OK, this has nothing to do with Thunderbird restoration but it’s a concept that’s just out-of-this-world.  GM designers are toying with the idea of a thorium-fueled Caddy.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

As a “barn find” discovered in a junkyard storage module on the outskirts of Titan City in the year 2135, it’s sure to be a classic restoration project.




Toward the end of 2014 there were engine problems, so it was hoisted out, partially rebuilt (including a new hydraulic roller camshaft), and reinstalled.  Recently it was successfully restarted. 

The dog was so happy he was jumping for joy!

The new camshaft package has the advantages of modern engineering redesign and is optimized to provide more low-end power to my stock Ford 390 engine. The new camshaft package came from Competition Cams™ and includes hydraulic roller lifters. Stock hydraulic lifters contact the cam with a flat bottom surface, whereas the roller lifters contact the cam with a small rotating roller resulting in a smoother, less fricative lift.

Installing the new cam and lifters requires a detailed series of test measurements, referred to as “degreeing the cam.” Performing the tests ensures that the new cam fits properly and will operate without damage to the engine. This took a few weeks for me to complete because I didn’t fully comprehend the reasoning behind each measurement. My research was supported by the advice of, and challenges set by, my automotive mentors.

This is the order in which the measurements should be done.
1. Check the “run-out” of the installed camshaft
2. Align the crankshaft sprocket, camshaft sprocket, and timing chain for Top Dead Center (TDC).
3. Using the degree wheel, find the true TDC of the crankshaft.
4. Find the highest point (center) of the camshaft lifter lobe.
5. Establish where the cam lobe center occurs relative to TDC. Check that point against the specifications provided by the cam manufacturer.
6. Using an adjustable pushrod, measure the required pushrod length.
7. Measure to ensure sufficient clearance between the valves and pistons.
8. Purchase a set of pushrods of the measured length and install.

After reassembling the engine, it started and ran OK.  But only just OK because, despite smooth idle and acceleration, there’s a tapping noise emanating from the valve covers, which is louder on the right side. I removed the valve covers to locate the source of the tapping. The oiling was good, no bent pushrods, and no valve lash. What else could it be?


Bend in Splash Pan to Prevent Lifter Bar Tapping (click to enlarge)

I suspect the noise to be one of the roller lifter retaining bars tapping against the sheet metal splash pan that’s under the intake manifold. (I noticed that that could happen when I was degreeing the cam. Was mindful of that when I reassembled the top end, but perhaps not careful enough.) My theory is supported by a mentor at Squarebirds.com, who also had this problem. Here’s a photo of his 390 showing how to bend up the splash pan so that it clears the lifter hardware.

 So once again (I’ve lost count how many times!), the intake manifold had to be removed, repairs made, engine reassembled and restarted.

Bending the baffle in the indicated spot did clear the #1 lifter bar, but then I had clearance problems at the #8 position. Truth is, the whole baffle is warped and defies attempts to bend it back to its original shape.

To ensure clearances I installed stand-offs.The stand-offs are 2″ Baffle1tall.  Each stand-off is secured with a lock washer, opposing nuts, and sealer. The stand-offs are positioned to contact the “V” in the valley behind/between the lifter sets, so that the stand-offs stay put.

Click the photos to enlarge.




Here are the pics of my friend’s 1957 T-bird. Purchased in 1958, he’s the second owner. The last time it was running was when his kids drove it as their high school car. It’s been stored in his former gin mill (now an antique shop) for the last 25 years. The engine is a 292. The original paint was a coral red, not the current green.

He wants to get it running again. The starter turns the engine smoothly, no problem there. Frozen carb accelerator pump (I’m currently rebuilding the carb). Rusted fuel line to the carb (replaced). He’s removing the fuel tank (seems to be rust-free) to drain, clean, seal. Some rusty ignition wiring.

57-1 57-8
57-2 57-3
57-4 57-5
57-6 57-7
Hairline crack (right) and partial repair (left)  (click to enlarge)

Hairline crack (right) and partial repair (left)
(click to enlarge)

The brass coolant reservoir tank sprang a leak along its edge seal. You can see the hairline crack in the accompanying photo. Since a new unit costs $200+tax+shipping, it was worth trying to repair it. Here’s how it was done.


Brass Strip

• Cut a piece of brass shaped to wrap the edges of the tank.  The serrations are cut so that the strip can bend smoothly around the tank’s curved corner.

