The Ford Thunderbird is an American classic. The restoration experts at Prestige Thunderbird take us on an in-depth tour
showing us how they restore these automotive treasures. You won't believe your eyes when you see the finished products.
Tags:How to Restore a Ford T-Bird,american classic automobiles,american classic cars,automobiles,cars,ford,ford thunderbird,mag rack,magrack
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Male: Thunder Birds are perhaps some of the most iconic cars ever to be produced. But it is the early birds, those from model years 1955, ’56 and ’57 that hold a special fascination for many T-bird enthusiasts, collectors and restorers. In the early 50s all of the major automotive manufacturers began to develop new cars to capture the imagination of a youthful car buying public. European sports cars were unrivaled in design and performance and growing demand for a US built sports car led GM to develop the Corvette in 1953. Deemed too esoteric to be an instant success, Ford’s engineers and stylists took note of GM’s mistakes and countered their rivals in 1954 when the first Thunderbird rolled off the assembly line. Male: From Ford starting an engineering center in Dearborn Michigan comes another Ford first, a car designed for those who appreciate the distinctive in personal transportation. Male: Ford’s vision was for their new car to be both luxurious and sporting. The two seat T-bird proved to be a well balanced packaged that took few design risks and though more of a GT than a true sports car, its styling, comfort and power made it an immediate hit with the American public. Detroit rarely questioned success so the ’56 saw only minor changes including slick new features like the continental package exterior spare tire. Male: How about this for a continental touch, you see they’ve taken the spare out of the trunk and put it back here thus achieving a long pure line, don’t you think? And look at the room you’ve got inside this now. You can store four hunting dogs, abrasive decoys and a case of- it’s pretty roomy. Male: Slick ad campaigns with celebrities like Bing Crosby helped solidify the appeal of the Thunderbird. In 1957, it was given a significant face lift and this would be the final year of the T- bird as a two seater. Male: New swept back tailfins and a longer rear deck add elegance to its lower than ever lines. It’s powered by a big 312 cubic inch V8 engine with twin four bell carburetors. You’ll have to look far to find a performer that can match this one. Male: These beloved cars have survived for decades because of the great passion their owners have for them. But in order to return these classics to their original glory a tremendous amount of restorative expertise is often necessary. Prestige Thunderbird is the world’s largest T-bird restoration company and parts warehouse and there can be as many as 50 cars going through the restoration process at any one time. Owner’s Rick Harbaugh and Rod – have transformed their love of T-birds into a profitable business. Male: Here at Prestige, we specialize only in the ’55 through 1957 Thunderbirds. Total production on the Thunderbirds, the three years combined is just a little over 50000, almost 51000. Of those T-birds, I would estimate that there’s 35 to maybe 40000 of the cars still around. It was such a low production car, Ford was not really concentrating on perfection on these cars. Some of the stuff was kind of crude but it’s always been car throughout society that’s always been worth fixing and parts have always been pretty readily available for them. This car here is a car that’s ready to go up to Bob Cerrito. As you can see, it’s completely been disassembled of all the chrome pieces but the interior’s been completely stripped out. Everything’s out of the way so it’s not in his way. Engine and everything has been completely removed from the inside. So the body work will begin on this shortly. Male: Bob Cerrito does all of the paint and body work that’s needed on these aging baby birds. Male: There’re certain areas on an early Thunderbird that do rust out. There’s an area on the rear of the rocker panels and the bottoms of both rear quarters, they are prone to rusting because they had someone of a poor drainage system. Male: The modern reproduction parts are often superior to the originals. The intricacies of the step by step work cannot be rushed. Male: The restoration end of it probably hasn’t changed a lot because of the fact that pretty much everything is still done the way it has been for years and there kind of isn’t really any speeding up that process. Male: And a painstaking and laborious process it is through each and every page of body work and paint preparation. When the last coat of paint is finally applied, the results are consistently impressive. Male: Our paint shop has a complete formulation of all the Thunderbird colors which is nice in the sense that we’re not constantly having to try to match something. These painstakingly over the year formulated each individual color and every color that he does is a show quality color. Male: Once the body work is done, it comes back in this state which this car we just recently got back and now what we’ll do is start bolting the different amenities and chrome pieces and different items on this car. Exterior wise, we do all the motor and transmission here. The only thing we do not do in house is the machine work on the engine but we do the assembly here. This one we’ve got back from the paint shop and have put the motor and transmission all back in its place. Got all the wiring and whatnot done underneath the hood. From here, we’ll begin on the interior. Here’s the dash here that we’re getting ready to install in the car. It’s been recovered and repainted. Instruments rebuilt on it. We do complete interior, restoration and replacement. We do everything on the interior that’s required. Male: As this ’55 nears completion, Rick Harbaugh reflects on the singular appeal of the early birds. Male: Thunderbirds is kind of a unique car in the sense that it really appeals to everybody and it’s probably the only car in American society that really does that. Our restorations are one of the top of the line in the country. Male: And thanks to the craftsmanship of companies like Prestige, plus the dedication of their owners, these remarkable early birds continue to soar.