Consequences of Going Under Cover: 1957 Ford Thunderbird

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While we have a lot of fun here at Barn Finds writing up all of these neat old classic vehicles, sometimes you run across a car that makes you want to cry.  It just hurts to see a vehicle that poor storage has diminished in condition and value.  For example, this 1957 Ford Thunderbird is for sale on eBay in Monroe, New York has seen better days.  This cleanly styled white Thunderbird has all of the first-generation T-bird good looks with the desirable E-code option.  However, time and what appears to be a long time stored outside under a tarp has caused a decline in this car’s condition that may warrant a full restoration.  Do you think that this one can be brought back to life without going as far as a full restoration?  Sitting nervously at $10,000 with absolutely no bids at just two days to go, has the Thunderbird crowd moved on to easier-to-restore cars?  At what price would you take a chance on this injured bird?

Most of us look at storage as the only factor that limits our ability to collect every car we desire.  However, storage can be a real issue for even small-time collectors.  I have room for two cars in my garage, but I have three collectible cars.  One of them is at a storage unit on the other side of my small town.  This hasn’t been an issue since I put it there quite some time ago.  However, the past year has seen me bombarded with rate increases and paperwork as this little town has been inundated with people who have moved in from out of state.  The message seems to be that thestorage facility want me out so that they can rent the unit to someone at a higher rate.  I am now looking at adding a garage or installing a lift in my garage so I can stack two cars in one space.  I don’t want to do any of this, but I fear that a choice is being made for me.

So, I get why this car may have sat outside for some time under a cover.  Sometimes things just don’t work out and you have to make compromises.  You can see how a compromise resulted in the cover behind the car in the picture above.  The problem with covers and tarps is moisture.  Even with a fantastic car cover that is guaranteed to breathe by some washed-up NASA scientist in an ad, moisture builds up and stays under the cover.  Sort of like a greenhouse effect.  That moisture attacks steel, chrome, and upholstery material with gusto.  Before long, rust, paint flaking, and basically every other horror story you can imagine for a formerly good car starts to happen.  Let it sit long enough, and a body-off restoration is the only way to address the issues and bring a car back to its former glory.

According to the seller, this one hasn’t reached the point where the rust has become rot.  It was purchased by its previous owner (presumably the seller has purchased the car to flip) with the intention of restoring it.  The kicker here is that it was an Arizona car.  Sadly, it appears that the planned restoration of this dry-climate car never got off the ground.  It would be nice to hear the back story as to why this car ended up in the shape it is in when every indication is that it was a nice original before the cover.  Regardless, you can’t go back in time and stop what happened.  You can only take solace in the seller’s admonition that “Car has lots of paint peel but no rot thru on body or frame.”

To continue the tale of this Thunderbird, we are told that it was last driven in September 2021.  It is advertised as a matching numbers car with 76,780 miles on the odometer.  Furthermore, the seller tells us that it is an “E-code” car.  Thunderbirds with this option left the factory with a 312 cubic inch V-8 with a pair of Holley four-barrel carburetors sitting proudly on top of the intake manifold.  It was the highest horsepower option you could get on a Thunderbird at the time and is rather rare to see.

It would be interesting to hear reader opinions as to how original this car was before it made the move to New York and just what condition it was likely in.  Looking at the picture above shows a trunk full of easy-to-remove items that likely represent the first stage of the abandoned restoration.  Everything seems to be in good condition minus the usual wear and tear.  One begins to wonder if a restoration was even warranted.

It is hard to deny that first-generation Thunderbird prices are on the wane.  However, with just two days to go and no bids at a starting figure of $10,000 is rather alarming.  This is, after all, an E-code car.  Perhaps buyers have factored in the cost of a full restoration and figured that it is just easier and cheaper to buy a nicely restored example.  Or, as it is starting to appear for many classic cars, people are becoming reticent about starting a full restoration.  The costs of materials alone have become prohibitive for many even if the cost of entry is low.  While this Thunderbird will surely sell soon, it may be a canary in the coal mine not just for cars left under tarps but for first-generation Thunderbird values as well.

What condition do you think this Thunderbird was in when it left Arizona?  What do you think fair market value now is?  Please share your thoughts on this car in the comments.

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  1. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TNMember

    Very good write-up Jeff. I especially appreciate the discussion of storage. It is certainly a huge deal for all of us collectors. It is a factor whether I ever increase my collector car “fleet” (well, in addition to convincing my usually accommodating wife I need more cars….). There is no shortage of candidates on my mental collector car list!!

