1978 Thunderbird Restoration

Hi All, first post on the forum. My Dad has recently given me our '78 T-bird. I would rate my knowledge of cars in general as a novice. I know what the most basic parts look like and what they do but that’s about it.

The car has been sitting in a garage for about 10 years now. It was in fine condition when it entered the garage but hasn’t been started once since. I have done some preliminary research on the internet on how to get the car back on the road but I am curious to see what kind of advice I could get on here as well.

Here are some details for the car:
1978 Ford Thunderbird (not the Jubilee Edition)
5.8L/351 CID 2V V-8 engine
Rear axle has Traction-Lok
Brakes: front: power disc and rear: power drum
More specs can be provided upon request.

I plan on having the car taken to a mechanic on a flat bed.

Should I find a mechanic that specializes in classics or can a general mechanic do just as good of a job?

Thoughts or advice?

Thanks in advance,

Yes, you’ll need a mechanic who does restoration.
You’ll need plenty of $$ and don’t expect financial parity (i.e. the car being worth as much as you spend on it).

Every rubber part on this car is suspect (tires, hoses & belts), especially those in the brake cylinders & calipers.
Carburetor will likely need to be rebuilt or replaced.
There might be rust in the cylinders.

My suggestion would be to go to the internet to find manuals for the 'Bird. Since it was your dad’s, and he kept it stored (which suggests it had some meaning to him), you may be lucky, especially if it’s been stored in a good climate like southern Cal. You could probably also get some good car restoration and classic car maintenance books at the bookstore.

Circuitsmith is absolutely right in his suggestions, and especially the brake system will need to be gone over thoroughly before trying to drive it. The carb will definitely need rebuilding or replacing, and the fuel system will, as a minimum, need cleaning out. Other systems, like the power steering, also have elastomerics and belts, and they’ll need looking at too. And you can expect to buy bushings by the bushel.

I’m going to take an optimistic stance, however, and hope the engine is internally sound. A squirt of oil in the cylinders (perhaps penetrating oil), fresh oil in the pan, and if you can turn it by hand a few spins with the starter or with a remote device (there exist adapters, for example, to spin an engine’s internal through the distributor hole to get oil into the upper parts), and you may be on your way to a cool ride.

Sincere best. Let us know how you make out.

I think any general mechanic can do what is needed to get the car running and road worthy again. If you feel the car has some collectable value then a more specialized “restorer” would be best, but it will cost more.

This vehicle will most likely need a LOT mechanical restoration or Major TLC at the very least. Things like the brake system especially are hard hit by sitting like this. The engine is prob fine… Body?..Paint? Weatherstripping? etc…

Are you attached to this vehicle? Sentimental value?..I ask because the 78’ Bird isnt exactly a Looker or a significant Ford in any respect… I mean if we were talking about a 57’ Bird or any of the other “golden years” for the T-bird I would understand…but a 78’ ? Ew… I apologize if this offends you but I am trying to point out that this vehicle is not very desirable…to the masses. There are many reasons for this… However if it floats your Bird…er…Boat…then who am I to say? Right? I painfully watched a guy restore a Ford Granada before so…You aren’t alone.

It will take TONS of money if you are not going to do these repairs yourself. If you are dropping it off at a shop and saying…get her road worthy…then you are seriously in for it man. We are talking MEGA-Buck here as there is NOT a strong restoration market for these vehicles…for the reasons I mentioned above. 69’ Camaro? TONS of parts repo’d for that car… See what I am getting at?

Anyway dont let me discourage you but I would VERY VERY SERIOUSLY consider doing all of the repairs yourself, learn about your vehicle in the process and take it slow. You may be able to get her fairly ship shape with all the basic mechanical TLC she will need and you wont be paying someone else to ROB YOU. You will save TONS of money and you just may have some fun…You will surely feel better about all that you are doing, I promise…If you do it yourself.

If you live near an auto mechanics or auto technology program, this might be a project car that they might be interested in doing some or all of the work for you. Over the years, I got quite a bit work done this way on various cars, for the cost of parts and some administrative/shop fees.

You should not tell a shop to “restore” this car. That could lead to serious bucks and a '78 T-Bird is not a desireable collector car. It’s base transportation at best.

Battery, set of tires maybe, new belts, brake hydraulics, and a revamp of the fuel system are likely.
The fuel system revamp means a new fuel pump, carb overhaul, cleaning of the tank and lines and replacement of any rubber fuel lines.

Some years back I did an inspection for someone who was going to buy an absolutely beautiful '77 T-Bird that was as new with low miles. They bought the car and 6 months later it caught on fire one morning when they went to leave. By the time the fire department arrived that car was barbecued from the windshield forward, all due to a broken rubber hose.

I used to own one of these way back in the day. These are not high-dollar collectables and the gas mileage will make you cry. Is this engine the 351M? That engine is a big block 400 with a de-stroked crankshaft that reduced the displacement to 351 cid. Ford big blocks are thirsty engines, even de-stroked. Why de-stroke a 400? To reduce emissions. The emissions system on this thing is primative, complex, and fickle.

Getting it back to a drivable condition may be costly. Seriously, how much do you really want this car? Take it to a general mechanic. They will be the best cost-efficient route if just getting it up and running is what you’re looking for. The Restoration guys will want to try and make it as close to factory fresh as they can, which can get hideously expensive.

I would talk to some mechanics first and see who is willing to take on the task and you feel comfortable they know what they are doing. Some shops may not have mechanics that is willing to work on carburetors. After 10 years of sitting, you may need to rebuild the carb to get it to run right. Don’t just drop it on a flat bed and then look for a shop.

Unless this car has HUGE sentimental value to you and/or dad, it is worth more $$$ as scrap steel than as a collector car or a mode of transportation.

(Unless you made a type-o and actually have a 1956 T-bird. That changes everything)