Playtime

Changed the oil. That was the extent of the work I did on the car this week. After my hard work last winter, it’s time to get in a few hours behind the wheel.

There’s something about a working, good-looking interior that inspires more confidence in the car. Maybe it’s that gauges are accurate. Maybe the music is drowning out some of the squeaks and rattles. Or perhaps it’s psychological. Whatever the reason, with an obligation across town in heavy rush hour traffic last week. I didn’t hesitate to fire up the ‘Bird and set off.

It’s not something I would have done last summer, though the mechanicals underneath are essentially unchanged. It ran great, and I had a blast both coming and going. (More than I can say for everyone else out there, stuck in their daily traffic jam.)

Oh, there are still a few minor things to catch up on this summer. The light sockets in the rear are failing, slowly. Oil is leaking rapidly from the motor. (But this is a good thing–meaning that oil is also getting around in the motor better too.) and if I really want to tackle a project, I’ve got new rubber bushings for the rear leaf springs. None of these are pressing, however.

I had to put off the windshield sealing–it’s a three-day process and I had places to go. I’ll drop he car for that tomorrow, should have it back in plenty of time for a wash and wax before the weekend.

Fully Registered

I learned yesterday that there is a Thunderbird registry for all model years. so I signed up the ‘Bird and sent in a few photos. The 1964 model year is one of the most popular, but I like to think that my entry is unique.

One of my photos as added to the Registry’s home page, which was kinda cool.

Apparently, the factory gate sheets for Thunderbirds (“actual, original document which allowed [a] Thunderbird to leave the Wixom factory. . . not  a copy or reproduction”) is available. I’ll be sending away for that soon.

That’s What I’m Talkin’ About

Driving back from an errand this evening, towards the end of rush hour, a guy in a late-model, early 90’s Thunderbird follows me for a while, then pulls up next to me:

“Hey, that’s a clean looking t-bird!”
“Thanks!”
“Is that a ’64?”
“Sure is!”

I don’t know who that man was, but he has a keen eye for cars.

Man About Town

Since the gas shortage and my “required” visit to the local bar, the ‘Bird has been running (and stopping) quite well. I’ve been driving it short distances almost daily, which has been a blast in the nice, warm weather. Pollen has stopped falling from the trees in our neighborhood, so I took the opportunity to host a bird-bath this afternoon.

Clean 'Bird
Still cleans up nice, she does.

The warm spring weather has also meant I need to focus on my other hobby, gardening, which doesn’t tolerate procrastination very well. Major work in the garden wrapped up this weekend though, and there was still some time to devote to the car. I installed a hose for the vacuum advance on the distributer (lacking, until now, but obviously not critical!) and tightened up the belts on both the alternator and the power steering pump.

Vacuum advance hose
New vacuum advance hose, distributor end

I would love to get the door panel off the passenger side door to free up and lubricate the window regulator and fix the power locks inside the door, but there are more pressing concerns.

More rain is forecast and the windshield leaks like crazy. I have been tarping the car in rainstorms, but the metal grommets and hooks have been taking their toll on the paint–a cure more expensive than the disease. A windshield replacement is on the top of my list, hopefully this week.

Also near the top is a re-tune of the carburetor (a little off after I fixed a vacuum leak last week) and putting a stop to the taunting of the ever-on-E fuel gauge.

For now, though, it’s drive and enjoy.

New Parts and Some Inspiration

Ready to move ahead on getting the engine auxiliary pieces installed. Picked up a fuel pressure regulator, a cool in-line pressure gauge. Then, sent away for a distributor, coil and wires, just to make sure the ignition is system is solid and stays that way.

New ignition and fuel parts
New ignition and fuel parts

Everything arrived pretty fast, but the distributor, sold by Amazon arrived looking like a previous return. The box had been opened and poorly repacked. Lots of loose parts in the box and the distributer cap had been damaged. Reluctantly, I sent it back. If I want to fix broken parts, I’ve already got plenty to do.

Rather than try mail order again, I stopped by Goodies, a local speed shop. They ordered me essentially the same part for the same price, minus the shipping. By Friday, I should have all the parts I need to get the engine back together.

In the meantime, the new carb was disassembled, the floats adjusted (they were just a tad out of spec) and reassembled. I’ve got a cold, so health permitting, I’ll get a jump start putting the wires together and the carb back on while waiting for the new distributer.

Inspiration to get out to the car has lately come from old episodes of Overhaulin’ on Netflix, especially this rework of a 65 Thunderbird into a roadster.

65 Thunderbird Roadster by Chip Foose
65 Thunderbird Roadster by Chip Foose

New Mindset

I’ve come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that the ‘Bird falls solidly into the category of restoration project for the foreseeable future. For the past few months I’ve been playing catch-up, letting the car decide what I work on. That’s a valid strategy for a car that’s mostly working–just fix what’s broken, right?.

