refill as necessary. Before that first drive, check for a good brake pedal. Also note, any grabbing brakes, spongy pedal, pulling to one side, and locked up brakes, etc. requires attention before driving. Call and have the car towed to a mechanic. Your life, and others depends on good brakes on all motor vehicles.
*Air pressure in tires will need to be checked and refilled as necessary. Sitting all winter, tires can develop flat spots, cracks, and bulges, etc. Any sign of damage dictates that the tire be replaced. Many of our events take us on two lane roads, a blow out can throw your car into oncoming traffic or off the side of the road with disastrous results. I had nearly twenty- year old wide whitewalls on my 58 T-bird, it was alright for a short trip to a car show or cruise. I was being adventurous and decided to drive out of town to another show on a well-traveled four lane highway. Sure enough, I had a blowout. Fixing a flat on a busy highway with a 60 year old jack is no picnic. Replace old tires now.
The H.V.T.C. wishes all members a safe and fun season! We hope all members participate in some upcoming events. Happy safe motoring!
This column with the next newsletter will be reviewing all generations of the thunderbird starting with the Baby Bird 55-57, to the retro-bird. These series of articles will focus on road tests and reviews from defunct magazines, tech tips, reviews, and much information from my massive library. Stay tuned.
1961 Thunderbird Update
The H.V.A.C. Board hopes that everyone has had a happy holiday season. With the New Year upon us and the exceptional weather, hopefully, you have had time to initiate repairs or restoration on your collector car. During the nice weather, I painted my 1961 T-Bird in its original Diamond Blue color and started assembling the bumpers and mounting new chrome emblems. I have heard from other club members, the ridge molding on top of the fenders, doors, and quarter panels was difficult to remove. I had no choice, but to remove these moldings, because of surface rust, that needed to be wire brushed, sanded, and etched to restore to new condition. When removing the ridge molding on this series of T-Bird, save the retaining clips, the car requires thirty, and they cost nearly $4.00 each. Upon reassembly, I followed the schematics in the shop manual, and used a little, J.B. Weld for attachment.
Recently, I removed the vent window frames for re-chroming, these items are not being reproduced. With a complete engine rebuild and detail of the engine compartment according to V.T.C.I. judging specifications, it will be time for the last phase of the restoration, the interior, this will include:
*New seat covers and buns, this phase is already completed.
*As with all high line Ford products of the fifties through seventies, the Thunderbirds of this era are complicated cars. The phase of removing and replacing the cracked and dry dashboard cover is a task that I do not look forward to, however, it is necessary as the dash pad I replaced in my fifty-eight Thunderbird.
*While having the dash pad out, I will replace the heater core, air-conditioning evaporator core, vacuum lines, and test all servos for vacuum retention. Also, I will replace all bulbs for the instruments. Do this once and be done, you don’t want to take this dash pad out again.
*Fortunately, my interior door panels and armrest, and anodized trim is in good condition and will be cleaned up, repainted, and buffed.
*I will then install a new carpet kit, and trunk board kit, along with new weather strip. A new headliner will be installed with newly re-chromed windshield trim. Always do interior and trunk restoration last, to avoid overspray and dirt on your new upholstery.
*Installation of new white wall tires and fender skirts. It will be time for a shake down cruise to fix any bugs that might show up. I will also have a front-end alignment.
*Restoring any car takes plenty of time, hassle, and money. Is it worth it? Yes, I enjoy the process, the high-fives, and the compliments. Plus, anyone can mortgage their house to buy a new muscle car, however, how many like-new sixty-one Thunderbirds do you see at every corner, at a fraction of the cost of a new car, that one can work on?
Enclosed are pictures of my restoration in progress.
Bird Lover Detailing Tips
Detailing one’s collector car is a tedious and time-consuming chore. Detailing for concours and a daily driver are as different as night and day. Everyone knows a concours car when one sees one. I won’t go into detail as we have discussed concours cars in other newsletters.
*With any car, detailing starts with a thorough washing of the outside and inside. Use of proper detergent for car washing is important. Caustic chemicals and degreasers can harm a finish, weather stripping, convertible and vinyl tops. It can also leave residue and spots on the finish and chrome. I had a late friend, who used bleach on the convertible top of his 54 Chevy, the bleach effected the fabric and the top came off in strips. Always use detergents and products designed for automotive use.
