Crapwagon Outtake: 1996 Ford Thunderbird

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn

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.

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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4 of 69 comments
  • Xeranar Xeranar on Mar 04, 2016

    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.

    • See 1 previous
    • Xeranar Xeranar on Mar 04, 2016

      @Vulpine 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.


    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!

  • Dartman Nice job Healy! A genuine “truth about cars” instead of troll bait.
  • Charlie Oh by the way the steering is so rusted that it actually is loose, and the transmission makes strange whirring and scraping sounds. The car is falling apart from rust.
  • Charlie 78 for my ‘09 Mercury mariner. It has 850k miles on it and leaks oil. It has 9 scratches, deformed bodywork, and severely rusted frame and suspension. When you stand on the duct taped rear bumper, the suspension creaks loudly. Also it has a loud vibration and rod knock, and the driver rear window is falling out. Ps. Don’t they normally have a roof rack and display screen? Cause mine doesn’t.
  • Honda1 More disposable junk from Hyundai.
  • Analoggrotto The ORDER BOOKS in Australia have netted 300% above projection. Australia is so awesome and they are embracing the Telluride DIesel to overtake the Prado. Pentagon data, and eATPs rule the discussion, bar none. Toyota fans can go home with their sorry little turbo 4 cylinder.