Home » Saving A Thunderbird With The Mighty Hammer Of Thor: Members’ Rides

Saving A Thunderbird With The Mighty Hammer Of Thor: Members’ Rides

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If you’re reading this website, chances are, you love a good automotive rescue mission. There’s a good chance that you’ve rescued an under-loved vehicle of your own, too. That’s the case with today’s featured Member’s Ride: Izzy’s 1990 Ford Thunderbird—a car that sat unloved in a field until she resurrected it as a daily driver.

Folks, we love to see it.

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(Welcome to Members’ Rides. This is the weekly feature where we look at people who became members of the site by signing up here and parting with a little of their hard-earned dough to keep The Autopian going. Our plan is to do these every week! Today it’s Izzy’s turn!)

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Izzy is a train conductor in Chapleau, Ontario, so it’s safe to say she’s no stranger to cool rides. We’ll let her tell you all about her field-find Thunderbird from here.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into cars.

Izzy, 21, Canadian Pacific railroad conductor, transfem. I’ve been into cars since I was absolutely tiny, and was going to go into auto repair before I had a change of heart in high school.

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Tell us a bit about your current ride.

Thor is my long-suffering 1990 Thunderbird, my baby, my wife and my absolute treasure. It’s currently beat to shit and filthy, but I’m working on that. I rescued her out of a field and have been daily driving her for a couple years now.

Thor has been an awesome daily for two and a half years now. She’s almost bankrupted me four or five times, but she’s never broken down on the road, and mechanically she’s rock solid—it’s just the electrics that keep failing. I love driving on twisty roads.

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The 10th-generation Thunderbird is really overlooked. Ford had a decent shot at building a world-class grand tourer before they shot themselves in the foot. She’s the most well-balanced car I’ve ever driven, and my girlfriend drives a Civic Si, so my standard of comparison is fairly high. I wish she wasn’t so underpowered, and I wish Ford hadn’t shot themselves in the foot so badly to protect the Fox Body Mustang.

(I just realized I gave my whole speech about how underrated the 10th-gen Thunderbird is and didn’t even manage to sneak in a single 2FordyZ joke. I think if I forgot to add that I’d be subject to criminal prosecution.)

I also wish I’d taken her to a mechanic before I bought her. It’s not that I regret it, but I probably could have knocked half off the price, or gotten a car that didn’t have this many electrical problems.

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Kunkleman Chevrolet! Sometimes Fords.

Thor is a fun name! Where did the name come from?

Thor is named that because of the dealership badge on her trunk lid from Thor Motors in Orillia, Ontario, which I was surprised to learn is still a going concern. How she migrated from Orillia to Ottawa is a question I’m probably going to take to my grave.

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We love a good comeback story. What have you done so far to get Thor back on the road?

It’s been mostly maintenance since I got her out of the field. I had to have a lot of welding done to replace the rotten door sills and floorboards, the driver’s side window motor has had to be replaced four times now (!!), the alternator’s been replaced, and she’s actually in the shop right now because the ignition cylinder gave up and she wouldn’t start. Of course that happened when it was -30° C [-22° F] outside, which is an adventure.

Here’s a picture I found of the time Thor had to be towed to the garage by my buddy with his side-by-side. That was insane and I completely forgot about it. It was when her alternator let go.

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Got any future plans for the car?

I’ve got a lot of plans for her, mostly because there’s a lot left to do. In January, I’m going to be ordering a set of coilovers and a full front-end suspension rebuild kit. Originally, I was just going to stick to OEM parts, but my girlfriend convinced me to go for an upgrade since the performance stuff is only a little more expensive. After that, I’m going to need to rebuild the diff sooner than later, and replace the transmission cooler. Beyond that, though, it’s less concrete plans and more of a wish list. I’d love to get a limited slip diff in, replace the cracked dash (maybe with a digital dash out of an LX model—fingers crossed, they look badass), and eventually I’m going to need to get her repainted. The paint on the hood has had it.

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You also mentioned being a train conductor, which is awesome. What’s the usual “ride” at work?

My usual ride at work is a GE AC4400CW or ES44AC. Probably doesn’t mean much to you, but they’re solid locomotives and I can technically say that my daily driver has 4,400 horsepower. I’ll attach a couple pictures. Sometimes I get to take out our GP20C-ECO, which is a little guy by today’s standards.

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Lastly, what would be in your dream garage?

Lamborghini Jarama, Tatra 613, Thunderbird SC, ZiL-131

A Tatra 613! There’s a reader after my own little aircooled heart. Thanks, Izzy! If you’re a member and want to be highlighted, please check your email for a link to a survey you can fill out. If you don’t want to be featured, that’s also fine. Go here and join today!