*Everyone has a procedure for washing a car. First, obtain a washing mitt or sponge and mix the detergent according to instructions. Always rinse the section of automobile you will wash first, usually the top, hood, deck lid, or where one wants to start. Thoroughly rinse the section and wash and then rinse again, before moving to another section, bugs, tar, and other hard residue can be removed by using automobile wax and silicone remover, never use this product on vinyl or soft surfaces. After thoroughly washing and rinsing, it is time to move on to the wheels and wheel covers. Using a stiff nylon brush, detergent, and SOS pads clean the whitewalls and black walls to a nice sheen. Our club president has a pet peeve about people who do not remove fender skirts and only clean half the tire. Finally, use a chamois to wipe down the body, chrome, and light lens.
*After the car is thoroughly dry, it is time to polish the chrome, apply some type of automotive product on the tires, vinyl or convertible top to protect these items and give them a nice sheen.
*With the new base coat, clear finishes, many people don’t wax cars as often as in the past, this is an optional step.
*The next step is to clean windows in and out, vacuum and clean upholstery and all surfaces as necessary. Old toothbrushes make fine detail tools for removing dirt and grime around chrome and trim. The is just the basics of detailing a car.
The list goes on:
*Authentic restoration books are available for Thunderbirds and other makes of cars.
*These publications often show detailed engine, interior, and trunk compartments shown correct decal placement, correct clamps, fasteners, paint colors, etc.
*When restoring or detailing a Thunderbird, it is wise to obtain judging sheets that show correct detailing items for Thunderbirds.
When traveling to and from a car show, it is wise to carry detailing cleaners, and towels to get rid of unwanted bugs, dirt, and other debris one is bound to gather on her or his car in their travels.
I drive my cars, so the occasional stone chip is inevitable. Therefore, I like solid white, blue, yellow, or light-colored cars. One can take a modeler’s brush and touch up stone chips and they are almost invisible. Try this on any dark colored car. There are chip repair kits on the market, although, I have never used one, I have heard about satisfactory results.
Stock vs. Modified
In the vast market of collectible vehicles, the question will come up, if a stock vehicle or modified vehicle will suit one’s desires. There are advantages and disadvantages of both:
*A stock vehicle will be easier to purchase and resell than any modified vehicle.
*Many cars found in poor condition, are modified heavily, because it would be too expensive to return them to stock condition. Many enthusiasts and hobbyist, such as myself, appreciate the fact, there are people who restore and save these cars.
*However, when it comes time to sell a highly modified car with expensive custom paint, narrowed rear ends, highly modified engines, etc. Your market is limited by the fact you must find a buyer with the same taste as the seller regarding to color schemes, engines, etc. I have seen many resto-mods sell for a fraction of what it costs to restore the said car.
*Many hobbyist, such as myself, do like tasteful modifications on our Thunderbirds, that are easily returned to stock. Items such as reproduction Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels, seen on many 55-66 Thunderbirds. This option was only available on 62-64 Thunderbirds. They really dress up a Thunderbird. Reproduction air cleaners for 55-57 Thunderbirds that feature a paper element instead of the old oil bath air cleaner. This air cleaner is more efficient, and one can’t tell it from stock. One sees many modifications for the retro-birds, everything from headlight lashes to fender skirts, ugh. However, I do like the hood scoop chrome trim for the retro-bird, Ford could have added this feature at a very low cost when these cars were produced.
*Our club President, Roger Noll, has a 2004 Thunderbird Merlot with many tasteful performance modifications such as: a lowered suspension that really enhances handling, Borla exhaust that has a nice rumble, and a K + N air filter. The former owner of this car had the forethought to save the stock parts, if Roger decides to return his car to stock. A good selling feature.
*Many hobbyists prefer adding stock options that are correct for the year of Thunderbird. Items that I added to my 58 Thunderbird were fender skirts and dual mirrors, both factory options that were not installed on my 58. I also added dual Thunderbird script mirrors on my 64 Thunderbird. I will also add a passenger side mirror on my 61. These could be considered modifications, although these are factory correct options.
