Home » We Really Ought To Give Iowa A Try: 1997 Ford Thunderbird vs 1973 VW Super Beetle

We Really Ought To Give Iowa A Try: 1997 Ford Thunderbird vs 1973 VW Super Beetle


Welcome back! I’m writing this from a Ramada Inn in storm-tossed Des Moines, Iowa. We had a wild day of crosswinds and rainstorms, punctuated by phone calls and texts with our realtor and various contractors. Selling a house is a pain in the ass – but I digress. Since I’m in Iowa, I thought I’d look at some local cars.

Yesterday’s drag race ended up as I expected, with the running Pinto beating the yard-art funny car by a country mile. And it is the logical choice – if you actually want a good start at a drag racer. As several of you pointed out, getting the funny car certified to actually run on a strip would be a pain in the ass.

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But here’s the thing: Drag racing isn’t a logical thing to do. Driving a car as fast as it will go for only a quarter of a mile and then making it stop is a silly endeavor. So why not do it with some style? I choose the funny car, and I make no apologies.

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Because of the storm, and the possibility of another one right behind it, I can’t promise I’ll have wifi here for long. So I have grabbed two cars that caught my eye. I guess the thread that ties them together is “custom work.” One is still in the project phase, and the other has been finished for a long time. Whether or not it was finished well, I’ll leave for you to decide.


1997 Ford Thunderbird – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.8 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Cedar Falls, Iowa

Odometer reading: 166,000 miles

Operational status: “Runs and drives good”


Nostalgia, it has been said, is a hell of a drug – so much so that it can compel people to ruin perfectly good new things in order to make them look like old things. In the guitar world, there is a process known as “relicing,” which involves taking a new guitar and artificially adding wear, cracks, and dings in the finish to make it look old. You can’t really do that with a newer car; aged plastic just looks crummy, not classic. But what you can do is graft bits of old cars, or replicas of them, onto new ones to mimic the old styles.

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That’s what has been done to this 1997 Thunderbird; its normal beak and tail have been hacked off and replaced by panels that look like a ’51 Ford. This is a kit you can buy; the manufacturer also makes a kit to graft ’57 Chevy front and rear ends onto a Camaro. I’ve also seen various body kits for Corvettes to back-date them a few decades, too.

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Under the skin, it’s still a garden-variety Thunderbird, complete with a 3.8 liter Essex V6, a four-speed automatic, air conditioning, power windows, the whole enchilada. I think that’s the idea: Get “classic car” looks without giving up all the comforts you’ve become accustomed to. It’s not my cup of tea, but I don’t think I’m the target audience.


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The seller says it runs and drives well, with 166,000 miles to its name. We don’t get any good interior shots so I can’t comment on that, and the outside, well, it is what it is. The seller includes a photo of a bunch of car-show trophies sitting on the hood; I hope the folks who won them don’t get upset by that. (I kid, I kid…)

1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: Unknown displacement overhead-valve flat 4, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: Winterset, Iowa


Odometer reading: unknown

Operational status: Engine is on a stand, and the interior is largely absent

This car looks familiar to me because for about thirty seconds, many years ago, I owned one that looked almost exactly like it. Mine had a lot more rust on it, though. The Super Beetle has never been as much of a collectible as the standard Beetles, but a rising tide lifts all boats, as the saying goes, and air-cooled VW prices have skyrocketed in recent years, making the Super Beetle a relative bargain, even at $3,500 with the engine removed.

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The engine in question came out of a sandrail, and is of unknown displacement. The seller says it ran well, then overheated and lost oil pressure, then the pressure came back when it cooled down. It should probably be torn apart and rebuilt right. Luckily, the seller is including a whole slew of VW engine parts, which should give you a head start.


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The interior is pretty well trashed. It includes seats, but they need reupholstering. It’s not exactly hard to find old VW interior parts, so that’s not a big deal. It’s just work. Think of this as a big model kit; you have to put it together before you can play with it. Just try not to get any glue on the windows.

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It’s not very rusty, at least; the seller says there are a few spots on the bottom of the fenders and a hole in the battery tray. The floor pans look all right, but it looks like another set is included as well.

So that’s what Des Moines, Iowa has to offer: a love-it-or-hate-it Thunderbird, and a finish-it-your-way Bug. They’re the same price, so you can base your choice on the vehicles themselves. Which one will it be?


Image credits: Craigslist sellers

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67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
1 month ago

The Beetle is just less fucked with than the Thunderbird,thus it gets the win.

Black Peter
Black Peter
1 month ago

Finish the Beetle and you have a Beetle, finish/fix the T-Bird and you don’t even have a T-Bird, you have jamesmaypointsateverything.gif whatever that is..
Even in “perfect” condition it’s a monstrosity, I looked at the kit site, it really doesn’t get any better.

1 month ago

If you guys think that Super is good deal I have some AMAZING deals for you out in my barn right now. What a shitbox. I’d give, *maybe* a $1000 for it if the engine is even partially usable for parts.

1 month ago

The T-box Ford is a nope: I’d rather have a real one—even with vacuum operated windshield wipers. And, I’m studiously ignoring a 73 Super a buddy has currently for $3k.

I notice that the signature Super Beetle front slats are absent, and it makes me wonder. I looked at a Bug years ago that someone had hidden those with fiberglass and it was being sold as a standard. Obviously some title shenanigans, so I walked

1 month ago

Super Beetle! Looks way better than that monstrosity Fix Or Repair Daily

1 month ago

I abstain.

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