Dataplate 55, 56, before April 57
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Patent data plates are located on the firewall of the engine compartment near the heater duct. There were two basic styles used between 1955 and 1957 models. The large data plates were used on all 1955-56 Thunderbirds and 1957 models until mid-April. The small data plate was phased in during the week of April 15 to April 19, 1957. The smaller data plates were then used on 1957 models until the end of production of the 1957 Thunderbirds Dec. 13, 1957. The small data plates starting in April 1957 did not show the destination code or scheduled Item number. On the smaller data plates the transmission type and rear axle ratio were shown following the date code.




Tech Tips

Taking Your Car Out of Winter Storage: A Checklist

by Eric Best

Check the battery charge. Make sure terminal connections are snug and corrosion-free.

Inspect wiring and hoses. Check for rodent damage, cracks or loose connections.

Check the battery charge. Make sure terminal connections are snug and corrosion-free.

Inspect wiring and hoses. Check for loose connections.

Make sure oil/fluid levels are normal. Consider an oil change as soon as possible

Check Engine Oil, Transmission Fluid, Brake Fluid, Coolant/Anti-freeze

Check fan belt for cracks and adjustment

Top off air in the tires and make sure tread is intact (no bulges, cracks or bald spots)

Look under the vehicle for signs of fluid leaks. (excessive or abnormal)

Examine and test brakes.

Examine shocks.

Verify headlights, tail lights, turn signals and horn work.

Check for obstructions in the tail pipe.

Air out the interior.

Confirm fire extinguisher status and location.

Verify gas condition and level. (If stored without fuel stabilizer consider draining the old fuel or using a fuel system additive or high-octane gas on fill-up)

When ready to start the engine for the first time after extended storage, it may be advisable to remove spark plugs and spray a small amount of oil into the cylinders. Allow time (a day or more) for it to lubricate cylinder walls before turning the motor.

Removing the air cleaner and spraying a small amount of starting fluid into the carburetor can help avoid excessive cranking.

Once started, allow the car to warm up. Take the time to replace the air cleaner, check transmission fluid and inspect the engine compartment for leaks and unusual noises. Test windshield wiper operation.

Before leaving the driveway, ensure you have your cell phone and a basic tool kit. (If you don’t already have tools in the trunk, you can purchase an inexpensive multi-purpose kit for under $50 at most auto or hardware stores.)

After a 30-minute drive around the neighborhood, recheck fluid levels and investigate any unusual noises.   

Happy Motoring!

 Data Plate information & tables courtesy of C.T.C.I.

Fire extinguishers by Bill Brown

     The February Tech Tip addressed Thunderbird car fires and how to prevent one of the most common sources for the conflagrations, improper tire maintenance. Part II of this article is what type of fire extinguisher should I carry, in case the unthinkable occurs.

     I want to focus on the extinguishers most suitable for car fires, but first let’s make sure we understand the types of fires you could experience out there on the road. Fire types are usually based on the type of fuel that is feeding the fire. The Type A fire is combustible material such as paper, fabric, wood, carpeting, and rubber.  A Type B fire is fueled by flammable liquids such as gasoline and oil in the case of a Thunderbird. The Type C fire pertains to an electrical fire.

     There are several standards for automobile fire extinguishers from the Department of Transportation DOT, Bureau of Motor Carriers, and USCG. They all recommend as a minimum, a 2.5 lbs. dry chemical type. The dry chemical type will be effective on all Type A, B, & C fires. Make sure when purchasing an extinguisher, it is labeled with the ABC logo. Check your extinguisher frequently to make sure the needle is in the green. I check mine every time I drive the bird.

     As far as where to stow the extinguisher in the bird is a matter choice. I have observed extinguishers on the floorboard, in the seat between the driver and passenger, to locked up in the trunk. I have seen three different pictures of flaming birds and the trunk does not look like a good option, IMHO.*  I put mine behind the driver’s seat because, as with any fire, I’ll be getting out of the car quickly and this seems to be the best spot for rapid access.  The author of the Early Bird article about his misfortune with his 57-bird stated, “My one extinguisher could not put out the fire, so I recommend two extinguishers”.  This is something to think about. I will, from now on, be carrying two extinguishers, one behind each seat.

    In summary: know your fire ABC’s, check the gage frequently, and stow where you know it will be when needed, which I hope is never.

              *(in my humble opinion)

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Tbird Tire Safety by Bill Brown


     There has been a lot of tire safety Tech-Tips in the “The Early Bird” over the years; but I continue to read articles and see images of Classic Tbirds sitting along a highway engulfed in flames due to tire related issues. I thought I might do a little research on the topic for the benefit of our club members who do not receive the CTCI publication and share it with you. What follows is information that I have gleaned from a multitude of sources, too many to list here.