    As for the T-Bird, they make for eye-catching restorations. I recently saw a nicely restored one and was reminded how small and cramped the interior is.

    Like 23
  2. Thunderbirds

    This is very restorable and a good thing now to sand it down and stop the rust from taking hold of the vehicle. I am wondering if the soft top is under neath the hardtop in the trunk area. It’s hard to see the angle of the trunk to see if a soft top frame is there or not. The car was running a couple years back per write up. If that is the case why does the engine area look like it’s been sitting and is that a canister for power steering ? This looks like a 312 engines which were outfitted with two 4-barrel carbs, which upped the horsepower rating to 270, but they could be increased to 285 with a special kit back in the day. This being close to 3200 pounds should be a fun car to drive.


    Like 0
  3. J

    I’ve bought cars that have been left outside both covered and not, I didn’t pay much for them and I liked doing the work to get them back out on the roads. I a, of the strong opinion that none of these cars should be scrapped, because once they’re gone it’s forever and that just not ok. My other strong opinion is that people ,more often these days, pay way too much for them. I think they don’t use their brain and most often end up with a pile of parts sitting in their garage or at the body shop. auctions are just as bad, the fast pace bidding and over hyped tv shows that aren’t reality. It can take many years to complete a project, sometimes more than ten and people don’t think about this possibility. Another thing is family, they grow and priorities change. I’d easily pick this up and get it back on the road, enjoy it. The patina is perfect.

    Like 19
    • Bamapoppy

      Excellent point, J. Forever is forever. And some people do things they later regret, like the guy in a Corvette club I was in back in the 80’s. He told of hacking out the split on his 1963. 🤦‍♂️

      Like 2
  4. Drifter

    It’s gone.

    Like 2
  5. Dennis Stoeser

    Why show cars that are no longer available? No followup. Did it sell? Was there an unmet reserve? You got my interest then the carrot was yanked away.

    Like 1
    • Erich

      Dennis, I feel your pain but as a long time follower of Barn Finds I can tell you it’s not crazy common to see them disappear before we see them, but let’s face it, these are mostly all cars that are listed for sale elsewhere when BF finds them, so the listings are active at the time of posting. If we knuckle under and sign up as members we do get to see them about a day sooner which can give you an edge to jump on something.

      Like 5
    • Bob McK

      Zero bidders.

      Like 2
    • Jesse JesseStaff

      That’s why we have started to do our own auctions. More are coming in every day, so hopefully soon, we will only be featuring cars that are exclusive to Barn Finds!

      Like 7
      • jeffschevelle

        I certainly hope that is not the case. If you limit the writeups to cars that are for auction on this site, you will be excluding far too many interesting cars, and in the process you will kill the popularity of this site.

        No way this site’s current auction format is ever going to compete with the likes of BAT and eBay, unless significant changes are made. There was an ElCamino listed on here a few months ago that I sent multiple questions by email and could never get any answers or any direct contact info to the seller to get answers to my questions. So I did not bid, when had the answers been provided (based on what I found out about the car myself later), I would have bid a whole lot more than the car sold for.

        You’re not going to become a high-volume auction site without first implementing much, much better communication tools.

        My $0.02

        Like 10
      • HoA HoAMember

        I don’t think so, Jeff, and as BFs self appointed goodwill ambassador( cough), I believe this site has an excellent chance at succeeding. I think people are tiring of the typical auction scene, run by faceless entities with fictitious prices. I feel this site creates a more friendly atmosphere, we actually think of the staff as our friends, at least I do, and wouldn’t hesitate buying or advertising something here. What you describe with the “El Camino”, sorry to hear that, but one thing BFs can’t control, is you still have to deal with the sellers. I’ve been here for 10 years, and have seen the site grow, and others fail. I’m not sure of any special deals, those have to be found BEFORE it hits the classified, but you can’t go wrong here.

        Like 3
  6. Eric_13cars Eric_13carsMember

    WRT storage, I have a 4 post Backyard Buddy lift. In my prior house, I kept my 90 XJS convertible on it and my 06 Miata under it (made an oil pan to sit under the Jag). Worked well other than when I needed the lift to do some work. In my current house, when I added a 3 car garage to it, I made sure that it had a vaulted ceiling and that the garage doors didn’t track to horizontal when open, but tracked up alongside the ceiling. I was anticipating the use of lifts to accommodate more collectibles. My current lift is in my workshop and is actively used. I paid about $5K more than 10 years ago for it. There are much cheaper 4 posters available today that are adequate, in the $1500-$2500 range. With what storage costs per month, 6-9 months of payments gets you a lift…and you’ll keep it for years. Just remember, too much is NOT enough when it comes to car ownership :-).

