Thunderbird Restoration
After selling my 1979 Fiat Spyder in 1997


I was in the market for a new toy. I had about six grand to invest and was considering all types of cars. A muscle car I thought would be cool. My high school buddy, Tony Pecora, still has his 1968 Camaro with a big block 427 L88. Tony invested thousands upon thousands to achieve his dream of a custom show winning Camaro. Check out a sampling of pictures to appreciate Tony's "Mr. Blue".



I did look at some prospects but became disillusioned with the caliber of car that was available for my hard earned cash. I continued my search looking in the local newspaper and trade publications. I guess I always had a soft spot in my heart for the Thunderbirds. When I was in my teens, around 1972, I had the rare opportunity to potentially purchase a 1956 Thunderbird that was resting behind the local gas station that I pumped gas at after school. I was excited about the possibilities and brought my father (the bank) down to check it out. Well, you know how fathers are about investing in an "old used car" that needs lots of work. PS I lost that one. Than in 1974 I drove buy a home that had an all white 1963 Thunderbird convertible sitting on the lawn. I stopped in and inquired about the car. The owner was firm on $700.00 dollars. I couldn't believe it, I knew this was it. She was beautiful. Once again I brought my father down, I know. Well, once again " he" decided it was not worth the money .

Well, moving forward to December 1998. I continued to look through local trade magazines and found a 1965 Thunderbird convertible for sale in Chester, New Jersey. Chester is about 45 miles from my house. I called the owner to inquire about the car. The car was still available for sale. I arranged a time that day to come and inspect the car. Later that day I drove to the owners home. About a mile away from the owners home, coming in my direction, was a sweet red 1965 Tbird convertible. I knew this was the car had I had come to see. I turned around and followed the car to the local gas station where the owner was filling the tank and giving her a little exercise. I followed from a far and met the owner back at his farm house. From twenty feet away she looked pristine.


First Pictures

Than as I got closer I could see the rust bubbles, the torn top, the torn upholstery, and many more defects. The owner informed me of the prior repairs which included an engine rebuild and a paint job. He walked around the car with me pointing out minor imperfections. He did demonstrate the top mechanism. He had a toggle switch in the console to operate the top. Once the deck lid opened he got out his piece of wood and propped up the flip lid and asked me to flip the toggle switch to continue the top retraction. The procedure was odd but the top did go down. I took the car for a test drive. The brake pedal stuck to the floor every time you would step on it. The only way to release it was to put your foot under the brake pedal and lift up. The turn signals didn't work, etc, etc. Well, it didn't matter. I fell in love with this bird and I didn't have to bring my father along for his $$$$!!.

I told the owner that I was very interested I would call him the next day. The owner was asking $6000.00 and I felt that I could negotiate a little when I called him back. I called the next day and told him I only had $5000.00 to spend on a car. He told me he was firm on his asking price and would wait until spring to advertise the car again, knowing the nicer weather would bring a buyer. I couldn't take the chance so I spilled my hand and agreed to the $6000.00.

I went back in a couple of days and picked up the car. I drove the car back to the training center where I worked as a auto tech instructor. Over the next couple of weeks I did an assessment of what needed to be done. The list was endless. I started out replacing the L/F floor board, brake lines, fuel lines, master & booster, idler arm, strut rod bushings, full tune-up, complete exhaust, front disc brake service, four new radial tires, and I rebuilt the flip lid transmission and repaired the upper back panel limit switch. The right front fender had an appreciable amount of bondo in it so I knew I would have to find a solid replacement. The rust around the rear quarters was too extensive for me to handle. I called Pat Wilson at Pat Wilson's Thunderbird Parts here in New Jersey and explained the rust situation. He agreed to inspect the car and repair/replace the rear quarter panels.



Pat Wilson has been in the Thunderbird parts & service business for twenty-five years, so I felt confident in his expertise. Pat was kind enough to shoot some Polaroid's for my scrap book. When the quarters were complete I had the car towed back to my house.


Here's a shot of the L/R quarter panel repair.

When I brought the car home it was time to make her mine. If I had ordered a new 65 Tbird in 1965 I would have ordered power windows and A/C. Unfortunately this bird had neither. But, that didn't mean she couldn't have those nice options with a little work and some help.

I purchased two donor cars for my resurrection and had the donor cars towed to the vocational school where I'm, fortunately, the auto shop instructor. Here's a couple pictures of my auto tech class that stripped down these donor cars.


