Monday, January 2, 2012

A new "Bird lover

Imperfect 1956 T-Bird is just the right pet for its new master

By Debra Powless

My mate, who is a longtime car collector, came home one day and showed me pictures of a 1956 Ford Thunderbird. He said he wanted to buy it for me, but I told him I didn't like it.

A few days later he came home with it to sell it in our little hobby business where we help people sell collector cars. Well, he brought it home and the car was so cute in person and by the time we had taken the photos for the ad, I had changed my mind and decided I did like the car.

So the first thing I did was join the Classic Thunderbird Club of Chicagoland that focuses on the preservation of 1955-56-57 T-Birds. What a nice group of people. They welcomed me into the group and advised me on basic T-Bird rules of thumb. which ended up being very helpful. Not everybody knows how to work on a T-Bird, and since my car had transmissioin and carburetor issues. I am so glad that the president of the club directed me to a gentleman who is an expert at T-Bird repair.

When I drove my little 'Bird, the first thing I noticed is that you do not drive that car unless you are in a pleasant frame of mind and ready to talk to everybody! People, especially girls of ALL ages, love this car! I am used to following my mate in his collector cars and I often enjoy how young boys will sometimes stop and stare as the old car drives by, but that did not prepare me for the attention that my little 'Bird gets.

The mate found an interesting ad for a 1956 T-Bird painted Buckskin Tan so we looked it up and my car is definitely a 'custom color.' It is supposed to be Buckskin Tan but after looking at the car in the ad it appears that my little 'Bird isn't Buckskin Tan or Sunset Coral. I keep going back to look at the photos of the old T-Birds in Buckskin Tan and Sunset Coral, and I definitely like the color of my T-Bird and wouldn't change it. The color of a collector car is so important and makes all the difference. However, maybe, as with my children, I like the color of my little 'Bird because it is mine. We put a cream color soft top on my car, and I am glad that I went with the lighter color.

Anybody who has old cars knows that you do not enter into a relationship with an old car without being prepared to sort it out and learn the quirks. Overall, my little 'Bird was in pretty nice condition. A few chips and stress marks in the paint, but it looks really good from five feet away. However, the carburetor and the transmission needed serious attention. The car was sent to a local garage so I didn't get to drive it for a few weeks. Unfortunately the garage did not fix the problems, so our friendly mechanic made a housecall to work on my car, which ended up taking more than two weeks by the time he took the parts out, sent them off to be fixed, and put them back on the car. Then the mate insisted that I get a soft top in case I ever got caught in the rain with the hard top off. Our friend who owns a salvage yard up in Detroit found me a nice frame and fabric so I made a trip up to Detroit. My brother and his family live there so it was a nice visit, and my nephew and his two sons helped me get the top so I enjoyed spending time with them.

Our interior guy said it would only take him a day to put a new top on. NEVER, ever, believe somebody who tells you that. It doesn't happen. More than a week later, the top was finally on the car but it rained for days so there were more delays in getting to enjoy the car.

The first day I was able to drive it out to Rockford, Illinois, which is about a two-hour drive. I enjoyed the heck out of the ride except the car's speedometer read 70 mph, and I didn't think I needed to drive any faster than 70 mph, and the cars and trucks were just flying by me. Later I learned that these old 'Bird speedometers often read 8-9 miles slower than you are actually driving.

OK, now I am ready to enjoy my car! Oh, wait - the mate has the T-Bird guru come over and do a 100-point inspection and makes plans to rebuild the transmission and put in power brakes and some other improvements and repairs. I am saying 'No, no - let me drive it the way it is and I will have the work done this winter.' The T-Bird guru had an opening in early September so there went my 'Bird again. My mate insisted that he wants to have the car in excellent running condition for me. Ok, it is sweet but still annoying because I just want to drive my car.

T-Birds have an 'X' frame that requires the engine to be pulled to get to the transmission so you can imagine the time involved to work on a transmission. During the downtime, we drove over to get the steering wheel so we could take it to the car painter because the black steering wheel needed to be painted brown to match the interior. The horn ring we were going to have plated was going to cost $1200 to be plated so the T-Bird guru found a nice used horn ring in good condition. However, I had to go get the horn ring from the plater because we needed to use the internal workings for the replacement horn ring. Then I had to take my carburetor to the carb guy in Rockford to be rebuilt. My carb problems earlier were because somebody stuck a 1956 Lincoln carburetor on the car which was too big. Now I have the right carburetor but it needs to be rebuilt. The good news is that the transmission has been repaired and the car is running good and lots of things have been updated or repaired.

So it took all summer to get my car sorted out and ready to drive. I have three granddaugthers, and I have a feeling that they will get a lot of enjoyment out of this car too.

(Reprinted from Old Cars magazine)

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