By on June 8, 2009

Due north of Toronto, TTAC reader Nick R writes:

My dad’s Ford Thunderbird 30th Anniversary Edition (i.e., 1955-1985) hasn’t been started in about two years. It has 140,000km, never been winter driven and its original save for the radio (I still have the non-functioning original one though). I want to start cleaning it up and fixing a few little things, but to do that I have to get it started and run it.

It has been stored outside, under a cover, in my driveway. I know the oil was replaced and the tank filled up just prior to being put in storage. Prior to storage the battery was removed, the oil and coolant changed and the tank filled with gas.

After prolonged storage, is there any special I should do other than dropping a new battery in it? Are the tires likely to be flat spotted? I also need to fix the antenna, which got bent; any tips on finding a replacement for that would be helpful too!

Sajeev answers:

The 30th Anniversary Thunderbird was the first car I drove. I’ll never, ever forget its glowing digi-gauge cluster encouraging me to make things happen with my right foot.  The unique blend of Turbo Coupe underpinnings with a 5.0L mill was awesome. I mean, for the time.

Luckily for me, my brother kept his rare Blue Bird. And it sits around a whole lot these days, lookin’ all sleek and Fox-y in the garage.

So I’d check the brakes: hold the pedal down and listen for a pop. If you hear it, you unfroze a caliper’s dormant piston. If not, you’ll need more than a brake fluid flush/bleed: examine the calipers (front) and wheel cylinders (rear) before you stray too far from the driveway.

Ah, about fluid. Burn off the old gas, re-fill and change the fuel filter. Change the engine oil/filter too. As far as tires, they might be flat spotted bad enough to not “come back” after a few miles of use. If they have dry rot (cracks), change them sooner rather than later. You’ll regret it when the belt separates from the tire and subsequently smacks steel belts all over your freshly waxed Medium Regatta Blue fender. Other than that, I think your hibernation regiment has you covered. Good job!

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

Sometimes Quality is NOT Job 1: the 5.0L engines older than 1986 used a Phenolic cog in the timing chain. Which won’t last much longer than 10 years/100k miles, and sometimes destroy motors when they fail. If the ignition rotor has slack and it struggles to crank, replace the chain with a roller unit for $80. Have fun with the labor. And, of course, thank FoMoCo for their brilliant engineering.

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16 Comments on “Piston Slap: Happy 30th Anniversary Edition, Edition...”

  • avatar

    I dunno – I’d be worried about the fuel in the tank – if you sniff a “varnish” odor from the fuel filler neck, it might be a good idea to see if the fuel system needs some professional care.

  • avatar

    @nick Old gas can be a nightmare.If you don’t smell varnish,drive it for a bit and add new gas.Next time use fuel stabilizer.Stored outside in our climate chances are your tires are fu–ed.Dried out seals are your biggest enemy right now.It can be hit or miss.So check things out real close,you might get off scot free.
    Good luck

  • avatar

    Even though it hasnt been run on the new oil, I would change that too. A friend of mine ran an engine on 2 year old oil that was never run and blew the motor up in less than 500 miles cus of it.

  • avatar

    I’d personally change the oil and put tires on it. Maybe even drain the fuel depending on how she runs when cranked back up. I wouldn’t risk having water in the crankcase from condensation over 2 years of sitting there dormant, and it would seriously shock me if the tires don’t have flat spots. Cars that sit on a new car lot get flat spots in much less time than 2 years.

  • avatar

    Good luck firing up the old Bird! And if your oil pressure gauge drops to zero and starts beeping at you….don’t panic if the motor is running smoothly. Reset the gauge and listen closely for valvetrain noise….you probably won’t hear any.

    Both my 85 ‘Birds have had oil pressure sending unit issues.

  • avatar

    Great timing with this question!