*Even though I prefer bone stock cars, I must admit, I modify all my engines internally with an undercut on the valves, when doing a valve job. This is an old “hot - rod” trick, that yields performance almost as good as porting and polishing a valve head. I hope a V.T.C.I. or H.V.T.C. judge will not make me remove my heads on my 61 Thunderbird. Just kidding.
*A future restoration project will be my clone 1970 Buick G. S. 455 Convertible. This car’s appearance will be completely stock, with mechanical modifications including: aluminum Edelbrock intake manifold, 455 Buick Heads with oversized stainless Chevy valves, 67 Buick header exhaust manifolds, and a slightly radical cam. All Buick performance parts are hard to find. I’ve had a few muscle cars in my past, but this car is my favorite one. I’ve never modified any car to this extent. There was no hope for this car so here I am modifying this car to my taste.
“Variety is the spice of life.”
Classic Car Adventures
Club members, I deeply apologize for the delay in printing our tech newsletter. Originally, club member, Larry Kwolek, was going to reprint a past tech newsletter on Winter Car Storage. However, he had difficulty in locating this past article. For members, interested in this article, go to our link tech newsletter and scroll down.
My current project, a 1961 Thunderbird is coming along. All mechanical systems have been rebuilt. I have started body work; including repairing rust in the hood and deck lid, stripping all the paint in the door jambs, under the hood and trunk lid.
This past week I stripped all the chrome, and removed all the windows and their mechanisms. I tested two of the four window motors and they checked out. I will be rebuilding the gear boxes and regulators soon.
My next step will be priming and painting the door jambs, under the hood and deck lid, and inside the doors. I will then mask these areas off and start the body work outside the car.
While working on this 56- year old car, I have come across several dilemmas every hobbyist runs into restoring or working on a classic car:
*First, and foremost, the mouse hotels and waste that must be disposed. Always wear gloves and masks when doing this job. After I took the seats out of my 61, and had new upholstery and seat buns installed, 80% of the nasty smell disappeared.
*Bolts and screws that are rusted stuck, that need to be chiseled, ground, or torched off.
*Hidden rust and rot after one purchases a vehicle, after lifting up the trunk mat or replacing the carpet. That red chariot you bid on at the auction, is not the car that it appears to be.
*Losing a special bolt or fitting that falls on the floor, and you spend a half hour looking for it.
*Having to replace a bulb in your car that you don’t have. You have many others, but not the one that you need.
*Removing an exhaust manifold and breaking a bolt off in the cylinder head. A common ailment on all 58-68 T-birds equipped with a 352, 390, or 428. I have never had much luck removing broken studs. When rebuilding the engine in my 61, I broke seven studs in a cylinder head. It cost me $105.00 to have a machinist remove these broken studs. It was money well spent, in my younger days, I tried to remove a stud and drilled into a water jacket, ruining a cylinder head.
*Rebuilding a part on one of the many systems on a vintage car, and it leaks, won’t work, rotates in the wrong direction, etc. After tearing it apart several times, it finally works.
These are a few of the dilemmas working on any vintage car. There are many more.
Happy Holidays to All,
Larry L. Sneary
CAR SHOW ETIQUETTE
Over the past few decades; car shows, cruise-in’s and raffles for collectible vehicles have become more prevalent across our beloved country. With an increase in these social activities, comes more crowds of people. With any group of people there will be politics, people with different backgrounds, children, and people who are both young and old. Everyone has shared interest in collectible cars in a social aspect that our hobby provides.
Everyone and anyone who owns or has owned a collectible vehicle, realizes the time and expense involved in the ownership of a collectible vehicle. With car shows and related events, it is important to be courteous to the owner and the fact that they spent their time and money to bring their cherished vehicle to the said event.
