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DavidLau
Pit Crew

Restomodding: It’s a Slippery Slope

“That’s a rare car” they said. “Don’t touch it, that’s a piece of history” they said. It’s true, a ’59 Tbird with a manual transmission is rare - only 2% of total production. Those with overdrive, which this car had, were half of that, maybe 800 units. And in a convertible? Who knows. But oh was it clunky to drive. Second took so long to engage you’d lose 3-5mph during the upshift. First wasn’t synchronized at all. Transmission oil was leaking right through the overdrive solenoid and dripping on the exhaust (how much longer will that last?). And my rotator cuff is shot, making that 1-2 shift a challenge. But I’ve said it myself “if we don’t save some of these, millennials will never know what a 3-on-the-tree is”. So I added the $800 for a full rebuild to the budget.

The old 352 FE ran okay after rebuilding the carb and throwing in a Pertronix ignition. But I was so concerned about originality that I carefully preserved the little carburetor heat tube that warms the choke with heat from the exhaust manifold even though I’d replaced the choke with an electric one. But the engine was tired. Several cylinders had low compression and the blow-by from the ubiquitous draft tube was basting the entire underside of the car with greasy funk. When I parked the car, smoke curled up from the grimy crank case breather. There was a vibration at 1250rpm and again at 2500. It would rev beyond that, but not happily. Ford didn’t have “matching numbers” until later into the ‘60s, however it seemed pretty clear this engine was original to the car and had never been out. So I called the two FE engine experts in the area for overhaul estimates.

I found the car on Hemmings in Marietta, OH with less than 70k miles and trailered it home in January of 2020. I spent the 2020 Covid lockdown fixing myriad electrical and mechanical issues so I could enjoy it through the summer. The unit body was perfectly solid from floor pans to the new top. It has manual brakes and steering in addition to the manual transmission, yet it has power windows. If that’s not strange enough, the original owner added a continental spare kit on day two! (Don’t you wish we could go back to ask the original buyer what they were thinking?)

A collector friend offered to sell me a 390 he had fully rebuilt for a concours ’59 restoration he started but had to abandon. I said no thanks, some of my favorite car shows require unmodified original cars, so I’ll rebuild the 352, thanks. Then both rebuilding estimates came in around $6000. He wanted half that for the 390. And he said (correctly) you can’t tell one from the other without measuring the stroke - the blocks are identical. And it was 30 more horsepower. And it was sitting there ready to drop in, instead of waiting “oh, 6-8 weeks depending when we can get the parts...”

I asked a friend who had driven many 3-speeds to drive mine to get a second opinion if it shifted normally or not. His assessment was “yup, that’s what they were like.” And the limp noodle column shifter? “They were never made for speed shifting.” I tried to find out if the antique Borg Warner designed in the ’40s would take another 30hp from the 390. “Oh it might” was the foggy reply. So, I could spend the $800 to rebuild it, only to have it still shift like a truck and potentially implode? I started poking around for 5-speed

Tremecs, “just in case” you know. I found a ’94 T5, the last year with a mechanical speedometer drive and the longer pilot shaft to better mate with the old FE. My fabricator guy determined it would fit in the transmission tunnel perfectly, and he could make me a custom adapter plate from FE to T5. It was less than half the cost of rebuilding the old 3-speed, and I knew how nicely they shifted. But I’d have to punch a hole in my center console! And how would I get into those shows? I decided I could drape my Thunderbird cap over the console shifter as I drove in, and the rest of the time it would enjoy rowing a modern 5-speed.

I can’t wait to drive it this summer. Fabricator guy made me a custom shifter that will accept the original T-bird shift lever off the column, which of course matches the dash knobs, etc. So my hope is that someone who doesn’t know that Squarebirds never came with a console shifter could look at it and think “gee, it sure looks original”. But am I done? Well, I should add power disc brakes to keep up with the added displacement, right? And there’s a guy who has installed rack and pinion steering...

21 REPLIES 21
Rob1
Instructor

If you bought the car for its looks and are not a purist or speculator everything you have done so far Kudo,s to you yep you will take it on the chin here and there for altering from stock I just ignore the comments that are negative,not sure about the T Bird crowd but I have taken more than a few shots from Corvette purists about the altered from stock  one I drive rack and pinion was at the top of my its got to have list and it went from there the car is a fantastic driver now for me and that's all that matters, if cash were no object which it is I would slide the body on a new custom roller chassis with the latest greatest engine/ drivetrain/ susp /techno not to say I don't appreciate stock as a stove restorations or survivor cars at a car show you can find me sticking my head in around and under pretty much any car and strike up a convo with the owner domestic or import we all have the passion just different tastes,carry on lets see some pics.Cheers R

DavidLau
Pit Crew

I agree it gives us plenty to talk about, which is a fun part of the hobby. We'll see how it plays out on the show circuit this summer!

