September 26, 2019

Mom's T-Bird Goes Rogue! 1959 Thunderbird SEMA Build


Flash back to 1961: "Pop's" is nervously deciding whether to purchase the highest priced car he's ever looked at, a 1959 Thunderbird, for his wife. It's not a new car, with a list price of about $3600 that is out of the question! But a 3 year old car is still a big investment.

It had low miles, was in good running condition and would be reliable for her and the kids to get around town, but still! That sticker price! 

It never would have occurred to him that some day the car will be worth MORE than what he paid. And why would he think that? After all, it's just a car! It get's you from point A to point B and the more you use them the more they cost you until they are worth less than the parts to fix them! Right? 

Luckily, Pop's found the gumption to make the purchase in 1961 becoming the 2nd owner of the Colonial White Ford powered by a 352 FE engine and C-6 transmission. He drove it home to give to his wife and thus, the '59 Thunderbird became "mom's car.

The family pictured in front of the '59 Thunderbird 
The kids are ready for Easter! circa 1965

Last tagged in Missouri in 1992, the car has been mostly summer driven and stored for the majority of it's life, which has saved most of the body of the car and made it into something of a time capsule. When removing the seats and carpet, some treasures from the past were found like Battleship  board game pieces in the back seat, a bouncy ball and a wrapper from M&M Lime Chewies (Curious? Here's more info at "in the 70's" these later became Starburst!). 


How did the car end up here at Driven?...
T-bird in the garage
A view of the T-bird from the yard circa late 1960's
About 6 months ago, in June 2018, we were contacted to do an estimate. The family asked us what it would take to bring this beauty back to her former glory AND add a little more "oomph" under the hood. The best part? Pop's will get to see the Rogue Thunderbird when it's revealed next fall.
Ready for transport. The Thunderbird was ready for the car hauler to bring it to our shop, Driven Restorations in October 2018
Naturally, when the family got in touch we were THRILLED to hear the story behind this car. The request was to make it safe, and comfortable for cross country travel while also not having to stop every 50 miles for fuel. This is our solution!

2016 Gen II Coyote Engine
The Plan:
  • 435HP Gen II Ford Performance Coyote 5.0L Naturally aspirated engine with a 6 speed transmission 
  •  A lower stance on a Scott's Hot Rod's Chassis with coil over suspension and disc brakes and 9" Moser rear axle
  • 18" Shelby 427 wheels 
  • While preserving the original styling of the interior, upholstery will be upgraded to leather with charcoal accents and embroidery. The dash will have updated gauges, Vintage Air A/C system and a Bluetooth radio,  
 Excited about the prospect of a "sleeper" look with a modern drive line we put together the proposal for the owners and set the start date for October 2018, with SEMA, November 2019 as our target for the big reveal. That is a whole lot of change to get done in 12 months but we are up for the challenge! 

 With any build of this scope an artist rendering is a must, so we commissioned "Pinstripe Chris" Dunlop put together the following image: 
1959 Thunderbird SEMA 2019 Build rendering Created by Pinstripe Chris Dunlop

Officially underway, you will be able to see this car at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas for the 2019 Battle of the Builders!

》The Thunderbird has Landed: October 2018《

COUNTDOWN BEGINS: 1 Year until SEMA 2019

The Thunderbird is delivered to the shop just before winter begins in WI 

The 352 FE engine was running after some "redneck engineering" under the hood (see the mason jar?) to get fuel going to carb. Luckily the brakes decided to work as well!

The Colonial White 1959 Thunderbird  arrived at Driven Restorations. This was our first in person viewing of the condition of the car. There were a few dents , but the worse parts were found in the lower quarters and rocker panels. Rust has gotten all the way through the rockers, front and back lower quarters and trunk extensions on both sides of the car. 

Even the lights at the rear of the car were still working. The taillight assemblies will remain mostly the same, but the top and side of the surround will be chrome to give it the appearance of a "wrap around" bumper.
Original dealer sticker on the trunk lid: "Cicero West Suburban Ford"
It doesn't happen often, but this car came to the shop COMPLETE. It has all of it's original trim and interior parts either in working order, or in good enough condition to refinish and restore and in some cases, adapt to the modern drive line. 
58,554 original miles. The dash pad has seen better days, but the gauges and interior trim are in great condition

At some point in the past, the seats were re-covered with the inserts changed from white to black. The next interior will be leather and the design will go back to original style of white inserts with black bolsters Keeping the black carpet and dash pad, we will tie in the the  charcoal gray exterior paint color to be used on the roof into some accents and embroidery on the interior.