Many times, I’ve seen “so called“ car experts, point out flaws to the owner of their collector car. Our late club member Doug McConell, and his family own a pristine “62” T-Bird Sports Roadster. At a car show, a guy pointed out a pinpoint ding in a piece of trim. In another instance, many years ago, at the Kruse Auction in Auburn, Indiana, I was looking at a mint “56” Packard Caribbean Convertible in mandarin orange and white. Soon after, a middle aged man and his wife mentioned the top upholstery in and out was incorrect. I struck up a conversation with this man and he mentioned that he purchased a car like this at an auction and it needed restored. Immediately, his wife said that it was not for sale. Obviously this couple thought they had a gold mine on their hands. A year later, I was reading a car magazine which featured a nice “56” Caribbean Convertible. Sure enough, this no it all guy, I spoke to wrote a letter to the magazine stating that the top was wrong like the car in Auburn, Indiana.
People who show cars, know their car’s flaws very well. It is best to keep your opinions to yourself and not share them with the owner. In both the previously mentioned instances, I would have asked the question, “Where is your car, I would like to look it over.”
I have seen people with belt buckles, purses, and other items lean up against our collector cars. I have seen parents let kids climb on cars and play inside them when the owner has stepped away. This vehicle is your pride and joy, so don’t hesitate to tell people not to touch your car or any other’s. If this approach does not work, contact the show’s organizers, or if law enforcement is present, approach them.
A pet peeve of mine is paying admission fees to show my car. All shows state that all proceeds go to a charitable organization. With the love of money, the root of all evil, one must be weary of how trustworthy the organizers are. Our club members have been subject to these kinds of issues in the past. Car shows use to cost $5.00 to $10.00 for entry fees, now at most shows it is $20.00 and as high as $40.00. By the time I pay the $20.00 admittance fee, fill up my gas tank and buy some something to eat, this is easily over $50.00 depending on distance, to let the public view the car that I’ve invested thousands of dollars in. I say charge admission to everyone who comes to view the cars that don’t have one present. This is the rule in Florida and other states.
My earlier days of showing my “58” T-Bird, our club president, Roger Noll and I would show our T-Birds at the Old Fort Mustang Club at Ivy Tech. They invite all Ford products, after attending this show for a few years, we noticed there was no classes for Thunderbirds. Every year this roach laden “57” T-Bird with cruiser skirts won a trophy. Both Roger’s and my car were in better shape, however, not a “57”. We learned the owner of this car brought a dozen friends who had Mustangs to this event. Ever since finding out the real story behind this event, we have never had a club event at this venue. Stinking politics happen at other events, where other clubs vote for their own members’ cars with stacked votes to win a $5.00 trophy. If I am going to pay for admission to a car show, I expect my car to be judged fairly and without bias. Our club scrutinizes these events, and discourages or promotes our participation.
All and all, my good times at car shows and related events have been a source of joy and emotional support. I have made many friends and acquaintances over the years and hope to continue to do so in the future.
“The intelligent man solves problems; the wise man avoids problems.”
Larry L. Sneary
MAKE SHOP SAFETY A HABIT
According to “ How To Restore Your Collector Car “ by Tom Brownell, taking the necessary precautions to insure shop safety is about the last thing an eager hobbyist thinks about as he starts out to restore or fix up an old car. Safety consciousness is important precisely for this reason. Restorers, car buffs, generally putter about blithely in a lethal environment and call working on cars “recreation “. Consider the risks: many modern paints contain toxic chemicals. Gasoline, which should never be used to clean parts, but often is, and of course, is stored in the car’s gas tank packs enormous explosive power. Electrical hazards include the possibility of fire from shorted wiring and shocks. Welding torches expose hobbyists who use them carelessly, to the danger of burns, or worse calamities, if welding near the gas tank, that could ignite fuel fumes. Using power tools also carries a risk, though more to limbs than life. Naturally, each of these presents a greater danger to children who play in the shop or enjoy watching the work.
Before starting to work on your car, consider the attitudes that are most conducive to safety, then, inspect your shop following the safety guidelines contained in this article. An accident prevented is worth all the time making sure that your shop is a safe place to work. Shop safety results from carefully cultivated habits and a frame of mind that says “quit when frustration builds“. A hobby, be it car restoration or any other should provide a change of pace and in that sense offer relaxation. Even so, there are bound to be times when everything goes wrong. When you feel trouble brewing, step back and reflect on the progress you have made thus far. Don’t let anger or anxiety distort your thinking. If you are still pent up, quit while you are ahead. Things will look brighter from a fresh start.