    I’m in a similar situation with my 1984 Mustang SVO, although mine has been stored indoors in a nice, dry warehouse for about 7 years – perfect place to store a car, I suppose. It’s covered and the gas tank is full including a fuel stabilizer additive.
    I am putting a to-do list together to get her started again, but I must admit the fuel varnish issue is the one thing that has me most nervous, with or without the stabilizer….

  • avatar

    Change the coolant out and replace the belts. Get some silicone spray and hit rubber all over the car. Door seals, frame bushings, suspension rubbers, etc.

    Replace the fluid in the rear differential. Everyone forgets about that.

    pump out 1 or 2 quarts of trans fluid and replace with new. Do that again in a few thousand miles. After the third time replace the fluid and screen in the bottom. Do this slow to prevent deposit shock.

    I always liked the mid 80’s T-birds, they got back to their sporting roots a bit and less of a luxobarge the 70’s models became. Of course, there are LOTS of performance options with this car, right up to the 351 Windsor upgrade that is a bolt in.

  • avatar

    I’d drain the gas tank and the rest of the fuel system. Over time the volatile fraction of gasoline evaporates, and the fraction that remains turns into a good grade of stickum. I remember an engine, unused for just one year, where the stickum got into the valve stems and guides and all the valves stuck open. The stickum was so strong the valve springs were unable push the valves closed. Dunno what you do with 15 gallons of old and tired gasoline, but there must be something. If nothing else it gives you a lifetime supply of charcoal lighter fluid.
    Make sure the brakes still work before getting into traffic.

  • avatar

    Good advice all around: there are a multitude of potential problems that can happen with a car being stored outside.

    Oh, and Nick: don’t forget to wear the blue Thunderbird Members Only jacket before you hit the streets.

  • avatar
    Theodore Buxton

    To drive this car a Tom Selleck mustache is almost required.

  • avatar

    Having worked in L.A. some years ago as a freelance motorcycle mechanic specializing in bringing long-stored bikes back to life, I’ll make three comments:

    1. You got your work cut out for you.
    2. With the possible exception (only for a few spins around the block) of the gear oil in the differential, flush out and change ALL the fluids in the car before you even think about putting a battery in it and turning the key, & squirt some oil in the cylinders as recommended above by bluecon. –I’d even turn the engine a few times by hand after doing this. Drain the old gas (if you can– I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you find it has the consistency of ultra-hold hair gel). Fuel lines & injectors could be/likely are plugged up with this goo, especially if it wasn’t parked inside a heated garage.
    3. Sell it as soon as you can.

  • avatar

    I assume that this has an automatic tranny. If so, then it will make it very difficult to try to roll the car in order to start cranking the motor.

    I would take the spark plugs out all of the cylinders. Then inject some oil in there and try to hand crank the motor a few rotations. With an standard tranny, just put it in gear and push the car.

    After that, I would crank the starter, with the plugs out, for a few seconds.

    The idea is to start the motor parts moving and start the oil pumping and lubricating parts inside. Do all of this before you subject the motor to the harsh pressure of compression and ignition.

  • avatar

    Love that picture Sajeev!

    Thanks everyone for your advice. I’d better start stocking up on fluids (for the car and myself) and patience.

  • avatar

    Good luck, NickR

    Sajeev, do you think maybe we could have special columns for people who have brought their problems to you to let us know how they turned out?

  • avatar

    David Holzman : Sajeev, do you think maybe we could have special columns for people who have brought their problems to you to let us know how they turned out?

    Are you reading my mind? Whenever an update to a previous Piston Slap arrives in my inbox, it will get Piston Slapped again.

    You must have ESP, because you are next on the re-visiting list.

  • avatar

    Well, I don’t have much news on that particular piston slap that you linked to, except to say that the 1975 Deux Cheveaux that I’ve driven, and am about to review feels peppier than I ever expected a 2cv to feel. And in ref to the one about how high hybrids can fly, uh, climb, before they run out of juice, my brother just bought a Prius and I alerted him to this. But he lives far from any major climbs, and has no plans to drive to the Rockies for a vacation.

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