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So you want to buy an early T-Bird?


1957Birdman
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One pro to buying an early T-Bird is that there is an excellent parts network with a number of quality vendors selling parts. There are also lots of parts that show up on ebay, including ones that the parts vendors don't generally have, such as bumpers. The down side is that the parts can be pricey, but the cost is still not outrageous. It is always the best to get the most complete car thay you can.

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Lew, let me pose a question and see if I am off base.

My Dad bought a red 1955 in 1980 about the time "Vegas" was on TV and the public attention at shows and parades was tremendous. In the ensuing decades I do not seem to see the same recognition, what do you think? Are little Birds still recognized and appreciated by the public at shows and such? Todd C

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The 1955 is nice, the 1956 is a little nicer. For the 56 year, they realized a few things. One, a baby 'bird gets hot inside, and there's little ventilation, so they added the vents on the side of the cowl. Second, they realized there was virtually no trunk space with a trunk spare, so they went to the continental kit, which, while a pain in the arse to take apart if you have a flat, at least gives trunk space (I have a small modern inflatable in my trunk too). Then, a slightly larger engine, a 312 instead of a 292, not a huge deal though.

Then, in 57, the styling changed quite a bit, and the car more mirrored the other 57 models from Ford. A lot of people like the styling of the 57 over the two other years.

Personally, I like the 56 best, and I've owned on or more examples from each model over the years.

They are fairly common, as are Mustangs, so they're somewhat of a "commodity" in that you can shop for color and options you want, and probably find it.

I think the general public still likes them a lot, anytime mine's on the road or stopped it's getting glances and/or comments.....they are fun.....

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OK, so I know I built up the 1956, so can be accused of prejudice, but do want to point out that due to some changing priorities, my Tbird would be available at $32,000. Red, restored, both tops, automatic and all power, air conditioning added, dress up kit, small spare in trunk, original jack, car is very, very nice and the little things done to make it very nice to drive distances. Have pictures, email me at David.Coco@hphood.com. Car in Winchester Virginia.

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Dave, I agree with your assessment of things. I would also say that it has to do with where you live. I live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. Here they never met a foreign car they didn't like. I drive in plenty of parades and get a lot of nice compliments on the car. I don't get as many admiring waves while driving as I did when I bought the car in 1996. It seems like when I am driving most people are just in a hurry to get where they want to go and couldn't care less about any sort of interesting car, T-Birds included.

You are right about the availability of cars. They made 53,000 of them originally and I'll bet half of them still exist and a third of them are in drivable condition. I have no way to confirm the numbers I mention, but it seems like new ones come out of the woodwork all the time. There are 3 (including mine) within a one mile radius of my house. They are popping up in ads all the time, so someone thinks they have a timeless quality about them. One thing that helps is that it is almost impossible to take a bad picture of one. They look good from all angles. The same can't be said of the new one Ford brought out in 2002.

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It seems like when I am driving most people are just in a hurry to get where they want to go and couldn't care less about any sort of interesting car, T-Birds included.

I suppose that is true, especially in heavier traffic areas like yours.

You are right about the availability of cars. They made 53,000 of them originally and I'll bet half of them still exist and a third of them are in drivable condition.

They are popping up in ads all the time, so someone thinks they have a timeless quality about them. One thing that helps is that it is almost impossible to take a bad picture of one. They look good from all angles. The same can't be said of the new one Ford brought out in 2002.

I would agree on both these counts too. Survival rate was probably best of any car of the 1950s since people recognized them as something special even when they were just used cars.

I always thought the 1955 was the best "pure" styling and was not thrilled with the 1956 continental kit from a styling standpoint. BUT the 1956 was certainly an improved car, no question. Todd C

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Yes, they do show up all the time. Not so long ago, I walked into a huge barn full of old cars, and there were 5 unrestored Tbirds, all needing full restorations.

The problem is, that you can be given a project, and still spend more than what you can buy a nice restored on for.......with the exception of the dual carb or supercharged models....

I agree, on the highway people just want you out of their way, whether it's a new or old car. When things slow down and you park, you'll get plenty of interest.....

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I restore cars for friends and family and one in the line up to be restored is a 1955 T-Bird. Who has the best quality reproduction parts?

The body tag reads: Body 46A, Color A, Trim XA, Production code 2761525.

VIN: P5F5243884 (as best as I can make out on both #s).

It has power: seats, windows, steering and brakes.

From what I have researched this should be a black car with black/white trim but the car is red painted over white with no sign of black yet.

