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Time Capsule T-Bird

By: Mike Lawson
Jacobus, PA

Have you ever wished you could find a car that had been stored when almost new and had remained unused and unmolested for over thirty years? That’s what this story is about. To begin, we have to go back in time over 44 years.

The car of interest is a 1960 Thunderbird, which was built on October 23, 1959 at the Ford assembly plant in Wixom, Michigan. It was an early production car being serial number 8,428 in a total run of 92,465 for the model year. Raymond J. Carolla, the first owner, purchased the car on November 6, 1959 from the Toohey Motor Co. in Munhall, PA near Pittsburgh. The original window sticker shows a list price of $4,448.70. Equipment included automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, radio, windshield washer, backup lights and whitewall tires.

Mr. Carolla used the car regularly for the first few years. The oil change stickers showed 13,389 miles had been accumulated by October 1962 and 17,111 miles by May of 1966. For some unknown reason in 1967, the car was put in a heated garage up on blocks and was not to be driven again for 34 years.

Now, Back to the Future! Mr.Carolla passed away in 1998. He had never married and consequently, two nephews inherited his house with the car still in the garage. They had no idea of the cause for the long period of storage, so it unfortunately remains a mystery.

In early 2001, I was looking for a nice 1960 Thunderbird. After seeing many rusted, patched up and sorry looking examples, I heard of a car that sounded too good to be true. Through a chance encounter, I met a car collector at Spring Carlisle who said he was close to obtaining a 1960 T-Bird that had 17,800 original miles and had not been driven since 1967. Naturally, I told him that I was interested, gave him my phone number and figured that would be the end of it. After all, someone else is always the one to get a “The One That Got Away”, right?

Much to my surprise a few weeks later, I got a phone call and learned that the car was now available and I had first rights to buy it. The next week I took a trip to Pittsburgh to get a firsthand look at the Thunderbird I thought I would never find.

Incredibly, it was even better than I imagined it would be. It was if someone had put the car in the garage the previous night and I saw it the next morning… only the next morning was thirty-four years later. It still had the license plate and inspection sticker from 1967. The car truly appeared as if it had been inside a Time Capsule and the best part was the fact that there was absolutely no rust whatsoever. A new fuel pump had been installed and the engine started and ran from a gas can. It sounded great! The interior looked brand new with the exception of the drivers seat bottom where the vinyl had split. In the trunk I found the window sticker, owners manual, shop manual, ROT sheet and other assorted original literature. Closer inspection revealed that the only other parts that had ever been replaced were the tires, battery, ignition wires, fan belts, and radiator hoses. Needless to say, I agreed to purchase the car and arranged to have it trailered to my home near York, PA.

Within days, the car was safely inside my garage and I began the job making it operable once again. The first thing to go was the fuel tank. The old gas, which smelled terrible, had turned corrosive and ruined the tank. A reproduction tank was installed. All the hydraulic parts in the brake system had suffered from the long storage. New cylinders, hoses, etc. were installed and the system was thoroughly flushed. The gear lube in the differential had turned into something thick and nasty which required the rear end to be removed, disassembled and cleaned out. New gaskets and seals were put in and the unit reinstalled.

The cooling system contained antifreeze that had been there since the Johnson administration (it was still green!) and the system seemed clean and leak free. As luck would have it, the radiator leaked after being flushed. A local shop recored it and it was ready for action. The original heater hoses were still intact but were replaced as a precaution along with all the other hoses and belts.

The grease in the front wheel hubs had thinned out and leaked, causing problems with the wheel bearings and brake shoes. These were all replaced with new parts. One of the original front shocks was leaking so a new pair was installed. The entire exhaust system was still original but only the mufflers needed replacement due to some small pinholes. Unbelievably, when the clamps were loosened, the tailpipes pulled out of the mufflers by hand!

Replacement tires must have been installed just before the car went into storage. They appeared brand new but had developed flat spots because the car had been stored on stands with the tires just touching the floor. The original B.F. Goodrich Silvertown spare was in the trunk and identical reproductions were obtained from Coker Tire. A reproduction tar top battery was installed and the time for a test drive had arrived. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I decided to stay within easy walking distance of home. Well, I shouldn’t have worried because the car drove flawlessly. It was tight, quiet and had a great ride. No wonder why Thunderbirds were so popular in 1960!
I’ve driven it about 1200 miles now and so far there have been no problems. Everything works including the radio and (after a little coaxing) even the clock and windshield wipers. It’s very satisfying to have a car that not only looks new but also operates like new.

While working on this car I found many seldom seen original details. Some examples are the part number stenciled on the driveshaft, a cardboard ID tag attached to the engine by a waterpump bolt; a date stenciled on the radiator and numerous paint inspection stamps. FORD was ink stamped inside the hubcaps and the original TungSol headlight bulbs said “Made for Ford”. The original valve cover gaskets were still in place and held to the cover with staples. The car still had the original fuel filter and air filter. Even the rubber plugs for the brake adjusting holes had Ford part numbers. I’ve never before owned an antique car that was this original and it has been a great experience to both work on and study.

Regrettably, I had to get the seats recovered due to the insert material being extremely brittle from age. Back in the 60’s, the front end had been repainted due to some very minor damage on the right fender just under the headlight and the paint was about a half shade off color. I decided that the rest of the car was so nice that I just had to repaint the entire lower body so everything would match properly. With this work completed, the car truly looks showroom new.

This “Time Capsule” survivor is a wonderful car to drive and a pleasure to own. My goal is to keep this car as original as possible while driving it and having it serve as a reference for others restoring similar cars.