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All photos credit Izzy.

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Holly Birge
Holly Birge
3 months ago

Where can I get that Kunkelman license plate frame!?

love this Thunderbird. Izzy is right that Ford shot itself in the foot

Delta 88
Delta 88
3 months ago
Reply to  Holly Birge

They used to have them for sale on RCR’s merch page

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
3 months ago

Don’t think I didn’t notice the Kunkleman license plate.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago

I love these stories not about some obscure niche car or unobtainable driver’s-car, but about love for something that many of us (raises hand) had bad experiences with. Love conquers all—and so worth it when your baby purrs.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago

That’s the prettiest Thunderbird. Good work keeping one on the road.

Also, pretty impressive for a 21-y-o to be driving those trains. I’m almost envious but not in that weather.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
3 months ago

Great story — and great car, Izzy! Hope it gives you many more years of service.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
3 months ago

Super Cool (see what I did there?) to see someone keeping one of these alive!

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
4 months ago

I had a light blue 1995 Thunderbird that I should never have given to my daughter.

I miss that car. Modular V8s are really pretty bulletproof.

Tim Cougar
Tim Cougar
4 months ago

Very nice! I dig it. 🙂

Electronika
Electronika
4 months ago

These cars are really cool. Love the story but keep up on that front suspension. My wife had a same year Cougar with the 3800 V6 when we met 25 years ago. My first winter storm here in Colorado we went over a speed bump in a parking lot and the entire passenger side front suspension gave up the ghost and the front wheel and both control arms separated from the car. I can imagine with the rust sitting in afield in Canada for a long time would have put the car at risk. Also, I didn’t see if it was the 5.0 or the 3800 but the 3800’s were notorious for galvanic issues with the head gaskets. That is what killed her Cougar. there was a fix for it but most of them were denied warranty fixes at the time.

The good thing is that the LX digital dash is a direct swap in and you can find them on Ebay all the time for not that much money.

Good look with Thor!! Now I want to go out and find a 9th gen with the digital dash

InfinitySystems
InfinitySystems
4 months ago
Reply to  Electronika

Yeah, she was pretty much rusted out when I got her. I remember taking her to the shop, thinking i’d got the deal of the lifetime, and then the mechanic just smacked her floor panels with a screwdriver and suddenly it was snowing brown. I’m definitely getting the suspension done ASAP.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
4 months ago

Yeah 4,400 horsepower but about 60,000 pounds of torque.

InkyLeopard
InkyLeopard
4 months ago

I’m one of Izzy’s friends and have had a front row seat to the entire saga. There is no doubt in my mind that she’s spiritually connected to that little blue wedge since she somehow still loves her and still wants to make things work. I wish I had that kind of commitment.

CSRoad
CSRoad
4 months ago

I had a friend with one of these, years ago, his example was a bit of a money pit for him.
I offered to help him out with the brakes and was in shock when I jacked it up and it had independent rear suspension, I had no idea. A cool car with so much potential.

Dan1101
Dan1101
4 months ago

I still see this generation T-Bird regularly around here, people hang onto them.

World24
World24
4 months ago

I always remember the absurdly clean (for the location) red T-Bird from this same generation in a small town when I was looking at first cars during the yearly Route 90 sales in CNY. I wanted it SO bad.
That, and the year after, an also absurdly clean 1st generation Durango.
Sigh

Tbird
Tbird
4 months ago

Drove a ’96 with the 4.6 V8 for years. These are great cars, wonderful grand tourers. The paint on these is terrible, all the horizontal surfaces on mine had bad sun fade and failing clear. Had the LSD in mine and converted the drums to rear disks from a junkyard Cougar.

Tbird
Tbird
4 months ago
Reply to  Tbird

The 2v 4.6 was a fine running engine that really suited the car. Could easily return 25+ mpg on highway cruise. I think it only turned like 1800 rpm at 70 mph.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
4 months ago
Reply to  Tbird

TRUE.

Also, I remember hearing from some folks that had Mark VIII’s and they claimed even higher real world highway MPG. Possibly because of the 4v motor vs 2v, not sure.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago
Reply to  Tbird

You’re supposed to put the LSD in yourself, then the faded paint will look like a Peter Max poster.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
4 months ago

You’d think Thor would do a better job with the electricals.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago

Can probably hammer it out.

