What to look at before buying a 1957 Thunderbird.

Last seen
Oct 31, 2021
Thunderbird Year
I've always loved the early Thunderbirds since I was a kid. I now have the opportunity and reasonable means to buy one, and from what I remember, the '57 is the most drivable and comfortable of the early series. What I'd like to hear from the forum members is what particular points do I need to carefully look at before I buy. Is it rust problems, tranny choices, brakes, A/C, electronics, engine concerns, and the like? I've been around enough "elderly" collectable cars to look at bodywork, paint, collision damage and the importance of originality. At what point should miles be an important consideration? Do good restorations add or detract to the underlying value of the car? I do know that bad restoration work can certainly detract.

Thank you so much. Any of your comments would be greatly appreciated, and will certainly be considered before buying "the right" car for me.


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Good luck in your search! I bought my ‘57 about a year ago. I lack the expertise to really give any detailed tips, but a few thoughts:

1. I found this article to be helpful when I began my search: https://www.hagerty.com/media/car-profiles/1955-57-ford-thunderbird-buyers-guide/

2. I’d definitely ask about overheating. Mine does not overheat (knocks wood), but I gather that’s a pretty common issue.

3. Ask exactly what carburetor it has (and ask for a picture of the letters/numbers stamped onto the front of the carb, because that info can help you identify and date the carb with precision). Others can comment on the pros and cons of various carbs on the 57 - I lack the knowledge to do so. But I recently discovered that mine has the original (or at least era-correct) Holley carb, which at least according to some folks I’ve spoken with increases the value. I was considering replacing the carb due to some (minor) leaks and hesitation:stumbling upon sharp acceleration, but I’m instead going to have it professionally rebuilt. If it wasn’t original, I’d have been more likely to just replace it once it started having issues, which would be a lot cheaper.

4. Check extensively for leaks. Mine has several: they’re all slow and minor, but it’s gonna cost me more than a few bucks to have them all looked at and fixed. Wish I woulda known that before buying: I still would have bought it, but would have negotiated the price to account for the repairs.

5. Check to see if it has an auxiliary electric fuel pump if that’s something of interest to you.

6. Ditto for an auxiliary electric cooling fan (see #2 above).

7. Check to see what power accessories it has (power brake booster, power steering, etc.) and what condition they’re in. My brake booster failed, resulting in the brakes failing completely. (Fortunately, it happened while it was at the mechanic rather than while me driving it!)

Will let you know if I think of anything else.
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My first advice is always " buy the best car you can afford" don't buy a car just because the price is low. Little things cost a lot. Especially if you cannot do the work yourself. Originality is one thing, but consider what you want to do with the car. Is this just going to be a weekend fair weather toy to cruise, or are you going to do upgrades and modifications? There are no wrong answers.
Definitely avoid rust, check the frame for rust/ rust repairs. These cars are old enough to have traveled the world and some show it. Others have had it carefully hidden. You may want to take any prospective car to your favorite mechanic for a check up
I have hellped a ton of folks buy vintage Corvettes and the basics are pretty much the same and
the advice above is solid. Rust is the worst and can be more expensive than body work or an engine overhaul
In some cases, it makes a car a "throwaway". Shoddy bodywork is a close second - there are few disasters on the
planet as lamentable as "Bubba with Bondo"....another expensive set of repairs if needed.

Mechanicals are usually addressible and things can be restored or rebuilt; usually there are stong recommendations
for specific people to work on certain parts for a popular marquee. You need to learn those names.

An inspection by a good mechanic is helpful and can spot problems quickly in most cases. Then there is originality and that is a
a big boogeyman depending on how much of a zealot you are. Rare parts can add up quickly if they are missing.
Guys -- rust is something I know a bit about. I've fooled with older Porsches for about 45 years and have certainly seen a bunch of rust, especially if hidden by undercoating. My best rust finding tool is an ice pick. Since they're unibodies, rust can be catastrophic and extremely expensive to fix. If I get close to buying a 57 Bird, I'll certainly get it on an overhead rack and check out the underbody extensively. Any places in particular that "collect" rust in Birds? Thank you.
Don't know what "unibodies" means in this instance but my 57 just finished a body-off, 7-year restoration, which is just what it sounds like, the body was removed from the frame. I tracked the process with photos and video and documented right along. Here the frame is being stripped for powder coatingIMG_0618.JPGIMG_0611.JPGIMG_0608.JPGIMG_0618.JPGIMG_0608.JPG while the body is suspended above it on the rack IMG_0608.JPG
A labor of love sir - hats off to you...
And powder coating is the way to go...
Will -- WOW, that's exactly what I was looking for. Thank you.
Oh and RUST, I can’t speak for the 57s, but I know the 55s had issues. If you go to look at one and the doors are not adjusted properly when they close, it could be the door hinge needs to be rebuild/replaced or there is rust in the door pillars/floors inner rockers. If you open the doors and lift them and you see flex at the door hinges it might just need pins but have someone look with you to see if there is also flex at the door pillar. That is a Big repair and POSs a safety issue as these old birds can flex into turns and if the door dose not latch properly it could open on you or worse swing open and tear the pillar position in worst case.
Sounds like I was lucky, the dents and surface rust on this 55 wouldn't all fit on the size of a sheet of paper, found one rust spot that got all the way thru the body but couldn't stick my little finger in it. Body seam just in front of the door had or was not 100% closed up.
Still a labor of luv, have thought about selling but Mmmmmm