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Customs 64-66 Thunderbirds - Performance potential?

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by OrneryDuck, Mar 24, 2014.

  1. OrneryDuck
    Joined: Oct 19, 2012
    Posts: 26


    I've always had an affinity for the 64' Tbirds, not sure why, but they always drew my attention as a kid traversing classic car shows. I'm not sure what route I'd take with one if I got it, I don't think high-performance is really in their nature...

    It seems that they are sort of an aside to traditional hot rodding/period-performance despite being very popular in the era. The Galaxie is of similar size to the 'bird but garners much more popularity both at the time and in the present. Was there a reason for that? Affordability? The fact that the Galaxies are full-frame vs. unibody? I would have thought the Tbirds would be lighter than Galaxies due to the unibody design, but a lot of what I've read states that a Thunderbird can be as much as 1000lbs heavier than a Galaxie, depending upon options!

    What is the HAMB feeling toward the flairbirds?
  2. finn
    Joined: Jan 25, 2006
    Posts: 985


    Ford's initial unibody offerings weren't lightweights by any means. Contemporary road tests bear this out. Ford didn't have the math tools that later became available to really do a good job of designing these things, so they ended up throwing metal at them for strength. Computational power was in it's infancy back then. It was pretty much draw it up, make some prototypes, lay a few strain gages, and let it rip.

    The default design was to "more steel".

    Quite different from today where every part is modeled before a single prototype is built.

    I was just getting my license when those were new cars. They were cruisers, not hot rods.
  3. gatz
    Joined: Jun 2, 2011
    Posts: 1,645


    Brother had a 63 'bird, 390 3sp. was kinda doggy because of the weight. It sure was nice to drive or ride in tho'

    Friend had a 64 Impala 283 4dr that left it in the dust.
  4. OrneryDuck
    Joined: Oct 19, 2012
    Posts: 26


    Were they pretty solid/rigid as a result of the 'overbuilding'? Surprising that Ford went unibody with the Tbird instead of just using the well-established Galaxie frame that would have met their dimensional requirements. I know they were driving toward unibodies (Falcon/Cougar/Mustang), but that was even a couple years after the Tbird made the change.

    I have a 'quick car' that suites all modern practicalities and fuel economy, so building for performance isn't a priority. It'd be nice to have a comfy boat that could move when it needed to, but my expectations are reasonably low. Getting the 0-60 down from 11-12 seconds to 8-9 seconds and a more competent suspension would be stellar. I'd probably keep it 390/3-spd since any decent OD transmissions would require a far newer drivetrain. I imagine a bit more gearing would help get her moving too, at the expense of economy.

    Forming an understanding of limits and alternatives now is better than after I've set unrealistic expectations and bought the chassis.

  5. chopolds
    Joined: Oct 22, 2001
    Posts: 6,023

    from howell, nj
    1. Kustom Painters

    Always thought of it as a luxury car, not a hot rod.
  6. Atwater Mike
    Joined: May 31, 2002
    Posts: 10,800

    Atwater Mike

    From some of the '65s I've seen 'fixed up', I'd call 'em lo-riders.
  7. carmak
    Joined: Aug 8, 2005
    Posts: 451


    I have worked on 61-63 Birds for many years and they are essentially the same as the 64-66 Birds under the skin. Here are my thoughts.

    Typically well built, if not rusty they wear like iron. The demo derby guys love them here in Iowa.

    They are not expensive to buy in nice shape - so buy a nice one. The cost of fixing one up is expensive.

    The 390/Dual range Cruieamatic are well suited to them. 390's make lots of torque. Most people don't know how the Dual range Cruiseamatic works, when it's in D1 (where drive should be) it starts you out in second gear and short shifts, when it's in D2 (where 2nd should be) it starts you in first and lets the eninge rev a little before shifting. If you drive them in D2 they feel a lot less slow.

    If the exhaust manifolds leak you are going to need to pull the heads, plane them and the manifolds and then use FORD head sheild steel gaskets and nothing else.

    The 65-66 bird had factory disk brakes and 15" wheels.

    The power windows will stick if they sit for any length of time but they are really easy to take apart, clean up and get working again.

    50 year old Ford wiring - nuff said

    Stay away from convertibles (see above). You have better things to do with you time.

    I have seen a few done in a light custom/street machine/light hot rod style with cool wheels and custom paint (but not lowered) and they look good.

    Good luck!