DUB6
Instructor

Nail-on-the-head,Rob1.  Yeah, if one wants to play in the fickle "gennie" car market, that's fine, but as lots of people are finding out, people under a certain age group - and LOTS more under a certain income-bracket - just don't give a Rat's Rosy Red Rear about number-matching or survivor parts.  So unless you are in that small percentage, it's more important (or it is to me, anyway) that the vehicle looks cool, is fun, and importantly is safe to drive.  In most cases, people at shows and on the street are gonna give you a thumbs up regardless of carb vs. EFI, 3-onna-tree vs. Tremec, drums vs. discs, etc.

I have great respect for those who want to restore to (or above) factory specs, and those cars are dreams to look at.  But do they get driven?  Which, by the way, is what cars were invented to do!  Mine's a resto-mod and I'm proud to show off the things I've done to make it a better driver than it ever was brand new!

CitationMan
Advanced Driver

I’m with you guys, drivability is the key. I unintentionally bought a numbers matching C2 Corvette last year, and while I realize it’s important to some, it’s not to me. I just wanted a fun car that looks good from 10 feet. That being said, as caretaker for this car, I had the original parts restored rather than replaced during its mechanical restoration. Frankly though, it makes no difference when I’m on the road, and it lengthened the time it spent in the shop as parts were being restored. I have already decided that my next vehicle will be a stock looking mild restomod after I sell the Corvette.

DUB6
Instructor

I can't imagine a C2 (numbers matching or not) that wouldn't be fun to drive!  I have a buddy who has a '66 convertible that scores 98 at NCRS events, but he drives it a lot.  In fact, I saw him out on the street today!

CitationMan
Advanced Driver

It’s a hoot! But it wasn’t until the dried out steering box was rebuilt and some suspension rubber replaced. Now the handling is dialed in (for 1965). It’s got a chambered rear exhaust that mimics side pipes and it sounds great. 

When I was first looking it over, the previous owner said “It’s number matching”. I replied, “Yeah, whatever”.

He chuckled and said “I know, right?”

DUB6
Instructor

Perfect attitude, CitationMan.  You've got it right -"whatever", for sure.  That car was meant to be driven!  👍

DavidLau
Pit Crew

Seems like most of the people who care about authenticity in restoration are in the clubs built around the brand. That's where I heard the push-back to restomodding. But that's a relatively small part of the enthusiast hobby in general. And even within the Tbird clubs, most people have said hey it's your car - make it yours. I just felt I had to justify it! 😉 

Rob1
Instructor

No need to justifiy a darn thing its your ride make it yours whatever it takes you know the sayin opinions are like -------- and everybody's got one and they all stink for the most part you find something on your ride that is not satisfactory for you change it tons of aftermarket parts available to correct most situations because someone else felt the same as you and acted  on it and built the fix have at Mr Lau more power too you.Cheers R

Guitar74
Technician

Nothing wrong with restomodding your T-Bird. The FIRST thing I did after taking possession of my Cougar was to get rid of the anemic drum brakes up front and replace them with some 4 piston discs. This is on a numbers matching car, albeit, a base model 289 automatic car. Thankfully it is a console shift. But.....If I ever decided that I would want three pedals instead of two, I wouldn't hesitate to go t5 or tremec. I have been thinking of either a 4 link, or independent rear suspension. 

 

My point is, enjoy your car. Make it your own. And make it into what suits YOU. If I had a nickel for everyone that tries to pick apart my mostly original with a few "day two" mods, I could retire while I am still young. I just suggest that if they really don't like my car that much, they are free to build their own, or better yet, just not talk.

Sajeev
Community Manager

Since yours is an automatic, I'd do an AOD swap in a heartbeat. Nobody's gonna ever notice it. 

Guitar74
Technician

Absolutely. I have been contemplating that one. A fresh AOD with the constant pressure valve body (makes the kickdown just that...a kickdown. no more fear of grenading the trans due to a tv cable that is slightly out). Oh yes, I have DEFINITELY thought about that one. 