CSRoad
CSRoad
4 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Speaking of Thor, I was expecting at least a 6″ roof chop. (-;

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
4 months ago

I’ve always had a soft spot for this generation of T-Bird (and certainly the Lincoln Mark VIIIs). They were pretty good cars overall, and I think they still look good today, especially if you have a Mark VIII that you throw some Cobra R rims on… (chef’s kiss).

I’ve always wondered why Ford didn’t use this opportunity to create 4 door variants as a replacement for the Panther platform cars and a smaller 2 door variant for a new mustang.

What could have been…

Josh Turner
Josh Turner
4 months ago

The MN12 platform under this Thunderbird came in overweight and over budget. There wasn’t much appetite for using it for anything else beyond that.

The infamous lunch where the CEO dressed down the entire team for building a car that was tanking the company’s CAFE ratings and costing way more to build than expected sounds like it was…not a great team building moment:

https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/dealership-classic-and-automotive-history-1990-ford-thunderbird-super-coupe-and-the-ford-mn-12-platform/

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
4 months ago
Reply to  Josh Turner

Yeah I remember reading about that, and how it wasn’t a success from those perspectives. But maybe if the cost share for the 4 door and Mustang variants were baked in… it might have had a chance to be successful?

Good article and link though, thanks for sharing.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
4 months ago
Reply to  Josh Turner

Great article, thanks for sharing! Makes me wonder what might have been if Ford had taken the Mustang approach and used a worked-over-but-good-enough Fox Body-based platform ala the SN95 instead.

Josh Turner
Josh Turner
4 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

There are some interesting counterfactuals for sure. Of course, this Thunderbird was replaced with the retro styled 2 seater that was even less successful and on the even more bespoke DEW98 platform, which underpinned that car and the Lincoln LS (and the S Type). The LS was another under appreciated car, though I’m not sure you can say the same about the 11th gen Thunderbird.

All of this was during the phase of Ford’s automobile product strategy that I like to call “lighting money on fire,” which frankly lasted from 1996ish until Mulally’s One Ford initiative and maybe arguably even longer than that. There was no real coherent plan and just a series of high profile product missteps on the car side; the only thing that saved the company during this period was the trucks.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
4 months ago
Reply to  Josh Turner

I also always felt that Jacques Nassar’s focus on acquiring various foreign automakers (and other businesses even) also wasn’t doing Ford many favors, as it diluted Ford’s attention to the thing with its name on it.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Josh Turner

Interesting article. A public dressing down in front of his team by senior management who didn’t provide feedback until then suggests there was something else going on with that Kuchta fellow. It can’t just have been the standard shitty macho management techniques of the time.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago

Ford has been dead to me since they killed the crown vic.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 months ago

Great column it inspired a column idea to me. You are starting a affordable car museum. Everything is ready except the cars. You have $5 million dollars to buy cars from now and back to the birth of cars. You can’t spend too much one car because a 1 car museum sucks. You also can’t buy a bunch of DT scrap because no one will come. So what do you buy nothing under $2,500 or over $50,000. You must buy 50 cars. Nowi don’t expect 50 cars from everyone but a car or cars that are museum worthy at a economy price.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
4 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I like this idea – should make for some interesting choices.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

Thank you Oragamisan.

World24
World24
4 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I like this idea! While I’m not an anti-super/hyper car type of person, I feel a museum like that would be just as cool to go to!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 months ago
Reply to  World24

How about Mercedes or DT Run with it?

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

They’ll fill it with rusty jeeps and campers though, we need adult supervision

Thomas Hundal
Thomas Hundal
4 months ago

I’ve seen this exact Thunderbird in person and it’s in amazingly good shape for an Ontario car, let alone a field find. Kudos to Izzy for saving one of Ford’s greatest moonshots!

InfinitySystems
InfinitySystems
4 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Hundal

Thanks so much! You know I’ll be bringing her back next time you guys host a car show.

Chronometric
Chronometric
4 months ago

That generation T-bird was Ford’s cleanest design in many years. Kudos for saving it.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
4 months ago

I feel like there’s gotta be some unpublished autopian Slack angst from both Mercedes and SW Gossin that Stef got to field this one without them – cool coupe rescues and trains?! Cue the drama.

Cool car Izzy! I have a friend who owns 3 of these (inc. an SC), and the design holds up to this day IMO. The view from the rear 3/4 is striking.

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
4 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Combined with the NYC Metro article getting handled by someone else, Mercedes might be feeling a bit grumpy this week.

Nice car, Izzy. Hopefully you’ve got the electricals sorted by now.

InfinitySystems
InfinitySystems
4 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Asa

I wish. She’s still in the shop right now.

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