     I would like to start with tire maintenance. This topic is pretty straight forward and includes tire inspections, rotations, pressure, and age of the tires. Tire Inspection includes visual checks of the side walls, valve stems and tread condition. With the advent of new tire dressings, the inspection of sidewalls now days may not tell the true story of your tire condition and safety. Considering tire Rotation, tire manufacturers tell us that tires need to be rotated between 5000 and 7000 miles. Let’s face it for most of us classic bird owners this would be on average about once every 3-4 years.

     The remaining two topics require a little more attention. Tire Pressure varies based on the tire type and load ratings. I have narrowed this information down to the two most popular tire types found on most classic birds, the bias ply and the radial with the 2 3/8-inch-wide white walls with a 1400 lbs. rating. The two top manufacturers of these tires are Coker and Diamondback and they both recommend 32 psi for the bias tires and a minimum of 35 psi for the radials. If these pressures are not maintained, sidewall separation or tire failure could occur.

     Tire manufactures claim that tires, like most anything else made of rubber, starts to slowly deteriorate shortly after manufacturing. They all recommend that you replace your tires after 7 years regardless of miles driven or tire condition. This is why the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that all tires manufactured and sold in the USA must have a serial number and Date Code. The date codes format has changed over the years; however, they are basically the same. The date codes are the last 3 or 4 digits of the serial number that is stamped into the sidewall of the tire that faces the underside of the bird. Of course, nothing is ever easy. Up to 1999 this was a three-digit code and since 2000 is a four-digit code. In this format, the first two numbers are the week a tire was manufactured, and the last digit(s) are the last number(s) of the year manufactured. For an example a pre-2000 tire could have XXXXXX 205 which would mean the 20th week of 1995 (this tire should not be on your car). A tire newer than 1999 might, for example, have a XXXXXX4505 date which tells us this tire was manufacture the 45th week of 2005.

     I believe that most of this is just good practice for maintaining any vehicle tires. The date code and tire pressure are the two most important items that must not be overlooked. So, as we make preparations for driving this summer let’s take a little extra time, validate your date codes, and pump up the tire to a safe pressure. A double check of your fire extinguisher is also in order here. More on fire extinguishers (one might not be enough) next month. Remember it is all about Fun, Fun, Fun.

55-57 Thunderbird 

Cracked Exhaust Manifold

       I decided to address this expensive repair since some of our members have experienced this failure recently. It is not what first comes to mind, but this is an indication that your vacuum advance is not working. The spark advance is necessary to advance your timing as you speed up. If it is not working properly the low rpm timing is too slow and bad things start to happen. The main combustion starts occurring late and the exhaust valves are now partially open to the ignited fuel/air mixture (this also leads to fouled plugs; another indication that the vacuum advance is not working). This in turn leads to very high temperatures in the exhaust manifold. If you drive too long in this condition the manifolds will start glowing red and may lead to cracking.

       Troubleshooting for a bad vacuum advance is relatively easy.  It takes just a couple of minutes to check for proper operation. First remove the distributor cap and set it aside, no need to disconnect coil wires. Next, disconnect the vacuum tube that is connected to the distributor diaphragm. With one hand, turn counter-clockwise, the distributor rotor plate until it stops and then with other hand put a finger over the vacuum line connection on diaphragm. Now let go of the rotor plate if it moves, you have a faulty vacuum advance diaphragm.

2002-5 Thunderbird Trunk Release

(Source: Technical Tips from Thunderbird Land by Robert DePaola 5th edit.)

      What happens to your Retro bird if you experience a dead battery, for example you had it stowed for the winter without a trickle charger? Well, the battery is in the trunk and the key fob or the electric release button on the driver’s door will not work with a dead battery. Ford engineers thought of this and installed an emergency key release located behind the driver’s seat. You can use the ignition key and turn the mechanical release to open and the problem is solved. Or is it?

      What happens when you turn the key, and nothing happens or even worse the key will not turn at all? The Retro birds are now reaching 20+ years old. Things start to fail and the trunk mechanical linkage is no exception. Here’s a couple of tricks you can try. First if the key will turn but the lid does not pop open, have someone lift gently on the lid while turning the key. There have been cases where the key will not turn at all. Now what? You can plug a battery charger into your cigarette lighter and reverse charge the battery. Depending on the rating of the charger, this could take as little as 20 minutes of charging to have enough power to pop the trunk lid. Once you get the battery charged or replaced, take the Bird to a repair shop to fix the mechanical locking mechanism.

      There are some preventative measures you can do now to avoid this from happening to your Bird. First locate the key slot behind the driver’s seat and use your key to see if this is functional. I exercise mine at least twice a year. I also spray the key opening with a graphite-based lock fluid such as “LOCK EASE.” If you put the Bird up for the winter without a trickle charge, just leave the trunk open and rest the lid down over a rolled-up towel.

