John Chickering With 1961 Thunderbird(June, 2018) -- I'm not a mechanic or an engineer or any sort of automotive service professional. I'm just a guy who enjoys old cars. Old now because I drove cars like them when I was a kid in high school almost 50 years ago.

If you are like me and you enjoy old cars, particularly Thunderbirds, and you don't mind taking on a project, then perhaps you too are thinking about swapping out that old cracked dash pad in your Thunderbird and generally refurbishing the dash panel. My Thunderbird here is VIN 1Y71Z109655, data plate body 63A, color A, trim 56, date 01M, trans 4, axle F, which translates to a 1961 2-door hardtop "Bullet Bird" in Raven Black with black interior built December 1, 1960. I believe the only factory options in my car are the heater and the AM radio. Notably my car does not have the swing-away steering wheel option, unusual as I've read that about 85% of all 1961 Thunderbirds do. As far as I could tell, the dashboard hadn't been previously removed from my car. The simplicity of my Thunderbird's layout helped to make its dashboard refurbishment a rather straightforward proposition.

My first car when I was 16 in 1970 was a tired but rust-free 1956 Cadillac Series 62 convertible I found sitting out in a farmer's field one day while hitchhiking to work. It was baby blue with a black top and its high style was beyond beautiful to this teenager. I was so excited by it, I bought it on the spot for $250 cash I'd saved from my dishwashing job without even driving it first. Later during my junior year of high school I bought a 1959 Edsel Ranger 4-door sedan. The Edsel was in wonderful condition, almost as new, but very affordable because few folks wanted Edsels in 1971. I loved those cars and I was fortunate to find a job pumping gas at a local Marathon service station where Ron, the station owner and a kind man, taught me about the tools and processes to work on them. How to tune them, fix their brakes, replace their water pumps, and budget repairs like wrapping soda pop cans around their exhaust pipes to cover the holes until I could afford better. One day a fellow drove in to the station, and out of the trunk of his car he was selling shiny new S&K socket wrench sets for just 5 bucks. That now well-weathered socket set is still my #1 go-to set today.

I write all of this to be hopefully encouraging and helpful to the next person contemplating this project. The Vintage Thunderbird Club International forum was a most valuable resource with good posts and lots of important information left there by thoughtful and generous members who'd gone ahead and refurbished their dashes before me, and then took the time to write about it. But I could not find a collection of photos of the process, nor any sort of stepped hands-on play-by-play that might have made me more comfortable at the project start. This chronicle and my experiences offered here certainly can't assure any sort of outcome for anyone else. But if it is at least somewhat helpful to someone, then I've done something to repay the VTCI and their forum-contributing members who helped me, with their thoughtful gifts of knowledge and experience. I am grateful.

John Chickering With 1961 ThunderbirdThis was a complex project that took a number of months to accomplish. It did not require great mechanical know-how or expensive tools, but it did take patience and fortitude. I was fortunate to have a space and workshop where the project and I could spread out and work undisturbed at a quiet pace.

As vintage Thunderbird owners, it is marvelous that we have detailed manuals and surviving factory assembly documentation available for our cars, to help guide us through projects like this from start to finish. Without those materials, or without reference and support resources like the VTCI, this project may have been too daunting for me to attempt.

Instead my success with this project gives me a sense of confidence and satisfaction. In one of the VTCI forum threads, a member wrote a nugget that all of us old car people need to remember, which I will paraphrase here: For their own efficiency and profit, Ford intentionally designed our cars to be quick and simple to assemble. Nothing about them (usually) is more complicated that it needs to be. With that in mind, there really isn't anything about these old cars that we should be afraid to work on ourselves.

Using good logic and available resources, I hope that I, and those that come after me, can keep my Thunderbird running strong well past its 100th birthday.

Peace, hugs, and happy Birding.