Piston Slap: Take These Broken Wings Edition

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Frequent Piston Slap contributor Theodore writes:

I just put my 1992 Ford Thunderbird (V-6, stripper, ex-rental car) on craigslist, but I don’t know if I can really bring myself to part with it.

The automatic transmission is dying for the second time. Leaking badly, hesitates before going into gear, tries to downshift from fourth to third at 50-55mph, makes a weird sound that I can’t even describe except to say that it sounds like something is spinning way faster than it should. Its latest trick is a neat one: sometimes the whole front end will shudder while turning at low speed.

Is there any hope for the patient? Can the automatic be salvaged, or is a manual transplant possible? Practical? Sane?

And while I’m at it, here’s a Piston Slap “Nugget of Wisdom” for the B&B: Fords of that era equipped with automatic shoulder belts. When the motor eventually craps out, look in your owner’s manual, because Ford anticipated this failure and provided a backup that’s also a cheap fix. At the base of the B-pillar of my Thunderbird there is a little panel: behind that is the motor. The motor has a knob on the top. With some skinned knuckles, swearing, and shoving (carefully!) on the shoulder belt anchor, you can wind the anchor back to the locked position. Then you just pull the belt forward and slide under it when you get in and out of the car.

Sajeev replies:

You don’t know if you can bring yourself to part with a V6 Thunderbird? Seriously?

Regarding the transmission: many, many rebuilders can’t make freshened a Ford (or Mopar) transmission last longer than 2 years to save their lives. I don’t know why, but I reckon it has to do with training done on GM units. And a GM transmission this is not. If you are serious about this car, search the TCCOA forums and make friends with Blue Oval (i.e., Mustang) Pistonheads in your area: they’ll know a local shop that can actually fix a Ford transmission. Or bite the bullet and get a Ford or Jasper rebuilt unit.

Yes, there is hope for the patient. But you have to be nuts. Nuts like me, and my resto-modded 1988 Cougar XR-7. After thousands in rebuilding the suspension, brakes, steering, transmission, engine and new carpet and paint, the car is a head turner that will never leave my possession. You can do the same: plenty of Thunderbird Super Coupe/Lincoln Mark VIII parts are available for a healthy restomod on the MN-12 platform. Hell, just get a Mark VIII from Craigslist and do a complete sub frame swap, front and rear.

But I’d sell this one and find a Super Coupe in the same color. That’s much easier, cheaper and a far superior base to start with. Of course, I didn’t take my advice, so why should you?

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Redapple2 Love/lust a 110 diesel defender. Should buy one since the INEOS is gas only (and double the price). Had a lightweight in Greece. Wonder how this rides.
  • Ajla There is inventory on the ground but as pointed out it is generally high dollar trims of high-dollar models and at least around here dealers still aren't budging off their mandatory nitrogen tires and Summer weather protection packages.You aren't paying '21-'22 prices anymore but it's still a long way to go.
  • Slavuta Every electric car must come with a film about lithium mining
  • Sobhuza Trooper Drop a good, high-strung German engine in this and you'd have American flair with German repair costs!
  • Kwik_Shift I'll just drive my Frontier into the ground as planned. Possibly find an older "fun" car to collect.