By on March 4, 2016

1996 Ford Thunderbird hotrod

For those who grew up during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, or perhaps were influenced by movies like “American Graffiti,” the hot rod is an iconic part of the youth culture of the era. Countless aging enthusiasts spend a great deal of time and money modifying, maintaining, and showing off classic Detroit iron.

It makes me wonder if, in 50 years or so, will some of my friends still be showing off tuned and slammed Hondas? Will Bozi unfold his tennis ball-clad walker from the rear of his WRX so he can polish the finish one more time before the judges arrive? Will Bark still be preaching about his FiST from a Kentucky retirement home?

There are clearly those who still want the classic styling of the ’50s-vintage cars, with modern(-ish) performance and convenience. Whomever built this 1996 Ford Thunderbird is obviously in that category. I know I’d rather not commute in a two-ton car with drum brakes all the way around.

The seller claims that the sheetmetal has been grafted directly from a 1949 Ford onto the Thunderbird. There is a firm offering a fiberglass kit to restyle these cars, so the distinction is important. That, or the seller is lying through his big reproduction grille. Either way, it looks like the work was done reasonably well, though there are a few stress cracks in the Bondo that will need attention.

Remarkably, the car has only 25,000 miles on the odometer. The interior looks a bit tired for such low miles, though the Albuquerque climate likely has aged the plastics more than some other locations.

Too few cars are offered with red interiors now, by the way. I’d like to see more.

I have to wonder how “real” hot rodders would accept this and other similar cars. I know it’s not to my particular taste, but there are clearly those who want a Thunderbird with different styling.

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast that writes about old cars, since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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69 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: 1996 Ford Thunderbird...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Vincent just got very excited at possibilities when he saw this photo.

  • avatar

    Not for nothing, but the actual MN12 Thunderbird is such an asthetic loser that this is an improvement.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Agreed. Certainly not a sheet-metal graft as the nose of the ’49 was pretty tall as I recall. Still, the shapes are all wrong and if it weren’t for the flames that would be a pretty ugly beast.

      • 0 avatar
        Ltd1983

        It’s a fiberglass kit. Notice it has an even uglier rear end.

        http://www.easyrods.com/ford_support_page.html

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Yeah. Easyrods tend to be disproportionate. Not so sure some of those shapes are even all that respective of the original.

          • 0 avatar
            Sigivald

            Wikipedia tells me no Thunderbird *ever* looked like that.

            It is pretty reminiscent of a mid-50s Chevy, though.

          • 0 avatar
            Sigivald

            (Corey’s comment below tells me, yeah, it’s meant to be a ’49 Ford.

            Never a T-Bird in that style, though.)

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            The T-bird was only the host platform. The hood and tail are supposed to be ’49 Ford (or ’57 Chevy), but the shapes are generally wrong enough to twist the eye when mated to the host. If you’re wanting a retro look on a modern vehicle, then keep the styling cues without laying on the original sizes. The hoods of both are too tall and the tail view of the ’49 on a Mustang (as referenced through one of the links above) makes it far too tall and square compared to the Mustang Fox body underneath.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I think it would look nice in a certain South Florida lineup.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    I’m sorry, but that is hideous. I appreciate the (very) retro grill, but everything from the front fenders back looks stock.

    I have to believe that true era fans and collectors will not look fondly on this car.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Also, in 49 Ford was using block letters at the front, not whatever that enamel badge is from.

    I think the door handles are from a Cadillac, because from what I can see in photos of real ones, they had the twist style door levers.

    Also, they were going for this look, and missed!
    http://www.boldride.com/ride/1949/ford-custom-foose

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    File this one under “MORE MONEY THAN SENSE.”

  • avatar
    VoGo

    The things middle aged men will do for attention

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    The 49 did indeed have twist door handles, in 1950 they went with push button.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    I see one of these mashup kits every once in a while cruising around Miami, except it’s a solid orange color with a 1951-style hood and a toothy grille.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Finally a crapwagon worth buying.

    I say bids to 8K. Worth a shot just for the lulz.

  • avatar
    pbr

    That. Is. Awesome.