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Hi Mattg:

It sounds like you have a good car to restore. I have a couple of corrections on the numbers that you posted. The body code is 40A (correct for 1955 or 1956 T-Birds) and the VIN number is P5FH243884 (all '55 T-Birds start with P5FH). You are correct that it was a black car with black and white trim. If it has the hardtop it would also be painted black. If it has the softtop that should also be black nylon. If you choose to restore it differently there are other combinations, but in all cases the body and hardtop should match.

As for the quality of parts, the major T-Bird suppliers get the parts from the same sources and all are of good quality, some even better than the original. Of course you can also get NOS parts off of eBay. The ones that I've used with success are Prestige Thunderbird (Santa Fe Springs, CA), CASCO (Ohio), Concours Auto Parts (Nevada), and National Parts Depot. There are others, making for an extensive parts network. The good news is that if the car you are restoring is not missing any key components you should be able to get all the parts you need from the vendors or on eBay. Also take a look at www.ctci.org. This is the website for the Classic Thunderbird Club International. There is a lot of useful information there also.

Good luck on you restoration!

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To play devils advocate, I would suggest one of the major problems with the baby birds is rot. I have seen so many rotted ones over the years, it isn't funny. I also believe bondo got it's success from the mini birds....

I too agree that 56 is my favorite year by far, but I also prefer a 56 Chevy over a 55 or a 57 and so I am in the minority there.

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I don't think that the early T-Birds are any more prone to rust than other convertibles from the 1950's. If you buy a car from one of the dry western states then it is not much of a problem at all. Caveat Emptor when it comes to buying your dream T-Bird.

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I also do not think they are any more rust prone than other 1950s cars. BUT I will point out that the T-bird body design with non-detachable front fenders and nose makes body repair more difficult and may have contributed to poor quality work over the years. Most did indeed seem to see their share of bondo, Todd C

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Todd, I agree with your observation about the T-Bird's body. The interesting thing is that the same can be said about the Corvette, except that its body was made of plastic. Of course, the rust gremlins aren't an issue on the Corvette, except for the frame. On the other hand, there are very few cracks that develop in the body of a T-Bird, one that is in good shape at least.

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Hi- one has to be careful about saying that rust is not a problem on Corvettes, particularly as you get to the 1963 and on Stingray coupes.

These cars have a steel body frame, that the fiberglass is laid around and upon. It can rust and be a real problem.....

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All cars have faults and compromises. The other thing is that most cars were not designed to last 50+ years. I behooves each of us pursuing this hobby to be aware of those issues in the car we wish to purchase and then to be wary of them when we go to buy.

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I really don't think there are any weaknesses, as in something that stands out in a monumental fashion. Engine and mechanicals are reliable.

The early 'Birds are a little sloppy in handling, as they were made not to BE sports cars, but to LOOK like sports cars. Thus, they dip and sway a bit, and one is best advised not to go around a sharp corner as if they were driving a Mercedes.

On specifics as far as driving them, first, in hot months they get hotter inside than the hinges on the gates of hades, with the transmission right there amongst the passengers. Added AC really helps, and was never a factory option. Second, the first year ('55) had no cowl vents, no room in trunk (with spare taking up half the little space there was), and poor visibility with solid quarters on the removable hardtop. These three things were fixed in '56.

Good cars, fun and lots of smiles.....

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Well, you can sorta at least catch a glimpse out the porthole of what you're getting ready to hit.

I've owned quite a few early 'Birds, and don't remember ever having engine overheating issues, as mentioned, the passengers can overheat for sure. The '56 that I have not only has AC, but also has an extra, added, valve that positively shuts off water flow to the heater.

Not only seats, but steering column adjusts, goes in and out. The trick is getting into the car, I have to put my butt first, then swing legs in under steering wheel. Once you're in, there's more room than you'd expect.

I'll make you a good deal on the one I have if you're interested! I have too many cars to take care of, too little time to enjoy.....email me at David.Coco@hphood.com if interested and I'll send you a pile of pictures!

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I agree with David's comments. When these cars overheat they usually do because something is wrong, like a stuck thermostat or crud build up the water passages. I've driven in numerous parades over the years and have never seen the temperature gauge go all the way to hot. I am talking about days where the temperature is in the 90s.

Are you interested in absolute authenticity or do you want a good driving car? If the latter, there are a number of things you can do to the car that will not disqualify for DPC and make for a better driving car. There is another thread here that talks about some of those changes. The main one is radial tires. They make a big difference in the way the car handles.

Take care and good luck finding the right car for you.

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