    Riverside, Iowa
  8. mustangsix
    Joined: Mar 7, 2005
    Posts: 1,302


    Bullet Birds weigh about 4400 lbs. That's only a little more than a new Dodge Challenger weighs and I bet there's a few places to trim some poundage.....
  9. rickl
    Joined: Aug 3, 2012
    Posts: 103


    I helped a friend with his 64.
    A larger front sway bar helps with handling the big land yacht.
    64's have front drum brakes but I've read 65 disk brake bits will fit.
    Watch out for old wiring. Reworking ammeter to volt meter might prevent a fire under the dash.
    Parts are pretty easy to get.
    It is a wide car so lowering the car looks great.
    Tranny tunnel is pretty tight with the fmx. Might need a big ford hammer to fit an AOD.
  10. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,613

    Rusty O'Toole

    The Galaxie was a lot more popular (sold more) because it was more practical for a family car, and because it was cheaper.

    The Tbird was an out and out luxury car, more a replacement for the Lincoln Continental than the 2 seater Tbird of 55 - 57.

    There is no reason you can't build a performance version if you want to, although the weight is going to slow it down. In spite of its smaller size and unit construction, it weighs more than a Galaxie.

    Under the hood you have room for any motor, the Lincoln 430 was optional, the Ford 428 or Lincoln 460 will fit.
  11. Here is mine, stock 390 rated at 300 hp. I want to drop the front end a couple of inches and go with disc brakes.

    Attached Files:

  12. OrneryDuck
    Joined: Oct 19, 2012
    Posts: 26


    Fortunately for me, they are mostly ignored by collectors and modders, leaving lots of unmolested 'birds at a fairly low price. I was considering getting a rougher one on the cheap and working it over, but given the small difference to one that is already in good shape, I may just wait a little longer for a nice one.

    The 'vert has a nice look, but I've never had much interest in dealing with the extra headaches of a convertible car, especially not an old one. The standard hard top really does it for me, nice and simple to look after and it suits the rest of the car nicely.

    That is a sharp-looking car! 64's are certainly my favorite, just the right placement of badging, best-looking seats and standard interior trim as well as the more-prominent hood that was lost in 66'.
  13. earlyv8
    Joined: Jan 13, 2007
    Posts: 194

    from oklahoma


    I had a 62 sports roadster that was no slouch, and when compared to my new 63 300 hp Impala hard top was a rocket in both handling and running.

    The Tbird did not have ac and had manual windows (only one I ever saw equipped that way) Sold new in Grand Junction Co.

    Ordered a new 64 Galaxie 500 2 dr ht and it was a much harder runner than the BIRD.
  14. Yutan Flash
    Joined: Aug 6, 2008
    Posts: 755

    Yutan Flash
    from Gretna, NE

    Huh? Evidently you've never been to a Vintage Thunderbird Club International event. At VTCI events I have attended for over 30 years, typically half the cars there are '64-'66s, so I'd hardly call that ignored by collectors, especially with the parts support that's available for them. General interest outside of T-bird enthusiast circles, though, does bear out the ignored/overlooked comment when compared to similar cars like Rivieras, or more-muscular/performance-oriented versions of full-size Fords/Mercs/Chevys/Pontiacs/MoPars. I think this is in part due to the perceived rarity/desirability of the big-block full-size cars, coupled with their relative simplicity and better performance numbers than the heavier, cruiser-inspired and heavily gadgeted T-birds. Likewise modifying a full-size Ford/Chevy/etc. was somewhat easier in that period aftermarket support and interest was present along with a wide range of price points from the stripper-type Custom 300s/Biscaynes to the high-end 500/XLs/SSs, while the T-bird was a unique line to itself with only a difference in trim levels (Landau vs standard-model Hardtop).

    The T-bird came standard with a 390-4v from '61-'66 with a 3-2v 390 optional in '62-'3 and a 428-4v optional in '66 (NO MEL-series 430s were available after 1960 in the 'Bird, BTW), and the only transmission available was a dual-range 3-speed automatic ('66 saw introduction of the C6, which gradually took over for the cast-iron MX transmission). I always found it odd that Ford didn't go the route of Buick by offering a 2-4v version of the 390/428 and create a GT-type model like was done with the Riviera GS' 425. Enhancing the 'Bird's performance by introducing the 428 in '66 but not playing up this aspect didn't help, either, but then again Ford was relying on the Mustang, Fairlane and Galaxie platforms for their "Total Performance" program by that time.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2014

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