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1968 Thunderbird, personal luxury on the large side

2011-01-02

There are 40 or 50 car blogs that we read on a regular basis. Some speak to brands that are of interest to us, and some speak to performance driving. Over the past few years we have also become interested in classic cars, and are looking to restore an interesting classic from years gone by.

One blog caught our attention last week with a posting about the 1967-1969 4-door Thunderbirds. We’ve never owned a Thunderbird, although we’ve driven a few late-model examples and have a collection of books in our library about the history of the car. What we didn’t remember is that the 4-door Thunderbird from those years featured suicide doors. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means the rear doors open forward… so if you happen to fall out you’d be run over by the rear wheels. Mid-60s Lincoln Continentals also featured these types of doors.

Amongst various blogs covering old cars is one named Car Lust. It’s a great read. A range of topics for car enthusiasts are covered here by several authors, although the recurring theme is old cars. Their posting last week about 4-door Thunderbirds  was timely because we’d just looked at a 1968 2-door Thunderbird from the same years.

The 2-door Thunderbird is a large car, huge by modern standards. If you’ve owned a classic 60s-era Mustang and a classic Cougar (as we did), then you know how much larger the 69/70-era Cougar was. When we moved from our own ’67 Mustang coupe to our ’70 Cougar XR-7, we went from a 183.6″ long 2900 pound car to a 196.1″ ~3300 pound car. That’s a huge difference, and it was most noticeable when maneuvering thru parking lots (nevermind handling). The 2-door Thunderbird has a 209.4″ wheelbase and, thanks to a full frame design, has a weight of about 4600 pounds. It’s exponentially worse. Yikes!

We found the following example by the side of the road, for sale by its owner, in December 2010. It’s in good shape and would make a great restoration project. We briefly thought about buying it, perhaps as a flip, although we frankly don’t have the room for it and it deserves an owner who will restore it to the state of originality it deserves.

We think this car must have been in the beginning of a restoration, because the body seems to have been primed with flat black paint. As you can see, everything is present and accounted for, from the landau bars on the vinyl roof to all 4 hubcaps and all the lights. Only the trim strips below the door are missing. This would make a great candidate for restoration. Better yet, after a quick check, the body appears to be free of any rust holes, along with the inner fenderwells. That would be very rare indeed.

The front has some Cougar DNA with the hidden headlights. They probably work: after days parked, they are not sagging or half-open. It’s an easy fix if they don’t, we remember fixing the headlamp doors on our own ’70 Cougar XR-7.

The rear tail lamps are intact. Thunderbirds of this vintage used sequential taillights, like the Cougar.

Thunderbird emblem in the middle of the lights, a mainstay of Thunderbird brand for most of the years of its existence. Note the original owner was a member of the Lehigh Valley Motor Club –  meaning this is a snow belt car. Nonetheless, it’s in great shape.

The vinyl roof is fully intact, as is both landau bars. It only needs cleaning. We didn’t see any rust coming thru the roof along the edges, either.

The rear side emblems were both intact, although the other side was missing the Thunderbird emblem. That’s the only trim part on the car that would need replacement… and we have to wonder what the parts market looks like for this car. We imagine one could be found after a few years of looking. Note that the Thunderbird script is set in a vinyl roof-like background. Interesting and creative!

The front side markers, neatly integrated into the front bumper wrap-around, are both present.

The forward-hinged hood didn’t close 100%, so we’d want to look at the hood hinges and inner fenders to see if any rust was present. But we’ve seen a bunch of these with the same problem, so it may only be a matter of adjustment.

Unfortunately the sun was dead wrong for pictures of the inside of the car, but we tried. Everything inside is intact. This particular example has the bench seat, which was standard in ’68 (but not ’67), and was very popular with owners. Apparently Thunderbird owners want their date to sit with them, not separated by a console. We can understand that.

The rear features this very nice wrap-around on the sides.

Now lets look underneath, and this is where the issues start to form. Remember that thus is a body-on-frame car, so a full restoration would involve separating the two. There is a lot of surface rust under here, a lot, but not a fatal amount. We didn’t see anything serious. The Thunderbird uses a very typical a-arm suspension with a coil spring up front. If you were to buy this and drive it, undoubtedly the tie-rod bushings and shocks would need replacement.

And this is a telling shot. Note the front drum brake. This means it’s an early 68 model. The early 68s used drum brakes and a 390 cube engine. In January 1968, the Thunderbird switched to front discs and a 429 engine. This makes this example slightly less desirable. A conversion to discs would be easy, it’s a known science, and of course the 390 can be replaced by any number of Ford crate engines if you were looking to a resto-mod. But if you were looking to do a straight restoration, you’d lose points for replacing these brakes with discs.

Moving to the rear, we see the underside of the trunk and some leading-edge rust just behind the axle. The mufflers are obviously replacements – Ford didn’t use rust-free exhausts back then (as 3 exhaust replacements on our own 67 Mustang reminds us). Note the trailing-arm suspension.

Detail of the frame and body mount. Note the use of coil springs, not leaf springs. This is a big plus.  The exhaust pipe has rusted off on this side. A muffler shop would have to create an entire new system for this car, given the amount of rust on it.

In summary, a nice car for a restoration, and everything is present and accounted for. If you happen to be interested in buying this car (and we have no financial interest in it ourselves, nor do we know the owner), give us a shout using the comment tab at the top and we’ll pass you the contact info for the owner from the side he had in the window.  We’re a little sorry, we like this car, that we can’t do anything with it ourselves.

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