We thought you'd like to know how much effort is required to perform a frame-off restoration. People generally know what they've spent, but how many can tell you the amount of time it took? Well, we can, and we'll take each of the 21 articles on the 55 T-Bird restoration and tell you how many hours we spent doing the work, including underestimating things and fixing mistakes. Ready to start counting? Here we go!
1 — Finding the car occupied only a few hours of searching before actually looking it over. Once the candidate was purchased it took one complete day to pick up and deliver to its destination in Arlington, VA. It then took two more hours to prepare it for placement in the garage and get it ready for assessment and teardown. Total: 10 hours
2 — Disassembly was progressive, in that at first we removed the hood, trunk lid, doors and seat. We test-fired the engine to decide whether to replace it and made decisions on retrofitting the car to 12 volts. Wiring, components, instruments, etc. were all examined and listed on a clipboard, noting whether or not individual items would be restored or replaced. We also rebuilt the seat track mechanism and motors during this phase. We then disconnected all remaining components from the body so that it could be removed from the frame. Total time: 44 hours.
3 — Removing the body required building a supporting truss to prevent bending and a lifting system. We built a moving wooden cart on which to place the body to allow us to roll the body or frame in or out of the garage. Once done, we carefully raised the body and mounted it on the rolling cart. Total time: 26 hours
4 — Engine rebuilding followed the same procedure we've done many times in the past. All work was done thoroughly and the engine mounted on a rolling cart for testing. After "dry" testing it ran fine and we stored it away until ready for installation in the frame. Lots of time was spent cleaning and polishing the valve covers and getting all parts to look good. Total time: 40 hours
5 — Rear end parts were gone over carefully and we decided to rebuild the original assembly with fresh new components. The entire axle was removed and placed on a workbench for cleaning, rebuilding and repainting. All new brake components were installed and the new assembly readied for installation on the frame. Total time: 41 hours
6 — The Hard Top was a definite challenge. It was in very bad condition and was missing most trim and fittings. We did serious fiberglass work and made several attempts at covering it with vinyl, finally giving up and painting it. By the time we'd finished the project and installed the port holes and latches we'd eaten up Total time: 60 hours
7 — The Frame took a lot of time to repair, clean, re-fit and paint. We spent many hours grinding off the old paint and rust and then repairing some cracks and rusty spots. After that we mounted it on carefully-measured jack stands in order to do the conversion of the front end to Mustang II components. Much calculation was done, not to mention a lot of welding, before the new front end was in place and assembled. A lot of engineering had to take place as well, but we were satisfied with the results. The "new" frame took us a total of: 51 hours
8 — Drivetrain installation was another interesting project. Remember, we had to do the AOD conversion to the engine, followed by creating brackets for an alternator and air conditioning compressor. Once the engine/transmission assembly was ready we had to get it placed in the newly modified frame so that the front engine mount and rear transmission mount could be located and welded in place. Following that exercise we had to mount various brackets to allow for the cable shifter and transmission lines to the oil cooler out front. All in all, the time to do this and make a new driveshaft was: 67 hours
9 — Bodywork took the most time of all. We knew that the car was totally covered in a layer of bondo, but we didn't expect that it would take as much time to remove as it did. After that, we had to cut out straight panel pieces and replace them with properly shaped versions. After that was done we had to straighten up all the new work and fill, sand and prime everything. We did all the finish work on the engine bay area so that all components could be installed before painting the rest of the car. The body work seemed to take months, but actually only 6 weeks. Total time: 165 hours.
10 — Steering mods took some careful measurements and welding, but not too much time. We were surprised that the rather complicated job only took: 41 hours
11 — Brakes took more careful engineering time and thought. The new dual master cylinder needed to be fitted to the firewall and heat-insulated. We had to relocate the battery to the trunk and fabricate a platform for the AOD pressure gauge and new brake lines. We'd have done all this quicker if we hadn't located the front line connections on the frame in the wrong place (five inches off!) but overall the time was: 22 hours.
12 — Radiator work seemed to be simple at the start, as our plan was to install an aluminum model for maximum cooling. We didn't estimate the amount of time that all the changes in mounting would entail, nor could we anticipate how long each little step would take. At the end we found we spent: 24 hours
13 — The Shifter took some time to fabricate and modify, making sure we'd end up with what looks like the original T-Bird shifter. Time: 15 hours
14 — The Console modification for the center of the dash area was well worth the effort. Many people who've seen the car think it's an original, rare, Ford-produced piece. It was definitely worth the time: 11 hours
15 — Doors are always difficult to work with and restore, and these were no exceptions. We had to disassemble all the window/latch components and then do all the rust repair work, after which we had to restore all the inside parts to like-new condition. The side windows had to be removed and replaced, and the mechanisms repaired. The work took a lot of time: 30 hours.
16 — Seat upholstering took a lot of time, considering there is only one seat. Time spent: 10 hours.
17 — Paint work took place over two months, between spraying, sanding, compounding and all the other little things one must do. Time spent: 50 hours
18 — Electrical work occupied a lot of time as well, since we created a completely new harness and modified several instruments, along with the addition of air conditioning, electric fuel pump, power antenna and all the other stuff we wanted. Total time: 45 hours.
19 — Reassembly took place over a couple months and we tried to be as careful as possible to limit scratches and dents. The dash needed to be installed and made operational, trim attached, bumpers installed, doors aligned, weatherstrip glued and a seemingly endless array of other details had to be done. This took: 106 hours.
Test-Drives netted a fair amount of extra work to be done. We had to fix some bugs, rattles and minor rattles, but the big thing was the necessity to replace the front springs. The ones we first installed caused the car to sit too low in front and we were forced to install rear lowering blocks to compensate. We ate up over 25 hours playing with the suspension until everything looked good, on top of the 15 hours of sorting things out.
Added to the actual working hours, we spent a number of hours researching parts and components — and prices — before ordering. Those hours amounted to just over 12, as our records seem to show. That adds up to 895 hours, just about the same amount of time most of our restoration projects have taken.