Fuel Pump
One dirty fuel pump. That's the filter in the background.

This Bird has just been sitting ignored too long; things are breaking faster than I can repair them, even with just occasional driving. From here on, I’ll be working through each individual system, making sure it’s sound, then moving on.

I can already check the shifter and starting system off the list–those have both been completely overhauled. Next on the list are the fuel system, ignition system and the suspension, front and rear. With those complete, the car should be safe and comfortable to drive and I can turn my attention to more aesthetic details, like the interior trim and carpet. (One positive note–the records from the original owner-just discovered–indicate that the transmission was replaced about 60,000 miles ago. It, like the engine itself, should be sound for some time.)

Coil and Oil Pressure Sender
Coil is likely still good. The oil pressure sender is likely dead.

I finally just replaced the old Edelbrock carburetor. Even after rebuilding the one that came with the car, it still performed poorly. It’s likely that there is still dirt and corrosion in some of the interior passages. I replaced it with an exact duplicate, an off the shelf item from Pep Boys, of all places. (They actually have a cool store not far away that specializes in speed parts. Lots of stuff there for people still driving big V-8’s!)

I installed it, no issues, then tried to start the car. Lots of starting fluid and about 30 starting attempts, but no go. Looking at the glass fuel filter, I could see that there was just nothing in the gas line leading up to the carb. Checking the fount of all Thunderbird knowledge, I discovered that the fuel pump ought to be delivering fuel even when the car is only being cranked over by the starter. Here is where I had my revelation–this car is too far gone to just fix what is broken.

I pulled the fuel pump off–it has a built in filter that probably hasn’t been changed in decades. While I was there, I pulled off the coil and the oil pressure sending unit. All were in the same place and all needing clean up or renewal.

Next, the ONO phase: fuel pump, oil pressure sender, this time.

Well, that was Awesome

The brake relay arrived in the mail on Tuesday (fast shipping from the folks at Bird Nest), but I was out of commission with a stomach ailment–in no shape to work on the car.

After work today though, I was under the hood. Two screws, plugged it in to the old harness and . . . well, did it work? I had no helper, so I jammed a 2×4 against the brake pedal and peeked around the back. Sure enough, the brake lights were lit up. Sweet!

A new fuse for the turn signals and I was ready to go. Drove the beast on some errands–post office and the auto parts store, two favorite haunts–and it was absolutely awesome to get out of the neighborhood and get the ‘bird up to speed.

Sure, I’ve still got a 50 item to-do list, but the major items are now complete–I now have a ride instead of a project.

Some smaller items finished over the weekend: lock cylinder installed in the decklid (so I can open the trunk with a key, not a screwdriver); cleaned the interior (well, got a start at it); glued down a door seal (trying to stop a water leak into the interior) and took a stab at polishing the mag wheels (serious work will be needed to get through all the oxidation).

In the “going backwards” category, the rear-view mirror simply fell off a few hours after it was installed. Third try is the charm (again), I’m hoping.

Time for a Bird-Bath

Last night, I made out a list of items, big and small, that I needed to get done on the ‘Bird. When it came right down to it this afternoon, I had a little free time and decided, what the heck, I’m just going to clean her up a little bit. So that’s what I did.

Wash Day
Wash Day

Won’t Start

Brake fluid is added, and the master cylinder is bled, but I can’t do the wheel cylinders on the street–need to get the Bird into the driveway!

A few weeks ago, I got the car started with liberal applications of starting fluid and a little luck. I let it run for about 30 minutes, trying to work through the old gasoline in the tank, which has been there at least two years. This time, even after two cans of starter fluid and an hour of trying, it wouldn’t run at all.

The Fuel Filter
Pretty sure "in" marks where the fuel goes in, not the other way around.

The motor will run as long as I pour in fluid, but as soon as I ask it to run on the gas in the tank, it just dies. I little investigation revealed that the fuel filter was installed backwards, but turning it around didn’t really help (though it did prove that the fuel pump was working ok).

What now? I probably need to get the old fuel out of the car. (Easy enough, but what to do with it then?) And probably should rebuild the carburetor, which is likely all gunked up from the old gas.

Wondering, today, if this is more of a project than a ride.

In Which We Buy a Car

T-Bird on a trailer
On the trailer in Dixon

When the front axle broke on my late-model Saab, I thought to myself, “Sheesh, with major failures like that, I could be driving something with a little flair.

So, I sold the Saab and went shopping. A hundred miles away, I found a ’64 T-Bird that had been well-loved, but a little ignored in the last few years.

She’s got great paint, a pretty fresh motor and solid front end. But, there is work to be done.