• Clamping it to the top edge on one side, solder it in place, then curve the strip around the corner and solder it to the top edge on the other side.
• Flow solder along the entire top edge, making sure the joint is completely covered.
• Tapping with a small brad hammer, gently bend the brass strip around the tank’s edge. Use pliers to finish bending the strip so that it makes a tight fit against the edge’s underside.
• Flow solder along the bottom seam between the strip and tank edge, ensuring complete coverage.

The first photo shows the tank partially repaired on the left side.

I found that using a 40 watt soldering iron doesn’t provide sufficient heat. A propane plumbing torch provides too much heat, causing solder to slide off the connections. What worked best for me was a butane mini soldering torch (e.g., Bernzomatic #ST250, available at Lowes for $20).

Coolant tank repaired, painted, installed . (click to enlarge)

Coolant tank repaired, painted, installed .
(click to enlarge)

Here’s a shot of the successfully repaired tank.




Last winter was eternal, making it difficult to work on the car. This blog fell by the wayside. A benevolent spring brought opportunity to get back on track. There is much to recall.

To begin, the engine, which had been running nicely, developed a serious problem. Back when I installed the new fuel tank, I had drained the old tank of the sludge and some old leaded gas. I filtered the gas, about two gallons, and stored it. Being the responsible sort, I didn’t want to pour the gas out onto the ground and, thinking it could do no harm, mixed it 50/50 with the unleaded gas the engine was running on.

Soon thereafter the engine began to run badly, coughing and sputtering. Spark plugs became fouled. Even after cleaning the plugs the engine wouldn’t run on all cylinders.

Removing the valve covers revealed several bent pushrods.  Removing the heads revealed blackened pistons. Valve stems were coated with a varnish-like gummy residue.

Bent Pushrods (click to enlarge

Bent Pushrods
(click to enlarge

Blackened Pistons  (click to enlarge)

Blackened Pistons
(click to enlarge)

Fouled Valve (click to enlarge)

Fouled Valve
(click to enlarge)

All the valves had to be disassembled from the head and cleaned. Indeed, some of the valves were frozen in their guides by the “varnish.” Those had to be soaked overnight in lacquer thinner and tapped free with a rubber hammer.

I also partially disassembled the carburetor, carefully cleaning out all passages with denatured alcohol and compressed air.

Luckily, the one silver lining is that the engine was being fueled via a gas can attached to the fuel pump – my new gas tank was uncontaminated.

The remaining task was to replace the bent pushrods. Old Ford engines don’t have a screw on the rocker arm to adjust valve lash to the pushrod length. With a Ford engine the pushrods must be of predetermined lengths, measured and selected such that there is no valve lash. Having to do that and not confident about the state of the old lifters, I decided to upgrade to a new hydraulic roller lifter and camshaft system.

Installation of the new cam system required a series of accurate measurements (with the engine removed from the car), to be discussed in an upcoming blog post.

 In view of my wife’s opinion* (outrageous!)  that I’m accident prone (what about mitigating circumstances?), I endeavor to take a most overcautious stance regarding work safety.  So, to this point the engine has been running with fuel supplied from a gas can connected to the fuel pump hose. There’s no gas in the gas tank yet. That’s because I’m completing body repairs in the rear of the car. Welding and grinding creates heat and sparks — very dangerous near gas fumes.

Most of the body of the ‘66 Thunderbird is double-walled, with exterior and interior walls welded together at the edges, forming a strong structure resistant to bending and vibration. The downside is that (1) it makes the car very heavy and (2) water and moist dirt have a tendency to become trapped in between the walls at the bottom joints causing rusting from the inside to the exterior surfaces of both walls.

The accompanying diagram shows the left wheel well area.


Rust Repair Process

In this case the rust had eaten through both walls and also weakened the structural integrity of the wheel well curvature.  It’s best to make repairs to an acceptable standard of industry practice. In cases where rust has completely eaten away the metal, I start by cutting away the rusted areas leaving solid metal,  then welding in new sheet metal using a MIG welder.

In this particular area, cutting away the rust left nothing to weld new metal to.  Also needed was a solid restoration of the wheel well curvature.  For that I used a length of ¼” square rod, bent to the wheel well curvature and welded to where the existing metal was still solid.

Before welding in new metal, the existing metal is thoroughly cleaned of rust and treated with Eastwood™ Rust Converter to ensure that the area won’t oxidize further. (Note that the Rust Converter is great stuff but, at about $32/quart + shipping, is expensive.) Once the new metal is welded in place the weld spots are smoothed with a grinder. Next, Bondo is applied and sanded smooth (repeating until the surface conforms perfectly to body contours). Rubberized undercoat is applied to the interior joints and wall surfaces to seal them from moisture so that they never rust again. The undercoat also serves to quiet the car. Then the exterior surfaces are primed and painted.

