It's not quite pimping, and it's not quite easy



I wanted a muscle car.

Doesn't everyone? It could some sort of misplaced sublimation or compensation or simply rebelling against clean, slow, uniform-looking econoboxes. I wanted one.

I got the 1968 Ford "Fodor" Thunderbird

Did something go horribly awry?

Image of the Mighty 1968 Thunderbird

My best answer is "Nope. I love this car.", but that doesn't really tell the whole story.

I had some cash for a project car, and I could have bought a Triumph Spitfire with a good body, but I had the Big Fat American Car bug at that point, and nothing was going to sway me.

Nothing except availability. No Chargers. No Chevelles. No GNXs. No Grand Prixen. Nothing. Nothing except what you see above, for $2000.

The first time I saw the Usenet posting on, I dismissed it; but four following postings later, my resolve against a sedan had waned somewhat. I'd looked at a few pictures in the interim, and decided I could stand to look at it in person.

I looked it over. It had a solid body and frame, with very little rust. The interior was in pretty good shape (except for the driver's side door), and the drivetrain and engine looked to be pretty solid. It simply looked a little unloved.

I brought Sean with me to come look at it. We brought a box of transmission fluid (the "band adjustment" was really a leaky seal and a lack of adequate fluids), and gave the car a light wringing out.

I talked him down to $1800 and drove it home.

I've done a few things to it since then, with things picking up as I got more motivated and got rid of the Spitfire. Most recent things are at the end

Pertronix Ignitor

The first and coolest thing I've installed. It replaces points directly, hooking into the coil and literally hiding in the distributor. The only way to tell if you have one (unless you understand why there are two wires going to the coil from the inside of the distributor as opposed to one), is to take the cap off and look inside.

It made an immediate improvement in the car. What once was hard to start and lumpy to run became smooth and rather worry-free. I could have achieved the same thing by constantly adjusting the points every few thousand miles or so, but for under a hundred bucks, why bother?

Pertronix Ignitor

Next came the vacuum motors for the headlight doors. Several of the antique car catalogs offer to rebuild these, so shop around to get the best price. Rebuilt ones make an immediate difference in your enjoyment of the headlight doors.

Later on, I replaced the transmission oil pan gasket twice (the first time still leaked, the second time I used gasket sealer). Then I worked long and hard on the front end, replacing most of the rubber pieces that were 30 years old (with much help from Sean. Then all the shocks and brakes (with help from Sean's brother, Scott).

Sometime during that, I started puzzling out the vacuum system. It's intricate. Sean and I had gotten a book on 1968 Ford/Mercury/Lincoln wiring and vacuum diagrams, and it's been useful for my car, and two of his cars. There's been plenty of tracing and replacing.

One of the things that's been replaced is the special rubber fittings in the car's vacuum system. Unlike modern cars, the Thunderbird had hard plastic straight tubes and rubber couplings, t's, and elbows. It's expensive to find rubber t's, so I've replaced them with standard plastic t's and short lengths of appropriately sized rubber tubing. Just as good, if not better.

This whole process took much longer than it should have, but it got done in time for my wedding in 2001. The car was uninspected, but we drove it there and back anyway. When you have such a cool car, it's a shame not to use it in such a situation.

Post-wedding, I've been working on getting the car inspectable. I've gotten the driver's side window motor replaced (it was well and truly dead). What's cool is that in the last 30 years, electric motors have gotten smaller, lighter, and stronger all at once. Electric motors have been around for over 100 years, and there's still innovation being done. Wild.

In the process of replacing the motors, I've re-done the door panels. Years of wear and improper tool use had caused the little clips that hold the panel to the door to rip through the door panel material (thin Masonite-like stuff). Additionally, many of the clips had been lost. The panel was (like many older cars) screwed in place and called "good enough".

Not for me.

I found Mr. G's Enterprises after a little surfing, and found the clips in their catalog for a reasonable price. While waiting for the clips to arrive, I used rubber cement and card-stock weight pieces of paper (ok, old business cards) to repair the tears in the Masonite. A little work, and the panel popped into place much more nicely than before.

The transmission is still leaking. The front seal (a problem on these cars) needs to be replaced. This will have to wait until I get a garage.


Or maybe not.

I got it inspected, because I was getting tired of not having it ready to roll whenever. Getting it inspected was good, because it remedied me how much I enjoy this car. I decided I had to do the transmission.

The garage got put off because of the economy, so I decided to send the transmission out for a rebuild job. The rebuild got put off because a giant tree fell in my backyard. Then I found an already rebuilt C6 with a B&M shift improver kit for $150. Add $70 for the torque converter and a weekend of work and the new transmission is in.

It still leaks, but it should be a simple bolt tightening thing.

Add to that a jack-stand mishap that took out my fuel link and it's back to being a yard queen. However, it's the rubber part, so I should be able to replace that without too much trouble. Grumble.

On the test drive, the new transmission felt great.


New transmission still feels great. The leak was the filler tube o-ring. That's fixed now. Still a slow leaker, but not nearly as bad as before. The fuel line was pretty easy to repair, too. Everything was pretty cool until Sean interfered again.

I'd been thinking about getting the carbeurator rebuilt, and then there was this guy selling a Holley on Something like this one, but not shiny. He asked $200, I offered $150, he offered $140. I like dealing like this!

I got it home, and found that I needed a few things. A spacer, some gaskets, an old spring bracket from the stock carberuator, springs, a fuel filter, and a different fuel line (the original Y interfered with my intake manifold). Two weekends of work, and I've discovered two things:

  1. The stock carbeurator seriously needs a rebuild.
  2. The Holley has (cough) improved the throttle response.


Holley Carbeurator


No, It didn't sit idle all this time, but I have been slack about working on it. The lack of garage has been chafing me for quite some time.

Still, I managed to replace the power steering pump, which was a royal pain. The pump is about fifty pounds, and hard to hold, and you have to align the steering wheel while you do it, so getting the new one in involved a wasted day of grunting and sweating.

The next day I woke up and built a little wooden cradle for the pump, sat the cradle on a floor jack, and got the pump in in a few minutes.

Next comes a new alignment, tires, and inspection.

Sometime in 2012

While planning a home renovation involving a two-car garage so that I'd finally have some space to work on the Thuderbird; I found myself on my back under my computer desk with a flashlight in my mouth tinkering on my computer. Now the renovation would also include computer-work space, but here I was messing around despite not having a good space to do it in.

This was sort of a revelation in the way that years of indifference to my project cars hadn't been. The two-car garage was called off, the Thunderbird was sold within a month, the renovation got much cheaper, and I got a little focus in my hobbies.

I still have a project vehicle that's not the GTO. More on this later.