DUB6
Instructor

A guy I knew to be a "purist" once chastised me in front of a crowd for swapping out a lot of OEM stuff on a car - things that made it faster, handle better, and (in my opinion) look better.  He happened to have the same make and model as mine - one of those "numbers matching" rigs.  I reminded him that for every pure one that was modified, it made the pool of true "gennies" smaller, thus probably increasing the collector value of his...so he actually owed me a Thank You.

   I don't think he bought my theory, but the guffaws from all the other guys around us at least made him clam up about it!  😁

Guitar74
Technician

There was an editorial in an old issue of Hemming Muscle machines that called out guys like that. They called them "Makers of the Marquee". From that last post it sounds like you've met more than a couple in your time. I love them, they HAVE to draw attention to themselves by pointing out how much more rare, valuable, etc., their car is. When you point out that his '68 GTO didn't come with a tri power, they just claim that's what makes it all the more rare, valuable, and exotic. Yeah those guys are fun to make fun of. 

 

The last guy that picked the Twister tribute my stepdad and I built apart compared to his original 340 Duster wasn't so happy when I blew his doors off with the "paltry" Twister with a built 318. I guess his factory stock 340 wasn't up to the task of taking on a built little 318. Of course it's a pretty healthy little 318 (did the EXACT build Dulcich did years ago when he was the Mopar Muscle Tech guy). 

jonZ
Instructor

Hey Guitar, I think Dulcich is still the mopar guru. Well there is Worman and Zolper but what do I know? I'm a Ford Falcon nut. I am also a purist but also believe in freedom to modify your ride as you see fit. I would rather see a flat head in a 40 ford business mans coupe than the common 350 SBC. But to each his own. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I also believe that function and safety should come before form. If it's for a museum piece then originality should count. But for me I'm all about modification. Personally I try to  keep my cars in period / era correct mods. After all, I'm that period/era. Tach clamped on the column etc... I sold my 63 Sprint a few years back and the tach was mounted on the dash, but the Futura didn't offer it. Under dash oil psi, temp, battery amps just makes since. Drive train , suspension, brakes, electronic ignition are much better. That's me. My wife is totally against any mods to her 63 Futura Convertible. I think in another post you agree with her to keep in original. Love the story about the Twister n Duster stand off. I've met those same sorts at meets, shows etc.. So called Falcon/Mustang experts that don't even have a car. I just nod, smile and laugh my a-- off while burnin' out in front of them in their latest **bleep** mobile. Hang in there yall and keep the shiny side up!

Guitar74
Technician

Well. On hers, it is SO clean, it would provide a good reference FOR a resto, albeit a six cyl car. That is coming from someone who, much like you, likes to mod but sort of keep it in the period (well that and I like my cars to sort of look like they did when I fell in love with them). The guy who swore his '68 Cougar was much nicer than mine sheepishly answered, "I don't have it anymore" when I asked him where his was. My answer was "I guess it really doesn't matter then. Does it?" He abruptly left while my wife and I laughed out loud (I hate being that way but 30 seconds of that is enough let alone what seemed like 5 minutes).

jonZ
Instructor

Hey Guitar....TOUCHE! I'm laughing out loud as I type this response. I saw the pic of your Cougar and it's Bitchin'. My sister was gifted one by her future husband. She didn't know what she had but I did!! I loved that car. I had a TR6 at the time and we would swap out often. Sad to say but Sis, bro in law, TR6, and the cougar are gone now. 

Guitar74
Technician

Thanks, Jon. I wouldn't mind a TR6. That is, if my 6'2" 240 lb frame could fit 😁

jonZ
Instructor

I enjoyed the TR6 while it lasted. Like everything else I had when I was younger I trashed it! I'm 6' and about 180 back then and it was a nice fit. I was thinking about a post that was getting some attention (favorite song lyric). I went for a burn today and it just so happened the song that started on my play list got me thinking bout you and your Guitar 74 moniker along with the Cougar. Check this out when you get time. "Mercury Blues" Steve Miller version. He was also at the Chip in Sturgis back in 05 and we saw him perform it live. I think it was a '49 he was singing about but seemed to fit you. Hang in there.

hyperv6
Instructor

The truth is the many cars resto modded were cars that would never have been restored due to condition and cost. 

Also it is up to the owner what he wants. Each car is a canvass and we all created what we like. 

Sure I see much I I don’t like too but my names not on the title and it is not my worry. This hobby takes all of us and that will be important moving forward as we lose more and more enthusiast. 

Also in some cases it is good to improve some things to keep these cars safe, reliable and able to you there and back.

HHCO
Intermediate Driver

They need to be fun to drive and if parts are hard to get why not move things up some years.