My Classic Car: Dad’s 7-year restoration project

Steven bought the 1960 Thunderbird from his father, who later did its restoration

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1960 Thunderbird
Steven's father bought this 1960 Thunderbird, but never got around to restoring it until after he sold it to his son

This 1960 Ford Thunderbird convertible was purchased by the family back in 1977. It was an Arizona car originally and we had been looking for a Squarebird for some time. We already had purchased a 1958 T-Bird as a “parts car” in anticipation of getting a better one to work on.

This car sat pretty much unrestored from when we got it in 1977 until the 1990s. I had decided at that time to purchase it from my father, Dave. He was a career mechanical engineer, started with Chrysler in Detroit and eventually went to Oldsmobile in the early 1960s. He finished his career in 1999 as chief engineer of BOC (Buick-Olds-Cadillac).

I was/still am not anywhere near as mechanically inclined as dad. So when I agreed to buy the car from him one prerequisite was “let’s make sure it starts and runs.” 

The car had been stored from 1977 to late 1990s, only started maybe twice a year. It had not been plated or road driven since we owned it.

The “let’s make sure it starts and runs” program started with a flush and fill of the radiator, and replacing the valve cover gaskets. It quickly spiraled into Dad saying:

“Now that valve covers are off might as well paint them.”

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OK Dad.

“Now that valve covers are off, might as well rebuild valves, lifters, etc. So I’m goanna pull engine to do that.”

OK Dad.

“Now that engine is pulled might as well paint the engine compartment.”

OK Dad.

Now that engine is pulled might as well drop the brake lines and replace them.”

OK Dad.

And so it went, with “ Now that engine is pulled and power train disconnected, might as well overhaul transmission and rear end… Now that the powertrain is is out might as well drop gas tank and undercoat entire car. Now that the gas tank is out might as well flush and clean that. 

“Now that we’ve got the engine, powertrain and gas tank out, might as well pull bumpers, trim, handles, etc. and get exterior body painted…Now that we are going to paint the body, might as well get all the bumpers, trim, handles either cleaned or re-chromed. Now that we’ve done so much work on the body might as well replace or repair interior pieces.”

It took about seven years of my Dad working on the 1960 here and there, but it’s as close to a frame-off restoration as you can get. It’s a head turner with about 1,200 miles now on the rebuild. 

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Not to mention all the love that went into the project.

— Steven Violetta, DeWitt MI

The car is nicknamed Audrey, after Audrey Hepburn. As Steven puts it, she’s ‘classy, timeless and head-turning beautiful. ‘

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful T-Bird. It is a familiar story. Once you get started it’s hard to stop with making improvements. “While I’m here I might as well do __________.” In the end you have a more reliable car and if you do it right you’ll always be happy with it.

    I’m too impatient to go 7 years. My ’66 T-bird took 1 year and my ’64 1/2 Mustang was done in 9 months.

  2. I love anything with a Father and Son working together and this story has a happy ending. I wish I could see them driving it down the highway with the top down having a great ride.

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