Thinking about getting an older Thunderbird or about to embark on a restoration project of your own? Here are some repair and restoration issues common among “Flair Birds” (1964 – 1966 model years). For now, this is just an outline of the items I’ve come across myself or seen mentioned repeatedly in on-line forums.
Manual transmissions were not an option on these cars, so all have column mounted shifters. Unless it has been previously repaired, the shift lever and bearings that support the shifting mechanism will be worn out, allowing the car to slip in an out of gear. Plan on spending a day–or more–and about $150 on parts to firm it up.
Down below the steering wheel, where the steering shaft meets the steering box is a flexible rubber coupling designed to dampen vibration up through the steering column. Where it’s located, it’s prone to leaks from the brake system, as well as oil from the engine. When it fails, all steering control is lost–the steering wheel turns freely! The replacement kit is under $20 and money well spent.
Cars from the 60’s predate the dawn of cheap electric motors. Actuators for the locks, vents, parking brake releases, heating system, trunk releases, etc, etc, all rely on vacuum lines and vacuum motors to work. The lines deteriorate–or get removed–leaving nifty gadgets non-functional and a rough running engine.
Most of the gauges on my Thunderbird did not function, with exception of the heat gauge. Faulty senders, faulty wiring or bad gauges could be the culprits. Senders can be easy to replace. I’ve changed out the oil pressure gauge sender and the fuel gauge sender, successfully fixing only the gas gauge.
Unless you are very lucky, the door panels on your car will have been exposed to some moisture and probably partially rotted out. Unlike later cars, the panels are molded cardboard with a lip at the bottom that fits into a channel at the bottom of the door. Metal strips on the sides hold the panel in place. (Later cars use clips to hold the panel to the door.) A plastic shield between the door and the panel protects the cardboard from water, but over the years these get torn or discarded.
It’s possible to rebuild these panels, as the metal and carpet pieces are clipped and stapled on, but these measures are usually a stopgap (with limited success) before purchasing expensive replacements.