"Air born off a 65"


The class picked these birds clean. I had all the factory parts for the complete A/C system,complete P/W system, perfect dash, factory wiring, and miscellaneous parts.

Back at home I began removing the convertible top, interior, dash, heater box, bumpers, chrome, convertible parts, etc. The car looked like junk. Half of the car was on one side of the garage and all the parts were on the other. Here's a nice picture of the interior.



The donor dash was black so I dyed it red to match.


I purchased a new heater core, blower motor, expansion valve and tested all the vacuum actuators prior to installing the heater/A/C box in the car.


Here's a nice picture of the complete dash installed as well as the center console with my new power window switches


Now it's time to work on the body.

The car was an original rangoon red exterior with red interior and a white top. I liked the combination and decided to keep it the same. The car had been painted at least once over the original paint. You could see crows feet everywhere as well as small rust spots. The rear package tray appeared irreparable. However, Pat Wilson was able to weld and repair the original. I knew the old paint would have to be removed. I was attending the Englishtown Swap Meet here in NJ at Raceway Park when I found a vendor selling a liquid paint stripper. The demonstration of the product was pretty decent. The product appeared to be something that I could easily apply. I bought two gallons of the stripper and a gallon of a metal protectant for bare metal. I started the paint stripping process on the bottom of the L/F fender. The product seemed to work well.


Buying additional gallons of stripper, I continued the stripping process for over three months of weekends. I brought the entire car down to bare metal.


I should have hung onto to my daily transportation car sitting outside the garage. A white 1986 Daytona Turbo, 5 Speed, Shelby optioned model.

"Oh Well"


I located a nice straight rust free R/F Fender






I spoke to couple of body shops in the area and was quickly blown out of the water when it came time to talk dollars. I found that most local body shops shy away from restoration work because of the time involved. It seems to be more profitable to hang some fenders and hoods than work on old cars. I can appreciate where their coming from.

While attending a certification license for my teaching job, I drove past a body shop, Team Auto Body, that always seemed to have old cars in numerous stages of repair. Over the next month, I would purposely slow down to take a look at the work that was taking place at the body shop. Most of the cars I saw were collectibles. I drove past the body shop one night and found the lights on and the garage doors open. The man inside was working on a 70's Torino GT. I decided to stop in and discuss my project. I spoke to a gentleman, Chris, and explained my project needs. I told Chris I had the body stripped down to bare metal and that the car needed a minimal amount of rust repair. I also told Chris that I was only interested in his abilities to paint and that I would be responsible for reassembling the car. Chris was very personable and professional. He explained the type of work they do and was more than happy to show me his restoration picture portfolio. I felt comfortable with Chris's expertise and invited him to my home to take a look at my project.

That Saturday, Chris came buy the house to take a look. We agreed upon a price and Chris had the car picked up the following Monday.


Here she is sitting behind the body shop stripped down to bare metal.

The first process was to DA the body and remove the metal protectant. Then two coats of a yellow hardened epoxy primer was applied to seal the bare metal.




Now that the metal was sealed the craftsmen began their work. The body was block sanded to reveal the imperfections. Most of the work went into the rear quarter panels and the top of the rear quarters where the convertible top would rest. The top of the rear quarters needed some patches welded in. The shop spent a considerable amount of time insuring that the lines on the quarters and door were perfect.


Left rear quarter and door


Right rear quarter and valance repair

Perfectly straight R/R quarter


Left door and quarter


Can you say, "respirator?"


Initial body work complete and reprimed

Now that the major straighting of the body was complete it was time to inspect for imperfections. The body was sprayed with a fog coat of orange paint to reveal any high or low spots.





Prior to sanding down the fog coat the interior door jams and under hood compartment were painted






At this time all the removable parts were hung in the spray booth and shot.





With the door jams, engine compartment and removable parts complete it was now time to block sand the fog coat to look for imperfections.



With the body complete and straight it's now time for the spray booth

Yes that's about six inches of snow!



Chris hosed out the spray booth prior to bringing the car inside





That was the last time I saw her that day.


I returned to the body shop the next day anticipating the completion. She looked magnificent! Beyond my expectations!



Now for the finishing touch. Sand and buff





Time to come home



Now the car is towed back to my house where I can start the reassembly process. After approximately six months of buying, locating, and installing parts I was done. I still find things to improve and upgrade. I guess it's a labor of love.





I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did