Frustration and anger aren’t the only mental states that threaten shop safety. Carelessness can be equally hazardous. Hobbyists need to develop a cautious attitude about using power tools, such as grinders, and with welding or working with chemicals including paint products, rust and degreasing agents, even fiber glass resin. Shop accidents occur most often when hobbyists neglect warnings and precautions. Keep in mind that the presence of children always dictates greater caution. Use the advice on this list as a guide to shop safety. If you notice other potential hazards, correct them as you prepare your shop.
Working on any vehicle can be hazardous and dangerous which could lead to injury or death. When in doubt, always consult a professional. The preceding article and all articles are meant as a guide. The Hoosier Vintage Thunderbird Club Board, members, or affiliates assume no responsibility with one’s actions or results while working on any vehicle.
Safety is a product of caution, precaution and mind over mood. No hobby, however rewarding, is worth jeopardizing your health.
Larry L. Sneary
Automobiles-Conservation and Restoration, Tom Brownell, Motor Books International, 1983
Hibernation Projects for T-bird Lovers
With winter upon us, many of us experience cabin fever. However, there are small projects one can do during this time to make our Thunderbirds flight worthy coming this spring. I have collected cars since the early nineties. I have done small tasks on my long -term projects during the winter months, these include but are not limited to:
*Upholstery work, winter time is a slow time for upholstery shops, and a good time to have those seat covers, convertible tops, or vinyl tops replaced on your beloved thunderbird.
*Re-chroming bumpers or trim items, this is also a slow time for chrome shops.
*Having that radiator boiled and rodded out or rebuilt, it is much better to tackle this task now than in the summer with temperatures in the high 80’s or 90’s, I know, because I did this to my daughter’s Explorer this past summer at Jefferson Pointe’s parking lot.
*Simple projects, such as repainting, air cleaners, valve covers, manifolds, bumper jacks, and other accessories. Authentic decals and spray paints are available from many T-bird vendors. Make sure the temperature is close to 50 degrees for the paint to adhere.
For the mechanically inclined, rebuilding many of the complicated systems on a Thunderbird:
*Rebuilding, replacing, or lubricating power window motors, window tracks, and gears. Use caution, and read all safety warnings in the shop manual when working on this system.
*Rebuilding, replacing, or sending out carburetors, fuel pumps, and gas tanks during the winter time. During show season, any delay can keep you from driving and enjoying your car.
*Maintaining the convertible top on 1958-1966 Thunderbirds, the convertible top mechanism is the most complicated system of all these years on Thunderbirds. If your top works, more power to you, many of them don’t, and following the thoroughly written shop manual and trouble-shooting guides available, can make a convertible top operational. Before contemplating making a top operational, study the shop manuals and electrical diagrams to familiarize yourself with relays, circuit breakers, fuses, and the hydraulic system on this complicated system. Many times a faulty circuit breaker or relay will cease the top’s operation. After the electrics are sorted out, one must evaluate the operation of the top pump, lift cylinders, for the deck and top, to evaluate their function. This was an engineering marvel in its time, I will discuss its history in the future. I have two vehicles, a 64 Lincoln and 64 T-bird with this coveted convertible top.
*Maintaining the convertible top electrics of my 64 T-bird, include wire brushing and spraying contact spray and di-electric on the many electrical connections, this provides trouble free convertible top operation. I also do this on power window and seat connections on my cars. This is a good winter time project.
During the winter time, a heated garage or building would be ideal, however, most of us do not have this luxury, and many people use portable heating devices, be acutely aware of any hazards when using portable heating units. Our club does not want to lose any member from poor shop safety. This is the topic of our next tech newsletter.
Larry L. Sneary
P.S. Congratulations to new club member Keaton Irwin on the recent acquisition of his 62 Landau, and Keith Landis on the recent purchase of a nice 63 convertible in the rare color, Tucson Yellow, as younger members of our club. We welcome you. If you have any questions regarding the maintenance, restoration, or operation of your T-bird. Please feel free to contact the many knowledgeable members of HVTC.