1959 Thunderbird Interior is all black with gold piping. Originally it came with white inserts in the seats.

The interior is mostly original appearing and in very good condition with the only floor rot being found in the far front corner of the driver side
A look in the engine bay with the original 352 engine

Tear Down and Inspection begins:November 2nd 2018

Photo documentation of the under body is JUST as important as the rest of the car. Before we've turned a single wrench to start parts removal we already have over 500 photos and several video's documenting EVERY part and panel in it's "original" condition
Tear down begins with hood and then engine and transmission removal 

Within 4 hours, Steve had the original 352 and transmission removed from the car and ready to put up for sale. 

Steve is using the cherry picker to pull the engine out of the engine bay

Say goodbye to the old 352...You, dear Thunderbird, are getting an upgrade!
How does a Gen II Ford Performance Coyote engine sound?
The first time the engine bay has been empty for this family T-bird! Even though the biggest part is removed, the rest of the parts will take several hours and LOTS of PB blaster to get the engine bay and under body fully stripped down

With the car on the lift, we removed the wheels and began removing brakes, brake lines, gas tank, fuel lines and electrical running to the rear of the body

Original trunk liner, spare tire and skirts 

The build sheet was found under the rear seat bottom.
It is still in remarkable condition!
Build sheet found!
One of the best parts of starting tear down is finding and preserving data plates, build sheets, service tags etc. We decode the VIN tag and build sheet for all the cars that arrive in our shop. Here is a decoding guide for the '59 Thunderbird vin and build sheet. This car was built June 23rd for delivery to Richmond and it has the Cruise-O-Matic transmission paired with the 352ci engine and a rear axle with 3.1 gears. The trim and paint colors also match the coding. 

Whether restoring a recent purchase or preserving a "survivor" car, documentation is a MUST HAVE !!!! If you need proof of value for insurance, for an estate or if you're planning to sell, an appraiser will ask for any and all documents verifying the car's history. If you have historical documents like window stickers, bill of sale or build sheet, it also makes excellent conversation and display pieces at shows and with other classic car lovers. 

In the case of this Thunderbird build, because we will be changing the cars engine and drive line, the photos, parts receipts and detailed invoices are crucial for determining build value and proving the quality of work put into the restoration. Especially when doing a custom job, it becomes very complicated to find "comparable sales" and you will have to rely on actual receipts and finish quality more heavily. 

Need an appraisal or more information on valuation? Contact us at Driven Restorations We can provide stated value appraisals with comparable sales data

Within 8 hours our team was able to remove the exterior trim, bumpers, door glass and begin removal of seam sealer and roof insulation .  

Door glass and panels are removed along with the glass related hardware and door latches. Then interior window trim, headliner, carpet. insulation, center console and heater controls were taken out. Now the dash and steering column are ready for removal

Final measurements to verify clearance for the new Coyote engine are looking good and should allow us plenty of room in the engine bay. 
The Scott's Hot Rod's Chassis, built specifically for this application and to meet our specification will be here by January to begin fabrication of body mounts and start fitting the body on it's new full frame.


Every part we remove is "bagged and tagged" and sorted into storage boxes until we need it for test fitting or refinishing. 

Now that the car has been torn down to bare bones, we can strip the paint, remove the unibody structure and begin fabrication of the floor and other metal repairs.

Test fitting the transmission tunnel to ensure proper fit with the console and dash

Test fitting the Coyote Engine

Removing the last of the unibody structure so we can install our own reinforcements on the floor

Metal repair and floor Fabrication is wrapping up with fitting the gas pedal assembly

Test fitting the freshly re-chromed bumper

Final sanding the primer and prepping the body for paint...5 weeks to SEMA!
Body color is a pearl white tri-coat, hand picked by the car owners

Original 1959 Ford Thunderbird grill was sent out for chrome. The results did not disappoint!
Freshly painted!

Wow! That pearl shines in the sun! Mom's T-bird went to Manda Marie Upholstery in Appleton for fit and install of custom square weave wool carpet, leather seats and numerous other interior panels.

Even the headliner got the royal treatment. New Material, matched to the leather for the seats and installed by Amanda of Manda Marie Upholstery

The original trunk was plaid, but it was fiberboard, unappealing colors and none of the lines matched! Our solution was a custom designed plaid trunk laid out by Manda Marie Upholstery in Appleton WI.

Final touches under the hood before the first test run. That Coyote 5.0 looks great in that engine bay!

Custom embroidery in memory of Joy. This build was a true honor to bring to fruition for a wonderful Wisconsin family!

Mom's T-Bird, ready for her big reveal at SEMA 2019!
Updated Shelby designed wheels with Hankook tires

What a view!

The interior was created to be as close to original as possible while accommodating upgraded electrical, Vintage Air A/C unit and gauges  

"Pop's" enjoying the new version of the car he purchased for his wife, Joy in 1961. Such an honor to reveal this amazing car to him at The SEMA show in Las Vegas NV in November 2019 at 91 years young!


This beauty came to life in just 10 MONTHS! We can't wait to see where she's headed next, but rumor has it Route 66 is in her future!

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