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HOME EXTERIOR INTERIOR ENGINE FRONT SUSPENSION & POWER STEERING GENERATOR TRANSMISSION
Pulled into carport in Washington County Texas June 6, 2009.
Arrival in Houston in July 2009 after a 20 mile drive.
Pole barn slab pour Thanksgiving 2009.
Pole barn framing, December 2009.
Pole barn metal siding January 2010.
í58 Tbird pulled into pole barn June 6, 2010
Lucille inside her new home.
We acquired the black and white hardtop Thunderbird in July 2009. My father-in-law was the previous owner and nearing 80 years old, my father and mother-in-law decided they werenít able to take care of it and enjoy it as much as it needed to be. They had the car for about 6 years and they bought it from a man in Spring, TX. While they had it they had replaced a couple of the tail lights, restored the trunk, and replaced the starter, water pump, and carburetor. They did drive it to a couple of car shows in the Houston area. When they decided to get rid of it they thought of me. When I met their daughter, I had a 1972 Mercury Cougar XR7 and had done many projects on this car while continuing to drive it daily. Alas, the car was replaced when we started a family, and I always missed that 351 Cleveland!
The Thunderbird is equipped with power brakes, power steering, air conditioning, and power windows. It was a very loaded car for 1958! It has the red interior with the red and white seats which had previously been recovered.
My wife and I drove the car home on a hot Houston evening in July. Itís a good thing the emergency brake was working well. The first time I used the brakes, the right brake hose blew out. We got it home and even drove through a tunnel but the first order of business was to rebuild the brakes! I ordered brake master cylinder, wheel cylinders, and brake hoses and lines. It was difficult finding the lines for the front for a í58 but I finally found them. While waiting for the parts to come in, I was trying to diagnose the poorly running engine. It would idle and run fine in park, but would die when you placed it in gear. While I was working on the brakes, I kept the car covered with a car cover because we didnít have room for the car in the garage in Houston. After getting a letter from the home owners association, it was apparent that we needed a better place to keep and work on the car. We had 10 acres out west of Brenham with a house and a small garage which currently housed our 1961 Ford F100 pickup, my other project. The previous owner had cleared an area for a barn, so I started making plans to build a pole barn in that area for both antique vehicles.
I found a transmission shop who was willing to rebuild the transmission and he also was ok with the car staying in his shop while he was working on it. That was great because it would be out of the weather during some of the time we were getting the pole barn going. It ended up taking several months to get it rebuilt, but it was very worthwhile. The car had been driven so seldom, that there was a rust line at the top half of the case where the humid air had been in the transmission while the bottom half was in great condition because of the protection from the transmission fluid. The lesson learned is, drive your antique car every once in a while. Just idling the engine is not sufficient to circulate the transmission fluid and heat it up to drive the humid air out of the transmission.
I rebuilt the front suspension in order to get the Thunderbird ready to hit the road to transfer it to its new home west of Brenham in the pole barn. I also had noticed while the car was up in the air that the freeze plugs were really bad and replaced them. My goal was to get the Thunderbird moved off the Gulf Coast before hurricane season started on June 1. We almost made the date and drove the uneventful 115 mile trip on back roads on June 6 with my wife following in the other car. My co-worker with a 1964 Fairlane had a tree fall on his restored car during Hurricane Ike and I didnít want that to happen.
With the car up in its new home in the pole barn it was time to attack the poorly running engine. The oil pressure was really not very good so initially I pulled the oil pan and timing chain and cleaned up the oil pan and installed a new oil pump. The oil pump drive shaft I got was too short. I had gotten one for a 292 which had a B8 part number and I needed an oil shaft with a C1 part number. It had me confused and it took a couple of weeks to correct the error. It was a good thing that I was really getting under the car and slowly turning the crank to verify that the oil shaft was turning. Otherwise I would have run the engine with no oil pressure when I tried to start it up. I also didnít want to take that oil pan off again! I had the timing chain cover off and installed a new timing chain. I was hoping to install a double roller, but this engine still has the thrust button design camshaft retention design and hadnít been converted to the post-1963 thrust plate for keeping the camshaft in place. With all these changes, the engine ran better but still not right. The vacuum gauge was fluttering and suggested that I had a valve issue. The engine ran great on the highway with a strong kickdown into 2nd gear, but it wonít idle at all in drive. The exhaust manifold on the driverís side was leaking so I started by trying to remove the left manifold. Needless to say I broke off a couple of bolts, so it was obvious that the heads and manifold were going to need to come off. Once I got the heads off, I took them to a machine shop in Houston. They were really in good shape already as well as was the intake manifold. All the valves were fine and this eliminated a lot of the unknowns in the engine. I didnít think the engine had many miles on it since a rebuild, but a lot of years had passed which was not good for the gaskets and seals. Again, I got everything back together and the engine was really quiet with the new exhaust manifolds and exhaust pipes. But it still didnít run right. I had assumed that the carburetor was good since it was a professionally rebuilt carb that wasnít that old. I started studying the way the intake manifold was set up to flow air from alternating barrels into the different planes of the two-plane intake manifold. The two-plane intake manifold is basically two separate intake manifolds and due to the firing order, feeding every other cylinder in an alternating fashion. If one side of the carb has a problem, it will affect every other cylinder. I did take the carb off and rebuild it and the results were phenomenal. The engine now ran and idled on all 8 cylinders, the engine was running on every other cylinder at idle! A big improvement. One of the idle passages must have been almost completely blocked on one of the barrels. I also found that a carb soak followed by blowing out all the passages with compressed air is the best way to clean them. The spray cans for carb cleaning donít work adequately. Vacuum gauge is over 19 inches and steady now which confirms what we were hearing. The 352 engine performance is on par with the 351 C in the Cougars and Mustangs of the 70ís although the Tbird weighs 3,700 pounds and the Cougar was 3,400 pounds.
We also used the down time of the engine to rebuild the power steering which made a big difference on how hard the car is to steer. It will turn in a gravel driveway easily now. It has a big steering wheel, but it must be heavier than a pickup because a pickup with manual steering steers ok in the gravel. We also replaced the driverís door window which was out of adjustment and cracked when it was shut. The front power window motors have been replaced. The passenger motor was missing and the drivers motor failed when I pulled it back into the barn one day and tried to put the window back up. The right rear has failed now also. Those old motors just arenít very robust! Currently Iím working on replacing the wiper vacuum motor with a rebuilt one; another fun adventure.
Now that we have the mechanical parts of the Thunderbird in pretty good shape, we are starting to turn our attention to some of the cosmetic items including windshield wipers and interior trim finishing. Ultimately the car will be repainted, but that will wait until the F100 truck is completed.The sound of that 352 FE 4 barrel with dual exhaust is magic to my ears!
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