HIBERNATION TIPS FOR BIRDS
It certainly has been a nice fall for driving our Thunderbirds. With mid-November temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s, I am dreaming that this weather continues through March. Very soon it will be time to put our Thunderbirds away to protect them from the harsh winter. Always remember to never leave a collector car, boat, or any vehicle outside to the elements. Moisture and humidity wreak havoc on cylinder walls, electrical systems, weather stripping, chrome, and many other systems of any vehicle. It is cheaper to pay for indoor storage than the damage that will occur to any vehicle stored outside during our harsh winters. Club member, Bud Gibson and I have seen many good condition cars and boats reduced to parts from poor outside storage. The following list is compiled from my reading of trade journals and magazines.
Happy Holidays to All,
Larry L. Sneary
Next newsletter, winter time projects for our T-Birds.
( Staff, 2015 )
Staff, O.C. (2015, October 22 ). The OCW Winter Storage Checklist. Old Cars Weekly News and Marketplace, p.51.
CONCOURS, DRIVERS, PROJECT CARS
In the last article, we discussed different venues of where to search and purchase that collector car of one’s dream. One must ask, what condition of collector car fits my needs and abilities to maintain.
Whatever car we choose, one must understand that many cars in our club are 50 years old and older, there will be maintenance and repair issues. Looking on-line and reading news letters, the retro –birds of 2002 to 2005 are experiencing some maintenance issues because of their advancing age.
In my humble opinion, there are 3 categories of condition of collector cars:
Next article: Storage Tips and Winter Projects
In the last article it was discussed reasons why one acquires a vintage automobile. It is fairly easy to find the car of one's dream from the internet through recognized sources such as E-bay and Craig's list. Other sources include Autotrader, and other car classifieds on News stands. Auctions such as private estate sales and recognized auctions such as Barrett-Jackson, Mecum, and many others. Each one of these venues has advantages and disadvantages when purchasing a collector car: *In general, the larger the audience the higher the monetary purchase will be. Auctions display automobiles with glossy paint jobs, but one must ask if the car we are looking at is a pig in the poke or a excellent example we are looking for. Attending Auctions, you cannot drive or often cannot start the car to listen for noises, oil leaks, knocks, whines, etc. There is a world of difference, from a car, one can drive to a event with all systems operating correctly, to a car with nice paint and appearance driven off a trailer. Another concern at Auctions is to resist emotion when looking at or bidding on a car at Auction. It is easy to fall in love with that red convertible, as a result, emotionally, one can overlook faults such as a top that doesn't work, re-stamped v.i.n. tags, incorrect engines and equipment, color changes, etc. When bidding starts, one gets tied in to a higher bid more than the car is worth tied to the buyer bidding on his own car or one of his shills. These points are not to negate auctions, they have good entertainment value. However, it is rare, that one acquires a good buy here. Always remember, No money or funds are to be exchanged unless clear title is presented with title numbers matching the v.i.n. tag. This pertains to any vehicle purchased. Many long time club members remember the Kruse fiasco of 2009-2010. *E-bay and Craig's list are excellent sources for purchasing cars and parts. I have never purchased a car from E-bay, I am leery, however, I have purchased and sold many car parts for my project cars and parted out cars with good results. I have also purchased one of my current projects, a 61 T-bird from Craig's list 2 years ago. Pictures of cars posted on either one of these sights does the buyer no justice in any car purchase. The seller always glamorizes any item he sells. Often, the seller never post pictures of a cracked dash, worn seat, rust, or other imperfections of 50 year old plus car. It is always best to view the car in person, or better yet, take a friend, for a un-biased view of the car in question. I had been bird-dogging bullet birds for quite a while before I purchased my 61. I found many project cars of varying conditions at different prices. I had been watching this 61 in a desolate town in Northern Michigan for a few weeks on the back of a used car lot of all places. A old used car lot is where I bought my long term project 58 t-bird. After dropping the price several times, I made a offer and it was accepted. Small town, no buyer competition, right price, this is how I bought most of my collector vehicles. If one finds the car of their dreams in a far away state, by all means have a family member or friend that has experience with cars look at the car and report to you. If no-one is available, pony up and hire a professional appraiser