    Half the fun of a good custom or hot rod is poking a stick in the eye of some proportion of observers, comments above suggest this is well on the way. It’s not like he cut up a Lusso or something, and there’s plenty of room for further customization (interior, powertrain).

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    The first one of these that I saw was at a car show in Worcester Mass. in 1994 or 95. It was a solid color, I believe a non-metallic pastel color which was so popular among hot rodders at the time for some reason, and it attracted a pretty large crowd.

    I definitely like the idea of using modern components and updating an old car. But it rarely looks good the other way around. These kits are too jarring to look at. They make me have a physical reaction when I see them and I have to stop looking at them.

    I feel the same way about those Corvette kits to make your 2004 Vette look like a 1963.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    These Frankenstein monsters just never work.

    It’s almost like they use up all the money on just one angle of the car, and the rest has to be left unaltered. To me, that’s the big test, if I can tell what the car was originally within the first few seconds, it’s a giant fail.

    You would think by now someone could make an entire body that covers every square inch vehicle so there would be no way you could tell what was underneath.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      That is what Ford did with the 2002 Thunderbird, they took the DEW platform that underpinned the Lincoln LS and Jaguar XF, and styled it like the 1956 Thunderbird.

      But this is an example of what happens when you leave styling to amateurs. Rather than slavishly copying the ’56 T-Bird, they incorporated styling clues that reminded you of the ’56 T-Bird instead of copying it exactly. The end result, with a roofline that aped the opera roofline of the hardtop T-Bird, worked:

      https:[email protected]/16156615102/

      When I first saw this story, it sent me rushing to my display case to see how in the world they managed to mate the panel lines of a 1950 Ford front clip with the front end of 1996 Thunderbird. The fiberglass kit makes more sense; and as CoreyDL pointed out, Ford had F O R D in block letters on the front of all of their cars and trucks from 1950-1981, after which they went back to the Ford oval. That was a good catch; it looks like the fiberglass kit has neither, and the owner erred in going with the herald.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @jhefner & @CoreyDL: Ford had F O R D in block letters on the front of all of their cars and trucks from 1950-1981, after which they went back to the Ford oval.

        Did this also apply to Ford Canada? The Old Man’s ’56 definitely had the ‘herald’ on each wheel cover and I seem to remember it being visible on at least one other spot.

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          Hi Arthur;

          Yes, the herald does appear in other locations. For example, it was the hood ornament on our 1967 Country Sedan, and it also appeared on the wheel covers, on the dashboard, I believe the door cards, and elsewhere I can’t exactly recall; but the F O R D letters were still on the front of the hood just above the grill.

          This decision was worldwide, see:
          https:[email protected]/16480822938/

          for some examples (in miniature) from around the world.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            How many models cars have you got, by the way?

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            Hi Corey;

            There are 110 cars in the main display. Another six in the NASCAR lineup that were pushed out by truck row. Another eight concept cars for which there is no room.

            Finally, there are another eight or so that there is no room to include anywhere, but I bought anyway to round out the collection. The latest is a Hot Wheels Ford Transit Supervan:

            https:[email protected]/24636419484

            I started on the next panel of the display; though I don’t think I will live long enough to complete the 40-50 years it should encompass. (Assuming Ford is also around that long.) It starts off with a 2015 Ford Mustang (thank you again Ronnie), and a 2015 Ford F-150. Am on the lookout for the 2016 F-150 Raptor and 2016 Ford GT in Hot Wheel’s lineup this year. I also have a paper model of the 2016 Escort that I started on the computer, but did not finish when I realized there wasn’t any room for it.

            Thanks for asking.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Very impressive collection!

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            @jhefner: Thanks. I remember the heralds on the ’56. Don’t recall them on our ’69 Country Squire. But by 1969 I was old enough to have other things on my mind, instead of wondering about heraldic symbols.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        While the 2002 Thunderbird had SOME of the styling cues of the ’56, it didn’t have enough. Clearly it was not a success as Ford dropped it only a couple years later; people just weren’t buying it because it didn’t look enough like the ’57. Roofline alone wasn’t enough; it lacked the grill, the tail and the overall ‘lines’ of the ’57, which is one reason I never even considered buying one.