    Like 6
  7. Chuck Simons

    My friend has an ‘E’ Bird in Laughlin’s Riverside. To get this bird up to Award winning condition will take as much as half a house is worth in North LA County (couple hundred thousand)

    Like 0
  8. Bali Blue 504

    A loosely related story is when I operated a vintage radio repair shop a fellow gifted me an Atwater Kent model 40 metal-encased radio, sealed in clear plastic wrap. The visual rust and decay was accentuated by the stench when I later opened it up. While not quite as dramatic as this T’bird story, it was still a sad episode.

    Like 3
  9. Don

    The blue tarp of death has caused the demise of many a decent car. The tarp creates a moist tropical environment that caused all sorts of moisture rust and problems. It would be better to leave it in the open elements than throw a blue tarp on it.

    Like 16
    • Eric_13cars Eric_13carsMember

      Now you tell me :-)

      Like 5
  10. Gord

    Interesting that the air cleaner was the rare dealer installed 1956 style – not the round style that was used on the E birds.

    Like 2
  11. Manley Butler, Jr.Member

    You can help your car storage by CONTINUOUSLY circulating fresh dryer air under the tarp with a fan. IMHO using an “On again/Off again” fan tends to make it worse – particularly in moderate/ temperate climates.

    I’ll bet y’all didn’t realize that “freezer burn” in your opened but unfinished frozen foods (particularly ice cream) is the same phenomena at much faster pace. Think about it: the temperature changes in a closed environment (the ice cream container), the total amount of moisture stays the same (or sometimes increases) thus increasing the relative humidity to the point where it either “rains” or condenses on the colder surfaces like the metal parts (or the ice cream with crystals).

    You can help your Vanilla or your Rocky Road by keeping the air away from the exposed surface by sticking a layer of Saran wrap against the topmost surface before putting it back in the freezer. Personally, I solved the problem by buying the smaller container and consuming the whole thing in one seating.

    Like 3
  12. Lance Ballard

    There was one more step up the horsepower range. It was the “F” bird produced with a supercharger. Very rare with only 311 produced.

    Like 1
  13. Bub

    Is that an empty and lid-less power steering pot, driver’s side front? I don’t see the pulley quite lining up with the missing belt (?)

    Like 0
  14. Marky Mark

    I’m in the same situation as the author as far as storage goes. I have my drop top in a storage unit about 15 minutes away. It’s difficult to be spontaneous on a nice day or evening and go for a ride if you have to go get the car out. I try to keep it at the house during periods of good weather or when I don’t need my SUV daily driver. Would enjoy it a lot more if it were home, not to mention the cost of the unit.
    Nice driver quality Birds can be found <$50K so I couldn’t justify trying to put this one back together unless you can do most of it yourself and have the time.

    Like 2
  15. stillrunners stillrunnersMember

    Yep….zero bids on a E-Bird starting at 10 grand…..oh no…..

    Like 0
  16. Darryl fling

    I have seen far to many paint jobs destroyed by car covers. Even breathable ones that say they are safe to use outside. It is a lie. They will all micro blister your paint job. And a blue tarp way worse..Never cover a car outside.don’t do it.

    Like 2
  17. Mason

    This bird is 90 miles away from me NYC – only if I had the space. will get it running but not restoring to show. looks like a solid car.

    Like 2
  18. Johnmloghry johnmloghry

    They had this car for $5000.00 and couldn’t get an opening bid, now they tried $10,000.00 and still can’t get an opening bid.
    I see Barn Finds heading the way of Bring a Trailer. becoming high end auction. I sure hope not but truth is that’s where the money is at. I’ve been following this site for quite a few years now and what I see are a lot of dreamers with little to no money. It’s fun to see these old cars being recognized on here, let’s keep it that way.

    God Bless America

    Like 3
  19. Al Hodge

    I have an early bird hot rod and they are great cars. My choice was to build it as a fun driver not restore it. This one would be a good candidate if the price was right. My only complaint about this page is it takes me scrolling thru 17 pages of ads to get to the comments

    Like 1
    • al

      Wasn’t there one more powerful engine I seam to remember a 312 with a Paxton super charger on it

      Like 3
  20. Steve RM

    I have a three car garage, One spot for my daily, one for my wife’s daily, and one for my collector car. I had five collector cars at one time with four sitting outside. At my age (young enough to still love working on cars but old enough to be tired of crawling under them) this works for me.
    Please never stop showing cars from other sites. The variety and weirdness is a large part of the fun.

    Like 1

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