Classic Ford Thunderbird Library
Here's a partial listing of what is out there, including ISBN numbers for almost all of them:

Thunderbird Fifty Years
ISBN: 0760319766
Alan Tast and David Newhardt

Thunderbird! An Illustrated History of the Ford T-Bird
ISBN: 0913056049
Miller, Ray, and Embree, Glenn

Illustrated Thunderbird Buyer’s Guide
ISBN: 1567997538
Mitchel, Doug

Soaring Spirit: 35 Years of the Ford Thunderbird
ISBN: 0915038676
Katz, John F.

Thunderbird 2002
ISBN: 0932128084
Lamm, Michael

Illustrated Thunderbird Buyer’s Guide
ISBN: 0879388706
McLaughlin, Paul

The Thunderbird Story: Personal Luxury
ISBN: 0879380934
Langworth, Richard M.

T-Bird: 40 Years of Thunderbird ISBN: 0873413652
T-Bird: 45 years of Thunderbird ISBN: 0873415817
Standard Catalog of Thunderbirds, 1955-2004
Gunnell, John

The Story of Ford Thunderbirds
ISBN: 0836831918
Wright, David K.


Thunderbird: The High-Flying Ford
ISBN: 0865932549
Craven, Jerry & Linda


ISBN: 1591975832
Rivera, Sheila

Thunderbird: Ford’s High Flier
ISBN: 0896868168
Schliefer, Jay

Thunderbird Milestones
ISBN: 0760304742
Mueller, Mike & Batio, Christopher

Thunderbird, 1955-1966
ISBN: 0760300984
Thunderbird 50 Years
Tast, Alan

Thunderbird: An Odyssey in Automotive Design
ISBN: 0961628936
Dunn, Si - Ford, William C. – Boyer, William P.

Catalog of Thunderbird ID Numbers, 1955-93
ISBN: 1880524147
Motorbooks International


Tech Tips for Operating and Maintaining Your 1955, 1956, 1957 Classic Thunderbird
January 2009 Classic Thunderbird Club International
Item # 110-81
George Barlow and Gil Baumgartner


CTCI Restoration Details & Specifications Manual with Addendums A-J
January 2013 Classic Thunderbird Club International (addendum J)
Item # 110-58FC


Retro Birds


Thunderbird 2002 (This book was in every trunk of 2002 Birds)
ISBN: 0932128084
Michael Lamm


Retro Thunderbird
ISBN 1794703276
Narus, Don

Retro Bird Fuel Tank System

(Paraphrased from Thunderbird Tech Tips 5th Edition by Paul Swearingen)

        The retro bird fuel tank is of the saddle bag style that straddles the drive shaft. When fueling, the primary tank (passenger side) fills up first then the secondary tank (driver’s side].

        The fuel pump module, within the fill side tank, filters and provides fuel to the fuel system lines, filter and injector supply manifold. The fuel pump module has an additional transfer jet pump that pumps fuel via a connecting tube from the secondary tank. As the vehicle is running, fuel is pumped first, from the secondary tank using the jet transfer pump and connecting tube.

        When secondary tank is empty, the fuel pump will start drawing fuel from the primary side. It is a good practice to consider refueling when the gas gauge reads about a ¼ tank because the pump is cooled by the fuel and this practice might help prevent an "over-heat" condition and prolong the life of the fuel pump.

        The saddle fuel tanks use two fuel level sending units. In the fill side, the fuel pump modules contain the primary sending unit which reads: half to empty. The secondary side sending unit reads half to full tank. The PCM sums the readings and sends it to the gauge. The secondary side of the tank is the last to fill and the first to be emptied. If there is fuel left in the secondary side and fuel level in the primary side begins to drop, the PCM will conclude there is a fault with the jet transfer pump. A fault at the secondary side of the tank will cause the gauge to default to the primary side sending unit reading. This results in a maximum reading of half tank. This reading will stay the same until the fuel level on secondary side is empty and fuel on primary side of tank begins to drop. A fault with the primary side sender will cause the tanks to read empty.

Classic Convertible Top Window Care

         Spring is that time of the year when we start to bring out the birds and deploy the convertible tops.  First thing you notice is the condition of the soft top especially the vinyl window. Through the years it has experienced light scratches, scuffs, discoloration or fading. This year you have decided to do something about it.

          There are as many “How To” videos on restoring clear vinyl windows on the web as there are products available. I am not indorsing any particular brand; but, for example there is RENOVO Window Polish, Bestop Vinyl Window Cleaner, McKEE’s 37 Clear Plastic Cleaner and Restorer Kit etc…etc. I have used RENOVO (kind of pricy) in the past with fair results.

          The process is simple. I deploy the soft-top and unzip the window. I place a folded towel on the trunk lid for protection and then follow the instruction provided with the restorer. I then flip the process placing the towel on the deck lid and repeat the procedure for the other side of the window. Now for the hard part, zipping the window back in place.

          Now go out for some fun, fun, fun cruising!                           Bill Brown


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