Door prior to disassembly.

Door prior to disassembly.

Door Disassembled

Door Disassembled

The car doors had been removed in order to have access to the car’s interior and to make it easier to restore operation of the windows and locks. The rust on the doors was not as severe as the rear quarter panel discussed above.

In this case the rust had created pin-holes in the metal but didn’t eat away enough of the metal to require new metal inserts. To repair pin-holes, both sides of the panel are sanded then treated with Rust Converter. A fiberglass patch is applied to the interior of the panel, followed by a thin coat of Bondo on the exterior. The interior is undercoated.

Door interior bottom showing dirt and trash that cause rust

Door interior bottom showing dirt and trash that cause rust

Interior of door, cleaned, treated and sealed.

Interior of door, cleaned, treated and sealed.

If you’re doing this for your own car there are two products I recommend that will save money. To seal joints, apply with a brush Henry™ Plastic Roof Cement (available from Home Depot for about $9/gallon). The other product is the Rubberized Undercoating available from Harbor Freight, less than $5 for a large spray can.



*Do note that I adore my wife. Although I portray her in the She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed stereotype, that is merely a literary device. She is without doubt the best that’s ever happened to me. For too many years I avoided getting married, living a life of international travel and the freedom to adventure as I pleased. That’s a great life for a young man, but along the way I met men like me who had grown old, bitter, and lonely because they never married. The woman who is now my wife rescued me from that fate.


As you can see from the video, the engine starts and runs fairly smooth. It took a long time to arrive. In addition to a few mechanical problems, there were family exigencies to attend to during the summer.

Actually the engine first started in late July, but noticing that there was no oil circulating through the rocker arms I immediately shut it off. I now know that it’s important to prime the oil system prior to initial start. To do that with the engine not running, one removes the distributor and operates the oil pump with a priming tool, which is just an extension of the pump shaft attached to an electric drill.

It still needs to be tuned up and to do that the car needs to be drivable. That requires further reassembly of the car. Much of that reassembly had been put off until I was confident the engine would not have to be removed to correct an as yet unforeseen problem.

So, moving forward the next near-term milestones will be:

• Complete painting of car interior
• Finish restoration of dashboard
• Install dashboard, instrumentation,
• Reassemble steering column and install
• Install driver’s seat
• Connect shift linkage
• Remove remaining surface rust from underbody, seal and undercoat.
• Re-plumb brake system, install and test brakes
• Mount tires and test drive train
• Fine tune engine

It’s been about a year now and, judging by the pictures below, you might think that there hasn’t been much progress.  It’s just that there is so much prep work that goes into the foundational elements.  As a typical example, you can’t run the car without gas, but the trunk had to be repaired before the gas tank could be installed.  And every task seems to take twice as long as predicted.

But now we’re finally at the point where the focus is starting the engine So all  the hoses, wiring, and linkages are being reinstalled.  The starter has been installed and tested — it turns the engine freely and  there are no oil leaks.   Hopefully, my next post will be a short video of a running Ford 390.  Stay tuned.  Cheers!

(Note that clicking on any picture will enlarge it to full size.)

The [mostly] reassembled engine, ready for installation  (click to enlarge)

The [mostly] reassembled engine, ready for installation
(click to enlarge)

Recent progress was marked yesterday when my brother Erik and I moved the engine from the sunporch in my house to the work area next to the car.  Moving the stripped engine block to the sunporch had been a relatively easy one-man job.  But after installing crankshaft, pistons, heads, intake manifold, et al, the combined assembly weighed considerably more.  Strapped to a hand truck, it required the use of a floor jack just to tip it back so it could be rolled outside.  Then we used the floor jack to tip it back upright.

Other progress has been made prepping the car for the engine installation.

The interior of the car has been scraped, sanded, primed and sealed.  Special attention is being paid to upgrading the soundproofing using modern materials.

We  removed the doors to make access in and around the car easier.  It’s also easier to work the doors on a bench surface rather than on the car, and makes it easier to prime and paint the door jambs and fenders.

The old heating unit has been removed and the combined air conditioning/heating unit procured and awaiting installation.

The gas tank was removed for cleaning and sealing. The tank drained a few gallons of decades old, rusty gasoline sludge.   The sending unit was rusted out and will be replaced with a new one.  I’m cleaning the inside of the tank by inserting a heavy chain and sloshing it around in muriatic acid.  When the rinse comes out clean, the tank will be dried and sealed with a product called Red Kote.

Removal of the fuel tank allows access to the car underside so that rusty surfaces can be treated and sealed.