Classic Thunderbirds have the reputation of being a glamorous icon that set a stylish trend for an entire generation of vehicles. If you’re considering taking on a Thunderbird restoration project, here are the top 12 things to consider.
Enjoy the Journey of Thunderbird Restoration
The first thing you need to do is find a Thunderbird that you’ll enjoy restoring. Once you’ve found one you feel comfortable with and agree on a price, you’ll need to arrange for delivery. By now you should already have a place to store it and that the shop you’re transporting it too is ready to house your prize.
Now it’s time to start the examination and careful disassembly process. One of the most important Thunderbird restoration considerations is the engine and whether it needs to be replaced. You’ll also need to decide if you’re prepared to retrofit your Thunderbird to 12 volts. Keep a notepad handy and take detailed notes while you examine the car’s components, instruments, wiring, etc., making a list and mapping out what needs to be replaced or restored. You’ll also want to take notes (taking photos can be helpful as well) if you need to remove doors, seats, the hood, or trunk lids. Removing the body will require a supporting truss to prevent bending as well as a lifting system. You’ll also need to have a rolling cart handy to make it easier to work on the engine, and so forth.
Electrical work can be time-consuming and require a significant amount of experience, sometimes requiring modifying instruments, installing a new harness if necessary, etc. You’ll also need to decide if you want to install bells and whistles like a power antenna, air conditioning, or an electric fuel pump.
If you find that you need to replace the radiator, you may want to consider installing an aluminum model for superior cooling. Replacing the radiator, regardless of the model you use, takes time, so keep that in mind as you work through the restoration process.
Restoring the rear end and replacing parts will also require attention to detail and mapping out each step, especially if you’re going to rebuild the original assembly with new parts. It’s a good idea to clean, rebuild and repair the axle if necessary which will depend on the condition of the classic Thunderbird you invested in. This is a good time to repair or replace brake components, installing them in the frame.
Replacing brakes takes careful consideration, engineering experience in some case. For example, if you need to fit the dual master cylinder to the firewall, also ensuring that it’s heat-insulated, you’re going to need to know what you’re doing. You may need to move the battery and create a special platform for the new brake lines and AOD pressure gauge. These are Thunderbird restoration tasks that are easier with experience.
Another challenging Thunderbird restoration task to deal with is restoring the hard top, especially if it’s in poor condition. Restoration challenges include having to do fiberglass work, covering it with new vinyl and if all else fails, painting it, replacing missing parts like trim and fittings. You’ll also need to reinstall the hard top’s latches and port holes.
Frame and Body Work
Addressing the frame and bodywork will also take a lot of time, but it will be time well spent. You’ll need to grind off old rust and paint, repair cracks, possibly weld in places, followed by putting everything back in place. The bodywork takes a lot of time as well, especially if you need to cut out panel pieces, replacing them with appropriately shaped variations. Next, the panels will need to be sanded, primed, cleaned up and painted. Paintwork can take months and includes a ton of fine details to address in between.
Doors will almost always be hard to work with and restore. All the windows will need to be disassembled. Latch and window components will also need to be repaired or replaced, and any rust will need to be removed.
The cool thing about Thunderbirds is that while upholstery can be time-consuming, the supplies you’ll need are reasonable. An upholstery kit for the interior can end up costing less than bulk materials.
When it’s time to reassemble your Thunderbird, it’s important to be as attentive as possible to reduce the chances of dents and scratches. During the reassembly process, you’ll need to reinstall all the bits and pieces and make sure that everything is operational from the dash to the doors.
The most satisfying part of the Thunderbird restoration process is taking it for a test drive. It’s also a good time to listen for and address weird noises and making sure everything’s in great working order.
While Thunderbird restoration is no walk in the park. It’s an enjoyable experience that, if done right, can result in a beautiful ride you’ll be proud to show off. If you’d like to learn more our Thunderbird restoration process, click here to view a gallery of our recent projects.