        On the other hand, I’m strongly considering the Fiat 124 based on the new Miata platform. It has enough of the old 124 styling to say, “I AM a Fiat 124.”

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          Vulpine;

          As you may remember from Matt Gasnier’s article on Palm Beach, CA; the 2002 Thunderbird was and still is wildly popular there. I think for most folks who like the original Thunderbird, these work just fine.

          I don’t see how you can it does not have the grill and tail lights when it has both; although they had to be formed to meet today’s safety laws. If you look at my link above that has pictures of both; it wasn’t a bad effort at all to most folks.

          I think the main problem was that not many people wanted a two person luxury coupe; the same reason why the original Thunderbird went four seats in 1958 and eventually died after the generation of Thunderbird in this article. As Jack wrote; the era of the PLC is gone; replaced by SUVs/CUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Finally, a nose-to-tail conversion would involve cutting the unibody down to the floorpan and welding up a whole new body to it. You would still have the constraints of the wheelbase, dash size and distance from the front wheels to work with; the lower beltline of cars starting in the 1960s would make it hard to graff a 1950s or earlier body to it. Doing what Ford and others did at that time, and styling a modern car that hints at the classics, is more practical and makes more sense. As someone pointed out with the “uncanny valley” reference (never heard of that!) these draw your attention to the details that are wrong, rather than resembling the original as a cohesive whole.

  • avatar
    r129

    The EasyRods website says that you can use either a Ford Thunderbird or a Mercury Cougar with the same conversion kit. I was curious what the Cougar version would look like, but there were no photos in their gallery. I did a Google image search, and… the only example I could find is right here at TTAC, from back in 2011:
    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/introducing-the-belaro/

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Ouch. r129, the proportions on that thing are hideous. Nice retro look but doesn’t even qualify as ‘chopped’ because the hood itself is proportionately too long and tall. Better compression of the Chevy nose height would have helped that thing enormously.

  • avatar
    Driver8

    There was a kit to ‘covert’ the Mk1 MR-2 into a BMW M1.
    That one was less of a reach than this oddity.

  • avatar
    RHD

    “It seemed like a good idea at the time…”

  • avatar
    dal20402

    There’s one good thing about this: the wheels and tires fit just right and look great.

    Take off the wheels and tires and burn the rest with fire.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    Just a few days ago I saw a 1950s Chevy pickup with a stock front end and a bed from a fourth generation flareside; all painted to match. It certainly made me do a double-take; not sure I liked how it came out.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    This is one of those times where the cost of an actual resto-mod towards the end of it’s last refresh is going to be about the same or close in value to whatever this whack-a-doodle wants for his fiberglass monstrosity. I’m a generally forgiving type and beauty is in the eye of the beholder but the proportions as others have noted are poor. It’s too bulbous, it drops in the wrong ways, it would be better served just going bigger over the panels than trying to swoop in because modern cars are blocks of soap for a reason, they don’t contour the same way.

    A number of good resto-mods run in the 20-30K range, this probably sits around 10-12K. A person is better served waiting a little longer, save a bit more up, and grab a real deal model. I personally want a Jeepster resto mod (they’re sitting between 18-30K) but I feel horrible for essentially ripping out the backseats so I can drive comfortably and rebolting the fronts. Atleast with a bugeye sprite I can afford to stretch the ladder frame a bit and cut the under-door areas to stretch with minimal appearance issues.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Personally, while I love the idea of a resto-mod (they do have their advantages) I’d rather go with a GOOD kit rig to build myself a ’59 chevy out of something like the early ’90s Caprice or similar. Long, low, wide and with those gorgeous curved wings and teardrop taillights. Or maybe mod one of the 90s-00s mid-sized pickups into that ’59 El Camino.

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        Oh yeah, if you wanted a particular era (late 50’s Chevy, late 40’s Ford) a solid kit car is the best answer. I’ve seen Model A ratrods and others full-kit (but unassembled) for around 14K, assuming you’re competent or have access to an engine lift you could get away with maybe another 3-5K in labor if you were being generous with help.

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    Remember, when it’s donor car time, for this project:

    The 1996 Ford Thunderbird has actual dash gauges.
    The 1997 (last of this generation) has no gauges but DOES have the two console cup holders instead!


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