to look at your potential purchase. It is money well spent in looking and evaluating any vintage car. *Another venue to acquire that Thunderbird or vintage car is through the classifieds. In my humble opinion, the classifieds are going the way of the Buggy whip as far as vintage cars go. I recently found a 20 year old classified section of the Journal Gazette, there were 20 vintage cars in the old car section with prices to make your head spin. Today the Journal Gazette has car classifieds with only dealers with few private ads. Hemmings Motor News has mostly dealer ads with few private ads. Fifteen years ago, I purchased my 64 Lincoln and 57 Cadillac through Hemmings and Old Cars Weekly. *60% of vehicle transactions occur between family and friends. There is a old saying, "Never sell a vehicle to someone you know," this old saying may have applied to cars of yesteryear, bur today's cars are more reliable and less trouble-prone and maintenance free. Our club President, Roger Noll has sold several vehicles to club members, with good results, including myself. Roger is known to maintain and care for his vehicles. This is the kind of family member or friend you would want to purchase a vehicle from. *Estate sales where many cars are for sale can be good venues to purchase that classic car, often bidder fees are minimal and the heirs of the estate have no interest in cars, and want to dispose of them. It is best to attend a sale with small and limited exposure and advertising. This tactic may result in a good buy, however, don't expect to find a reasonably priced baby bird, 55-57 Chevy or early Mustang convertible at any auction if the price is right, a family member or friend, or more likely a dealer will purchase the aforementioned cars before the Auction. This happened to myself at a auction, decades ago. The car was advertised and never appeared. I inquired to both the executor of the estate and auctioneer, but was meant with blank stares. Several months later I saw the same car at the Kruse auction, I hope these people dealt with Kruse during one of his many difficult times. Enclosed is a checklist for evaluating that collector purchase.
Happy car hunting,
INTEREST IN VINTAGE AUTOMOBILES
Why does one have interest in automobiles of the past? Restoring, collecting, and preserving decades old cars is one of the most expensive and time comsuming hobbies available. I is also one of the most satisfying and gratifying hobbies one can have.
Finding the old car of one's dream can be a saisfying event. An old car of one's past may be sentimental, a relatives, aquaintance or friend that may have had an automobile that left a lasting impression on one's youth. It may trigger the desire to find a model that left an impression so many years ago. For example, when I was in high school in the early to mid 70's, we pulled up to the high school in a well worn "67" Impala wagon. My friend and his dad puuled up to the entrance in a well kept "69" Lincoln Continental Mark III. My mother said it was a nice car, and asked my father, what make it was. My father beamed, and said it was a Continental Mark III. I still remember the impression that car made. Fortunately, I saved one from oblivion, and it resides in my collection. Today, few if any American cars can mke the impression that Mark III made so many years ago. As I sit here on vacation at St. Petersburg Beach, my wife and I did experience a favorable impression of an automobile that we saw driving along the road. The car was a brand new Rolls Royce sedan in a light beige color. My lovely wife is no car fanatic, but wanted to see who was driving this expensive automobile. It was an older gentleman in his 80's with a blonde bombshell no more than 35 by his side. That made for an interesting conversation that evening. I was driving my Lincoln Town car on this vacation. I explained that Lincolns and Cadillacs are nice, but they don't hold that status of a Rolls Royce. Their status is eqivilant to a Porche, Ferrari, Lambrogini, etc.
Many of our television shows of our past featured cars that our club members own today. Seventy Seven Sunset Strip featured new Thunderbirds and Ford products, throughout its six year run from 1958 to 1964. Two other Quinn-Martin productions: The FBI and Cannon featured new Ford products and new Continental Marks throughout their series run. My old time favorite show, Perry Mason, featured new Thunderbirds throughout its' series run from 1957 to 1966, driven by the late actor, William Hopper. There are many reasons one obtains a collector car. My best guess would be 90% of the collector cars are bought to be flipped for a profit. This is fine, however, true enthusiasts as in our club love cars, and the common interest and fellowship our club offers. I am quite flattered that I was elected to the Board of our club and appointed to write articles for our club web site. I will contribute an article every two months. If any club members want to contribute to the forum, by all means, contact me at 260-486-2397.
Larry L. Sneary